Cartoon Network had quite a presence at New York Comic Con last October when it brought in a host of guests to attend its massive “CN Anything” panel, which you can read all about here. In attendance was creative and voice acting talent behind all of the channel’s latest big productions: Adventure Time, Clarence, Over the Garden Wall, Regular Show, Steven Universe and Uncle Grandpa. During the convention the guests were also made available for a service of roundtable interviews, and Toonzone was there with many other outlets to discuss their work.
Following below are edited transcripts for a series of four roundtable interviews conducted over the course of an hour. First up is a roundtable for Regular Show and Uncle Grandpa with Pete Browngardt, Paula Spence, Eric Bauza and Sam Marin. Second is a discussion of Adventure Time with Kent Osborne and Jessica DiCicco. After that is Steven Universe and Clarence with Rebecca Sugar, Spencer Rothbell, Zach Callison and Estelle Fanta Swaray, and then last and far from least is an interview about the mini-series Over the Garden Wall with Patrick McHale, Melanie Lynskey and Collin Dean. Read on for them all!
Regular Show and Uncle Grandpa Roundtable Interview
Guests – Pete Browngardt (creator and voice of Uncle Grandpa), Eric Bauza (voice of Belly Bag in Uncle Grandpa), Sam Marin (voice of Pops in Regular Show), Paula Spence (supervising art director, Regular Show)
Q: My first question is geared more towards Regular Show. Pops, where did you come up with the voice for it?
SAM MARIN: I think just looking at sketches and drawings first and then probably just playing around with it. I think his voice started a little bit more lower and just more of my own voice and then it kind of got higher sounding, probably just to make him different from Benson.
Q: You also do Muscle Man, right?
SAM MARIN: Yes.
Q: Two different variations, right? (laughter)
SAM MARIN: Muscle Man is all in the throat.
Q: How about Pops? Where’s Pops?
SAM MARIN: Pops, I think, is all in my head (laughter)
Q: Sam, if you wouldn’t mind, could you do any of the voices that you do on the show?
SAM MARIN: (laughs, as Pops) Oh, of course! I’m Pops…(as Benson) I’m Benson, hello. Nice to meet all of you. (as Muscle Man) And I’m Muscle Man. Hey. How’s it goin’?
Q: Pete, how was your work on Futurama?
PETE BROWNGARDT: It was good! It was my first job. I was 19, and I did the character layout, which is sort of pose characters out in the scene, and then they time it out and send it to Korea to be animated. But it was amazing. I’m really grateful for that experience, and super proud to have worked on that show. I worked on it mostly in the second and third seasons. Looking back on it, it was really just a great show.
TOONZONE NEWS: Would you say there was anything from the past that influences your work on Uncle Grandpa?
PETE BROWNGARDT: Everything! Really, I mean –
TZN: Anything special, though?
PETE BROWNGARDT: I don’t know, The Far Side, Gary Larsen, MAD Magazine, old Looney Tunes cartoons, Max Fleischer and Tex Avery. All that stuff.
Q: I was going to ask you because it’s such a weird, far-out show that it’s very MAD magazine friendly. How does it feel to just put everything out there and just go for weird?
PETE BROWNGARDT: It’s awesome, it’s super-freeing. I can’t believe they let me do it half the time.
PAULA SPENCE: You have to tell them that story from yesterday.
PETE BROWNGARDT: Which one?
PAULA SPENCE: Sergio Aragones.
PETE BROWNGARDT: Oh, yeah, yeah. Speaking of MAD Magazine, at the WonderCon in Anaheim, Sergio Aragones from MAD Magazine, brilliant and everything, was there, and I was like, “Oh, I have to go and say “hi” to him,” and he was at the booth and nobody was really coming up. So I went over and I talked to him and he recognized my name off the bat, and he was like, “Ah, where is that name?” And I told him about the show, and he had seen the show and he said, “You’re crazy.” (laughter) He was like, “Yeah, something’s going on up there with you.” And that was the greatest compliment that anyone could ever give. This is someone who, when I was like 8, I’d stare at his drawings in MAD Magazine for hours and try to copy them in my notebooks and stuff. And he knew something I had made, it was amazing. It was cooler than meeting, oh, I don’t know, Bruce Springsteen or something. For me, it was a big deal.
PETE BROWNGARDT: The only thing that we try to stay consistent is character and archetypes. We try to make the characters consistent, so if they do weird stuff, it’s “how would they react to it?” specifically. But no, not really any limitations. “No limitations” is our mind and it’s like, “OK, what do we do next?” And it’s challenging when you do a TV show and you can do so many episodes. It’s always like you do a really good storyboard for an episode, and you’re like, “Yeah! That was a good one!” and then “OK, let’s do it again, let’s be funny again. Let’s be funny again, and again, and in a different way, and again and again and again.” So, that’s challenging. We have little writer retreats where we get together and we try writing games and stuff like that, and come up with ideas and brainstorm.
Q: Eric, how was your work in Batman: Arkham City?
