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Troy Walker

Troy Walker (born January 25, 1967 in Hayward, California) is an American cartoonist, toy inventor, entertainment producer, youth advocate, and founder of TWP Cartoon Studios. Walker is best known for creating the Hairy Pops finger puppets used for promotion by the Supercuts chain of hair salons and his motivational Harryl & Darryl characters. His work is often recognized for its signature child-like style.

Philosophy

Walker himself states that he tries to bring characters with personal value rather than just play value. Some of Walker's successful creations include Skipper The Dog (involved with family health care) and Harryl & Darryl (involved with youth motivation and self-respect).

Childhood

Born in Hayward, California, Walker's family moved to nearby Pleasanton, California in the early 70's during the era's migration of middle-class African Americans to suburbia. Throughout his childhood, Walker witnessed extreme levels of racism to both himself and his family, including incidents where his family home was egged.

Education & Early Projects

Walker dropped out of high school but eventually graduated high school in 1986. During his high school years, Walker remained shy and chose to act as a class clown, creating comedy skits and plays, including a play that was performed at Solano Christian High School. After graduation, Walker dabbled in acting some more, including work as an extra in Beverly Hills Cop 3.

In 1990, Walker began working in the marketing department at TCI Television in Englewood, Colorado. This work proved unfulfilling, and Walker continued to focus on creative projects throughout his 20s. He wrote songs for submission to Quincy Jones' Qwest Records. Success was elusive, and Walker became disillusioned and depressed, including calls to The 700 Club for support.

Creative career

Walker returned to California and continued with his creative projects. The Project W.A.D. (War Against Drugs) Squad featured a group of fruits and vegetables that encouraged kids to steer clear of drugs. At the age of 18, Walker's parents drove him to Los Angeles to present the story for Actors Against Drugs. While the project did not successfully take off, similar character designs would be used years later for a Fresh Produce client.

One of Walker's first notable projects was the launch of the Womplewinks Tree Puppies. In the character story, the Womplewinks were spawned from the seedpod of the Liquid Amber Tree. These characters were Walker's first foray into the street-novelty market, and marked the establishment of some of Walker's distinct artistic characteristics, including the plastic "googly eyes" look. This look inspired Walker's next project, Bob Spongee.

The comic strip "Bob Spongee, The Unemployed Sponge” featured the titular character as a sponge with eyes, legs, and arms. Bob Spongee lived on Apple Lane with his wife Linda. During the early 1990s, Walker packaged a Bob Spongee doll with comic strips and sold them throughout Northern California. A decade later, this character would be involved in a lawsuit with one of the world's biggest television studios.

In 1994, Walker partnered with Harley Spaulding to create a parody of MTV's popular cartoon Beavis and Butt-Head. Based in a fictional city called Hoodsville, Walker's characters were named Mavis and Mutt-Head and took a hip-hop spin on the life of MTV's characters. Walker received a cease-and-desist letter from MTV, and the network threatened to file a trademark infringement lawsuit. This act spurred Walker to change his character names to Harryl & Darryl. This proved to be a turning point in Walker's career.

In 1995, Harryl & Darryl became the mascots of the grassroots inner-city youth outreach program called Funky Walk America. The duo was featured on a number of program-related items, including the popular Funky Walkers sneaker stickers distributed to youth as a pledge to be safe and keep neighborhoods litter-free. Since its inception, more than 150,000 Funky Walkers have been distributed. Mother's Cookies was an early corporate sponsor of the program, bringing the program's message and Harryl & Darryl to more than 750 city buses. Harryl & Darryl appeared on television to promote the program, and the characters were used by Head Start in a 55-school tour in 1997. The characters have also appeared at outreach events alongside Danny Glover, Mark Curry, and other hip-hop artists. "The Be Good To Your Hood" bus billboards involved with the program featured 13 multi-cultural children from 13 cities throughout California.

In 1997, Walker developed the Troy Walker Wacky Wear line of clothing that was eventually marketed and sold through Nordstrom's.

Commercial Break

Walker's first big commercial break came in 1998 when he created the novelty finger-puppet lollipop toppers called Hairy Pops. Hairy Pops were picked up and distributed by Supercuts, leading to an initial order of 18,000 in the first 30 days and a second order of 50,000 for the next month.

Royalties from the Hairy Pops venture helped fund Walker's new Bay Area-based production studio called TWP Cartoon Studios. One of TWP Cartoon Studios' first clients was a non-profit group that focused on free and low-cost health insurance for uninsured children. The organization hired Walker's studio to create a mascot with the eventual outcome being Skipper The California Dog For Healthy Families. Skipper is the only known spokescharacter for uninsured children and was invited to Washington, D.C. during the Bill Clinton administration to escort Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala during a major children's health conference. An animated video entitled "Skipper Goes To Washington" was premiered at the event.

Controversy

In March 2007, Contra Costa Times journalist Bruce Gertsman syndicated an article exposing a legal battle between Troy Walker and Nickelodeon Studios regarding the true origins of the popular Sponge Bob Squarepants character. The lawsuit argues that the design was lifted from Walker's Bob Spongee character. The lawsuit drew international attention, and Viacom, Nickelodeon's parent company, have publicly stated that they believe the claim is baseless.

On January 4 2008, a settlement conference was conducted between Troy Walker and Viacom, Paramount Studios and Nickelodeon Studios at the Northern District Federal Courts in San Francisco. No settlement was reached and the parties were ordered to return to court for another settlement conference set for May. A jury trial is set for June 2008.

Walker's point of view contends that Bob Spongee and Sponge Bob are both cartoon depictions of a kitchen sponge with apparent similarities in characters, titles, and stories. In opposition to this, Viacom claims that Bob Spongee and Sponge Bob are different characters.

One of Walker's similarity claims involves the title of Bob Spongee/Sponge Bob stories. In 1992, Bob Spongee mail order advertisements were published in the Oakland Tribune under the slogan "Sponge for Hire." In 2004, Paramount Studios released a Sponge Bob video with the same "Sponge for Hire" title As part of the court hearing, the first episode of Sponge Bob Squarepants entitled "Help Wanted" (airdate May 1, 1999) was entered as part of the evidence in Walker vs. Viacom.

Recent Years

Walker met with the VP of development for Cartoon Network in 2006 to pitch a new animated property for girls. While this project never came to fruition, the conversation helped Walker re-focus his career to strictly developing brand characters. However, the drain from the Bob Spongee legal situation was about to take its toll on him.

In early 2007, Walker found himself in a personal and financial slump. Walker credits his religious faith for getting him through this rough time.

Currently, Walker has revisited some of his older creations with the publishing of Dr. Womplewink Fun Books. The books, distributed free to pediatrician offices, are published on a bi-monthly basis and feature activities for children to entertain themselves while in a medical environment. Walker also plans to release My Life Before Squarepants: The Bob Spongee Story, a combination DVD/book package detailing his experience as a freelance cartoonist embroiled in a legal situation with a large media company. The planned release focuses on Walker's claims of similarities between Bob Spongee and Sponge Bob, as well as stories of other copyright infringement lawsuits between media companies and artists.

References

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