He is not out to revolt the masses.
In fact, he doesn't much care what the masses think, so long as they continue to visit his Web site and buy his T-shirts. Tom Winkler isn't in this business for accolades, he's in it for laughs. His own.
Through his Web site, doodie.com, Winkler gets to embrace what he finds funniest, and what he finds funniest happens to be toilet humor.
Through a series of Web-based animations, he has explored the subject from every conceivable angle and delights in disgusting the public on a daily basis. This is why he ditched his dream job as an illustrator on "The Simpsons": to clear his schedule for a full-time focus on feces.
doodie.com features a new, four-to-12 second animation every day -- each one is based on waste. The characters in his cartoons are literally full of it: they shape it, play with it, toss it, roll in it and relish it. It becomes a revered substance -- albeit a hilarious one.
Constant idea generation isn't easy for Winkler, but stints on "The Simpsons" and John Lovitz's "The Critic" have ensured that he's well-versed in animated humor. Easy-to-download GIFs make the site accessible even to the slowest modem, and Winkler's artistic flair keeps the fans coming back -- to the tune of 6,000,000 hits each month.
"All the masters say 'follow your bliss,'" says Winkler in his matter-of-fact manner. "Well, doodie humor cracks me up. I think it's just incredibly funny." As, apparently, do many others. Winkler has turned doodie into a full-time business. He sells advertising banners on the site and t-shirts and club memberships on the side. This brings in enough to hire two part-time employees, though Winkler plans eventually to employ a full staff of animators. This would bring doodie.com's creator full-circle: paying striving young artists to make sure that doodie's doodie look exactly like it does right now -- just the sort of thing that drove him from "The Simpsons."
Winkler, who moved to Los Angeles from Connecticut in the early '80s for just such an opportunity as "The Simpsons" provided, is hardly contrite about his decision. "Don't get me wrong. It was an honor to work on that show," he says of the season he spent there. "But as an artist, I wasn't fulfilled. They were only interested in making sure Bart Simpson looked like Bart Simpson, and I just don't think I'm very good at being a spoke in a wheel. It's a great show, but I'm more of an entrepreneur, more of a creator, more of an artist. That makes me sound like some sort of pretentious jerk, but I really believe it."
Reluctant to work for anyone but himself, Winkler's prospects did not look promising -- until he became intimate with the Internet. In a turn of events he still finds amazing, Winkler discovered in the Web a means to identify exactly what he wanted to do. Then he followed his dream to fruition. As an animator in the pre-Internet 1980s, one could either make shorts for fringe film festivals, or pitch ideas to animation studios around town. "But if you pitch something to a studio, you walk in with Wally the Whale, and leave with Andy the Ant," he says. "I'm just grateful that I live in this time."
Winkler believes that Picasso and Van Gogh would have felt the same way. "If those guys had access to Web technology, I think this is what they'd be doing."
Winkler's Web site is working wonders for his career. In addition to the money it brings in from banner ads and membership fees, doodie.com acts as an online portfolio for his work.
Winkler recently finished work on Adam Sandler's short film "The Peeper." Jim Moloshok, president of Warner Online (Sandler's record label), was already a fan of doodie.com and made the necessary introductions.
Bruce Helford, co-creator and executive producer of "The Drew Carey Show," is one, too. When looking for an opening sequence for Norm MacDonald's ABC sitcom, "Norm," Helford immediately considered doodie.
"I wouldn't have even thought of animating the main title sequence if I hadn't already been a fan of Tom's work," says Helford. "I'm not necessarily a big fan of animated main titles. I've seen a lot of them come off very precious, and didn't want anything like that. But his style is so great and edgy, which is the way our show is, that I thought it would be perfect." The show airs Wednesdays on ABC.
"We're all fans," says Deborah Oppenheimer, an executive producer on the show. "It reminds me of early New Yorker material. We're looking to do something different in network television, so the idea of bringing in an Internet sensibility was really appealing to us. That's why we went after him."
In addition to a new daily animation, doodie.com offers an archive of cartoons dating back to its inception in March. Along the way, Winkler has acquired legions of fans, many because of his strict standards of -- brace yourself -- decorum. "I don't make doodie.com for kids," he says, "but knowing that kids will log on, I have a line I won't cross. I don't draw full frontal nudity, I don't draw sex acts. And that keeps it in a realm that's simply fun and playful."
Helstrom agrees. He peruses the site with his young sons, and is unsure who is more amused, himself or them. "There's no violence in the site, and the kids love the humor" he says. "To a kid, the funniest thing in the world is to put the word 'poop' on anything. It is such a part of their lives."
"People make it happen," Winkler says. "They see something of quality on the Web, and e-mail their friends about it, and before you know it you've got an audience. And there you've done it. You've circumvented the whole system. No gallery people telling you you can't have a show there. No TV people watering it down because it's too long, too short, too big, too small, too sexy, too disgusting. I'm doing exactly what I want to do, and I'm having a great time in the process."