Have you ever smoked pot in a Porta Potty? Built a “Fiesta Dinosaur” from discarded turkey legs? Worn your pajamas to Chuck E. Cheese? Smuggled an entire pizza into a movie theater? Flirted with a breakfast taco? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, there’s a decent chance your questionable behavior has inspired the work of local artist, writer and animator Robert Gonzales.
A San Antonio native who grew up on the city’s Southeast side, Gonzales spoke exclusively Spanish until age 4 but gained a quick command of English as a Keystone student with an “insane television addiction.” Over iced tea and cake at Candlelight Coffeehouse last week, Gonzales explained that “hours of watching Perfect Strangers
and Knight Rider
and fucking Silver Spoons
and countless hours of The Jeffersons
” played an unsuspecting role in his mastery of English. (Fittingly, Spanglish and comedy comingle to great effect in his animations.)
After Keystone, Gonzales attended Alamo Heights High School, where — full disclosure — he and I could often be seen looking truly miserable in royal-blue polyester marching-band uniforms, beating on bass drums in the Texas heat. At San Antonio College and the University of Texas at Austin, he studied philosophy and art history with the intention of becoming a lawyer or teacher. In his 20s, he socialized amid the colorful scene that populated Franco Mondini-Ruiz’s Botánica Infinito — a legendary emporium that displayed some of Gonzales’ cartoony paintings.
While passing through San Antonio in the 1990s, late poet Michele Serros bought a couple of Gonzales’ paintings from Botánica Infinito and encouraged him to give his art career a shot in Los Angeles, where he “floundered for five years.” Although he seems to regret his lack of direction during his California years (“I had zero game plan,” he confessed), Gonzales showed and sold his work in L.A. coffeehouses, taught himself graphic art and eventually landed a design gig for a trade publication.
Fast-forward a few years, and Gonzales had moved back to San Antonio and landed a string of full-time graphic design jobs (working for an architecture firm, the Witte Museum and most recently the Majestic Theatre). As successful as that might sound, Gonzales describes this period of his life as uninspiring. “I was doing graphic art, and just bored out of my mind,” he said. “Going from fine arts into doing brochures? Oh, my God. I was totally bored doing brochures and posters and all that shit. And I started to feel the pull of doing other stuff, but painting was a little less appealing to me.”
Feeling disillusioned by both the financial complexities of fine art and an increasing saturation within the field of graphic design, Gonzales decided to flip the script. “The kind of switch that I consciously made was stopping doing paintings that were cartoony and just saying, ‘Fuck it, I’m doing cartoons.’” Much like he’d taught himself graphic design, Gonzales dove into animation with no formal training and found his footing quickly.
Aptly beginning with a short piece about his hometown (starring a San Antonio-centric character named Ernie), Gonzales’ first-ever animation earned him third place in a Texas Monthly competition titled “Where I’m From.” That early taste of success inspired him to keep pushing forward. “I felt, like, this is resonating,” he said. “So, the next year, the city of San Antonio ran their Neighborhood Film Project, and I entered a film.” Not only did he take home top honors in his category (the Southside), he went on to win first prize the following two years with shorts inspired by the West and North sides. Encouraged by those three wins, Gonzales continued developing his Ernie character in short, smart, quirky animations that are distinctly San Antonio but still easily digested by a broader audience.
The Ernie Show
In essence a family comedy, The Ernie Show
plays out around two couples. Ernie, a dreamer Gonzales has always pictured as “retired from Kelly Air Force Base, with a lot of spare time,” is married to Patsy, a no-nonsense woman who’s perpetually ready to burst Ernie’s bubble. They have two kids: Jaime, a teen Goth who speaks in monotone (voiced by Gonzales) and a daughter who’s only evidenced by the destructive twin daughters she’s left behind. “The twins are a force of nature who just destroy shit,” Gonzales explained. Providing amusing counterbalance to this fairly conservative couple are Ernie’s sister Yolanda, her dopey boyfriend Rudy, their son Superchubs, and Rudy’s partner in crime Jojo — a scene-stealing, alcoholic little person who’s rarely let inside the house. There’s also a random lunkhead named Javi with a daughter named Choriza. “There are levels of craziness,” Gonzales said. “Ernie’s kind of normal; Rudy’s a little out there; and Jojo’s a fucking mess.” Yolanda getting an unrecognizable tattoo of Prince on her ass, Jojo getting stuck inside a skill crane in the arcade at Pizza Ratón, and Choriza getting stage fright while dressed as baby Selena are but a few of the scenarios that make The Ernie Show
truly binge-worthy. (And at four minutes or less per episode, you’ve really got no excuse.)
