by Shannon O’Leary
[The following interview with Pendleton Ward is the result of two different conversations we had over the course of three months towards the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012. The conversations took place in and outside of an East Hollywood Bar. Cartoonist/animators, Jesse Moynihan and Levon Jihanian, hung out with us for the first conversation and became a part of it. A charming and funny gentleman named Andy Tacky Tauke joined myself and Mr. Ward for the second conversation then disappeared into the night immediately afterwards. This interview was conducted as research for an article at Publisher’s Weekly that focuses on Cartoon Network’s veritable treasure trove of independent comics talent booty. Any language that may be deemed offensive has been substituted with Adventure Time swears. Enjoy!]
Shannon O’Leary: I’ve been sending questionnaires to your crew to get a feel for why you staff so many indie comics artists. Both Steve Wolfhard and Jesse Moynihan said you bought their comics at SPX 2009. Did you go there specifically to look for comics talent for the show or were you just hanging out?
Pendleton Ward: No, I was just hanging out. I just like comics. I like reading comics. I go to comic cons just to buy minis for myself because I like to read them.
SO: So what had you send Jesse a storyboard test after reading his comics?
PW: His comics were really funny, interesting and beautiful at the same time. So they really appealed to me. His stuff was also close to storyboarding. A lot of comics artists will cut around and hit lots of different angles from panel to panel. And with Jesse (points to Jesse) you would get a page where two dudes were just talking to each other with the same staging (from panel to panel).
Jesse Moynihan: Using the same staging is a big deal to me. It’s like doing a long shot in a movie, like a long take…like Kubrick. I’m not saying I’m like Kubrick though…
SO: So basically, you read comics because you love comics, you’re not trying to necessarily scope anyone out – but every once in a while you come across one where you think it could work on the show?
SO: You’ve often described yourself as more of an entertainer than an artist, where do you see the distinction?
PW: I like making stuff that’s commercially viable. I think that’s more interesting than art.
SO: Really? How come?
PW: Because it affects a broader number of people. Art’s specific and emotional.
SO: The Adventure Time logo is a fairly recognizable nod to most D&D players. Do you still get to play Dungeons and Dragons often with your hectic schedule?
PW: Yeah, I used to play. I’d work really hard on certain Thursdays to get out to go play D&D with my buddy, Riley Swift.
JM: Is that the metal dude?
SO: The “what” dude?
JM: The metal dude. He’s got long hair. He seems like an awesome DM.
PW: He’s top DM.
SO: Levon is my DM (points to Levon Jihanian). Do you guys know each other? Pen, Levon. Levon, Pen (Levon, engrossed in drawing, looks up briefly to nod at Pendleton, Pendleton nods back)
JM: Levon does a comic called Danger Country. It’s cool.
PW: Cool, man. Nice to meet you.
SO: He’s a good DM. OK, so Riley’s your DM?
PW: Riley Swift, of www.dungeonmajesty.com. He’s awesome. (Author’s note: If you want to see videos of hot chicks playing D&D with a dashing and encouraging Dungeon Master, click on that link)
SO: Have you ever had a storyline on Adventure Time that came out of a campaign?
PW: Yeah, we did one where Finn found some Valkyrie armor
SO: Which episode?
PW: Uh… I can’t remember the name of it.
SO: Was it first or second season?
PW: First or second, I can’t remember. I don’t know. But it was about embarrassment … where they travel through the swamp of embarrassment (Author’s Note: Adventure Time’s current Lead Character Designer, Andy Ristaino, later identified this storyline as part of the episode entitled Blood Under the Skin, Season 2, Episode 4)
JM: That was based on a D&D campaign?
PW: The Valkyrie armor at the end with the boobs…
JM: Oh yeah!
PW: Yeah, no one in our game wanted to wear it because we were all tough guys but if you put it on you could fly.
SO: So it was Valkyrie armor that had boobs on it? Is Finn wearing the Valkyrie armor with boobs on it in the Adventure Time episode?
