Craig of the Creek’s Fil-Am director champions cultural diversity

Charmie Joy Pagulong - The Philippine Star
Craig of the Creek�s Fil-Am director champions cultural diversity
Craig of the Creek Filipino-American supervising director Tiffany Ford

MANILA, Philippines — Did you know that the supervising director of Cartoon Network’s GLAAD-, Emmy- and NAACP Image Award-nominated series Craig of the Creek is a Filipino-American, who has roots in Cebu province? It was her Filipino grandparents who taught her the “importance of visual humor” and “universality” as seen through her arts.

Tiffany Ford was nominated for an Annie Award for Outstanding Achievement for Writing in an Animated Television Broadcast Production for Craig of the Creek in 2019.

The Fil-Am illustrator, storyboard artist, writer and director is also one of the creators of Jessica’s Big Little World, a Cartoonito spin-off in development. Tiffany describes Jessica as “Craig’s spirited little sister, who has always had a lot to say on the Craig of the Creek series. She is full of energy, curiosity, and goofiness.”

Tiffany was part of the award-winning series Steven Universe and Disney TV’s Big City Greens, and co-illustrated the New York Times best-selling children’s book The Answer by Rebecca Sugar.

Craig of the Creek characters (from left): Jessica, Kelsey, J. P. and Craig
Photo from Cartoon Network Instagram

Pride in Pinoy roots, values

“My grandparents, Benigna ‘Bening’ and Francisco ‘Kikong’ Barriga, came to the US from Danao, Cebu in the early ‘90s to help my mom raise me. They were already quite elderly when they came to help out, but they taught me a lot and we were very close,” she told The STAR in an e-mail interview.

“My Lola Bening was very kind and patient, and let us have fun and be ourselves. My Lolo Kikong was hardworking even in his old age and taught me things like how to garden, how to cut wood, and resourcefulness. They were funny, kind, and endlessly generous,” added Tiffany.

Although she lives in Los Angeles (L.A.), she still carries the Filipino values her folks had instilled in her at an early age. “My grandparents prayed the rosary every night, and after they were done, we would watch cartoons together while I did my homework.”

“They spoke very little English, and couldn’t understand the dialogue in a lot of the films and cartoons we were watching, but they laughed so hard at jokes and visual gags,” she added. “This memory stays with me, and really taught me the importance of visual humor, and reaching an audience beyond who you imagine. My grandparents were old and had no interest in cartoons, but still found certain things funny and entertaining. They helped me see a universality to comedy, art and entertainment,” said the young cartoonist and illustrator.

Her Filipina mom helped develop her interest in children’s animation. “I always liked to draw and had a lot of energy. My mom helped me channel that energy into drawing, which led to my interest in animation and art making in general.”

The last time she visited the Philippines was in 2002 in Cebu when she was 12. Before that, she and her family would frequent Cebu every year during summer time. She has a “lot of great memories” in the Philippines and hopes to visit again soon.

“I used to visit Cebu every year, and loved it very much,” Tiffany recounted. “My family works with a medical mission in Danao, called DAUSA, and they do their best to go home every year to help. My mom, a registered nurse, would drop me off at the farm to stay with family for days at a time. I played in the river with my cousins, and learned about different plants and animals around there.”

She added, “My cousins introduced me to different snacks and candies that we didn’t have as readily available in L.A. where I grew up, and those memories always stay with me.”

Tiffany with her grandparents Benigna ‘Bening’ and Francisco ‘Kikong’ Barriga

Craig of the Creek and Jessica’s Big Little World

Craig of the Creek tells a story of a boy named Craig Williams and his two friends Kelsey Pokoly and John Paul “J.P.” Mercer. Craig and his friends enjoy life adventures after school in their local creek described as a “kid utopia of untamed suburban wilderness.”

Created by Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, the show was “based on their childhoods playing by the creek in their homes and their various interests growing up,” Tiffany explained.

As supervising director of the series, Tiffany oversees the overall production process for each episode. She also does the storyboard and is behind the voice of Cariss and Paloma in the animated show.

The series is special to her because of the “earnest nature of the stories” and the crew behind it is “amazing group of people who all put so much of their personal stories and love into the show that we see today.” In her words, the “Craig of the Creek series is made from love from the inside out.”

Her personal favorites in the series are Cannonball played by Jeff Trammell and Craig’s mom, Nicole, played by Kimberly Hébert Gregory. She likes Cannonball because he is “both mysterious, and open hearted, and we’re always learning something new about his life with just a small nugget of information. And, he’s super funny!”

She loves Nicole because “she’s interesting, with a lot of history, and I appreciate that she always meets her kids with an open mind and heart.”

One of the significant lessons we can learn from the series is that “everyone is unique, everyone is worth knowing, and we live in a world with many unique characters from different backgrounds who are all a potential friend with a full story behind them,” Tiffany pointed out.

As for the upcoming Jessica’s Big Little World (working title), she will be working with Craig of the Creek co-creators as well.  The message she wants to tell the audience in the recently-announced series is: “Be yourself! It’s okay to be smart, and goofy, and make mistakes, and be all these things all at once while still being your very best self.”

Diverse representations

Craig of the Creek has been cited for its progressive and diverse representations in terms of race, ethnicity and gender.

Tiffany tries to incorporate cultural diversity themes into her artworks to pay homage to her roots. “In my work, I try to tell stories about everyday people and also represent those who have similar backgrounds to my own. I grew up in L.A., in a community with many kids from immigrant families from different countries, like my own. It’s important for me to push stories of diverse backgrounds and personalities.”

“When I was a kid I used to get so excited to see any Filipino representation on screen,” she furthered, “and today I feel lucky that I can contribute to even more representation. I hope I can continue to work toward helping others see themselves in media as well, and lift up unrepresented stories of all kinds.”

In the future, she hopes to collaborate with Filipino artists and cartoonists. “There are some that I love and admire here in the States, and I hope to find and connect with more artists of different Filipino backgrounds as time goes on.”

She advised aspiring animators to “be yourself, be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and there is always a space for you in the world of art. Everyone has a unique voice that is worth sharing, and everything you do is worth doing if you love it. Don’t give up and don’t compare yourself to others — there’s only one you in the world!”

Seasons 1 to 3 (but only eight episodes so far from Season 3) of the series are available on HBO Go while the new episodes are shown on weekends via Cartoon Network.

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