In 1994, a marine biologist and animation fan created a comic called The Intertidal Zone. He used it to teach his students about aquatic life, and was co-hosted by one Bob The Sponge. After being turned down by comic publishers, his ambitions led him to the California Institute of The Arts, which eventually led him to a directing job on early Nickelodeon classic Rocko's Modern Life. Years later, it was his work with Rocko that would eventually convince him to retool his first creation and announce to the world who exactly lives in a pineapple under the sea.
Stephen Hillenburg, the creator of Spongebob Squarepants, passed away today at the age of 57 due to complications from ALS. The show's legacy has only continued to grow over its nearly 20-year run, and even after leaving his duties as showrunner behind in 2009, it's become Hillenburg's signature creation. It took the lessons learned from surreal cartoons like Ren & Stimpy and Rocko and flung them 20,000 leagues under the sea to the city of Bikini Bottom, the anchor tied to at least two generation's worth of humor. A multimedia empire that is still at the very center of internet meme culture, Spongebob has braved the choppy waters of pop culture and still remains a magnetic force to be reckoned with. And for that, we have one extremely determined marine biologist to thank. We'll miss you, Mr. Hillenburg.
Hillenburg loved aquatic life almost as much as he loved alternative rock, apparently. Sometime after the show's creation, he called rock band Ween to let them know that their album The Mollusk was a heavy influence on him. The respect was mutual and led to the group contributing the song "Loop De Loop" to the episode "Your Shoe's Untied" and Mollusk song "Ocean Man" closing out The Spongebob Squarepants Movie.
From the very start, Spongebob was a superhumanly determined sponge ready to serve the people of Bikini Bottom through his job as a fry cook at the Krusty Krab. Hillenburg could certainly relate, as he also worked as a fry cook when he was younger. He came a long way from that lobster restaurant in Maine.
Spongebob's colorful cast of characters is about as memorable as cartoons get, but even they have their dark secrets. In a season 1 DVD commentary track, writer and voice of Plankton Mr. Lawrence revealed that Hillenburg had initially based the seven main characters -- Spongebob, Patrick, Sandy, Squidward, Mr. Krabs, Plankton, and Gary -- on the Seven Deadly Sins. Fans have attempted to suss out who is who -- Squidward as Wrath, Krabs as Greed, Patrick as Sloth, etc -- so while we may never hear the words from Hillenburg itself, this just gives fans even more reason to dig.
Speaking of Plankton, the small sea creature was married to a very sarcastic sentient computer named Karen. Short for The computer was named after Karen Hillenburg, Stephen's wife who was most likely not nearly as evil or sarcastic as the character that would bear her name.