In Toon with Tots

updated 03/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/03/1997 AT 01:00 AM EST

GENNDY TARTAKOVSKY, 27, animator

Near the tip of Genndy Tartakovsky's right index finger is a pronounced indentation. "A lot of animators have these things," he says. "We call it the index indent, and it comes from drawing so much. The bigger the hump, the longer they've been working." If the success of Dexter's Laboratory, Tartakovsky's own TV cartoon series, is any indication, the Russian-born animator is facing a painfully long career indeed. Dexter—which tracks the misadventures of a boy-genius inventor—won Emmy nominations in 1995 and 1996 for outstanding animated program and, as one of the top-rated shows on cable's Cartoon Network, has turned its bachelor creator into one of the industry's rising stars.

First person: "It's pretty unreal," says Tartakovsky of his success, "but it's Hollywood.... I'll ride it out and whatever happens next, happens."

Second opinion: "He's got it all," says Cartoon Network president Betty Cohen. "He's like a big kid in how he seems to understand drama from a child's viewpoint."

Odyssey: Born in Moscow (where father was a dentist) but emigrated to Columbus, Ohio, with parents and older brother when he was 7. "I loved comic books and cartoons, but I wasn't exposed to that much over there," he says. "When I came here...I just fell in love with television."

Report card: Hoped to study advertising art at Chicago's Columbia College but switched to animation when ad classes were filled. Transferred to CalArts in Valencia, Calif., in 1990, where, drawing on boyhood shenanigans with brother Alex, now 29, he created Dexter as a student project.

Résumé: Also worked on the cartoon series The Critic, Tiny Toon Adventures and Batman: The Animated Series.

Vitals: Single; rents a two-bedroom house in Studio City and drives a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser; now gets up at 6 a.m. to work 60 hours a week in his cluttered studio at the Hanna-Barbera lot in Hollywood.

Survival skills: "I used to eat a lot of burritos, but I'm trying to cut down. Lately I've been having a lot of turkey sandwiches and fries."

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