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In Memory of Stephen Hillenburg

Posted 12/13/2018 by Kaleb Pittman

Hillenburg’s zany characters can be attributed to the man’s own sense of personality and humor, which often shows through in his cartoons.

The highly esteemed creator of SpongeBob SquarePants may have passed on, but the impact his work had on the childhood of watchers across the globe will always be remembered.

Although cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) in March of 2017, he maintained an optimistic attitude and stated that he would continue his work on the popular cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants. Although his work after he was diagnosed was filled with just as much energy as his earlier seasons, tragedy struck last month on the 28th of November when Hillenburg succumbed to the disease. Without his personality and unique talent, both his show and expansive fanbase will never be the same.

Not enough people credit the show correctly for its astounding success. It was not corporate greed that earned it so much money, nor was its humor stemmed from a dull boardroom. Instead, all of the aspects that came together so perfectly within the show were cogs in the mind of Hillenburg, who secured a position as the show’s director, producer, cartoonist, and writer. His approach to witty, family-friendly content renewed Nickelodeon’s status in an age where comedic animation was lacking innovation. As a child, SpongeBob SquarePants managed to entertain through its absurdities. Comical imagery and hilarious one-liners have been present throughout the show’s runtime, and have never failed to entertain its younger audience. As an adult, however, SpongeBob SquarePants unique ability to hold itself above the standards of an average kids show and have a refreshing sense of relatability and wit is what truly makes the ordeal great.

Although it was not the only series he had worked on (Hillenburg was also a part of Nickelodeon’s team for Rocko’s Modern Life), it certainly ended up becoming the most influential. From its first airing in 1999, SpongeBob SquarePants has held consistently positive ratings, as well as a huge viewership. Today, many other cartoons are directly influenced by the wacky characters, designs, and plot devices with which the show first experimented. The show even helped spread animation throughout the world, as the expressive lip movements of the characters have resulted in the show being dubbed in over 60 different languages. Without its presence in animation, who knows what the modern cartoon might look like?

It is precisely for this influence that it is important to remember the extraordinary life of Hillenburg. His exploration into the field of animation has shaped so many lives, and it is hard to look back upon his work without a fond sense of familiarity, almost as though an entire generation who grew up with SpongeBob can consider Hillenburg as more than just an influencer, but a friend.