After over twoyears of development comic creators Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer have completedtheir Welcome To Eltingville animated pilot. The show is set toair on Cartoon Network early next month.
Late last week Comics2Filmspoke with Dorkin about his work on the show. Here, we present Part I of thatinterview:
Comics2Film: What was youranimation experience prior to Eltingville?
Evan Dorkin: Mainlywatching a lot of cartoons. No, [Sarah Dyer] and I worked on Space GhostCoast To Coast for I guess, seven years, writing the scripts for that.That was the first thing that we were doing. We both wrote four Superman'sfor WB and one Batman Beyond. We also did the development of thebible for Sunbow for Andi Watson's Skeleton Key, which Nickelodeon(don't boo...I'll do that for you) has picked up and they are developing orsitting on and squashing it. That's our big experience.
I went to NYU for animation. Itwas a good experience, I just didn't know what the hell I was doing. I wastrying to make a four minute film fully animated on cells by myself. That wasstupid.†
C2F: Took a long time?
E.D.: Iwish I knew about Avid, which is how we did Space Ghost, backthen.
C2F: When did you create TheEltingville Club and what inspired that?
E.D.:The Eltingville Club, thefirst strip was done in 93 for Dark Horse's Instant Pianoanthology. The inspiration for that was, I guess, sheer hatred for fandom atthat time. It's not a long story but it's involved so I'll boil it down:
My publisher, Dan Vado wasworking for DC at the time and he was catching so much flak from the fans. Hewas getting absolute hate letters for bumping off a third-rate supportingcharacter in the Justice League book.
C2F: Who was that?
E.D.: Agirl. Ice? Or one of them?
But he was really upset becausethe mail was so vociferous over him killing a fictional character that wasobviously going to come back some time because DC has to keep the copyrightsgoing. It was just horrific, horrific mail.†
I got so pissed off at theletters he was reading me and just the way he felt and how backbiting horriblethe vocal arm of fandom is. Not all of fandom, obviously. And, I needed a stripfor Instant Piano and I wanted to do something other than Milk& Cheese or the other† things I was doing in Dorkand I just rattled off this five-page pipe-bomb to fandom.
And people liked it. I did aten-pager a few months later, "Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett," whichis what the pilot's based on. The special's based on those two strips largely.Over the last eight years I've only done about 50 pages of Eltingville butthey've been very well received.†
C2F: They've been embracedby fandom.
E.D.: Yeah,they've been embraced by some fans and then I've gotten a taste of that hatemail that Dan was getting from some people who felt that I was being too hard onthe industry, that I was a comics hater, that I should leave the industry if Idon't like it, things like that. Love it or leave it type of stuff. Peopledidn't seem to get that you can love something and still criticize it.†
There was also a lot of angertowards the comics industry professionals as well. Rampant fannishness kind ofpermeates the industry and keeps it...fannish. Keeps it kind of dumbed-down andkeeps it in the ghetto we always talk about.
I also write about pop-culturea lot and I write about comics often so, I think it was inevitable that I woulddo something like this.
C2F: How does the animatedshow differ from the comics? Were there things that you left out that you wishedyou could have kept in?
E.D.: Wellthey all have giant robots and they're all women now, very good-looking Japanesewomen, just a few of the changes the network asked for.
C2F: (Laughing)That's not true! I've seen the tape.
E.D.: Actually,very little has changed. The change that most people who have read the stripwill notice and will not be noticed by people who don't read the strip, which is99 out of 100 people watching the show is, of course all the foul language hasbeen excised. We had to lose the R-Rated dialog that we have in the strip whereI'm allowed to do whatever I want and say whatever I want because nobody'spaying attention.