ERIC BAUZA: Oh, man. I’m rarely asked to do action video games, because come on. (laughter) But I guess that’s the best part about being a voiceover artist, you can just throw yourself into different situations. The same people that usually voice direct regular shows – but not Regular Show! – was Kris Zimmerman. She’s another woman who does a lot of video games. Collette Sunderman brought me on to do Batman and I played an Asian doctor on that, because come on (laughter). But it was great. There will be hardcore fans of that stuff, that were like, “Yeah, I was playing that game and you were that Asian doctor who was kidnapped by the Riddler! Cool! OK, I’ll see you later!” (laughter) It happened in the restroom, like, 5 minutes ago. It’s crazy. But yeah, I’m super happy to be called in to work whenever I can.
Q: I have a question for you, Sam. Being three major voices on Regular Show, what’s it like when you’re recording an episode, if you go back and watch it and see what a big amount of the episodes you are. What does that feel like? It’s Almost like a one-man show kind of thing.
SAM MARIN: Well, the first time it just made me laugh to hear my voice coming out of a cartoon. Even in school, when J.G. [Quintel] would just show me the animatics, he’d show me first because he was really secretive, but he’d be like, “Oh, Sam already worked on it so I’ll show him at least.” And I’d be just sitting in the computer lab laughing, and nobody would know what I was laughing at (laughter). I think I just get a kick out of it.
PAULA SPENCE: It’s pretty funny watching it. I haven’t seen it that often, but he talks – you go back and forth without thinking.
Q: Yeah, do you do that? Do you do runs? Or do you actually switch characters and have them talk to each other?
SAM MARIN: We do, at least the first time. I mean, I’m sure sometimes it doesn’t work out, but sometimes we do.
ERIC BAUZA: He’s the Mel Blanc of that show, you know? Literally. All the characters.
Q: So when you record, do you do them individually or do you go from character to character? Like you’ll be having a conversation with yourself?
ERIC BAUZA: We’ll do that once, and then we’ll just pick up one line at a time usually. Sometimes I’ll just read for one character through the scene, and someone else will read for the others just so I can focus on a character.
Q: Paula, what should we expect this year for Regular Show?
PAULA SPENCE: There’s been a few episodes that really killed me and my art team, just because it’s really fun to work really hard for J.G. He works really hard himself, and then hey throw these episodes at us and I’m like, “GAAAAAH! So many characters, so many wild things happening.”And, of course, a lot of stuff gets destroyed, but there’s going to be a lot of emotional drama in that love triangle, with Mordecai, Margaret, and Cloudy J. There’s some big stuff happening for Muscle Man, some big drama with Muscle Man, some really big special characters. We’ve got some half-hour specials, it’s going to be amazing.
TZN: Paula, could you talk a bit about the approach you take to the art style on this show?
PAULA SPENCE: As Sam said, J.G. likes to keep things to himself. Pretty secretive with his work, but he and I have worked together on Camp Lazlo and Flapjack, so he came to me and said, “I don’t know how to do the art, can you help me?” And that was it. We just worked together from there. He had some artists that influenced him. He had a very specific look in mind, it’s called Regular Show for a reason. He wanted those backgrounds to seem like everyone’s life. Everyone’s home, like…my job as the art director is to make sure that those backgrounds and all the artwork support the animation and the writing. Just help tell the story, plus it out, and then I have to make sure that we can actually produce the show. An 11-minute episode every week. I think it all worked out. I was kind of worried during the pilot stages that the backgrounds and the artwork might have looked a little boring, but he kept reminding me, “It’s called Regular Show for a reason.” And then when we actually screened all those Cartoonstitute shorts, the first few that came on, I was like, “God I can’t look at anything, I can’t concentrate!” But when Regular Show started, that theme music started, and it worked. I was so happy, and I’m glad that people like the look of the show. It’s fun to work on.
Q: I have a question for Pete. What was it like when you pitched an idea like Uncle Grandpa to Cartoon Network?
PETE BROWNGARDT: It was pretty terrifying (laughter). They asked me, Craig McCracken at the time, actually asked me – he saw I pitched something to him a long time ago, before he asked me, and it was an incarnation of Uncle Grandpa. He came to my cubicle and was like, “You should try to pitch this for the shorts program.” And I was like, “OK.” You listen when someone like that says something like that, someone I look up to. So I went back and I kept trying to come up with an idea, I kept postponing my pitch. I can’t postpone it again, I have to do it. So I just sat down and from beginning to end did it, storyboarded it out. And the reason there’s a photo of a tiger is because I can’t draw tigers, so (laughter). I was just like “Oh, I’ll fix it later for the pitch, it’ll get the idea across.” And then everyone loved it, so I was like (Uncle Grandpa voice) “Yeah! I did that on purpose.” It’s just funny because you’re under the gun just to get something done, it’s a happy accident kind of thing as Bob Ross used to say. And then I went in there, and I showed it to my girlfriend at the time, wife now, and she said, “This is really great!” “It is? Good, because I got to get in my car and speed to the studio directly from home,” and I went in and I pitched it and it went really good. And they told me that day that they were going to make it – not the series, but the pilot at that time. It was amazing. For a kid who just grew up loving cartoons and wanting to do this, and finding out it was an actual job you can do and to have a career in. To actually have a show now? I don’t know. It’s surreal.
