SpongeBob 23 years later still holds the world in his hand


Carlos Cazurro

“Stephen Hillenburg – SpongeBob SquarePants Bible” by Toon a Ville is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“I’m ready!” 

These two words are what I live by. Though not a perfect character SpongeBob has characteristics I always tried to emulate. His perseverance and ability to keep moving forward and coming out on top at the end of an episode is inspirational to me. 

The first “SpongeBob SquarePants” episode premiered on May 1, 1999. This means the show turned 23 this year, and that also means I’m 20 days older than Spongebob. 

Ever since the first episode, SpongeBob has been a cultural force and maybe the greatest cartoon ever. 

SpongeBob was created by Stephen Hillenburg, a former California State University student graduate from Cal Poly Humboldt (formerly known as Humboldt State University). Hillenburg became a marine-biology teacher at The Ocean Institute in Dana Point, California, after graduating. 

One day he was asked to create an educational comic book for the institution, and there, despite using a completely different design, he made Bob the Sponge, the first idea of the character many of us have grown to know and love.  

After some years of working as a teacher, Hillenberg decided to switch from teaching to becoming an art student, enrolling in the master’s program at the California Institute of Arts.

Following his time at school, Hillenberg got a job as a director on the legendary show “Rocko’s Modern Life.

When the show ended, Hillenburg decided to make his own cartoon, and from there, our beloved fry cook who lives in a pineapple under the sea really began to come into fruition.

Hillenburg’s idea for SpongeBob was an under the sea version of Jerry Lewis, a nerd the shape of a sink sponge.

Hillenburg created a pitch bible with future Creative Director Derek Draymond and Art Director Nick Jennings. 

One legendary pitch later, he got some money from Nickelodeon and two weeks to write the pilot. Eventually, he got the green light for 13 episodes, and the rest is history.

Aside from making the childhood of countless kids, the show’s most significant impact has been on meme culture. Open up any social media app and I guarantee you will see at least one SpongeBob meme if you stay on that app long enough. Or you can google “SpongeBob meme” and be completely overwhelmed by the plethora of memes.

Seasons 1-3 are the best. My mom told me that I couldn’t stop watching it as a kid. This is true to this day, especially after extracurricular activities.

Now, SpongeBob has become a show I watch for inspiration. It helps me relax my mind because I never get sick of it, even having seen the same episodes a couple hundred times. It’s funny, the characters are memorable and the story of each episode, when written well, probably makes for the best writing in cartoon history. 

Trust me, it has plenty of exceptionally written episodes. Yes, there have been rough times in the show’s history, but that hasn’t slowed down SpongeBob and his friends’ adventures and shenanigans. They have created three movies which made them millions and have had many comeback seasons. 

These last couple of years have been pretty rough, but when I put the show on, it brings me back to a time in life when I felt like I didn’t have any problems. 

And for the character himself, voiced by Tom Kenny, his bright, happy personality inspires us to stay positive. It inspired me as a kid and even now, as an adult.

Sadly, the creator, Stephen Hillenburg, died at 57 years old from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, on Nov. 26, 2018. 

SpongeBob still lives on. The show is still airing with new episodes, but even if it ended today,  Hillenburg’s creation would continue to impact future generations, probably forever.

Mario Ortiz can be reached at [email protected] or @realnameismario on Twitter.