Two women say the creator of the Nickelodeon animated series The Ren & Stimpy Show preyed upon them when they were teenagers, cultivating relationships with them via AOL, engaging in sexually explicit conversations and, in the case of one, having a physical sexual relationship with her while she was still a minor.
The events took place years ago, however the women said the #MeToo movement and heightened awareness of sexual misconduct emboldened them to come forward to talk with BuzzFeed News about John Kricfalusi, who was fired from Nickelodeon in 1992, but remains a prominent figure in animation circles.
Nickelodeon declined comment, noting the alleged events, which began unfolding in 1994, took place after Kricfalusi left the network. The Paramount Network, which ran a reboot of the animated series, told BuzzFeed it has never received reports of sexual harassment against him. Similarly, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim said they were unaware of any sexual harassment claims.
The publication draws a portrait of a prominent animator who exploited young girls’ dreams of pursing a career in illustration to pursue his own sexual gratification.
Robyn Byrd was 13-years-old when she sent Kricfalusi a video of herself talking about her drawings and her dreams of a career in animation, hoping to attract the attention of the hit show’s creator. He responded with an effusive letter and began sending her gifts of toys and art supplies. He helped the young girl establish an AOL account so they could remain in touch and even visited her in Tuscon, Arizona. When she was a high school junior he flew her to Los Angeles to show her his studio. That same trip, she told BuzzFeed, he touched her genitals through her pajamas. She was just 16.
In the summer of 1997, before the start of her senior year, Kricfalusi flew Byrd to Los Angeles again for an internship at his studio, Spumco, and lived with him as his “16-year-old girlfriend.” Upon graduation, at the age of 17, she moved in permanently with Kricfalusi, thinking he would help launch her career. She ultimately left animation to get away from him.
“He ruined a good bit of my childhood and my early adulthood, gave me PTSD, and forced me to change careers, putting my life 10 years or more behind,” she wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News. In an interview, she told the publication, “He is an abuser in the way that he will pull you into a relationship with him and then tell you who to be and what he wants from you. … Everybody needs to know about it.”
Kricfalusi’s attorney acknowledged the relationship in a statement to BuzzFeed, saying the animator was in a fragile mental and emotional state at the time, having been separated from his animated series. The lawyer acknowledged a “brief” relationship with a 16-year-old, which, BuzzFeed reports, was an open secret in animation circles.
“Over the years John struggled with what were eventually diagnosed mental illnesses in 2008. To that point, for nearly three decades he had relied primarily on alcohol to self-medicate,” the statement read. “Since that time he has worked feverishly on his mental health issues, and has been successful in stabilizing his life over the last decade. This achievement has allowed John the opportunity to grow and mature in ways he’d never had a chance at before.”
Another young aspiring illustrator, Katie Rice, wrote to Kricfalusi when she was about 14 and they began corresponding via AOL. The conversations with the Emmy Award-nominee made her feel special, she told the publication, though they would sometimes take an uncomfortable turn. In an AOL conversation that BuzzFeed viewed, Kricfalusi said, “I wnat [sic] to squeeze you,” and “I’m crazy about you, Katie”; he asked her, “Do I ever make you tingle?” At the time she was 15-years-old and he was 41.
They never had sexual contact, but Rice recalled lurid phone conversations in which he would masturbate while she was on the phone. These incidents left her shaken, she told BuzzFeed. But she viewed him as a friend. Indeed, he attended her 15th birthday party in a visit memorialized by a family photo.
At age 18, Rice was reeling from an art school rejection letter when Kricfalusi offered her a job at Spumco. She said he continued to pursue a romantic relationship. Kricfalusi’s attorney said such overtures didn’t constitute sexual harassment because the company had gone out of business, and he was no longer her employer.
Rice described one professional collaboration, in which she worked from Kricfalusi’s home office on a music video commissioned by Weird Al Yankovic, in which he would walk around naked in his living room, “with his weiner hanging out of his pants.”
The woman told BuzzFeed she finally walked away from the man she regarded as a friend and mentor after allegedly seeing child porn on his computer, a charge Kricfalusi’s attorney denied — saying his client had never been contacted by police regarding an investigation.
“I became a better artist by working for him,” she told BuzzFeed news. “I’m not grateful for it. I wish I hadn’t. I wish I were a worse artist now and I didn’t have all this bullshit to deal with.”