Q: Where did you get the Pizza Steve idea from?
PETE BROWNGARDT: You know, you really want to know? I had another show – nobody’s ever asked me this, but it’s a great story. I had another show and it didn’t go well, and I was a little bummed out. I was a little confused at the time about what to do next. There was a buddy of mine I was in the office with and I had a dry-erase board in my office, and I was like, “You know what? I’m just going to draw a pizza with sunglasses.” (laughter) Who could not like a pizza with sunglasses? It’s so iconic, it’s simple, and then I was like, “Nobody’s ever done this before.” Kind of like a weird mascot for a food chain or something. I always loved how cheesy those type of mascots from the 80’s, 90’s, 70’s, all through the time. And I did it, and I called him “Stu Slice,” (laughter) and then it went to Pizza Joe and we couldn’t do Pizza Joe because of legal concerns or whatever.
PAULA SPENCE: We ate there last night.
PETE BROWNGARDT: Yeah, exactly (laughter). So K.C. Alexander, who is my creative director now on the show, was like, “Steve’s kind of a jerk.” We knew the character was kind of an egomaniac kind of a jerk, and he’s like “I hope no one’s named Steve here. It kind of has a jerky sound. Pizza Steve, because it doesn’t really go.” And he named him. So it was literally like “I’m gonna sell this dumb idea,” and then you’re like, “You know what, this could actually work.” And Uncle Grandpa is this weirdo old magical man with a thing, so of course he’s going to have a friend that’s a dinosaur and a piece of pizza, it’s kind of a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse thing. It all kind of worked together. Another one of those accidents, you know? You just don’t know where inspiration will come from. You just have to be yourself, do stuff, and something will hit you.
PAULA SPENCE: And if people laugh at it –
PETE BROWNGARDT: Yeah, exactly. That’s what it is. As pure as that.
Q: So what’s it like coming up with ideas for that show? What goes into that, when you come up with episodes?
PETE BROWNGARDT: A lot of different types of episodes. We do ones that are a helping a kid episode, we have a structure for those kind of things. Then we do kind of Seinfeld-esque ones, where they go to the movies. How would these characters go to the movies? And you write to their character. Like how would Uncle Grandpa eat popcorn? He wouldn’t eat it like a normal person, he’d eat it weird or something. You try to figure it out that way, and write from there. We have brainstorming group sessions, I really give a lot of responsibility to my storyboard artists and writers to invest in the show and let their ideas shine through. To empower them so they get inspired, and then they’ll bring a lot of ideas to the table. So we all try to go away and come up with ideas, and then have meetings.
Q: What do you feel like the role of the magic is in your show?
PETE BROWNGARDT: Probably, it’s for imagination. The idea of Uncle Grandpa is that he comes and he’s sort of a facet of the world’s imagination or something. The magic sort of makes him unique, special in the normal world, but also he can bring items along or take them out of belly bag here, and then it helps support the adventure and tell the story and be creative in terms of story. I use it that way.
Q: In Regular Show, there was an episode where Rigby changed his name to Trash Boat. Why Trash Boat?
SAM MARIN: (as Muscle Man) Who knows? Because Rigby is stupid.
PAULA SPENCE: He did look around the room. He saw a pile of trash, he saw a picture of a boat on the wall, and that’s where he got the name. Well, I had to do the artwork. The background, the photo of the boat or the painting of the boat.
Q: That’s one of my best friend’s nicknames. “Trash Boat.”
PAULA SPENCE: Really? That’s awesome.
Q: What are the chances of a crossover between Uncle Grandpa and Regular Show?
PETE BROWNGARDT: I don’t know, I don’t –
PAULA SPENCE: Nobody’s ever asked you?
PETE BROWNGARDT: No, no one has.
ERIC BAUZA: It’s happening right now! (laughter)
SAM MARIN: Well, this is STRAAAAANNGE! History in the making.
PETE BROWNGARDT: It would have to come somehow organically. I’d have to be hanging out with J.G. or seeing him somewhere, and some kind of joke would happen. Yeah, that would work, but it hasn’t happened yet.
Adventure Time Roundtable Interview
Guests: Head of story Kent Osborne, voice actress Jessica DiCicco (Flame Princess)
Q: My first question is probably straight from left field, but personally I would like to see an Adventure Time / Regular Show crossover episode. Has anyone ever come to you guys about that idea?
KENT OSBORNE: I think you just did (laughter). I think, aside from a casual mention, the executives kind of sit down with us at the beginning of each season and just go over a bunch of stuff. It might have been suggested, but they’ve never said, “You have to do this.” But I don’t think Pen [Pendleton Ward] is too interested in that. I don’t know if J.G. is either, but yeah. We could. We hear that a lot from fans, too. “Please do it!”
