One of my absolute favorite highlights from this year's New York Comic Con was attending the Cartoon Network panel featuring the creators behind Adventure Time and The Regular Show. Both shows represent a new breed of cartoon; one which combines an extreme, nearly lysergic amount of imagination while exploiting hip, popular culture references at every turn. In little over a year from their first being aired, they have developed rabid followings amongst the young and old. This was well represented by the crowd of hundreds of diehard fans (many in full costume) who waited over an hour for the panel to begin.
Adventure Time's creator, Pendleton Ward and JG Quintel (Regular Show's creator) both worked on the CN show Flapjack and came up with their respective show ideas while students at CalArts. This formed a bond between the two that has resulted in their show's being aired back to back on Monday nights to great fanfare. Throughout the panel both teams cracked jokes back and forth giving the impression that they are as tightly knit as their allotted timeslots. Though both shows share a similar aesthetic, their storylines could not be more different.
Adventure Time takes place in a mysterious post-apocalyptic realm, the "Land of Ooo," a world that has become overrun with magic and fairy tales. The main characters are Jake the Dog, a twenty-something slacker dog with the ability to morph his body into any shape or size and Finn the Human, a twelve-year old boy whose main concern is going "adventuring" in the bizarre world that Ward has mapped out. As the panel pointed out, this world is filled with "an endless array" of princesses and an evil Ice King who wishes to kidnap one of these princesses to become his bride. There are also vampires and zombies, fish people, and all manner of candy, plant, machine and animal-based characters to contend with. At the beginning of the panel when Ward was initially asked where the shows ideas came from, he sheepishly clenched his hand over his heart. This provoked "Ahhhs" from the audience, before he quickly pulled a pen out of his pocket to clarify things. This sort of sarcastic humor permeates the dialogue and storyline of Adventure Time.
Nearly every episode of Adventure Time is a roller coaster ride of fantastical elements thrown together in the spirit of a random adventure, yet the resolution generally provides some sort of moral lesson about friendship, trust or family. One of the most popular episodes involves a gender-swap where Finn and Jake become Fionna and Cake. The fact that many in the audience were dressed as Fionna showed how relevant this episode was to their own lives. That this episode confronted the volatile topic of gender issues head on and with complete abandon demonstrates that Adventure Time is not your standard cartoon.
Some choice bits from the panel:
-Ward's favorite character on the show is Beemo, a living video game console. He is also partial to Tree Trunks (an apple pie baking elephant) and Lumpy Space Princess (a, well Lumpy Space Princess).
-The show's creators hope to put some sort of video game together in the near future for consoles.
-The audience was quite demanding of a soundtrack for AT and the panel conceded that they would compile one soon. The music of the show is a definite highlight- a great mix of silly, twee pop and chiptunes (electronic music created with older video game sounds). A quick search of Youtube shows the popularity of AT songs, as there are hundreds of homemade takes on these whimsical tracks.
-The upcoming season's storyline would be getting stranger and stranger, with more effort taken to explore the back story of the characters and their environment. Also, the episodes would venture into the spiritual realm with more abstract concepts embraced.
-Though the audience egged on the panel repeatedly for one, a crossover episode between RS and AT is not in the works. Though, the way the creator's jokingly harassed one another on the panel would lead one to believe that it could happen.
The storyline of Regular Show is completely centered on a "regular" sitcom premise; except the main protagonists are Mordecai, a blue jay and Rigby, a raccoon. They are both slackers who work in a park owned by Pops, a Lollipop-headed eccentric, and said park is managed by Benson, a gumball-machine person. He counts among his employees a Yeti named Skips, a Frankenstein-looking mess by the name of Muscle Man (who is not the least bit muscular) and his best friend Hi-Five Ghost, a small-floating "Pac-man" ghost with a hi-five hand on top of his head.
They begin every episode with a typical sitcom situation (for instance one character hogs the computer, the others want to stop him) that soon barrels out of control. Eventually the characters actions provoke mind-bending excursions into Lovecraftian dimensions, outer space, a parallel world, the past/future, etc. The show's genius is in its ability to begin as a well-run sitcom with good dialogue and character interaction only to hyper kinetically morph into nearly insane, implausible situations. The interaction between the characters is so strong that the shows themes around such issues as sibling rivalry, jealousy, work ethos, friendship and trust are oddly touching, regardless of the fantastical interludes they fall into. The roots of this interaction were reinforced on the panel, as the creator, JG and voice actor Sam Marin spoke of being best friends in school and thus, complemented each other wonderfully.
Choice bits from the RS panel:
-Many of the shows catch phrases were originated from JG & Sam Marin's time at college.
-Most of the characters featured on RS first appeared in two student films -Most of the characters featured on RS first appeared in two student films JG did at CalArts, "2 in the AM/PM" and "The Naïve Man from Lolliland."
-The Regular Show has just completed 80 episodes and is looking forward to being signed on for more at CN.
-A continual problem the creator's run across is censorship. Though the series initially included some light swearing, as the show becomes more popular with younger viewers they have had to watch their step.
-The show includes many references to 1980's culture, these are deliberately included as JG grew up during that time and thinks the decade was "cool."
-Mordecai's budding romance with Margaret (his Cardinal love interest) will slowly pick up over the coming episodes.