The Venture Bros. co-creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer talk about the show's new DVD/Blu-ray release, the upcoming season and why they felt the need to kill off a beloved minor character.
Adult Swim's half-hour comedy/action series The Venture Bros. has come a long way since its Flash-animated pilot first aired in February 2003. The story of Dr. Thaddeus Venture, a self-centered super-scientist, his two sheltered teen-detective sons Hank and Dean, and their hyper-violent bodyguard Brock, the pilot saw Dr. Venture presenting his latest invention to the U.S. while Brock deals with his archenemy, a butterfly-themed villain called the Monarch. The show started out as a goof on'60s adventure cartoon Jonny Quest, but when it came time to expand on the pilot, co-writers Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer wisely elected to move beyond that.
"We fell in love with different dynamics of the characters," said Hammer, who edits the show and does special visual effects in addition to the writing and voice acting duties he shares with Publick. "I mean, you can only do a parody of Jonny Quest once and then you take all those characters in that Quest-ian world and let it become its own world with its own laws."
Along with its ever-expanding world, the show has also made great strides creatively with each new season, starting with the move to hand-drawn animation for season one and then incorporating more detailed backgrounds and improved character designs for season two.
"Every season has been about getting it closer to what I imagined originally and stripping away some of the limitations over the years," said Publick, who also serves as the show's director. "Even in the pilot, the backgrounds had a painted look to them and we had to ditch that for the first season because it was deemed too labor-intensive to pull off for 13 episodes. And then we got better painters after that and they went, 'Oh, sure, we can paint all these.' So we were actually putting it back to what it was supposed to be."
The most dramatic change came with season three, though, which was produced and aired in high-definition and consequently is the first Adult Swim DVD to also come out on Blu-ray (which comes with a CD soundtrack featuring music from all three seasons). Both are set for release on Tuesday.
It's also the show's first release that will be totally uncensored and it's the first to feature commentary on every single episode. (According to Publick: "There are people who love them and there are people who rightfully think that they're pretty terrible.")
"I was really surprised, actually, that they would spring for a Blu-ray release," Hammer said. "We just knew that we wanted it to be on HD someday and that we would like it to be broadcast on TV that way someday, but I didn't expect a disc."
Taking their cue from the first two seasons' pre-credit sequences, which used a faux-letterboxed scene to set each episode in motion, Hammer and Publick produced the third season entirely in widescreen format, which worked out well when the network chose to air it that way.
"Stylistically, I think we've always tried to be as cinematic as possible," Publick added. "I'm influenced more by movies than cartoons. That's kind of what I tell every storyboard artist who works for us: 'I know that it's just two idiots talking in a room, but go watch a movie and you'll see that it's so different from the way it's shot for animation.' You know, more interesting compositions, tighter close-ups."
That cinematic feel will be carrying over to the show's fourth season, which Adult Swim recently announced would begin airing in November. In addition to the regular voice cast, the season will feature such returning guest voices as Brendon Small (Home Movies, Metalocalypse) and H. Jon Benjamin (Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, Home Movies, Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil) and one-off appearances by Kevin Conroy (who didn't need to be encouraged to sound more like Batman, according to Hammer), Seth Green, John Hodgman and Patton Oswalt.
"Seth's another Adult Swim guy and he's a fan of the show," Publick continued. "Hodgman's a friend of ours. Patton Oswalt's a friend of a friend and a big fan, so I think we can get those guys again. I don't know if we'll have them again; we'll see. We'll have to see how their characters work out."
One big change for season four is that it's being split up into two sets of eight instead of one set of 13. "The first eight should be on the air this fall," Publick offered. "We're just finishing making those. We're going to write for a while and start our production again in the summer to hopefully get the back eight maybe by the following summer. So you get three more episodes and you get stuck waiting six months in between them, which is better than the year we usually had to wait."
"Our fans are really freaking forgiving," Hammer added. "They should really complain or bail on us when it takes so long between seasons, but they don't, they just stick with it, so... We're not abusing that, but we're happy that they do that."
Fan loyalty may also be behind their controversial decision to kill off Henchman 24, one of the Monarch's most loyal minions and a fan favorite. It was an idea that Hammer actually had to sell to Publick.
"I wanted it," Hammer said, "because it was a great, epic, bad idea, to have a comedy team, and then you kill Dean Martin."
"It worked out for Jerry Lewis and I think it'll work out for 21," Publick added, referring to 24's chubby counterpart.
According to Hammer, it's the next logical step after the deaths of title characters at the end of season one and the dramatic two-parter that closed season two. It's also pulled some of the focus away from other events with even bigger consequences for the show as a while.
"People only see it as '24 dies,' but I think we made three sweeping gestures," Hammer said. "One, we destroyed all the clones, so now the boys are real. So that's a sweeping gesture. And then we had Brock quit, which nobody wants to believe, and we have a death that isn't going to be rectified. There's no cloning."
As recently as the New York Comic-Con in February, fans were asking Publick and Hammer whether 24 could be brought back somehow and speculation has run rampant on message boards since the season finale about how that could be accomplished.
"We do kind of read what people predict for what the next season is going to be and it can kind of influence us," Hammer said. "Not that what they say should happen, we make happen, but if a lot of people predict one thing, well, obviously we avoid that thing to give them their entertainment."
Another way that they keep in touch with their fans is through Publick's LiveJournal, Publick Nuisance, which he uses to give updates on their progress when the show is between seasons and, as it gets closer, offers teasers in the form of background images and new character designs.
"The strange thing is that's a holdover from when we had to do our own promotion, really," Jackson said.
"The first season we were all but trying to generate our own press," Hammer added. "We were on boards talking about how great we were. And nobody gave a crap. They were like, 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force is the best.'
"I think it was season two where people just took up our retarded mantle of going on and blogging about ourselves. You don't really think about how popular your dumbass show is because you're too busy making it, but when we went to Comic-Con in New York and there were huge crowds, then you realize, 'Oh my God, people are watching the show.'"
It must have come as something of a surprise to the network, too, since it took several months for Adult Swim to renew the show after the first season ended.
"The one beauty of it was that they reran the show so many times that we found new fans," Publick said.
"We were always afraid of how geeky we were," Hammer said. "And then, since we came on the air, the geeks took over the culture at large."
With superhero movies like Watchmen, Iron Man and The Dark Knight making a big splash in theaters and television shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica and Heroes capturing viewers' imaginations, it's easy to see their point. Go Team Venture!
Craig J. Clark is an occasional contributor to AWN. In his spare time he watches a lot of movies and writes about them on his website, Craig J. Clark Watches a Lot of Movies, which can found at dada.warped.com/movies.