Q: Listen to the fans!
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah, I like crossovers. I think they’re really fun. I think that if there’s a way to do it, they can be really fun, but I don’t know that we’ve come up with a way and a reason to do it.
Q: Now’s the time.
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah? OK, all right, let’s do it.
Q: Jessica, how did you start with voiceover? Because you’re in Pound Puppies and playing Flame Princess. What’s it like getting into it?
JESSICA DICICCO: It just happened very organically. I moved out to LA to produce and direct TV, and I was auditioning on the side for voiceovers, and all of a sudden, I booked like 5 pilots and 3 of them turned into shows. And I was like, “OK, I guess this is my calling. I guess I’m going to voice act.” And I’m so happy that happened, it’s been so much fun.
Q: Adventure Time has a history of characters like Princess Bubblegum and Ice King and Lemongrab who started out as standard fantasy tropes and get characteristics added to them that bring them out of those spaces. Most recently, we saw that with Finn and Jake’s dog parents that we’ve seen mostly that their mom was being the protective mom, and then we got a whole episode about her being this kickass adventurer. Is this a concerted effort on the part of the crew to flesh out these side characters, and add sort of niches that they come from? And are there any on the docket to take a second look at?
KENT OSBORNE: Definitely. With the Ice King and trying to figure out “What’s his backstory and why did he end up like that?”, you don’t want to tell the same story over and over. He was this kind of bumbling villain, but I think that’s part of the process for the kind of board-driven show that gives creative freedom to the boarders. They get an outline that’s pretty basic, and that episode where we revealed that Ice King was once Simon, that came from the boarding. That wasn’t in the outline, and we had a whole different idea for that, we were trying to board it and it wasn’t working, and Pat McHale, actually, he kind of wrote that whole monologue at the end and we were like, “Oh my God! This is going to be great!” So we’re kind of organically doing it as we’re figuring it out, which I think is the way to do it. That being said, we don’t really plan it ahead of time, but we talk about things. The whole Simon and Marcy storyline came because there was an episode where Ice King was doing the Fry song, and I think someone said, “have we ever had an episode with Ice King and Marceline?” And were talking about, “What’s a good reason why they haven’t been in an episode together?” We kind of started talking about, “Well, maybe they have a history. Maybe something painful happened. So yeah, I think kind of trusting in the process, that’s where a lot of the storytelling and the mythology building is from.
Q: What goes into writing a character like Lemongrab, who’s so far out there he’s just downright crazy?
KENT OSBORNE: I mean, we wrote that outline and it was just supposed to be this weird weirdo who shouldn’t be in charge, and then Tom Herpich and Jesse Moynihan boarded it and it was even more weird. He was right in that weird camel horse thing, and he was kind of a weirdo. And then when Justin [Roiland] came in to the booth and just started screaming his head off, we were like, “What the?” It’s like 80% him, that character. We thought it was just going to be a one-time thing, and we’re like, “nobody’s going to want to watch this guy who’s just screaming and set off the whole time.” And he’ll come in, and after the record you go to hug him and he’s just covered in sweat (laughter). He’s just super-sweaty, and he’ll just do take after take and really just shreds his throat. And he’s doing Rick and Morty. I think the next episode that we had, we’re like, “Oh, and now Lemongrab has a bunch of mutants! And they’re all going to be you! They’re all your voice.” He’s like, “What?” He would have to break it up into 2 different sessions, we don’t do that for anyone else. But yeah, hats off to Justin for being a lunatic.
TZN: So there have been some pretty significant events in recent episodes, like Simon and Betty, and everything that Finn went through with his dad and the side-effect of the Lich becoming a giant baby or what have you. Down the line, are there any adventures you can share with us that you would consider a big moment?
KENT OSBORNE: Well, there’s definitely going to be more episodes dealing with those things, like the Lich and Betty. I don’t know if we’re completely done with Finn and what he’s gone through with his dad. I can’t get into specifics, but we’re going to continue some of the stuff we set up. Sometimes we like to plan something and just put it out there and have it sit there for awhile. In the writer’s room, we had a piece of paper that said, “Unresolved Stories,” and I think we had “The Lich” and “Finn’s Dad.” After awhile they started really adding up, so we were like, “OK, we gotta start dealing with some of these.” So we’d just pick one and start talking about it and stuff. But it happens very slowly and organically. But yeah, definitely. Season 6 is going to end and deal with a lot of that stuff pretty well.
TZN: One thing that just came to mind, you’ve done some experimental episodes like “Food Chain” with Masaaki Yuasa. How does that kind of arrangement come about?
