Ren & Stimpy creator Jon Kricfalusi is seen as something of an elder statesman of animation—but to two former employees, he seems more like a dirty old man. Robyn Byrd and Katie Rice say they were in their early teens and Kricfalusi was nearly 40 when he contacted and groomed them, sending them art supplies and promising to get their careers in animation started at his Spumco studio, BuzzFeed reports. Byrd ended up leaving her home in Tucson to live with Kricfalusi as his girlfriend and intern in Los Angeles in 1997, when she was 16. Their relationship was an open secret, former colleagues say, despite the fact that California's age of consent is 18. She says he told her the 25-year age difference was "romantic." Byrd was with Kricfalusi off and on for the next five years, but she says she regrets getting "swept up" in the relationship.
He "ruined a good bit of my childhood and my early adulthood, gave me PTSD, and forced me to change careers," Byrd says (she no longer works in animation). Her former colleague, artist Katie Rice, says she began communicating with Kricfalusi when she was 14. She says his creepy behavior when she was a minor included masturbating over the phone. Rice says that while they never had a physical relationship, he persistently sexually harassed her when she started working for Spumco at age 18. She says she left after he joked about raping her and alleges she found child porn on his computer. A lawyer for Kricfalusi, who is now 62, says the animator did have a 16-year-old girlfriend when he was 41, though he was struggling with alcoholism at the time and was diagnosed with mental illness in 1998, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.