Ralph Bakshi initially developed the storyline concerning a tale of gritty, inner city life in the late sixties and approached producers with the idea of it as an animated feature film. With his experience primarily in industrial short subjects and commercials, producers balked. It was only after some success as the director of the X-rated animated feature Fritz the Cat in 1972 that Bakshi was given a green light on this more personal project which would also go on to receive an initial X rating. Samuel Z. Arkoff produced and distributed this for American International Pictures, as he earlier had for Fritz the Cat.
Heavy Traffic centers on Michael, a troubled underground cartoonist, living at home with his Mob connected Italian father and Jewish mother as they verbally argue and physically fight constantly. His outside world is equally chaotic and filled with odd and interesting characters, many prone to violence and profane outbursts. Live action gives way to animated scenes while photographic or filmed backgrounds often have animation overlayed.