KENT OSBORNE: Well, first of all it was David O’Reilly, and I think it was Pen and Adam Muto being fans of those guys. I think because we’re pretty successful, the executives at Cartoon Network. – we ask them, “Hey can we do something cool like this?” and they’re like “Yeah, do whatever you like.” They’re really good, they kind of trust us. I mean, they still want to see, “Well, what’s the story going to be and what’s it going to look like?” It goes through all the stops, we have to submit everything at every stage. Yuasa just came to LA and met with us a couple of times. That was all his idea, “Food Chain” had all these beautiful watercolor illustrations that he does, it was incredible. We kind of helped a little bit and shaped the story, but it was all him. Then we recorded and sent it to him and he animated it. We’re doing a couple more of those with guest directors, it’s pretty exciting.
Q: So, Kent, what’s it like working when you have a celebrity guest stars on the show? I remember Andy Milonakis.
KENT OSBORNE: Well, Andy’s great. He’s been back a bunch and he’s always really funny and he’s happy to be there (laughs). Sometimes, I’m pretty starstruck. We’ve had some people from The Office, I’m a big fan of that show. So any time someone from The Office comes in, I get all creepy-man or something. Like, Tom Ever, I asked him “can I take a picture with you?” He was like, “OK.” But Rainn Wilson, he actually contacted us, he’s a big fan of the show and he watches it with his son. So he contacted us. I got a post-it one day that said, “Rainn Wilson wants to do a voice,” so we’re like, “Oh! OK.” We kept it in mind. We didn’t want to just shoehorn him into something. And it got to a point where he called again, the next Post-It came in all-caps: “Rainn Wilson really wants to do a voice.” And then we did Rattleballs, and when Rattleballs came we said, “Rainn would be perfect for this,” And he was great because he was really interested in it. He wanted to look at the board, and when he wasn’t recording he was watching us direct the actors. So that was great. But I get really star struck. We get a lot of funny comedians and stuff. They’re really nice. Stephen Root plugs the show, and Andy (Dale). They’re all super fun to work with.
Q: This is for both of you. It seems like Finn cares enormously whether Flame Princess is evil or not. Do you think that Flame Princess really cares?
JESSICA DICICCO: I think she knows she’s not. She’s just such a complicated, dynamic character and I feel I learn more about her every episode that she’s in. I don’t think she’s evil.
KENT OSBORNE: No, she’s…chaotic neutral? (laughter)
JESSICA DICICCO: She’s passionate.
KENT OSBORNE: There’s a great Flame Princess episode coming up this season. It’s one of my favorites, Jessica is amazing in it.
Q: Now that she’s the monarch of the Flame Kingdom, I imagine there’s a sort of a change from the wandering and living in this wooden teepee that Finn made.
KENT OSBORNE: I think we’re calling her Flame King. (laughter)
JESSICA DICICCO: Nice. And Keith David. He’s so awesome.
KENT OSBORNE: You were really upset when they [Flame Princess and Finn] broke up.
JESSICA DICICCO: I was. I thought it was such a good – I really liked them together. But I don’t know, I think Finn has so much room to grow. Flame Princess has been locked up in a lantern her whole life, for 16 years. So it’s just interesting to see how she navigates and what her compass is, and…I don’t know. I’m interested to see where you guys take her.
Q: Any real concerted efforts to explain the world that Adventure Time happens in? You have the Simon and Marcy episodes that happen more in the past. Personally, I think those are some of the most well thought-out, most amazing stories. They’re ones that I really look forward to. Are we going to get any kind of indication of what happens to the world? Is this the same world? Especially the zombies?
KENT OSBORNE: I don’t know if we’re ever going to get super-specific, and explain everything where you can go by dates and see everything that happens. But, we are gong to revisit that stuff and try and add more to it and maybe connect things and explain things. But usually, we’re more interested in just telling a good story, and it happens to be, “Oh, we can set this in the past and have a flashback or something.” And it’ll tell the story. I like those episodes, too. “Simon and Marcy” makes me cry.
Q: Me too!
KENT OSBORNE: It makes Pen cry. Everybody cries.
Q: On the opposite side, do you ever stop and think about a few of the episodes you make? You do have your standard one-shot episodes where nothing really seems to happen ultimately, and then you have episodes like “A Glitch is a Glitch,” where as a viewer and as a fan I don’t know how to interpret something like that.
KENT OSBORNE: That’s stuff like a one-off, and that’s all David O’Reilly. If didn’t work on the show and I was just a fan, I’d just be like, “Oh, I”m watching someone else’s interpretation of something.” Like I’m watching…how would you describe it?
Q: Fan fiction?
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah, fan fiction. Yeah, yeah. You get to watch someone you really like, who’s a really good animator in a different style, do some fan fiction.
Q: That’s a good way to put it.
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah. Good job! (laughter)
Q: On the matter of bringing up Pen switching roles. Are we looking at it with fresh eyes now? Is that going to change the direction of show in any way?