PW: I think Jake wears it because Finn doesn’t want to.
SO: You’ve mentioned that you had an enormous crush on Lisa Simpson when you were growing up. Do you still retain a flame for Lisa Simpson?
PW: Yeah. She’s super smart. She plays the sax.
SO: Would you say she’s like the perfect woman?
PW: No. I would not say that.
SO: So you don’t carry the same kind of torch that you used to for her?
PW: She never grew into a woman.
SO: So it was a love that couldn’t grow?
PW: She did actually grow into a woman in that one episode…
SO: When she became the president or something?
PW: I guess they’re might’ve been a couple episodes…
SO: I met these two girls on Halloween weekend who were cosplaying as Finn and Jake. How do these ladies compare to Lisa Simpson? They’re aspiring animators (Author’s Note: The ladies in question are Marie Bower and Gina Gress. Their artwork can be found at the links).
PW: They’re right on par with Lisa Simpson.
SO: I thought their costumes were a little revealing for a kid friendly show. Do you have any issues with that?
PW: It’s just some mid drift.
SO: Just some mid drift, no problem?
PW: Yeah, it’s 2011. Let those bellies out.
SO: I read that you used to make apocalyptic flipbooks as a child to train yourself in animation and that you made one of Water World. I’ve never seen that movie before but I know that they drink pee in it.
PW: Yeah, they convert pee into water.
SO: What attracted you specifically about that apocalyptic story?
PW: I guess all post-apocalyptic movies are fascinating.
SO: What are some of your favorites beyond Waterworld?
PW: Mad Max. That’s a classic. I can’t think of any others… Jesse, help me out.
JM: What about the post-apocalypse?
PW: What are some movies?
JM: What are some post-apocalypse movies? Road Warrior.
SO: What about Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
PW: I don’t think that’s post-apocalyptic.
SO: It’s just constantly on the verge of apocalypse?
JM: I don’t like Joss Whedon.
SO: You don’t like Joss Whedon? (Jesse doesn’t look up from drawing, shakes head no) Well I guess it’s not post-apocalypse. What about I am Legend?
PW: I like I am Legend. And (to Jesse) what are the other incarnations of I am Legend? Omega Man? And the one with Vincent Price?
JM: I like Omega Man.
PW: No you don’t. Come on.
JM: I like the beginning of Omega Man. (Jesse looks up from drawing to ask Shannon) Do you like Omega Man?
SO: I’ve never seen it before.
JM: It’s got Charlton Heston.
SO: Is it on Instant?
JM: I don’t know but it’s Charlton Heston killing vampires with a machine gun in a car.
SO: The Land of Ooo is supposed to be a post-apocalyptic world but it seems pretty happy and optimistic. Do you see hope in a post-apocalypitic world?
PW: Yeah, they don’t care. I guess because they’re not traveling through a desert. It’s a fruitful world.
SO: Do you see fruits in the destruction of our current society?
PW: No. I’m not going to make any social commentary.
SO: Is our society in a pre-apocalyptic stage now?
PW: Yeah, of course.
SO: That’s social commentary, by the way.
PW: This interview’s over.
PW: This interview’s over.
SO: Oh no! Seriously?
PW: Yeah. I don’t lump around.
PW: NO! Done.
SO: Well, thank you.
PW: You’re welcome.
Author’s Note: As mentioned previously, I cornered Mr. Ward a few months later outside the same bar in East Hollywood where we’d chatted before and he graciously answered the rest of my questions then.
Shannon O’Leary: So what cartoonists are you reading right now? Whose work is most influencing your work right now?
SO: Any people who are maybe more contemporaries?
PW: Contemporaries… no…
SO: No one compares to Joann Sfar?
PW: Joann Sfarr is amazing. Just the style of conversational dialogue that he has just feels …I’m trying not to … I recently did some interviews where I just talked and talked and talked and I said the word like a lot in my interviews and that was all transcribed and I was like g*d**nit, I sound like a frikkin’ moron!
