Simon Racioppa, executive producer of Prime Video’s new ‘The Boys’ animated anthology spinoff, talks about its genesis and production, and the many A-list talents who make it so unique; show premieres on the streamer March 4.
In case you missed one of the more entertaining and subversive shows of the last decade, The Boys, which premiered in July 2019 and ran for two seasons (with a third on the way), is an American television series that takes a decidedly dark view of the superhero ethos, with perhaps a few political overtones thrown in for good measure. Based on the comic book of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, and developed by Eric Kripke for Prime Video, the acclaimed series – in which a group of vigilantes battle with superpowered individuals who use their abilities in less than admirable ways – was nominated for multiple awards, including a Prime Time Emmy, and currently boasts a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
All of which leads to today’s question:
What do you get when you let some of the most maniacal minds in entertainment today write their own animated shorts set in the world of The Boys? You’d get The Boys Presents: Diabolical, an eight-episode animated anthology that makes the original series look like Masterpiece Theatre. (OK, perhaps not exactly, but you get the idea…)
Featuring contributions from Awkwafina, Garth Ennis, Eliot Glazer and Ilana Glazer, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen, Justin Roiland and Ben Bayouth, Andy Samberg, Aisha Tyler, and Simon Racioppa, The Boys Presents: Diabolical has, as they say, something for everyone – as long as everyone enjoys blood-drenched, off-the-wall, maniacal action and humor.
To learn more about the transformation of the hit series into its animated counterpart, we spoke with writer and executive producer Racioppa (Invincible, Fangbone!). We began by acknowledging the exceptional roster of talent that was enlisted for the production.
AWN: That is quite the A+ list of creative EP and animation folks you have working on the show. Is there anyone left to work on any other shows?
Simon Racioppa: Yeah, we got very, very lucky with that – with the directors and writers, and the cast and crew on the show. It's one of the best teams I've worked with on anything. Even though it was a big crunch to get it done in time, from my perspective, it was a really pleasant process. It was a great team and I learned a lot from the people we were working with.
AWN: Do you think the fact that animation is being seen as an increasingly creative medium lately – with shows like Into the Spider-Verse and Love, Death + Robots – was part of the enticement for the talent you brought together?
SR: I would like to think so. We're going through an interesting period right now. Obviously, edgier anthology animated series have been done before – things like Heavy Metal 2000 and The Animatrix – but I'm hoping we're getting to a point where animation is changing from a genre to a format. For example, why couldn't you do a hard-boiled detective story or a heist movie and make it animated? Why couldn't you do something like Succession as an animated series? Obviously, it all depends on the story. But I'd like to see animation become more of an accepted format – like, “Here's a great book that we could adapt into a live-action TV series, but you know what? I think it would be better for the material if we animated it and brought in actors.”
AWN: Absolutely. So what was the genesis of this project, and how did you get involved?
SR: I did Invincible before this, and two of the EPs with me on that were Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. And Evan was like, “We have a cool idea for a Boys spinoff. Do you remember The Animatrix?” And I was like, “Yes, of course. I love The Animatrix.” He said the idea was to create something quick that could come out before Season 3 of The Boys, something for the fans, since it's been such a long wait due to the pandemic. The concept was to do eight short films, each set in the world of The Boys, but have them all feel different, and really try to make something special out of them.
AWN: How did you see the new episodes relative to the world of the live-action series? How much did you try to get them to mesh?
SR: Eric Kripke, the creator and showrunner for The Boys, was integral to the entire production. He was there all the way through. So when we had a Zoom call with our writers, like Andy Samberg and Awkwafina, Eric was on that. We really tried to let them keep their voice and their ideas for their films, and we just gave them guidelines to make sure they were true to the things that were established in the mothership show – things like characters and tone. Other than that, we let them tell the story they wanted to tell.
And we ended up with some very different results. We have Andy Samberg telling a story about loss, and about how life moves on, and how maybe you need to let go sometimes. Then we have Justin Roiland [the co-creator of Rick and Morty] telling a screwed-up tale of revenge and murder in a very comical way. But in all of those, things like [the chemical] Compound V is Compound V, the Vought Corporation acts like it does in the mothership show. That's how we linked them thematically together, while giving the writers as much freedom as we could on their individual episodes.
AWN: How did you find the writers? Did you approach people with ideas for stories or did they pitch to you?
SR: Basically, Seth, Evan, Eric, and I started making a list of people whose work we loved and who we knew were fans of the show, and we reached out to them. But we didn't give ideas to anybody. Everybody came in with a pitch or two, and we did a round table to discuss the ideas. Then, I helped them shape the script of the episode as we went forward.
AWN: Did any of these creatives work with their own designers or animators, or was there a centralized visual development team?
SR: We had a hub where everything was done with Titmouse Animation here in Los Angeles. We had an incredible supervising director, Giancarlo Volpe, who served as the visual director for the series as a whole. Then what we tried to do was find directors who matched the scripts. For example, we have an episode that's a Looney Tunes kind of thing, for which we found Crystal and Derek Thompson, who have a huge pedigree working on things like that. So really it was like each episode was its own pilot. We assembled a specific creative team for each one, but then we had an overall creative team, including Titmouse’s Antonio Canobbio, who was the art director for the whole series, overseeing the production.
I can't speak highly enough about Titmouse, by the way. They were incredible, especially considering that there was no continuity between episodes. There were eight different composers, totally different designs for every episode. There was nothing we were able to reuse or establish – everything was different. But all those guys were up to that challenge and delivered on it.
AWN: Can you say a little more about the stylistic inspirations? How did you arrive at the stylistic choices you made and what influenced those decisions?
SR: It happened really organically. For “Laser Baby's Day Out,” Seth and Evan wanted to do a Roger Rabbit-Looney Tunes-inspired cartoon from the very start, so it was just a matter of how best to execute it. For others, it came about through discussion, looking at the script, talking about how it could feel, the tone of it, and then bringing a director on board and hearing their ideas too. “Boyd in 3D” probably could have been executed visually in a number of different styles, but, after talking to the Glazers and Naz Azadi, who's the director on that, we thought maybe it could be like a French graphic novel. That's why we went with Folivari, a French animation studio. We used French designers to try and really make it fit into that world. And it just began to feel right. Justin Roiland's episode looks like a Justin Roiland show. So, some we knew right off the bat, and others we discovered as we went along.
AWN: Looking back, what would you say were the main challenges from your perspective?
SR: The biggest challenge was the schedule – everyone would've loved a couple extra months to do it. The second big challenge was finding the right people for each episode, which is something that Giancarlo was really great on – finding the right directors, and then finding the right composer, and doing all that within the 10 or 11 months that we had to make the show. And the last one was trying to keep the episodes true to the source material, the writer's original vision, and trying not to repeat ourselves. That was the goal. I'm not sure whether or not we achieved that, but that's what we wanted to do.
AWN: Is there anything you can share with regard to what we might see in a second season?
SR: We have lots of ideas for Season 2. There are a lot of things waiting. There were other writers who wanted to participate in Season 1 that we couldn't accommodate, unfortunately. And we'd like to open it up. Obviously, we don't have a Season 2 greenlight yet, but the key thing is that it should be all new. It should be surprising, and it should be a grab bag of new creative talents. Even if there are Season 1 episodes that we'd want to do a part two for, we would have to do it in a completely new way. We would change the style. We would change the writer. We'd revisit it in a different way to keep it interesting and unexpected.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.