"...a desperate, depressed, tormented romantic who seeks escape from the horror of being alive through killing his brain-cells with alcohol and/or bullets."
That's how Adult Swim describes the title character in 'The Drinky Crow Show', the all new series debuting on Cartoon Network November 23rd.
The show is based on the award-winning and long-running 'Maakies' comic strip, created by Tony Millionaire who co-produces with veteran TV producer Eric Kaplan. The pair created an episode back in 2007 when Adult Swim was having a 1000-pilot death match. The show won the popular vote and is now coming back in series form.
I sat down and watched three episodes of the series and then got on the phone with Messrs. Kaplan and Millionaire to talk about 'Drinky Crow' (which Mania previewed for you on Monday). Below is part one of the transcript of that call:
Eric Kaplan: Tony, Tony. Good to be on this call with you, Tony.
Tony Millionaire: Good to be on this call with you, Eric. It's fantastic. I'm imagining Rob is sitting there with a giant Robot with lights and buttons all over it.
Rob Worley (Mania): Yes. Is this the first time you guys have ever talked to each other?
Tony: Yeah, we've never spoken to each other. Great job on the show.
Eric: You lose a lot of credibility in Hollywood if anyone can actually talk to you or see you. We have a vast, byzantine-type bureaucracy of satraps and viceroys. Any message from one to the other has to pass through that.
Tony: My people never meet his people.
Tony: There's a whole third group of people in between.
Eric: Your people are great, by the way. The ones directing the other people are awesome.
Mania: Your people have people?
Tony: Oh yeah. You don't want to get that close.
Mania: Wow. This show is big time. I had no idea it was this big time.
Eric: Did you watch the show?
Mania: I've seen three episode: 'Beer Goggles', 'Old Girlfriend' and 'The Monkey God', which brings me to my first question: What is the matter with you two?
Tony: [laughs] That's funny.
Eric: [laughs] Good question.
Mania: In the show, there are people are mutilating themselves, committing suicide and humping things...Where does all this come from?
Tony: When I started on the comic strip I realized the further I would go the less editing I would get. This was like 14 years ago when I started making this strip in the New York Press. One day, because I used the "F word", one of the editors said to me, "Tony, this is not 'Screw' magazine. Watch it with the language."
And I said, "How about if I put it down in the bottom strip?"
And he said, "Yeah, that'd be OK. Just write it small."
[Editor's Note: For those who haven't read Maakies, each daily strip contains a tiny, secondary strip along the bottom. Check it out...]
Ever since then it just got more and more crazy. I started pouring all this obscene stuff into the comic strip.
When it got to Adult Swim, we started making the show. We were like, "OK, we're gonna have to tone it down a little because it's for TV."
And they said, "No! Tone it up!"
Eric: It's life and death, man. You've got your mutilation, your copulation. They're very fundamental issues. You want to have a show with wide appeal. Biologically most people have an interest in those issues.
Mania: There are definitely issues in between the copious gross-out gags. 'Monkey God' has a lot to say about religion. 'Old Girlfriend' is about relationships, getting into them and getting out of them --
Eric: -- The commodification of emotion.
Mania: Right. So how do approach an episode? Do you start with the gag beats first, or do you come up with a theme?
Eric: It comes into focus like a picture being developed.
The one you mentioned about the old girlfriend. That seemed like a really cool idea that an old girlfriend that Drinky Crow had some kind of sexual relationship with that's not still going on, comes back into his life and it terrifies him. As it develops, it turns out she practices slavery. That's sort of a comic idea that I liked. Sort of the split between people's emotional and relationship life and the rest of their life. So that kind of came into focus on that one.
Tony: The gags come out when somebody like Eric or me are writing stories. When he's writing the script the gags come out pretty naturally because he's a funny person. So whenever he's telling a story it just comes out funny. I don't think you can write a story that's not funny if you've got a sense of humor like that.
Mania: How do you divide up the work? Who does what, and in what order? How does it flow?
Eric: I pretty much start with an idea. Then I write a script or supervise a writer who writes the script. The ideas come from a matrix that was created by Tony. He has a world where certain things happen and certain things don't happen. There are certain themes that all build from the strip.
If Tony doesn't like it we don't do it.
If you think of it as like the words and the music. The words come from me and the pictures, what stuff looks like, comes from Tony.
Tony: After the script is written, I'll go into and suggest removing stuff that's not true to the characters or adding stuff that would make it more true to the Maakies world.
Eric: That's the goal. The goal is to have an animated show be true to Tony's vision and Tony's creativity.
Mania: Is that hard, Tony, to go from working on a strip where you control everything to a TV show where it's so collaborative?
Tony: It's not hard at all. The thing is, writing words that an actor can then say in long form and keeping it funny is something that I find impossible to do. I can sit down and write a graphic novel and make it go along, but it's usually not that funny as it goes along.
With the 'Maakies' strip I'll take all week long for one or two jokes. To add story to that also is a skill I don't really have.
So to watch Eric write these things and be funny and then me kind of guiding it along a little bit, that's the ideal way to do it.
It's not frustrating at all, in fact. It's a great relief
Eric: And Tony's a really good writer. All sorts of stuff will come up. Like once we had Drinky Crow say, "I suck" and Tony is like, "Drinky Crow would never say 'I suck.'" So we changed that.
Tony: I try to keep the modern social references out. Even stuff like saying "Awesome" or "it sucks".
Eric: Tony likes to keep a kind of classic feel to it.
Mania: That's an interesting thing about the visuals of the show too: You can see that it's computer modeled by the way the characters move and the camera moves, but it has a nice hand-drawn feel to it and it feels very much like the strip. Is it hard to create that?
Tony: When the first images started coming by last year...they had that plastic, sort of CG look to them but they were just experimental.
So I was like, "Why don't we take my drawings and wrap them onto these 3D images?"
I wanted to really try to get it to look like a Sunday newspaper comic strip that popped into life. Through a lot of back and forth we finally got it. I love the way it looks.
Mania: It looks amazing. Was that something you saw as important too, Eric?
Eric: Absolutely. With my company, Mirari Films, it's a team I got together in Transylvania and here in L.A. The idea is to have as little process between the images that appear in Tony's mind and the screen. That's always what we're trying to do.
We're trying to give the viewer the experience of being in the world imagined by Tony.
It's not because of who Tony is. It's because Tony has been able to tap into this deeper level of human experience. We want, in a way that is different and more immersive than reading a comic strip, we want the viewer to emotionally be immersed in that world.
So that's what we've been thinking about with every aspect of this, from realizing the characters to how they move. To sound.
Watch for part two of our chat with Tony Millionaire and Eric Kaplan here on Mania where we'll talk about altered states of consciousness, voice acting and more!
Check out the first episode of 'The Drinky Crow Show' on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block, Sunday November 23rd at 12:15am!