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah, well he – you’re talking about the Rolling Stone interview? Yeah. I think, when he got to season 5, he was pretty exhausted, he’d been working on it non-stop. I don’t know if it was as dramatic as they kind of made it sound. I think that guy was kind of – he was doing his job (laughs). SpongeBob was my first job, and Steve Hillenburg did 3 seasons and did the movie and then he kind of stepped away, and Paul Tippet started running the show. And I know that’s kind of similar to Matt Groening and The Simpsons. So to me, it seems kind of normal, nobody can keep that up. When he stepped down he did it in a gradual way, and he’s still in the writer’s meetings.He’s boarding episodes, he’s writing songs, he’s still there. And Adam Muto has been on since the beginning, and he’s definitely like…that guy can do that job, but for some reason he drinks coffee and is just always there and always working. You never see him on Facebook or anything, he’s just constantly working (laughs). But yeah, it was funny to…I think Pen, he just wants to keep being creative. He wants to make video games and he wants to write a movie and make music. I think he just wants to not be doing this day to day grind. It’s really tough, it’s a full-time job and it takes a lot out of you. But, I don’t know if it says…that Rolling Stone interview came out and then Cartoon Brew was like, “Pen Ward was going nuts!” And there was a picture of him, like –
TZN: Not so much?
KENT OSBORNE: Yeah. It’s weird because that picture, he’s tired of having his picture taken because he always makes that face. If you search for him, there’s just all these pictures of him going, “Rraharr” you know? He was like, “I don’t want to do that anymore. I’ve already done it.” So yeah, it’s not as dramatic as they were making it sound. It’s not like they rushed him out in a straitjacket!
Steven Universe and Clarence Roundtable Interview
Guests: Rebecca Sugar (creator, Steven Universe), Spencer Rothbell (Head of story and voice for Clarence), Estelle Fanta Swaray (voice of Garnet in Steven Universe), Zach Callison (voice of Steven in Steven Universe)
Q: How did the idea of Steven Universe come to fruition?
REBECCA SUGAR: I started with wanting to do something about my younger brother Steven. We were both big sort of fantasy nerds growing up, so I wanted to try and combine the feeling of the stuff we grew up with – the kind of video games we used to play and the stuff we used to watch – with how it actually felt to be growing up with Steven. To sort of have my best friend be my sibling, that to me was the feeling I wanted to capture with the show.
Q: The show’s sort of taken its time rolling out the larger details of the gem’s world, but we’ve had a couple of episodes recently that really sort of started things off, and started revealing some of those things. Is this the beginning of more frequent hints at the larger world, or is it going to maintain the same pace of exposition?
REBECCA SUGAR: Well, I think the snowball is kind of rolling now, in an unstoppable way. There are things that are pretty complicated that are going on with the gems. Things that they don’t really think Steven is ready to know about, but it’s becoming impossible to ignore. And it’s going to become more impossible, increasingly impossible to ignore as the season rolls out. So you can just watch it. You’re going to learn everything that he does, and see it.
Q: How did you come up with the storyline of Clarence, particularly the pilot episode?
SPENCER ROTHBELL: I actually didn’t work on the pilot, that was Skyler Page who created the series. I was brought on, basically, about 4 or 5 episodes into the series. But in general, coming up with stories, usually it comes from either something that happened to me or one of the other crew during childhood, or something that we’ve never seen represented on TV. We try to take a small story and make it bigger, using our own characters and the world we’ve established.
Q: Estelle, How did you get involved with Steven Universe? Are you excited about the new album coming out?
ESTELLE: Oh yeah, of course. Her people called my people. *laughter* They called my agent and from what I got to hear about the character, I was like, “I think I could do that. It sounds like me.” *laughter* And getting into it, it really is that. I come from a huge family. I have five sisters and three brothers, and they’re all younger than me, so I understand taking care of them and being responsible for them screaming every 3 minutes. Being like, “If you don’t come here, you’re going to get your head knocked!” I understand that, so it was pretty easy. It’s been fun. I’m waiting, I’m excited for the new album. I’ve been working on that in between the movie. I kind of started this process at the end of the last album. It’s fun, it just gives me extra – I’ve known I had extra vocal abilities, and I get to work them here. It’s kind of cool. It’s an interesting balance.
TZN: Is there a chance for Garnet to get her own musical number?
ESTELLE: Ha-HAH! *laughter* I’ll tell her that. I’ll tell her that.
REBECCA SUGAR: There’s a PRETTY good chance. *laughter* But do you think I’m going to rush a song for Estelle?
ESTELLE: But she is an awesome songwriter, and she and her team have been doing songs on the show so far. I love her work. The theme song in itself is brilliant.
ZACH CALLISON: I actually had the ending for my original audition, the extended theme song. It had a little bit up front. She actually had me sing it for the audition when I recorded it and sent it in, in addition for doing the dialogue for the original pilot. And I was already impressed by that when I first saw that, when I first heard the song.
Q: What’s it like being the main character on this show, being Steven?
ZACH CALLISON: Well, it’s the first time I’ve had the lead on a show before, but it’s really fun. Getting to come in every week and work on a character like this on a show like this that’s so much fun, it’s like the shows that I watched growing up on Cartoon Network. It’s kind of a dream come true. It’s a blast and I’m having a lot of fun with it.