But, for the show we wereworking under a PG rating and I had to obviously lose the F-word...and theC-word...and I tried to make up for that thinking to myself that I've seen a lotof very mean television and movies that were made before people were cursingregularly. One of my favorite movies is a film that I think is a reallyhorrifically mean and nasty and dark film and no one says a curse. And on TheFlintstones and The Honeymooners, whenever one of thecharacters needed to curse they would just start mumbling.†
My take on it was just keep thecharacters aggressive and, if they were aggressive enough people wouldn't noticethe fact that they weren't actually saying, "S.O.B" or things likethat.
We actually ended up with aPG-14 rating so that, if I was allowed to do another show I would probably tryto stretch it a little bit. I decided not to go the South Parkroute. I didn't want bleeping. I didn't want really shocking language. I justfelt that that's been done, that it would take away from the story and the jokesand there's just no point in trying to go out there and really shock people. Itjust wasn't what I wanted to do.
As I've said to people who havewritten me, "if the cursing and the foul-language was really the onlystrength of the strip, then the strip wasn't very good."†
So, we lost that, but beyondthat then we didn't lose anything.
The show is probably moreviolent then the strip is because the animators† actually had to draw themsmackin' the hell out of each other, which they do constantly. In the strip it'sonly a panel. So where Bill is choking† Josh out or one of them's punchingout the other, in the show they're really just knocking the hell out of eachother and destroying things. We actually gained that, if anything.
We lost plaid. We lost plaidand checked patterns on the jacket. It's hard to animate that.
We lost a lot of acne on thefaces. I had to clean up the design of the characters a little bit.
C2F: I don't know.There's a lot of acne in the pilot
E.D.: Ohyou've seen it? Do you think that it captures the strips decently.
C2F: Yeah, I think itcaptures it pretty well. It doesn't feel as mean as the strip. I don't know ifthat's because of the language or not.
E.D.: I also wasn't surehow mean I could get.† It's the first time we've done this. It might be thelast time but if we get to do it again: you look at the pilot and gauge it andsee where you think you went wrong and what you can beef up.†
I also think we needed tointroduce the characters and situations and once we're free of that we can dowhatever we want. I think it's a pretty decent translation but I don't know howthe readers will react.
C2F: How was it working on ashow where you created everything, as opposed to working on Space Ghostor Batman Beyond?
E.D.:We had some run-ins on BatmanBeyond and Superman where you would just keep rewritingand rewriting, and you felt it was arbitrary. You did not know why they werechanging things. You'd find out later that they didn't want this to be close tothis other script that somebody was working on and this had to go because theywant Al Roker to have a cameo so he's in there now. You really had no say.
And you're really hamstrung bythe fact that those are DC characters and somebody owns the copyright antthey're protective of it and DC's protective of it and the producers areprotective of certain things that they're fans of.†
In a lot of ways we had someproblems on the show because of professional fannishness. DC was incrediblyuptight about Supergirl could not be from Krypton. That would somehow diluteSuperman and make him a wuss or something if there's another survivor. That kindof thinking is what Eltingville is all about. That kind of"who cares?"†
There's plot logic andcharacter logic and structural logic, and then there's fan logic. And fan logicis crazy.
And obviously we were notinvolved in how things were done on those shows. With Space Ghostwe were heavily involved. It really is a writer's show in a lot of way. It wasnot a show where a lot of egos come into play. Sometimes they'd stick with ourscript 95%. Some times things would get chopped up for logistics or what haveyou.
Working on Eltingville,of course, Sarah and I pretty much did everything. I did all the designs, exceptI couldn't draw a vulture. I just finally just asked the clean-up guys to helpwith the motor cycle and the vultures that I did not have time to do (and I'mnot the greatest artist on the planet). I decided I did not need to take artcourses for two days when I really needed to get other designs done.
Sarah did the color modeling.We used Stephen DeStefano for the boards, who we worked with before and he's afriend of ours and he's done a lot of stuff for the Cartoon Network and workedon Ren & Stimpy and a ton of things. So we were really able tomake it feel like we were doing a comic, for better or worse.†
If nothing else I think theshow comes off as it doesn't feel exactly like other cartoons. It's not the mostbeautiful design because I didn't want it designed beautifully. I thought if thecharacters and the backgrounds were esthetically pleasing it would sort ofdefeat the purpose of the show. They're not supposed to be beautiful. They'rerotten, awful trolls.
