Time to Draw the Donuts: Simpsons prop artist once dreamed of creating classical oil paintings

Although he once studied the techniques of Rembrandt and Picasso, artist John Krause is the guy who draws Homer Simpson's frosted donuts and Itchy & Scratchy's internal wounded organs!

Although he once studied the techniques of Rembrandt and Picasso, artist John Krause is the guy who draws Homer Simpson's frosted donuts and Itchy & Scratchy's internal wounded organs!

THE WORKING STIFFBy Darren Garnick
“Time to draw the donuts!”
Originally Published: The Boston Herald

July 25, 2007
**
My first lesson about career jealousy oozed out of a box of donuts.

In the early 1980s, when I was a scrawny offensive lineman for the Chelmsford High School Lions, I watched two fellow sophomores squabble over a chocolate kruller. Shawn, owner of the Dunkin’ dozen, adamantly refused to give Harry a single crumb.

Harry was not only our team’s worshiped running back, but was also in all honors classes and a shoo-in to be picked in the professional baseball draft. The fact that he only hung around upperclassmen after
school made him a pariah with his peers.

“I wouldn’t give him a donut if this locker room was filled to the ceiling with donuts!” grumbled Shawn, sprinkling in a few F-bombs. “I wouldn’t give him one even if the whole school was filled with donuts!”

Another player witnessing this scene was art student John Krause, who like me, had the opposite problem as Harry. We weren’t important enough to (italics) deserve (end itals) complimentary donuts. Posing no threat to steal playing time away from anybody, the artist and the writer were essentially just pregame tackling dummies for the seniors.

Ironically, my friend John went on to sketch some of the most famous frosted donuts in history. And this week represents his most glorious moment.

John is the “prop design lead” for The Simpsons Movie, which debuts in theaters worldwide this Friday. That means he oversaw the creation of every vehicle, building, tree, street sign and inanimate object in the Springfield universe.

Nearly every can of food in the Kwik-E-Mart had John’s stamp of approval. Police Chief Wiggum’s badge and gun? Reverend Lovejoy’s bible? Lisa’s saxophone? Otto’s school bus? All John’s work, too.

He’s been at the gig for 14 of the TV show’s record 19 seasons. But virtually every prop from the series needed to be redesigned with more details to survive closer scrutiny on the movie screen. With Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks being the new standard bearers of animated features, the simple line drawings of Homer and Marge needed an upgrade.

If my friend had wound up opening an art gallery in Paris and had his paintings displayed at the Louvre, I would be happy for him. But I wouldn’t be bragging that I know him.

Like any job, I’m sure his work must seem monotonous at times and his office must have its fair share of schmucks. But from the outside peering in, from the perspective of what makes fascinating dinner party conversation, he simply has the coolest job ever.

I’m obviously not the only one who thinks so. John sheepishly admits his job title used to serve as a surefire pickup line with women (before he met his wife Maria). And once or twice a year, he has the privilege of sharing his skills with terminally ill children visiting from the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

The amazing thing is that John never dreamed of working in cartoons. At the Rhode Island School of Design, he pursued highbrow disciplines such as sculpture, oil painting, furniture design and stained glass. At nearby Brown University, he also studied human anatomy and morphology by sketching cadavers.

But go ahead and check the job listings for “classic oil painter.” Dead body portraiture isn’t the most welcoming profession either. So when John first learned about animation opportunities through his RISD network, he pounced.

itchyandscratchy

His anatomy classes have since come in handy for sketching the wounded internal organs of “Itchy & Scratchy,” the Simpsons’ hyper-violent incarnation of “Tom & Jerry.”

I don’t know what my high school classmates Shawn or Harry will be doing this weekend. But hopefully I’ll be at the movies, waiting to see John’s name in the credits.

Some of us who don’t achieve our original career dreams are blessed to later discover something even better. And at the very least, I’m thrilled that both John and I can now afford to buy our own boxes of donuts.

**
Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Boston Herald. Check out John’s exclusive landscaping critique of a Canadian Simpsons-themed house over at Tacky Tourist Photos!

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