As I’ve stated from the outset, I will deviate from the anime norm when I find something, silver screen or otherwise, that warrants your attention. And recently I had a chance to talk with an animated outfit that just touches – in a non priestly way, of course – my depravedly dark funny bone: Radical Axis. Seriously, since most of you anime fans are devotees of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line up, how do you not know Master Shake, Frylock, Meatwad, and their discontinuous, bizarre misadventures – the kind that manipulate our notion of linear reality as if their puppeteer was the eccentric authority on string theory?
Recently at WonderCon in San Francisco, an overloaded schedule and a few personal misadventures hindered me from meeting the comic team of Scott Fry, Matt Maiellaro, Craig Hartin, and Todd Redner. Fortunately I managed to catch up with them later (minus Matt Maiellaro) via phone.
With the 100th episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force set to debut on May 2nd, the recent premiere of Cheyenne Cinnamon, in which a Strawberry Shortcake-esque princess sets out to educate Detroit, and the forthcoming 12 oz. Mouse, which will undoubtedly offend alcohol awareness groups worldwide, there is much ado about Radical Axis.
Let’s start with Aqua Teen Hunger Force. This, I believe, is the longest running original series on Cartoon Network. What goes through your minds as you approach the 100th episode?
(Craig) It’s crazy how it’s grown from the pilot ten years ago. I never thought about reaching 100. It’s intense to think about.
(Todd) Crazy, it hasn’t settled down.
(Scott) Well I KNEW it would reach 100! I expected it from the pilot.
(Craig) It’s been great . . . everyone we work with at Turner and Cartoon Network. Though we still haven’t finished the 100th episode yet.
(Todd) Yah, I need to start drawing.
The show is known for its dark humor, fantasy driven scenarios and discontinuous/non-sequitur approach to story telling. Do you run into problems with the censors?
The censors go back and forth. People get upset. But everyone involved gets our humor. And the line producers go to bat for the show.
At 100 episodes, do you envision an end to ATHF, or are you just going to take it as far as you can?
(Todd) I signed on for 101 episodes!
(Scott) I signed on for 102!
(Craig) As long as the guys want to keep writing it, we’ll keep doing it; and that’s with good ratings, of course. It’s so much fun to work on and to transform into a show.
Well let’s move on to Cheyenne Cinnamon, which recently premiered on Adult Swim. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to watch this yet. What was the impetus behind taking a Strawberry Shortcake-esque princess and putting her in Detroit as a platform for peace and love?
Radical Axis (a brief moment of laughter, then silence):
(Craig) You need to watch this. It was such a blast to make. And it’s our first 3D episode.
How was it moving into the realm of 3D? Did this offer new, creative opportunities? Or was it pretty much business as usual?
(Craig) Well we’ve worked with 3D before, but never at the level of a full episode. There’s more opportunity to explore the creative process . . . new camera angles.
Now I can’t leave out the alcoholic, sociopathic lead of 12 oz. Mouse. I wish Matt were here to explain what a homicidal rodent will bring to the Adult Swim lineup. But what’s it like working on a show that’s essentially uses stick figures and crude animation?
On the line art, you don’t know if you’ve gone too far, or if you need to rough it up!
Any favorite part about working on Cheyenne Cinnamon or 12 oz. Mouse?
(Craig) The diverse shows. There’s no rut. It keeps it fresh. The characters are so different.
(Todd) Learning to draw with my toes.
You guys have been working together successfully for a long time now. Instead of breaking off into individual projects, you seem to always gravitate back toward one another. What’s the glue that keeps this team together?
They move you to a city. There’s no complaining. And you’re forced to work together!!!
Talent is important. It’s a collaborative environment. There’s not a lot of turn over at Radical Axis. The studio works well together. We know each other’s sense of humor.
Wait! I almost forgot about your cameos on Aqua Teen. I would think you guys have been animated before, but regardless, any thoughts about your animated doppelganger?
We’ve been animating ourselves since day one. And we’ve always used aspects of ourselves in all of our shows. But for a major TV show it’s an honor when asked to contribute your likeness.
(Craig) Receding hairline. Too realistic.
(Todd) I wasn’t picky enough. No one recognized me. Had to be redone.
(Scott) Todd was making me look weird. He’s not allowed [to draw me] anymore.
Well, that’s about all the time we have for today. Guys, thanks for giving me a few minutes.
Hey we’re big fans of AWN. We visit the site all the time.
If you couldn’t tell, interviewing this team over the phone is pleasurably difficult. You need more time. You want that face-to-face interaction. You want more information. Yet, if you have a sense of humor, the comic chemistry concocts a conversation of tangential proportions – yes, I meant to do that. Much like the narrative path of their shows, you have no idea what direction you might go, or what information you might extract. But you’re sure to get somewhere good, and definitely a little banter that should probably stay between you and the boys – like comic references to a certain other mouse.
At any rate, if you haven’t experienced the Radical Axis vision, you’re falling behind. From the deviant fast-food characters of Aqua Teen Hunger Force to the alcoholic mouse of 12 oz. Mouse, Radical Axis continues to push the boundaries of animation’s familiar aesthetic and to joyously exercise the freedom of speech intrinsic to comedy’s carnival.
What’s worse, is it just seems to come to them so naturally. There’s humbleness in the brevity of their answers, and that’s because it’s simply their gig; it’s what they do.
Remember, the 100th episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force is this Sunday on May 2. And make sure you check out Cheyenne Cinnamon, 12 oz. Mouse, and, of course, Squidbillies. Every Radical Axis project seems to be a wonderfully cleansing mud in which to roll around like an uninhibited child. So let’s be happy the team works so well together. I’m sure we can expect the disjointing, discombobulating hilarity to continue.