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NYCC 2008: "Edgar & Ellen" Panel Delivers Object Lesson in Proper Pranking

by on April 20, 2008

Pranksters of all ages were welcome at Nickelodeon’s Edgar & Ellen panel at New York Comic Con on Sunday. The panel was hosted by Sara Berliner of Star Farm, with illustrator Rick Carton and his brother and show writer Billy Carton in attendance. Attendees also got a free Edgar & Ellen book signed by Rick Carton, as well as advance copies a story from the upcoming Edgar & Ellen Graphic Novelty graphic novel. It’s also not every day that you get to see exactly why the oldest gag in the book got written in the book in the first place, but this panel handed out a free object lesson in proper pranking technique as a bonus.

Sara, Rick, Justin, and Billy at the Edgar & Ellen panelWhile Sara and the staff were grappling with the technical difficulties that seem endemic at the Javits Center, Rick began the panel by describing the setup for Edgar and Ellen as two mischievous twins in the town of Nod’s Limbs, who engage in serial pranks to shake up their boring town. Rick said that the series was very inspired by his own life growing up with a sibling, who was always either a target or an ally in juvenile hijinks. He also briefly covered the inspirations for the kids, running from the Addams Family to Dr. Seuss.

Rick briefly went into the difference between drawing for the books and for the show. The art for the books is deliberately moody and black-and-white, but he knew immediately that this dark and intricate style wouldn’t work in animation. However, a little bit of the original art style does creep into Edgar and Ellen’s half of the world in the TV show, with the dark, earthy shadows dominating their scenes strongly contrasting with the bright pastels and sunshine colors that dominate the rest of the world.

In response to a question from Sara, Billy said that working on an animated TV show was a Very Very Serious Business, where he has to sit in rooms with a bunch of grown-ups and answer such challenging questions as, “Should he fart or belch here? Should he sit on a cactus or a whoopee cushion?” All kidding aside, Billy mentioned that writing for TV is even more fun than it is normally because he gets to do it with his brother. He views Edgar and Ellen as a superheroes in a way, with their trademark striped footie pajamas being their costumes and their arch-enemies being boredom and sameness and monotony.

Billy briefly ran down how to write a TV script for the kids in the audience, starting from the germ of an idea to the silliness that happens in the writing room. He joked that the next step was to hand the script to the story editor, who “looks a bit like the Grim Reaper, and his job is to take a sickle and kill all their good ideas.”

Please play theme from 'Jaws' hereOnce the good ideas have all been scythed out of the episode, the script goes to the artists, where Rick picked up the process. He said that doing the art was even harder than writing because the writers will leave giant holes in scripts saying, “Do something really great here,” which is both fun and intimidating, even if he claimed that the artists hand back work all the time only to have the writers say, “That’s not what I wanted.”

When asked how many different people are needed to create an animated series, Billy estimated that it was probably more than 100 from start to finish, encouraging the kids in the audience that it’s easy to find a way to work in cartoons if that’s what they want to do. He also added that Edgar & Ellen is unique in that there’s always at least one segment of the show that’s inspired by contributions by the fans of the show. Kids are welcomed to send in ideas via the Edgar & Ellen website, and with the best ones turned into cartoons tagged with an “Inspired by” credit. Billy said that some of the ideas they get are so out there that they’d never have come up with them on their own, such as the one that inspired the 2-minute “Lepre-conned” that was screened for attendees. The pair also accepted a challenge to create a prank on the spot from three suggestions from the audience. The three items turned out to be water balloons, shoes, and a sledgehammer, and ultimately involved using a scam for Edgar and Ellen to either fire water balloons infused with smelly shoes, or a scam where the kids offer a shoe unstinking service that’s really a way to dump water balloons on people or smash their shoes with a sledgehammer.

These two get paid to think up things like that.

The pair showed another short, “Alien Absucktion,” which was a short starring Pet, Edgar and Ellen’s mute pet pile of hair (who, apparently, is best described as an “it” rather than a “he” or “she” because he has no gender. Rick said it was his favorite short on the show, although he recounted the difficulty he ran into with the coloring department who insisted on coloring a banana-inspired alien in strange and very non-banana-ish colors. He also pointed out that the cartoons allow them to give Pet a rich fantasy life that he doesn’t get in the books.

It's the oldest gag in the book because it's still funnyAt this point on the panel, Billy asked for a volunteer who considered him- or herself a world-class prankster. A young boy named Justin volunteered, and after a brief bit of scheming with Billy, asked Rick to autograph a coffee filter for him. Rick did so, and was rewarded by getting a pie in the face from Justin that was prepared when he wasn’t looking (right), much to the surprise and delight of the audience. Rick took it in good humor, though he jokingly grumbled that it was just like his brother to plan out a prank like that and forget to bring anything to clean up afterwards.

Some brief questions were fielded from the audience, including “where did you get a cream pie?”, whether Edgar and Ellen will get a sibling to pull pranks with/on, how some of the strange devices on the show work (“Cartoon Logic”), and whether there are ground rules to the Edgar & Ellen world. Billy stated that there are different rules for the book series and the show, such as the fact that magic and the supernatural are off-limits in the books, but can get worked into the show. Rick said that the series bible did have a big list of things that Edgar and Ellen wouldn’t do, topped with the rule that their pranks will never cause physical harm to others, aiming more to be funny and unexpected rather than painful and humiliating. The rest are guidelines that can be bent, but they are very conscious of the first rule.

(Return to Toon Zone’s New York Comic Con 2008 Complete Coverage)

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