Seth MacFarlane’s Early Sketches
By the time he was 34 years old, Seth MacFarlane had signed a massive $100 million deal for his hugely popular show Family Guy. Though he was young, MacFarlane had actually been working on cartoons for three decades.
He started drawing when he was two, copying cartoon characters like Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and Fred Flintstone. ”It was something that always came easily to me,” MacFarlane said in an interview with the New York Times. “When I was 4, my father worked at a grocery store, and I would sit on the counter and draw on the grocery bags.”
By the time he was 9, he managed to score his own cartoon strip in The Kent Good Times Dispatch, his local newspaper. The strip was called Walter Crouton. According to an interview he did with Inside the Actor’s Studio, the cartoon ran once a week and each time he got paid about $5.
The drawings themselves were very basic, but already, his irreverent sense of humor was in full form. “I did a one panel drawing for the paper one week that had Walter Crouton… taking communion and asking for fries with that,” he said. In fact, his humor was mostly the product of his parents, who flooded the house with the same kind of “tasteless” jokes that pop up in his works today. “Some of the foulest jokes that I ever heard came from my mother,” he told the New York Times.
After his early start as a professional cartoonist, it would be several more years before his next big artistic break. In that time, he became more interested in animation. After he finished high school in Connecticut, he went to college at the Rhode Island School of Design. For his thesis there, he created an animated film called Life of Larry. This work is of particular importance because it is so clearly a prototype of Family Guy. It features a dilinquint husband with a wife named Lois and a talking dog. There are loads of pop culture references and even a skit about two British men having a “drive-by argument,” which appeared later in an episode of Family Guy. Here is a clip:
It may not be quite as hilarious or controversial as his later shows, but when one of his school advisors sent Life of Larry to industry executives, it was enough to secure him early gigs writing for cartoons like Dexter’s Laboratory and Johnny Bravo. It was the beginning of a long (and soon to be lucrative) career in television.
Check out this clip from the Inside the Actor’s Studio interview with Seth MacFarlane and three Family Guy cast members to learn more about their beginnings.