Animator and filmmaker Bill Plympton’s work has appeared in a diverse selection of publications ranging from The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and, of course, Penthouse. You’ve seen three of his animations in the long-running couch gag in the opening credits of The Simpsons, he’s contributed artwork to videos by musicians ranging from “Weird Al” Yankovic to Kanye West, and he’s twice been nominated for Academy Awards for his short films Your Face and Guard Dog. Plympton recruited photographer Seth Michaels and adult icon Julia Ann and returned to his roots to create a unique, animation driven installment for our Pop Shots series.
We’ve had graphic artists and actors direct Pop Shots, but you’re the first visual storyteller who’s been invited to do this. Though this isn’t the first time your work has appeared here.
I did a gag cartoon for Penthouse, but I also worked for Penthouse Letters, Hot Talk, Penthouse Forum, and Viva. Then, of course, I met Bob Guccione and [his wife] Kathy Keeton. I went to their place for a couple of parties and stuff. We weren’t intimate friends, but I met them and I liked the guy. It was fun working for him.
What was it about the opportunity to do Pop Shots that appealed to you?
I wanted to see what it would be like. It’s a fantasy come true. It’s every guy’s wildest dream to do something like this for Penthouse. It’s kind of a bucket-list thing, too, you know? When they approached me with the concept, I loved that they wanted something different. They didn’t want just the same old “woman taking her clothes off” photo layout; they wanted something exciting and offbeat. I’d never seen anything where there were cartoons with the model. I thought that would be a really fun experiment. I wanted to see if I could do it, if I could work it.
It’s interesting that there’s no dialogue to drive the story along for the reader, like there usually is when you see erotic pictorials. When you read adult magazines, are you a fan of the captions, what we in the biz call “girl copy”?
It’s called “girl copy”? That’s the first time I’ve heard that term! No, I don’t care so much about it. I’m purely visual. That’s what gets me off. I never read sex novels or any of that kind of stuff. I’m a very purely visual guy.
You obviously approached the project as a kind of mini movie. Did your filmmaking and animation background influence the way you approached the story?
What’s so unique about cartoons is that there are no limits. There are no restrictions in terms of cameras and lenses and backdrops. It’s all my wild imagination. You can do anything you want. I love the idea of creating a story that’s totally fantasy, totally unreal, that could never happen in the real world. That’s why I do animation.
It’s interesting that you had the story take place at a drive-in theater.
Every guy has sexual fantasies that he’d like to live out. One of my great ones in high school was going to the drive-in movies and getting it on with the hot chick in class. So this is my childhood fantasy come true. That’s a fantasy that I think a lot of guys have. I think a lot of guys can relate to this, because there’s something about high school that’s really horny. So it was a natural for me to be able to re-create the whole storyline of getting it on with some hot chick at the Passion Pit.
I was looking at some of the behind-the-scenes stills from the photo shoot, and I saw you without your shirt on in one of them. I was wondering if you were going to make a guest appearance as the guy in the story in the finished product.
No, no. I wish! We needed some bare skin to test the lighting on, so I said, “Well, fuck it.” I took my shirt off to do the skin test myself, you know? The guy who takes this girl out on a date in the story is actually the star of my new film, Cheatin’. I thought it would be a nice bit of synchronicity to put him in there with this beautiful model and let him get his rocks off.
Did you ever live out your fantasy and get laid at a drive-in?
How was it?
It was great.
What was the movie?
I have no idea [laughs]. Probably Planet of the Apes or something totally archaic.
Are people missing something today by not having drive-ins to fuck at?
Yeah, absolutely. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience. It’s really difficult to do it in a regular cinema, and where else are you going to do it if you’re in school and you don’t have a pad or anyplace to go? A movie is a good excuse to take a girl out and then, you know, things happen.
Do you draw your female film characters from live models or do they come from your imagination?
For my second animated feature, I Married a Strange Person!, I wanted the characters to look fairly realistic, so I hired models to go topless—actually bottomless, too—to get the perspective and the shading and everything right. After about two or three months of drawing, I really knew the characters so well that I didn’t need to have the models pose. I just pretty much drew from my memory and my imagination. Occasionally I’ll have models come in, but basically all my drawings are pretty much from memory because they’re not so realistic now. They’re more stylized. They’re more … what’s the word?
Yeah, Plymptonian—that’s a good word, yeah!
How did the choice of Julia Ann reflect what you find sexy in a woman?
When they asked me to choose a model, I used a cartoon character as an example. I said, “I’m looking for a Jessica Rabbit type.” Actually, I said I was looking for a cross between Jayne Mansfield and Jessica Rabbit.
Julia Ann definitely has the bombshell look. Is the classic bombshell what you find sexy in real life?
I love bombshells. What can I say? That, to me, is a great turn-on. I reached puberty in the fifties, the era of Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren, Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida, and Sophia Loren. They were my inspiration. But it’s funny now, because a lot of my [animator/cartoonist] buddies, who are younger, are more inspired by the Kate Moss kind of woman and by Victoria’s Secret models. It’s a different kind of model that they use for their sexy women. They’re not so curvaceous. So I guess I’m a product of fifties puberty. I’m glad that Kate Upton’s around, because she’s one of the few really sexy women who are modeling today. She’s definitely a turn-on for me.
There’s a lot of politically correct talk these days about women’s bodies. There’s fat-shaming, there’s skinny-shaming—everybody’s supposed to feel all this shame about how they look. Do you think that women built like Kate Moss really affect the way women look at themselves more so than, say, the way that male models and athletes and actors affect how men look at themselves?
I would say that now there also seems to be a big emphasis for males to have the six-pack and the great build. Back when I was in school it was more like Troy Donahue, more of a simple physique. A normal physique. Now it’s much more exaggerated, much more bulked up. Speaking for myself, yeah, I do feel the pressure to adapt to look like these models, so I would guess that women also feel that kind of pressure to look like the cover girls, the big buxom girls, or the models.
You often go out and meet your fans at Comic-Con and fan-oriented cosplay events where people show up in costume. Not every girl who’s dressing up like Wonder Woman is built like Lynda Carter. There are a lot of BBW [big beautiful women] getting their rocks off and dressing like these superheroes. That must be interesting to see.
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I love that. It’s part of the humor. Everybody goes to Comic-Con with a sense of humor and playfulness. It’s fun for me to talk to these ladies and guys. They’re chubby Superman guys and Wonder Women. That’s always fun to watch!