Once he’d created a decent number of episodes, Gonzales started reaching out to other creators and struck up a well-received collaboration with Houston-based rapper/producer Chingo Bling. When he learned that Saturday Night Live
alums Horatio Sanz and Fred Armisen were looking for creative content for a Latino offshoot of Above Average, the web wing of Lorne Michaels’ media company Broadway Video Entertainment, Gonzales tweeted Sanz a link to The Ernie Show
. As a result of that tweet, Gonzales ended up signing a contract in 2016 with Más Mejor, which developed a 30-minute pilot for The Ernie Show
with Bento Box Entertainment, the Emmy-winning studio behind Bob’s Burgers
. Gonzales co-wrote and executive-produced the pilot, which came extremely close to getting picked up by a cable network and is still being shopped around by Más Mejor. “I’m still hopeful for it,” Gonzales said. “There’s still life to it.”
Hopeful as he may be, Gonzales also learned some tough lessons from the evolution of The Ernie Show
. Since Más Mejor now owns the exclusive rights to the show, Gonzales is no longer able to animate Ernie or any of the other characters he’s developed over the last five years. “I was dying to tell these stories, and I had these jokes, and all these things I wanted to do,” Gonzales said. “But they owned the rights and I couldn’t do anything.” Más Mejor even asked for more Ernie but Gonzales passed on the offer. “If this was 20 years ago, I would’ve had to buy film, hire animators, there would’ve been massive overhead to do it,” he explained. “The fact that I can do it all myself right now means that the real deciding factor is time. So, if I wanted to slide my time into their stuff and get paid for it, I could still do that. But this is the bratty artist in me saying, ‘No, my time is limited. I want to have 1,000 percent control over everything.’”
This realization has sparked several new projects that are similar in tone and style to The Ernie Show
but introduce new settings and characters. One project transforms characters reminiscent of Rudy and Jojo into a minotaur and a centaur who get stoned a lot and roam a Conan the Barbarian
-era wasteland complete with lasers and babes in leather bikinis. Inspired by the wild stories Gonzales hears from several educators in his life, the other project follows a middle-aged Mexican-American woman named Janie who works in a dysfunctional high school administration office.
But before she clocks in for another thankless day at the office, Janie is anxious to share some crafty tips to help you make the most of Fiesta.
Janie’s Guide to Fiesta
Pitched to us as a handful of “short, dumb and absurd” Fiesta tips animated in his signature style, this four-episode series strays from Gonzales’ norm in that it’s not meant to be fully understood by anyone other than San Antonians. “Who gets fired up about other cities' local festivals? Portland Rose Festival? I don’t care,” Gonzales scoffed. As he does with Ernie, Gonzales proves himself here as an offbeat humorist with a truly unique perspective and hilarious way with words. Without giving away too much — trust us, you will not be fully prepared for Fiesta unless you see and hear Janie’s bizarre pearls of wisdom — here’s a brief synopsis of each episode we’ll be rolling out throughout Fiesta on our site and social media channels.
Money Saving Tips
In the first episode, Janie warns viewers that if you don’t do Fiesta right, you can wind up “broke, hungover and even fired.” In Janie’s opinion, doing Fiesta “right” involves scamming (and possibly counterfeiting) food tickets, smuggling booze into events and whatever else it might take to save a little “diaper money.”
Porta Potty Tips
In episode two, our hostess introduces herself as “Janie from HR” but doesn’t bother disclosing who her employer is. Citing the copious amounts of beer Fiesta-goers consume at each and every event, she presents Porta Potties as one of the annual celebration’s necessary evils. Tie your shoes, bring your own wipes (preferably Hill Country Fare) and be prepared to hold your breath.
Fiesta Arts and Crafts
Always ready to save a little “beer money,” Janie isn’t about to drop her hard-earned coins on Fiesta fanfare — especially if she can make it at home herself. In episode three, she proves herself as a creative reuse specialist, upcycling children’s chanclas into a festive wreath and constructing what’s quite possibly the world’s first and only “Fiesta dinosaur” from discarded turkey bones.
Clearly speaking from experience, Janie shares tested ways to nip that Tuesday morning Fiesta hangover in the bud – whether it be a thermos full of menudo, a full quart of beer for lunch or a nap in an empty office cubicle. But when it's really serious? “Call in sick. A hangover is alcohol poisoning. You want to go to work poisoned? Hell no!”
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