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‘Pinky and the Brain,’ ‘He-Man’ artist brings nostalgia to Lilac City Comicon

Storyboard artist Keith Tucker worked on some of the most popular afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s and ‘90s, including “Pinky & The Brain,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and more. He’ll make his first appearance in Spokane at the Lilac City Comicon June 2 and 3. (Keith Tucker / Courtesy)
Storyboard artist Keith Tucker worked on some of the most popular afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s and ‘90s, including “Pinky & The Brain,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and more. He’ll make his first appearance in Spokane at the Lilac City Comicon June 2 and 3. (Keith Tucker / Courtesy)

For a certain generation, the nightly misadventures of maniacal mice “Pinky and the Brain” are synonymous with after-school nostalgia.

Those are the people storyboard artist Keith Tucker often finds himself talking to now.

“I hear, ‘Oh, you drew my childhood,’ ” said Tucker, 65, one of several members of a team that brought the animated pair bent hopelessly on world-domination to life and into the homes of millions of children in the early 1990s. “And it just warms my heart.”

With credits that include slapstick comedies like “Pinky and the Brain” and its parent program, “Animaniacs,” as well as earlier work on action and adventure shows such as “Transformers,” “G.I. Joe” and “He-Man,” it’s likely most attendees to this weekend’s Lilac City Comicon will have seen some of Tucker’s work. That’s even if his name doesn’t pop off the marquee like Lou Ferrigno, the bodybuilder-turned-actor best known for his tight grip on the role of the Incredible Hulk, who has received top billing for the annual convention’s 12th appearance in Spokane.

Tucker grew up near Los Angeles, with a family that worked both in front of and behind the camera. His mother dated a stuntman for a while, he said, which would grant him access to the sets of shows like “Bonanza.”

“I remember, as a child, maybe second or third grade I’d ride my bicycle over to the CBS lot, and they knew me,” Tucker said.

A fan of comic books, Tucker originally was drawn to the idea of storyboarding through a friend who worked at Hanna-Barbera, the legendary animation studio behind such shows as “The Flintstones,” “Yogi Bear” and “The Jetsons.” His early work in the industry, however, was creating animated sequences for blockbuster films in the early 1980s, including “John Carpenter’s The Thing” and “Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.”

“I helped kill Spock,” Tucker said, nonchalantly, listing off his film work during the early 1980s. The young animator was part of a team that developed the visual effects for the scene when the Vulcan sacrifices himself to save the crew of the USS Enterprise in the movie’s final moments.

Tucker learned the process of storyboarding working for the firm Filmation, the animation studio responsible for “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” He’s credited with working on 65 episodes of the campy cartoon’s two seasons, which continue to live on through the streaming service Netflix.

Storyboard work requires the artist to serve as both actor and director, Tucker said. The artist receives a written script to illustrate, part of a process that ends with animators bringing the characters to life. A storyboard artist gets to craft the look and emotion of the characters, while also determining the visual perspective of the scene, he said.

Some of the instructions from the writing team could be explicit, Tucker said. But not always.

“Other times, writers would say, ‘The Transformers face off with the Decepticons. Battle ensues,’ ” Tucker said, referring to another of his storyboard credits. “And we’re like, ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ ”

In the 1990s, Tucker began laying out boards for “Pinky and the Brain,” which remains his favorite project.

“Unpredictability. Strong scripts. Really off-the-wall humor,” Tucker said, describing the show that began as a segment on “Animaniacs” and then turned in to its own series with the creative backing of famed film director Steven Spielberg. “You could go back and see different things in the humor that maybe you didn’t catch at the time.”

Tucker won’t be working on the reboot of the beloved series, which was announced earlier this year for the streaming service Hulu. He said he prefers working with pencil and paper to the way storyboards are crafted now, mostly with computer programs. But he wishes the series well, despite his concerns about other reboots of franchises from his era. Tucker has a particular distaste for the 2015 live-action remake of “Jem and the Holograms.”

“All power to them,” he said. “If they can make it new, and make it work, and just don’t trash it, there are possibilities. Some of the characters that we dealt with were from the ’30s and ’40s when we redid them.”

Tucker mostly travels the convention circuit these days. This weekend will mark his first trip to Spokane, and he’s looking forward to hearing from those fans that spent their afternoons in front of the tube, taking in the exploits the ill-fated rodents.

“It was a happy time for a lot of people,” he said. “And the cartoons, I guess, bring back that feeling.”

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