I kind of felt like we weredoing a cartoon for ourselves. The network was very hands off. They told us inthe beginning that what they didn't have in budget they would give us incontrol, which is very appealing.†
We could have made our livingdoing comics for Marvel and DC and probably done better on the pay ratio, butyou know we really enjoyed working with them. That's not P.R. bullshit. I'vebeen working with [producer Keith Crofford] and [producer Michael Lazzo] forseven years and we knew [producer Linda Simensky] and we had a really goodrelationship with the producers in L.A. and they basically let us run with it.If there's any weaknesses in the show its basically our learning to do this onthe job.
We had no nightmares, noarguments. It was a great experience.†
The downside is that it was aton of work. I was drawing these comic book stores with every comic book title.I was drawing and designing all the characters and that really was a lot ofwork.
C2F: Did you have todo much research for the Trivia Showdown in the pilot, or are you fanboy enoughto come up with all those questions yourself?
E.D.: Well,we used a lot of stuff that was from the original script. I rewrote a bunch ofit because, as a fan geek I wanted to Jack Kirby's name on the air and call himthe King of Comics, and I wanted to credit Otto Mesmer with creating Felixthe Cat because he was screwed out of it for years by Pat Sullivan, thatsort of thing. We just had to make sure everything was legally accurate. We didresearch a bunch of thing.
And, I wanted to make sure inthe script that the words were funny, that the questions actually sounded funny.A lot of K sounds. A lot of odd movie titles names like "Dr. Butcher"and "Queen of the Cannibals" just to emphasize how absolutely stupidthis stuff is, as much as I love a lot of it.
Doing this for a living andtalking to my editor: what is the best sound effect for a guy with wet shoes tohit the ground when he's knocked down, or a car to hit somebody, or a guyslapping another guy's face when he's wearing a mask. You just sit there and go,"this is the dumbest thing I've ever said in my life. I can't belive I'mtrying to figure out the onomatopoeia of wet fruit hitting a guy's face" orsomething like that. Or when you're working on a cartoon and you're trying toget the right color for a bursting zit. You just feel like a moron. You're like,"I don't believe I'm getting paid to do this and that people want to seestuff like this." You know, we should be paying teachers, not guy's tryingto figure out the color scheme of a zit. That's what's crazy about this stuff.
With the trivia-off we reallywanted just insane stuff that would sound crazy. Kind of like an old MontyPython skit where, you figure every cheese they're mentioning for two minutesstraight is real and it's this just sheer trivia and obvious research justbecomes funny.
When we did the strip in '93 welooked up a lot of that stuff. I got a lot of mail on that story and they asked,"did you know all that stuff,"† because they were horrified andthey were like, "I thought I was a loser and I don't know all thatstuff."
I basically told them we lookedup about 90% of it. 10% of it I knew. But I knew where to look for all of it! Ihad all the books or I had the fanzines or I knew where to go so it's like, mymind's ruined. I can't remember my mother's birthday and I don't remember mysecond phone line's number but† I remember who inked Ross Andru on Spider-Man#136 and what the name of The Melter is in real life.
But that's the world. We knowmore about celebrities than we do about our own neighbors. The TV Guide lookslike Starlog now.
That's kind of what I washoping we could catch in the show. Put a mirror up and make people laugh aboutit.
Coming Soon:In part II of the interview Dorkin talks about the future of The EltingvilleClub in both comics and animation.
WelcomeTo Eltingville airs on CartoonNetwork on March 3 at 11:00p.m. It's not too late to enter our Giveawayand Trivia Exhibition! You could win an original work of art by Dorkinhimself as well as a bunch of other cool prizes from CartoonNetwork, Slave Labor Graphics and TheAquabats!