SO: I’ll take out any improperly used likes or any swearing. I’m going to make you sound super lumpin’ smart.
PW: So now, instead of actually speaking, I’m going to stop talking and think for a little bit… in between each thought.
SO: That’ll make it easier to transcribe.
PW: OK, good. (laughs)
PW: (A gentleman named Andy Tacky Tauke walks over and holds the iPhone recording the conversation up to Pendleton Ward’s mouth to improve the sound quality [Author’s Note: Andy Tacky Tauke as spelled herein, does not exist on the internets. I can’t find him! Anyone who knows him, please feel free to email me or school me in the comments section and this post will be updated with links and, if necessary, the correct spelling of his name]) Hey, thanks, buddy. This is Andy Tacky Tauke, everybody.
Andy Tacky Tauke: A silent pause can add a lot of drama to the moment.
PW: You gotta give me a lot of ellipses. I want like fiddy ellipses…
SO: So there’s gotta be other cartoonists you like beyond Joann Sfar…
SO: Come on.
PW: Well apart from comics, I’m a big fan of Bob’s Burgers. That’s a new Fox show… That’s contemporary. I’m a crazy fan. As soon as I saw the first episode, I was like, LUMP! I lumpin’ love this! I went on the Fox website and found the forum for it and I saw some people talkin’ some trash and … I signed on and created a whole identity for myself…
SO: Was it a secret identity or was it you?
PW: No, it was me because I was proud. I said, “you can all be damned to hell, all of you! For not liking Bob’s Burgers, I hope you all rot in hell and burn a fiery death.”
SO: That’s some pretty stern internet commenting, sir.
PW: My posts didn’t make it through the filter or whatever… but I love Bob’s Burgers. I don’t care who knows. I’m so proud of it. I’m so lumpin’ happy about that cartoon.
AT: The spirit of the message resonated. They just picked Bob’s up for a third season. It carried its weight.
PW: Andy Tacky Tauke, people.
SO: What had you decide to go with Boom! Studios for the licensed Adventure Time comic? How much of a hand will you have in the creation and production of the comic? Have you had a hand in the first issue?
PW: So far I’ve loved working with Boom! They’re rad.
SO: What’s rad about them specifically?
PW: Well, I’m just getting to know them… this is my first time working with them. And I like talking with them…they’re just really personable people. They’re really down to earth and easy to talk to. I’ve enjoyed establishing our initial relationship. It’s fun talking to them and they understand me. We have a lot of similar interests and people who we both like so they gave me – see I just said like twice! That gets transcribed!
SO: I’m gonna cut it out, dude.
PW: They sent me a big list of people that they wanted to have do special comics in the back of every issue and we both agreed on who the writer should be. Ryan North is the guy who’s writing the comics. He’s a bad***. He’s a great dude. I’m super stoked to be skype-ing with Ryan North.
SO: So there’s going to be guest spots in the back of every issue?
PW: Yeah, in the back of every issue there’ll be a guest spot.
SO: Who’s in the first one?
PW: Um… Rayneer?
SO: Aaron Reiner? Wow. Nice.
PW: Yeah. It’s beautiful. His stuff is gorgeous. I’m stoked. Ryan North wrote all the dialogue. It’s pretty neat.
SO: I understand that the first season DVD is coming out and that you guys have been working on bonus footage. Can you talk a little bit about the bonus features?
PW: Yeah. I’m making it. I wanted to produce this thing where I just go behind the scenes and talk to everybody on the crew and … I purchased some breakable props from the internet. There’s a breakable light bulb and a breakable cup and a breakable vase… and they will all be featured in the behind the scenes DVD featurette.
SO: Will there be any Easter eggs fans should be looking out for?
SO: Do you want to give me any hints?
PW: No hints. It’s a secret. That’s what an Easter egg is. Lump you for wanting to know the secret.
SO: This is how we ended our last interview – with you telling me to lump off. Should we end right here?
PW: Yeah. Cool.