Kent discussed how his involvement with the industry began with aspirations to be an actor, including moving to LA in the 90’s. Struggling, he began writing scripts he could use to create acting demos, which led him to co-write one for a production with his brother, who was active as a director/animator. The resulting film was seen by SpongeBob SquarePants creator Stephen Hillenburg who was impressed enough to bring Kent on board that show. Initially, this role was for story outlines, but after a storyboard artist moved on to DreamWorks, Kent was asked if he’d like to be involved. He was initially concerned, believing he had no talent for drawing, but was advised to just draw using stick fingers and let others refine it later. This was cited as inspiration for those in the audience who might aspire to join the industry but fear that poor drawing skills would be a handicap. Kent stated it’s beneficial to be able to draw, but there is also a need for ability in other skills such as comedy timing and story pacing.
Following SpongeBob, he transferred to Cartoon Network to work on Camp Lazlo, then to Disney to work on Phineas and Ferb. He would return to CN when former Lazlo colleague Thurop Van Orman asked him to join his show, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. This in turn led to him meeting Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward, who at that stage had tried and failed to pitch the show to Nickelodeon.
The show’s post-apocalyptic setting evolved out of the background artists inserting ruined modern day artefacts into scenery. As the writers became aware of this motif it encouraged them to explore it and make it part of the lore they were now beginning to establish, resulting in a world ‘after the end’ where technology and magic exist side by side. The tone of the show was in turn inspired by Pen Ward favouring weird, amusing ideas to base episodes around. Kent demonstrated this by highlighting the episode ‘Holly Jolly Secrets,’ which initially began as a network mandated Christmas special. In struggling to find out how to do this in a setting where the holiday didn’t exist, Patrick McHale shared his fondness for watching old, bizarre Christmas specials online. This led to the idea of an MST3K-inspired special in which the show could buy the rights to a set of such oddities, and then have Finn and Jake spend the episode riffing on a newly-discovered cache of tapes. After a month of work, Kent found it difficult to make the idea work as a script and the staff reworked the idea into instead being about the Ice King’s secret, tragic backstory.
This led to discussion of one of its crucial follow ups: ‘Simon & Marcy.’ Asked what inspired this episode, Kent admitted that they do keep up to date with the fans via events like SDCC and knew both characters are very popular (reaffirmed by various cosplayers for both in the audience), and while they wish to cater to that they don’t want fanservice to overtake the show. In actuality, once the show had generated a sizeable cast the writers developed a system where all their names would be put into a hat, two names would be drawn at random, and the staff would try to come up with stories centering on those two characters interacting. On one occasion, the combination was Simon and Marceline, leading the staff to realise the two had never been seen to interact prior.
Various other sources serve as inspirations such as viral videos (the episode ‘Time Sandwich’ was inspired by a slowed down video mocking chef Paula Deen) or pop culture (‘In Your Footsteps’ was inspired by The Talented Mr Ripley). Another game involves one writer doing a quick sketch which gets passed around, with each subsequent person adding a way to spin a story out of it. Kent showed a number of these to the audience, with many being highly whimsical or too dark to turn into an episode (for example, a wizard who would have used magic to turn Finn nude).
In a wider sense the writers do try to balance darker episodes with lighter ones, Kent highlighting that at this stage they are constantly juggling sub-plots and trying to ensure they all get representation within a season.
Episode specific songs are initially created by whoever is handling the episode. Kent gave specific praise to the work of former staffer Rebecca Sugar, who now helms her own hit series Steven Universe. Given the character’s past work with the song catalogue of Marceline, the team specifically asked Sugar to produce a new song for her starring role in the Stakes mini-series. The result was the song ‘Everything Stays.’
The panel concluded with a screening of the first half of the season seven finale, titled ‘Preboot.’ Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts, we weren’t able to stay for audience Q&A.