Q: To you, how important was it that you actually enjoyed this show yourself?
ZACH CALLISON: I think it makes it more fun to be part of the project. If you don’t enjoy the product that you’re working on, can you say that you can get any satisfaction working on it? Sometimes, there are things that are tougher to do, maybe that I don’t like to do, but in the end it all leads to an integral part of your career that you really really enjoy working on and that you’ll cherish.
Q: Seems like you’re always a superhero. You’re Billy Batson, you’re Steven Universe. It’s a good way to do things, man.
ZACH CALLISON: Yeah, you gotta play the hero man. Although, I would like to do more villain stuff. I haven’t really done much of anything in the actual villain thing. I’ve done some characters with attitudes, or smart mouths, but never a villain, so that might be an interesting path.
REBECCA SUGAR: It’s fun that Steven with Stevens. Because Steven, well, our main timeline Steven learns to understand that he’s obnoxious, and at that point, he becomes jaded and basically a jaded Steven can’t exist or it breaks the show, so he has to be destroyed. But there’s this 5 minutes of a seriously jaded, and then a criminally insane Steven, that he did an amazing job with. Also three very passive-aggressive Stevens, all of that very new. That kind of Steven had never existed.
ZACH CALLISON: And then eventually Steven mass-murders at the end of the episode, and then we’re left with Steven.
TZN: Rebecca, is there any animated works that you and the team consciously try to reference or pay homage to? There was one episode where Pearl clones herself, and Steven has to deal with it. And some fans observed that some of the action choreography seemed to resemble things out of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Is there anything to that?
REBECCA SUGAR: I used to love that show. *laughter* I love that show. That was storyboarded by Joe Johnston, who is a brilliant artist. I love a lot of anime, I love a lot of the cartoons. I suppose, we make a lot of references to things that we love in cartoons, but I try to have it be from so many different things that together, they really make something really new. That’s really my goal.
Q: Garnet’s very tight-lipped and a taciturn kind of character and yet she’s taken on the leader role in the absence of Rose Quartz. Do you think that was a difficult transition for her to sort of take on a role that meant she had to interact more with the other gems?
ESTELLE: Again, I understand completely, we identify. I think she does a good job of it, and you see more and more and more that she becomes a bit more open and a bit warmer to Steven. It’s cool to see. When you look at what the characters do, it’s people who need to identify with that. When you get around people that you love, you become more open. She gets to it, it just takes her a minute. *laughs*
TZN: For Spencer, it often feels like an episode of Clarence is a chance to drop in the everyday life of this carefree kid. When I first saw the first episode, I thought it was like visiting a summer vacation. Do you think the goal of Clarence is kind of showcasing someone very relatable, or representing a sort of childhood ideal?
SPENCER ROTHBELL: I don’t know. I think for a lot of the people on the crew, it’s sort of this weird, oddball, outcast group. Him and Jeff and Sumo are all these characters that are really bizarre and flawed and they don’t really fit in. but they find a way to fit in with each other. But it’s definitely about childhood in a lot of ways and just kind of this weird sort of Napoleon Dynamite timeframe, where it’s not really now and it’s not really the 90’s or the 80’s. It’s sort of ambiguous – there’s technology, but it doesn’t really work well. But [we’re] just sort of focusing on kids and playing outside and being real kids, that sort of thing. Keeping it grounded and having it feel like a real world.
Q: So Spencer, what kind of prank calls did you do in college?
SPENCER ROTHBELL: Prank Calls. Oh yeah, that’s sort of what I attribute getting the job to in a weird way. Pat[rick] Harpin was one of the original writers on the show and Skyler Page created the show, and I would do weird prank calls. I would call, like, I’d call product hotlines and stuff and see how long I could keep them on the phone. [I’d’] just make these weird claims about the products that don’t make any sense. Because they’re trying to make a sale so they’ll keep you on for hours. I don’t know why I would do that, I guess I was really bored. *laughter* Between animating, I think if you’re staring at paper and screens for too long, you just start to entertain yourself in between not so well.
Over the Garden Wall Roundtable Interview
Guests: Creator Patrick McHale, voice actress Melanie Lynskey (Beatrice), voice actor Collin Dean (Greg)
Q: I was going to ask you a question. How did you come up with the idea for Over the Garden Wall?
PATRICK MCHALE:: A lot of it is kind of personal experience and sitting and daydreaming about things that and – I don’t know. A lot of it is just daydreams, I think, and thinking about this kind of place to escape in and get lost in. It’s very fall-themed, so being in Los Angeles for like, 8 years without the autumn season was part of it, too. Just kind of daydreaming about that fantasy version of it.
Q: How’s it like working with Elijah Wood?
