Stephen Hillenburg in 2004. (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)

How Stephen Hillenburg created ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’

As a marine biology teacher at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, Stephen Hillenburg created a comic book called “Intertidal Zone” as an educational tool. He later studied animation at the California Institute of the Arts, then got a job at Nickelodeon, where he developed his “Intertidal Zone” characters. The result was “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

Bob the Sponge, left, in Stephen Hillenburg’s original “Intertidal Zone” comic book, circa 1989.

The television cartoon became a $13 billion media juggernaut, but Hillenburg’s original mission — to stir imagination at the wonders of the sea — was never far behind. Ahead of the release of a “SpongeBob” documentary in 2009, Hillenburg told the Washington Post that “the show came from something that’s precious, and that we need to appreciate it.”

“Hopefully, if you watch ‘SpongeBob,’” he said, “you see the plankton and the crabs and starfish, and you’ll want to take care of our oceans.”

Hillenburg died in 2018 from Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 57. His ashes were scattered in the Pacific.

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