Joe Murray

Perhaps you remember watching a little wallaby named Rocko Sunday mornings in the 90s. Would you believe that the creator, Joe Murray, had just experienced a great loss while creating a show that received a Daytime Emmy Award, an EMA Award and was a CableACE nominee and a Golden Reel Award nominee. 

This is his story:

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Photo of “Rocko’s Modern Life” characters from Murray’s website

I always wanted to be an artist. I didn’t know specifics until around 6th or 7th grade. I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist, but more of the comic strip kind (which were going very strong at the time).

My high school art teacher Mark Briggs was a huge inspiration and help for me. He taught classes in careers in art and brought in professionals in the business. I don’t know of many art teachers who talk about careers in art. Especially in high school. I still keep in touch with him. He’s 97.

I started getting books on the subject (some terribly outdated) and started sending off really bad cartoons to newspapers and started becoming acquainted with something very familiar: the rejection letter.

The early rejections were age and inexperience, but I kept working at it. When no newspaper would publish my cartoons, I started publishing my own newspaper (which was very amateurish and poor) but I sold them, and also sold advertising.

I started doing odd jobs for people with my art, but my first job was as a caricature artist at an amusement park. I copied a caricature from a Mad magazine and got the job, even though I had never done it before where someone was sitting in front of me.

The first day of work, the first customer I had- the drawing was so awful, she refused to pay for it and walked away. I thought that maybe I wasn’t right for the job, that they hired a fraud, and started looking for my supervisor to quit.

Then a girl came up and I told her my situation. She was very nice and sat for a caricature and paid for it. I worked there for the rest of the summer and it turned out to be a great experience. That girl was my angel.

I did cartoons for my school newspapers, but found making the leap to a syndicated comic strip was very difficult. I just wasn’t funny enough. My cartoon skills were getting good, but my writing was not there.

I got a job at an advertising agency doing cartoons for ads, and was a political cartoonist for a local San Jose paper, but still wanted to do strips.

My stacks of rejection letters were very high, but I was happy I was drawing for a living. I started freelancing when I was 20, and found myself very broke, eating tins of tuna and macaroni and cheese; still trying for that comic strip, but it never happened.

I was stubborn and a little crazy- didn’t want to get a normal job- I wanted to draw. And oddly enough, even when I was starving, I still wanted to draw for a living. I think when people see that, they say “whoa, that guys is serious. I better give him some work.”

I was flexible enough to see that the comic strip business was dying and animation in the 90’s was opening up.

Finally, a syndicate editor told me to try animation. So I did, and I loved it. Thats how I got into animation and then later doing Animated TV series.

I always had doubts and fears with any job I did. I still do. It’s normal. At one point, I thought “maybe I’m too young to do this.” Now I think “maybe I’m too old to do this.” But I’m doing it, and it works, and people like it and still pay me to do it. So I’ll keep doing it.

After I did “Rocko’s Modern Life” I vowed that I would never work in television again. It was a horrible experience for me. But part of it was that I was grieving over the sudden death of my wife, just a couple of months before production started on Rocko.

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Photo of “Camp Lazlo” characters from Murray’s website

So once I got some therapy, and did some traveling, took some time off, I started wondering if I could have a good experience with TV if it wasn’t connected to the death of my wife. And “Camp Lazlo” was a good experience. Same with the show I’m doing now. So I’m glad I didn’t quit TV.

Persistence. Keeping your “eye on the prize.” You go over them [obstacles], around them, under them. If you want to get where you are going you will find a way.

Even though my comic strip career didn’t happen, I did accomplish what I wanted to do, which was drawing funny pictures, writing funny stories and making people laugh.


See what you like to do, but be flexible in the opportunities out there to do what you want to do. Times change so quickly. Grasp opportunities as they arrive and see that not all roads are obvious. You will feel it when something or some path is not right. Adjust. Have patience when necessary and swiftness when needed.

Dreams are attainable. It’s happening all around us.

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