Wednesday, October 6, 2010

#21 Wilbur Kookmeyer

Wilbur Kookmeyer was a much beloved cartoon character created by animator Bob Penuelas in the early 80’s.  Wilbur first appeared in a more obscure comic strip known as “Maynard and the Rat” but quickly got his own gig starring in a 2 page animated spread in Surfer Magazine spanning from 1986 – 2006.  The Wilbur Kookmeyer animated series was an overnight success amongst the surfing community.  It took a gawky, buck toothed, bundle of loser denial and made him into the uncontested icon of “all things kook” for a generation of surfers.  With his animated tales of kook-a-mania spreading far and wide across the land, Wilbur was so utterly “uncool” that he quickly transcended the gap into uber cool status!  It was a social phenomenon much like the current popularity of wearing wretchedly tight black tapered jeans.  Each new animation maintained the reliable yet addictive formula of Wilbur spouting off some big game about his surfing skills only to see him eat it hard, arms flailing in the final slides of the animation.  It was all too predictable yet so gratifying at the same time for the fully captivated surfer.  The Wilbur Kookmeyer comic series became so popular that the word ‘Wilbur’ is now a permanent fixture in every surfer’s lingo in the likes of “kook”, “barney”, and “haole to the max” to denote a proficient lack of style and surfing skill.  Just recite – “Geez, there were a bunch of Wilburs out there in the lineup today!!”  There ya go!!

The rise of Wilbur Kookmeyer’s popularity is perhaps unrivaled to this day in the echelon of surf animation.  But while the Kookmeyer series might have seemed on the surface to be just another campy comic strip there was more than meets the eye.  Beyond its scope of masterful animation and witty dialogue, the Wilbur Kookmeyer series was actually a satire of the rapidly commercializing surf industry and the desecration of the soul and individuality of the sport of surfing for profits sake.  Wilbur personified and poked fun at all the wannabee surfers trickling into the surf scene in the mid-late 80’s as it suddenly became hip to be a surfer and look the part of the surfing lifestyle.  He provided a humorous outlet for surfers to vent their frustrations at the rapidly homogenizing surf industry and the puka shell touting wannabees that bought into it.  The underlying message of the comic strip was that surfing is not to be bought or sold and that if you still subscribe to that ideology, well then you’re just as Wilbur as Wilbur can be!!  On a lighter note, the comic series was a genius composition of surf doodlery.  Each animation was a work of art in its own rite. It helped to inspire a generation of burgeoning surf doodlers and bored out of their mind students to create works of surf art in their notebooks, trapper keepers, and paper bag covered school books rather than fall into a comatose induced drooling state upon their desk.  Unofficial contests were held during lunch breaks to see who could draw the raddest waves and wanderlust surf imagery in the likeness of the Wilbur Kookmeyer strip’s exotic animated locales.  It wasn’t until years later that animator Penuelas actually showed us the way by posting his “how to draw a cartoon wave- the Wilbur Kookmeyer way” series.  Now there is no excuse to not be grinning ear to ear like a kindergartner when you post your latest surf doodle on the fridge!!  Wilbur Kookmeyer – A Surfing Legend!!


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