He Was Number One - A Tribute to Stephen Hillenburg

Written 11/27/18

It's hard to believe that a mere two weeks after writing and drawing a tribute to the memory of Stan Lee, I would do so again for another icon in the world of cartoons: Stephen Hillenburg, creator of SpongeBob SquarePants.

While Stan Lee was a very public figure, Stephen seemed best known to the people working behind the scenes - the cast and crew on SpongeBob, as well as Rocko's Modern Life. He started off as a Marine Biology teacher, but got into cartooning and eventually made one of the most iconic cartoon characters to come out of the late 20th century.

As a teacher who loves cartooning, and as someone who would rather have his creations become famous than be in the limelight himself, I'd say he had a career I can really respect. And knowing that he was only a few years older than me when he pitched SpongeBob has me believing that it's not too late for me to reach lots of people with my own art.

It's hard to believe that SpongeBob will be 20 years old next April. While I'll admit that I haven't watched the show in some time - the show's kinda jumped the shark in recent years, especially without Stephen's input - it's still a cartoon I've known nearly two-thirds of my life, and one whose funny moments are ingrained in my memory. When I hear someone talk about East and West, my brain recalls, "Oh... East? I thought you said 'Weast'!" Whenever I make salad, I jokingly pronounce it "SAL-add". And I've yet to find a name as funny as Smitty Werbenjagermanjenson.

Speaking of Smitty, I know I'm not the first person to respond to Stephen's death by bringing up the "He was number one!" quote, or to put Stephen's name on Smitty's #1 tombstone, but it still felt right to do so. It's hard to think of anything more fitting for a man who created a character so iconic - simple, relatable, and original - that he is still famous and going strong after twenty years.

You really WERE number one, Stephen Hillenburg.

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