Spotlight - Brad Neely

As anyone who frequents my Facebook profile knows, I’m a fiend for the absurd. My wall is a veritable art gallery of the staggeringly inexplicable, an endless list of links displaying nature and society’s greatest “what the fuck” accomplishments. Over the last half year or so, I’ve included among this debris several short cartoons, all of which seem to defy anything resembling sanity. They invariably feature freakish, hastily drawn characters, all devoid of pupils, babbling on in idiosyncratic voices and residing in a world devoid almost entirely of sense.

At first glance these animations appear to be the work of a schizophrenic ex-Nickelodeon employee, but in fact the man behind them—writing, illustrating, voicing and piecing them together singlehandedly—is a relatively sane Fort Smith, Arkansas native by the name of Brad Neely. And for all the seeming incomprehensibility of his filmography, this bearded, bespectacled Arkansan has become one of my favourite comedians as of late.


Set in the (unfortunately) fictional city of China, Illinois, Neely’s cartoons star an assortment of community college instructors, students, monsters and even a rock star, weaving in and out of each other’s stories and embarking upon one misadventure after another. The resultant effect is that of Pulp Fiction on LSD and animated at roughly one frame per second. Chief among the burg’s inhabitants are Frank and Steve Smith, the college’s two aging history professors. Frank is the hapless protagonist more often than not, a pathetic soul with a high-pitched, cracking voice, fanglike teeth and a never-fulfilled desire to be loved. Steve, his foil, is alarmingly laid back and blissfully ignorant of his own sleaziness. Other denizens include self-effacing crooner Kenny Winker, the spandex-clad “America Now” singers who travel from neighbourhood to neighbourhood on a truck’s flatbed stage, and Baby Cakes, a bald, possibly autistic student, gamer and philosopher whose warped worldview is also startlingly accurate at times.

What Neely’s work lacks in aesthetic finesse—most of his artistic renderings superficially possess the same level of craft and detail as a first grader’s—it more than makes up for in pacing, performance, and execution. While most of his videos range between one and four minutes in length, they’re jam-packed with sight gags both shocking and surprisingly subtle, necessitating many rewinds and pauses. And as simplistic as his art style may be, it’s instantly recognizable, not to mention fascinating in its inherent repulsiveness.

Neither has he restricted himself to animation. Apart from acting as a consultant for a recent season of South Park and bringing China, Illinois up to 24fps for an Adult Swim series, Neely has written and recorded an alternate narration track for the first Harry Potter. Titled Wizard People, Dear Reader, it’s effectively Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as told by a madman, and can be found in several parts on YouTube.

Though nearly all of his stuff looks like a high school student’s first outing with Flash software, Brad Neely is probably the greatest one-man-band currently on the entertainment scene. His dialogue is crisp, his characters charming in spite of their glaring flaws, and he has some of the best comedic timing I've seen in a long while. So don't let the choppy animation put you off.

More of Brad Neely's videos, comics and writings can be found at his official site.

No comments: