Steve Purcell (born October 1, 1961) is an American cartoonist, animator, director, and game designer. He is most widely known as the creator of Sam & Max, an independent comic book series about a pair of anthropomorphic animal vigilantes and private investigators, for which Purcell received an Eisner Award in 2007. Since being a comic, the series has grown to incorporate an animated television series and several video games. A graduate of the California College of Arts and Craft, Purcell began his career creating comic strips for the college newsletter. He performed freelance work for Marvel Comics and Fishwrap Productions before publishing his first Sam & Max comic in 1987. Purcell was hired by LucasArts as an artist and animator in 1988, working on several titles within the company's adventure games era.
Purcell collaborated with Nelvana to create a Sam & Max television series in 1997, and briefly worked as an animator for Industrial Light and Magic after leaving LucasArts. He is currently employed in the story development department at Pixar. Much of his work for the animation studio has been with the 2006 film Cars and spin-off materials such as shorts and video games. He was head of story and co-director for Brave. His most recent work was as director of the television special Toy Story That Time Forgot. Despite his employment with Pixar, Purcell has continued to work with comic books and came together with Telltale Games in 2005 to bring about new series of Sam & Max video games.
Purcell entered into a career with comic books while an undergraduate at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1980, where he produced comic strips for the weekly newsletter. These strips featured Sam and Max, an anthropomorphic dog and rabbit duo who work as vigilantes and private investigators; Purcell drew the first strip the night before the deadline. Following graduation, Purcell became involved in freelance illustration, working briefly for Marvel Comics and on Steven Moncuse's Fish Police series. In 1987, Moncuse approached Purcell about the possibility of another comic book series to accompany his Fish Police series, which was performing well at the time. Purcell agreed, and wrote his first feature length comic using the characters of Sam and Max. The 32-page comic was published by Fishwrap Productions in 1987. The comic contained two Sam & Max stories, "Monkeys Violating the Heavenly Temple"—a name that Purcell found on a firework and thought was appropriate—and "Night of the Gilded Heron-Shark". Purcell published a further story, "Night of the Cringing Wildebeest", in a 1987 issue of Critters. These three stories established the basics for Purcell's future work with the characters.
In 1988, Purcell was hired by LucasArts, then known as Lucasfilm Games, as an animator, but was subsequently laid off when the project he was working on was canceled. However, he was rehired to produce artwork for the graphic adventure game Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Purcell was later commissioned to create the cover artwork for Maniac Mansion and the first two Monkey Island games and researched into whips for the adventure game version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In addition, Purcell worked with animation in several LucasArts adventure games. During this time, Purcell published three more Sam & Max comic books, and began creating brief comic strips for LucasArts' quarterly newsletter, The Adventurer. The characters eventually became involved as training material for LucasArts programmers working with SCUMM, the core game engine used by LucasArts adventure games; Purcell created versions of Sam and Max in their office for new programmers under Ron Gilbert to practice on. References to the characters were occasionally made in unrelated LucasArts adventure games, usually in the form of a clandestine appearance in backgrounds. In 1992, Purcell wrote the six-issue 1992 comic book series Defenders of Dynatron City for Marvel Comics.
After a positive reaction to the Sam & Max strips in The Adventurer and wanting to expand into other franchises following Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island, LucasArts offered in 1992 to create a graphic adventure game on the characters. Sam & Max Hit the Road was conceived, developed by a small team headed by Purcell, Sean Clark, Michael Stemmle and Collette Michaud. Purcell decided to base the game on one of his earlier Sam & Max stories, the 1988 story "On The Road". In 1995, Purcell combined all previously published Sam & Max printed media into a 154-page paperback compilation, Sam & Max: Surfing the Highway. After producing the cover artwork for Herc's Adventures and concept art for The Curse of Monkey Island, Purcell left LucasArts.
In 1996, Purcell joined with Dan Smith, a story editor at the Canadian studio Nelvana, to create an animated television series of Sam & Max. The result was the 1997 series The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, which was broadcast on Fox Kids in the United States, YTV in Canada and Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. Purcell wrote the jokes for each installment of the 24 episode series, and wrote the scripts for four episodes. Although the violence and mild profanity common in the Sam & Max franchise was toned down due to the target audience of children, Purcell was content that the characters maintained their moral ambiguity. Some parent groups in the United States attempted to have the series pulled from networks due to content issues; Purcell was pleased that they "had managed to ruffle some feathers along the way". Two Sam & Max comic strips appeared in Fox's Totally Fox Kids Magazine in 1998 to accompany the series, while other Sam & Max strips appeared in Wizard and Oni Double Feature. During the development of the television series in 1997, Purcell co-authored and illustrated the Hellboy Christmas Special with Mike Mignola and Gary Gianni. After the conclusion of the Sam & Max animated series, Purcell was briefly employed by Industrial Light and Magic to work on digital effects for a film version of Frankenstein. However, the project was later canceled and Purcell believes that some of the development work eventually morphed into ILM's contributions to Van Helsing.
After the brief stint at ILM, Purcell moved to Pixar. However, although employed by Pixar, Purcell acted as an advisor in the development of Sam & Max: Freelance Police, a sequel to Sam & Max Hit the Road that began development in 2002 under LucasArts. Purcell provided Michael Stemmle's development team with concept art and assisted in the creation of the game's plot. However, LucasArts abruptly canceled the project in March 2004; Purcell described himself as "frustrated and disappointed" at the decision, unable to understand why development, which had been proceeding smoothly, had been halted. At Pixar's story development department, Purcell contributed screenplay material and voice work for the 2006 film Cars, and designed the character of the Screamin' Banshee in the short Mater and the Ghostlight. Purcell also became involved with THQ's video game adaptations of Pixar films, providing scripts and voice work for three games based Cars. Purcell was also credited for involvement with Pixar's 2007 film Ratatouille. He also did the voice of The Crow in Brave and The Legend of Mor'du.
In 2005, LucasArt's license with Purcell giving them the right to produce games based on the Sam & Max franchise expired, allowing Purcell to take the franchise to Telltale Games, a new company formed by members of Stemmle's development team. A new episodic series of Sam & Max games, Sam & Max Save the World, was announced. Purcell's work on the new game series encompassed design and writing, as well as the design of the game's cover artwork; however, Purcell described his work as "minimal" due to the effectiveness of the team. At the same time, Purcell began a Sam & Max webcomic hosted on the Telltale Games website. The webcomic ran for twelve issues and earned Purcell an Eisner Award for "Best Digital Comic" when the comic finished its run in 2007. When Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space began development in 2007, Purcell again assisted with design and writing. Through Telltale Games, Purcell released two sketchbooks of his Sam & Max work, and released a 20th anniversary edition of Sam & Max: Surfin' the Highway in 2008. Purcell currently remains employed at Pixar's story development department.
Purcell grew up in California, where he still resides. In a 2000 interview, Purcell stated that he had been drawing all his life, and still possesses drawings from when he was three years old. Purcell describes himself as an "average" student at school, but retrospectively wishes that he had tried harder at some classes, noting that his line of creative work depends entirely on things one learns. After studying film-making courses at junior college, Purcell enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts to read fine art, for which he now holds a bachelor's degree in. While at the college, Purcell befriended Mike Mignola, and later became a friend of Art Adams. Purcell cites the Marx Brothers, Peter Sellers and Monty Python as among his interests, and states that he is inspired by "creative people who have made their seemingly most self-indulgent artistic whims into a career". In 1993, during the development of Sam & Max Hit the Road, Purcell married fellow lead designer Collette Michaud; the wedding cake was topped with figurines of Sam and Max as a bride and groom. Purcell has two sons.
The characters of Sam and Max were created in Purcell's youth; originally, Purcell's younger brother Dave came up with the idea of a dog and rabbit detective duo, and created several comics of his idea. Dave would often leave unfinished comics around the house, and Steve, in a case of sibling rivalry, would sometimes finish the stories in parodies of their original form, deliberately making the characters mix up each other's names, shoot at each other and mock the way in which they had been drawn. Over time, this developed from Steve merely mocking his brother's to the creation of his own stories with the characters. Ultimately, in the late 1970s, Dave Purcell gave Steve the rights to the characters, signing them over in a contract on Steve's birthday and allowing him to develop the characters in his own way. Purcell believes that his younger brother has recovered and forgiven him from their earlier years. Purcell has an interest in rats, having kept one as a pet in his youth; rats commonly feature in his artistic work.
- Cars (2006) – additional screenplay material, voice of Tractors
- Mater and the Ghostlight (2006) – additional character design
- Cars: The Video Game (2006) – writing and additional voices
- Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures (2006) – writing, voice of Tractors
- Ratatouille (2007) – production crew
- Cars: Mater-National Championship (2007) – writing and additional voices
- George & A.J. (2009) – voice of Carl Fredricksen
- Brave (2012) - co-director, writing and voice of The Crow
- The Legend of Mor'du (2012) - voice of The Crow
- The Radiator Springs 500½ (2014) - voice of Sandy Dunes
- Toy Story That Time Forgot (2014) - director, voice of The Cleric
- Toy Story 4 (2019) - voice of The Bensons
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