November 26th of 2018… without a doubt, a sad day in Bikini Bottom. Although some might think it sounds like a lot of hoopla to discuss the cultural relevance of a silly children’s cartoon (I mean, how does a sea sponge end up living in a pineapple to begin with?), I would strongly disagree. As a hugely popular TV character, Spongebob was more than just a loveable little absorbent, yellow, and porous caricature of enthusiasm. Together, with his zany conglomerate of sea creature pals (including his stingy crab boss, grouchy octopus neighbor, and goofy starfish companion), Spongebob Squarepants instilled in us an imaginative and childlike spirit, painting the aquatic world with an artistic ingenuity that was impossible not to fall in love with.
For this, we have Hillenburg to thank. Interestingly enough, Hillenburg began his career as a marine biology professor at the Orange County Marine Institute in Southern California. However, he always had a passion for animation, and later earned a degree from the California Institute of the Arts. He began working as an animator for Rocko’s Modern Life - another Nickelodeon cartoon that was very popular during the 1990’s - and worked on doodles of marine creatures from his previous career as a side project to the show. These charming drawings inspired Hillenburg, giving him the vision to combine his varied personal interests in a resourceful way. As we now know, that combination would turn into something extremely successful down the line.
Needless to say, Hillenburg was a true master of creativity. Not everyone at Nickelodeon believed in his ideas initially, but he proved them wrong in developing a massive franchise that has assuredly been a W for the network (W for “win”, not for “wumbo”). It’s truly a shame to witness the loss of such a gifted individual, but fans can always looks back on amusing memories from the cartoon, fortunate to have grown up watching it. In the eyes of the show, Smitty Werbenjagermanjensen may have been #1 - but it’s fair to say that title rightfully belongs to Hillenburg himself.
Rest in peace to a true visionary.