This is something I've mentioned in passing before, but recently felt more compelled to write about it in greater detail. If you're familiar with TV Tropes (a site that has gone horribly downhill in terms of moderation and overall management), you're aware of a trope known as the Renaissance Age of Animation: this describes the period from the 80s up till the Turn of the Millennium, when the animation industry, in general, seemed to be in a real boom, from feature films (Don Bluth departing from Disney, the genesis of Pixar) to TV series (the Spielberg-produced toons, Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, etc), and seemed to bring the medium out from its Dark Age (from the 50s and up till the 80s, when limited animation was the set standard). In comparison to this Renaissance Age of Animation, I've often felt that we've recently had a similar age with puppetry. As mentioned, one of the defining factors for the Renaissance Age of Animation was cable: granted, cable wasn't exactly new at the time, but it was really booming, and with niche channels aimed specifically at kids and animation buffs, we saw a string of really creative and imaginative new animated series that defined a generation - whether it was Nickelodeon juggernauts RUGRATS or HEY ARNOLD! to Cartoon Network smashes like DEXTER'S LABORATORY or THE POWERPUFF GIRLS - these shows really set new standards in television animation. Looking at that as a model, I would have to say that one of the main reasons I feel we've had a Renaissance Age of Puppetry is because of the internet: more specifically, YouTube. When YouTube first emerged in the mid-to-late 2000s, its sole purpose was to offer creators a virtual platform to showcase their original videographic work with the rest of the world (no, really, it was . . . and we ruined it, but that's another discussion for another day), and plenty of people turned to it for that very reason, including puppeteers of varying degrees of experience.
I began producing and uploading Steve D'Monster videos in 2007, though there were others already utilizing YouTube to showcase their puppetry before then; most notably, Kevin L. Williams's Muley the Mule, and Tim Kelly's Zook and Max. For both of these talented individuals, their respective creations had existed years prior to their YouTube debuts, both in illustrated and foam rubber form; Kevin and Tim are cartoonists and puppeteers, and Muley, Zook, and Max have appeared in comics and in puppet forms.
Not to mention around the same time, there was also TRANSYLVANIA TELEVISION, an adult-oriented horror-sendup comedy with surprisingly impressive production values that was also really popular at the time, with such characters as Furry Ackermonster, Dwayne Frankenstein, and Batfink.
And there was also Julio Robles's dysfunctional little troupe that make up the gang of ScrapsTV, which I always thought of as a puppet version of a tribute band, anchored by the likes of Freddy J. Frog and Kodiak T. Bear.
Around the time I began regularly producing and uploading Steve entries for YouTube, other puppet acts were coming forward with new videos on a regular basis as well, with perhaps one of the better-known (and longer-running) examples being Shane Keating's dry and sardonic green monster Fenwick, with his aptly-named sidekick Bob Blob.
Jordan Sibayan also brought his Colbynfriends characters (who - like Muley, Zook, and Max - also existed in both cartoon and puppet form) to YouTube as well; most notably are the two headfigures of the cast, the green ratillion Colby Hussir, and the deadpan canine Dumb Dog.
Angela Altomare also introduced a number of characters as well, including a series of puppet vlogs hosted by Carly Sanderson, and later Charlene Heart (neither of which, unfortunately, have any videos still available), and the delightful Roaring Twenties-inspired showgirl dog Harmony Barker.
A little while later, other acts began emerging as well, such as the now-defunct CHEEKTV, which featured the beanie-wearing, cockney-accented purple monster, Cheeky, who would often offer up commentary and parodies of celebrity news and gossip, viral videos, and current events.
Also later arriving to the scene was Casey the Muppet, an FAO-Schwartz Muppet Whatnot avatar of creator Casey Daron, the self-proclaimed World's Biggest Muppet Fan.
And those are just a few to name!
During this time as well, there was almost something of a cozy little brotherhood that was formed amongst those of us involved in this internet puppetry flux, so much so that it wasn't uncommon for some of us to begin actually making references to each other's videos or characters; Fenwick was bold enough to completely parody Steve's "'Snow' is a Four-Lettered Word" episode (which also instigated Fenwick and Steve's fictional and non-existent feud between each other):
Colby and Dumb Dog also made a crossover appearance in a DEAR STEVE entry:
PUPPET POWER even served to gather together many of these different internet puppets into one special (it even marked the triumphant return of Zook and Max, after disappearing for a while):
Much like the Renaissance Age of Animation bringing forward a slew of animated series that were unlike anything you had seen before in television animation, the puppets you found on YouTube were all unique and distinct in comparison to so many other puppet series found on television before them - which, because almost all of them had Henson people involved, evoked such a Muppety vibe, that it's almost hard not to generalize television puppetry as "Muppets." Each of the YouTube puppets brought their own brand of humor, commentary, satire, and other levels of entertainment that really distinguished them from others, yet they all maintained an appeal that you could easily watch their videos again and again, and never tire of them.
Eventually, though, that age of YouTube puppets did slowly begin to fade away and die down; although the aforementioned PUPPET POWER was inspired to be a puppet version of the Nicktoon KaBLAM! (bringing together different forms and styles of puppetry in one special), it was also sort of an attempt to give the Renaissance Age of Puppetry something of a booster shot. Unfortunately, by then, the old magic that permeated through the older videos had fizzled away. Although there are small number of these characters that still pop up on rare occasions (Muley being one of them), many of the others have stopped uploading new content quite some time ago, for a variety of different reasons.
It does appear, however, that there is some sort of renewed interest in internet puppetry. Recently, cartoonist and puppeteer Jonathan Brangwynne has been uploading a few humorous puppet shorts on Vimeo:
More recently, a new series debuted on YouTube called WILTON'S WORLD, featuring humorous insight on a variety of different current events and hot topics, as well as starring two of some of the most impressive internet puppets I've seen to grace YouTube since the days of TVTV:
I really could go on and on about this subject (even Blogger wouldn't allow all of the labels I wanted to tag onto this post), but I think that if you were a part of this so-called Renaissance Age of Puppetry, or just watched from the sidelines, then you probably remember those days well enough to know that the magic spoke for itself. I think, perhaps, the most significant thing about this age was that with such an incredible tool like YouTube, puppeteers across the board were able to express their art and creativity in a way that would otherwise not have been possible. That, and it certainly sparked something of a boom in the general interest of puppetry itself, and proved that there's more to puppetry out there than just Muppets.