Two stick figures face each other across a barren landscape. One draws a handgun and shoots the other. You see the bullet fly through the air, and then crimson blood spurts from the victim, who crumples to the ground. The End. No plot, no moral, no redeeming social value. Just pure, unadulterated violence. A stick figure snuff flick.
Exploring the same terrain as "Roadrunner," "Itchy and Scratchy," "South Park" and "Mad" magazine's "Spy vs. Spy," scores of Web sites have sprung up that portray stick figures getting shot, stabbed, crushed, run over, eviscerated and obliterated. Darkly hilarious, many of the sites come with faux warnings of violent content. But what they really are is very very politically incorrect.
The acknowledged father of stick figure snuff is Matt Calvert, a 29-year-old trombonist in San Francisco, whose "Stick Figure Death Theatre" was the first of the genre when it appeared in 1996.
"Some people may be letting out anger and rage," Calvert conceded when contacted in San Francisco. "But I'm just being silly."
"SFDT" began as innocent doodles in the margins of Calvert's notebooks during boring classes in high school, he said. After college he got a job where he needed to make animated GIFs, and to learn how he decided to animate his high school doodles. He made three simple cartoons, including "The Gun," described above. He put his stick snuff flicks on the Web and soon kindred souls were doing the same.
"SFDT" has links to hundreds of stick figure snuff flicks at other sites. The ever-growing collection includes 93 involving weapons, 63 fights, 44 vehicles, 39 "heavy stuff," 24 suicides, 22 beheadings, 21 dismemberments, 10 "going postal," nine circus and carnival accidents and seven power tools. There are also 68 movie and TV takeoffs, 30 involving famous people and eight with holiday themes.
While remaining true to the essential theme, other stick snuff artists have added color, sound and more sophisticated animation. At "Violent Animated Deaths," creator Chris Peterson uses Macromedia Shockwave software for such animations as "Death By Angry Old Neighbor," "Death By Corrective Eye Surgery" and even "Death At the Million Stick March." Peterson also started the Animated Deaths Webring, which boasts 78 Web sites.
One of the few female producers of stick figure snuff is 19-year-old Emily McDougal of Boston, a self-described half-Chinese half-Irish computer science major and recently converted lesbian. Among her pithy offerings at "Basiclee's Stick Death Theater" is "At the Library," in which a stick guy reaches down to scratch himself, causing his dick to catch on fire.
"So why stick death? Am I just a feminazi, who enjoys killing men any way or how?" McDougal asks at the Web site, then answers. "No, I don't think so. I'd rather say I'm a creative person and stick death is a great creative outlet... I also have a very ironic and perverted sense of humor, which might also explain it."
Another female producer of stick snuff is Kim Barton, a 19-year-old electrical engineering student at Pittsburg State University in southeast Kansas. Her Web site, "Spacefem Death Scenes," includes "A Man Who Deserves It," in which a stick man gets fresh with a stick chick, who kicks him in the nuts, causing him to fly into the air and land on his head.
Barton is a co-founder of "The Stick Figure Death Club," a Yahoo! bulletin board and chat room for some 300 stick snuff makers and their fans. Like Calvert, she said her animations began as notebook doodles. She attributes the popularity of stick cartoons to the ease of drawing them. As for why they all end in death, she said "dying is quick -- it doesn't require a plot."
Some of the most disturbing animations are at "Stix N' Spuds," created by two 15-year-old high school students, Ross and John, whose real names and locations I'm not going to divulge because of how much trouble they'd probably be in if their parents found out. In one of the animations, a son blows his mother's head off with a shotgun when she won't give him money to go to the movies. In another, a boy who becomes jealous when his girlfriend kisses another guy gets on the roof of a middle school and takes out the couple with a rifle, then blows away the rest of his classmates with a bazooka.
In a phone call, Ross said that both animations are reality-based. He said he once had a girl take off with another guy at a party, and that he drew the cartoon to "take my mind off it, channel my anger and have stick people die instead of people." He said his friend did the other animation because "sometimes his mom's not the greatest."
Ross said he owns a shotgun, which he likes to use to hunt animals, not people, and that he wants to be a soldier, not to kill but because "being in the military is like being in one big family that is pulling together." He described himself as "just a normal kid" who enjoys paint ball games, wrestling and baseball. "I got a girlfriend and everything," he added.
Asked why people shouldn't worry he might be the next Columbine, he laughed. "I'm sorry, but those kids were not all there. I'm not racist and I'm not into killing people," he said.
Some of the other sites take a more cerebral approach. Bob Thompson's "Sticks of Death" includes parodies of James Cameron's "Titanic," "Death of a Salesman," "Waiting for Godot" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" (the caption reads "Suzanne takes you do-own" as a stick chick shoots the head off a stick guy).
"Monkey Business Cartoons" sends up Quentin Tarantino with "Stick Fiction," and also has an animation in which a teenager tells his mom he's gay, and she proceeds to bludgeon him to death with a frying pan.
If you still aren't convinced that some of the makers of stick snuff may be a couple of croutons short of a salad, consider Mark Shifflett's "SHiFLeTTo's SPaCe-aGe CYBeR-CeNTeR." Bad enough he has a snuff flick titled "Tickle Me Elmo Meets Furby." There's also a shrine to William Frawley, a.k.a. Fred Mertz.
Get a grip!