PATRICK MCHALE: It was amazing, it was so good. Yeah. He was exactly who I wanted. I said this earlier, but when I was looking for a voice for Wirt, the older brother, I said, “Oh, like, an Elijah Wood-type voice.” And they just asked him and he was like, “Yeah, sure.” *laughter* He just brings so much emotion to the emotional scenes and comedy to the comedy scenes. I feel like the cast that we got was exactly what I would have written on a list of, “If I could get anyone in the world, I would get this person and this person,” and those were the people we got! It was amazing. Everyone we got is so well suited to their character and their voice. Elijah’s character is sort of the central character and he goes through maybe the biggest journey in the series, so just his talent of being able to find those emotions. A lot of the acting ideas came from him, he’d be like “Oh, can I do it in a different way?” He would find just what was needed.
Q: Melanie, you’ve been in so many great movies and TV shows. My favorite is Detroit Rock City.
MELANIE LYNSKEY: That’s so random! (laughter)
Q: How’d you get involved?
MELANIE LYNSKEY: I got an audition. My manager said, “Do you want to go audition for this?” and I looked at it and thought it was so beautiful and so special and I know Elijah a little bit through Peter Jackson, so that was exciting for me. We got to work a little together one time, but that was OK. I was just super-excited about it and I went to audition, and the asked me to do it.
TZN: I’d like to ask both Collin and Melanie, what do you think are really defines your characters in the show? What’s the dominant traits for them, in your opinion?
COLLIN DEAN: Well, Greg is kind of clueless. They could be in crazy danger and he’ll just be like, “Duh-duh-duh-duh-duh!” and then Wirt is like, “We’re in Danger! We gotta get out of here!” And Greg will be like, “Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?” *laughter* He just spaces off and he’ll be like, “Let’s go this way,” and he’ll be like, “OK. We’ll go THIS way.” If they’re in trouble, he’s kind of the…I’m trying to think of the word.
MELANIE LYNSKEY: The thing that I really love about this show is that it sort of subverts your expectations a lot of the time. When you’re watching the story and there’ll be a little twist in it, you’ll be like, “Oh, that’s not what I expected.” So the fun thing about Beatrice is that she’s very grumpy and impatient, but the lovely thing is that there’s something underlying that and she has her own agenda and her own past. So it’s not just a grumpy character but there’s a lot of layers to it, which was a lot of fun to play with.
Q: You’re Cartoon Network’s first original mini-series. Why was that the choice for the show as opposed to a whole series or a movie?
PATRICK MCHALE: Well, it’s sort of a difficult show to make. The amount of musical variety and we’re using real instruments for all the music, not synths. And the backgrounds are so complicated. And the animation quality we wanted to be a bit higher, and it’s not something that could be really sustained for a long and ongoing series. Also, it was nice to have the arc of the mini-series where you can tell one large story and kind of explore the characters as you would in like a feature or something, but then because every episode has this little new place that they go, it made sense to have it be episodic and not just one long-form story. And it was hard to write.
Q: Do you ever want to work on something like this again in the future with Cartoon Network?
PATRICK MCHALE: Possibly. It was really hard. *laughter* So right now, it feels like, “Oh, I want to do something that’s easier.” But maybe.
Q: Now, what does the show, to you at least, say about family and especially about brotherhood? Because that seemed to be the most important [thing].
PATRICK MCHALE: I think some of the lessons in that, you’ll learn as you watch it and I wouldn’t want to say now. I don’t want to give too much away, but family and responsibility are pretty good themes in it.
TZN: You were talking about music a minute or two ago. How would you describe the role of music in this miniseries?
PATRICK MCHALE: Well, the mood of the show is a really important aspect of it, so the music sort of paints with the color scheme and all that stuff. The music kind of finishes it off and makes it the right feeling for the audience for their experience of this place. Sometimes genres of music that might not match what you’re watching, but give you a certain feeling.
TZN: Is there a sort of mood or genre of music you want to reference?
PATRICK MCHALE: There’s all sorts of stuff in there. It’s all kind of pre-1950’s kind of music, so there’s two opera singers we have doing music, and then there’s old-time jazz and there’s jug-band music and there’s all sorts of stuff. It’s pretty diverse. The Blasting Company is the band that did all the music, and they’re incredible. Just all the instruments that they can play and the talent that they personally know that they hired to do strings. It has lush string arrangements and stuff that they layered and pieced together. It’s really incredible.
Q: Collin, did you hear any of this kind of music before working on this show? Because it seems like you’re bringing a generation of bluegrass and things like that who haven’t heard it before.
COLLIN DEAN: Well, yeah, I’ve heard some bluegrass before. My mom was just going on channels because she got kind of bored of her old alternative music, so we found bluegrass and we were like, “Ah!”
Q: So what should we expect to see during this series? Any kind of messages or an overview of what’s going to be going on?
PATRICK MCHALE: Well, the overarching story is that it’s just these brothers trying to get home. They’re lost but there’s some twists and turns and some reveals about who these characters are, these two brothers, and about the woodsman who’s this mysterious guy in the woods and you can’t really tell if he’s a good guy or a bad guy sometimes.
Q: You had fun working as a bluebird, Melanie?
MELANIE LYNSKEY: It was really fun. Yeah, I liked it a lot.