Ani Shorts: Jay Stephens - Introducing the Secret Saturdays

Ani Shorts: Secret Saturdays

Friday, October 3, will not only see the debut of Star Wars: the Clone Wars. Actually, another show animation fans should stay very aware of is Secret Saturdays.

Secret Saturdays is the creation of longtime comic book and animation creator Jay Stephens. This crazed Canadian has been injecting his share of action, adventure and humor on us mere mortals for approximately two decades (his first comic, Land of Nod debuted on 1991). His previous TV series, Tutenstein even garnered him his share of awards, including the Emmy.

With Secret Saturdays, Stephens moves into a favorite animation area, the super science family team. It’s style is highly reminiscent of Genndy Tartakovsky and Craig McCracken’s early work for Hanna-Barbara (particularly Two Stupid Dogs) while it’s subject matter is a solid mix of Land Before Time and Johnny Quest. Is it going to be a hit? Better bet on it. Being part of a block that will include Ben 10: Alien Force, Clone Wars and, eventually, Batman: Brave & Bold will give it an excellent platform to launch from. That the show is not only a great mix of solid action and humor will insure it will be around for some time to come.

Here’s what Stephens had to say:

NEWSARAMA Jay...which came first, comics or cartoons? Does one feed into another? If so, how?

Jay Stephens: As a kid, I was equally passionate about animation, picture books, comic strips, and comic books. Kind of a cartoon addict, really. Despite my 'career' beginning in comic books back in the early 90's, that initial omnivorous interest in all things cartoony has served me well in working simultaneously in all media. On legal forms I always fill out 'occupation' as 'Cartoonist' because it's the only label that seems to cover all the bases.

I definitely feel that each new project comes with another steep learning curve that informs and influences work in other forms. My recent experience in animation has led me further along in terms of character design and serialized storytelling, which I'm sure will make my next work in comics all that much stronger. Or ruin it. We'll have to wait and see.

NRAMA: The first animated series I have you down for you is Jetcat. What was it like working on that? How did it help you for Tutenstein and Secret Saturdays?

JS: Each time I've dabbled in animation, beginning with the 'Wonderduds' shorts for YTV's Squawkbox back in the early 90's, I've learned a ton of new tricks, mostly through trial and error.

Jetcat was fun (and hard!) because I got to do it as close to solo as possible by starting off with pre-storyboard comics of each short. Very few other hands were involved, keeping it pretty close to my experience making comics. Tutenstein was totally different. The executives at Discovery Kids really took control of that series, and my role was diminished to that of Creator and Creative Consultant, which was full of new challenges.

I'm not convinced that having done these series helped me get the Secret Saturdays on the air, which is my first show created specifically for TV and not adapted from one of my comics. TV is a tough nut to crack, even the third time 'round, and I still have a lot to prove. But the Cartoon Network experience has been awesome, and required everything I learned from the other two projects. I don't think I could've managed as Executive Producer without those prior experiences.

NRAMA: Tutenstein did fairly well in the U.S. I believe they even aired it on CBS for a while. What was that experience like?

JS: It was on NBC initially, due to a deal between that network and Discovery Kids. A Saturday morning cartoon on NBC! Talk about reliving your childhood. Seeing the Tutenstein float go by in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade in New York was one of the coolest experiences of my life. And we won two Daytime Emmy's, so I have no complaints! A new feature length TV movie is coming out soon, too.

NRAMA: I couldn't help but get the feeling Secret Saturdays had a bit of the super science team feel of shows like Johnny Quest. Was that the case? What influenced you to do the show?

JS: You got it. Johnny Quest, Herculoids, Scooby Doo, I was channeling a lot of those classic Hanna-Barbera adventure shows, wondering how that look and feel could be updated and modernized. I'm a huge Alex Toth and Doug Wildey fan, and I felt that, with the exception of parody, that old-school American animation style had all but vanished from the cartoon landscape. I just wanted to make an action cartoon that I would have loved when I was 10, incorporating other influences as diverse as The Challengers of the Unknown, The Phantom, Indiana Jones, and Tintin.

NRAMA: How would you describe the character of the following characters?

• Doc Saturday

JS: Doc is old-school Pulp. A brainy, rich inventor who has the brawn to back up his instincts. Doc approaches cryptozoology from a grounded, purely scientific background. He's the calm core of the family.

• Drew Saturday

More of a loose cannon, Drew is spontaneous and acts on her gut. She approaches cryptozoology from the folkloric/mystical aspect, and is the 'true believer' of the Saturdays. she's got a Tibetan Fire sword.

• Zak Saturday

Zak's the luckiest kid in the world. He gets to jet around the globe to an endless array of exotic locales, battling evil, uncovering mysterious creatures and ancient secrets. And he's got cool technology and weaponry at his disposal, and freaky cryptids for family members. Zak is who I wanted to be at that age.

• VV Argost

Argost is the mysterious host of the very popular Weirdworld TV show. Most of his fans don't realize that he's also a megalomaniac psychopath hell-bent on world domination. He knows at least as much about cryptids as the Saturdays do. If I told you any more about who's behind that fright mask, I'd have to throw you to the Mongolian Death Worms.

• Komodo, Zon & Fiskerton

The Saturdays have adopted a trio of cryptids that have truly become part of the family. Komodo is a gruff, mutated monitor lizard with the ability to camouflage his skin to become nearly invisible. His appetite is apparently bottomless. Zon is the most recent addition to the family, and is a 'living fossil'... a surviving descendant of the supposedly extinct Tropeognathus pterosaur. She's still a little skittish around humans. After being rescued from Sherwood Forest, the Fiskerton Phantom has grown up with the Saturdays, and is considered by Zak to be his gigantic 'little' brother. Fisk is the comedic heart of the show.

NRAMA: Where did you come up with the concept of the Kur Stone?

JS: I wanted an epic, classic adventure feel to the first season, and an ancient mystery seemed perfect. Playing off of the crytozoological core of the show, I discovered in my research a reference to a vague, menacing, 'thing' called Kur in Sumerian mythology... something we could really play with and make our own in the series. You'll have to tune in to see how it all plays out.

NRAMA: I noticed your character design is very streamlined and clean. What was the goal there?

JS: My work has always been economic and minimal in design. I'm from the 'less is more' school of art. Looking at Toth's designs and then trying to boil it down a little further, I found myself looking at a lot of old Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy comics by the awe-inspiring Roy Craine. The stuff has clean, graphic, and easy to read character designs atop beautiful realistic backgrounds and machinery. It just oozes Adventure, and I knew that was the basic look to aim for. The bold linework and heavy blacks is just the way I draw.

NRAMA: Do you believe there are Cryptids out there?

JS: Absolutely. Gorillas, Okapi, Coelocanth, Megamouth Shark, and Giant Squid were mysterious, unknown animals that only existed in legend until they were proven to exist in recent times (and discovered in) 1847, 1918, 1938, 1976, and 2004, respectively. These things are out there.

NRAMA: The Wiki says you went through quite a process in developing this show. How does it feel to finally be seeing it hit the air?

JS: Every show goes through a series of sharp growing pains as it gets ready to greet the world, and The Secret Saturdays was no exception. I'm excited to see the public reaction to the work we've done, but it always feels a little anti-climactic when you've spent so much time so close to the material. I'm proud of the Saturdays, though, and can't wait for everyone to see the show. My kids love it, and that's a good sign. They're not afraid to tell me when something I do sucks.

NRAMA: How does it feel to be part of this new block of action-adventure programs, being put in with the likes of Clone Wars, Ben 10 and, eventually, Batman?

JS: Gosh, gee-whiz... what can I say? I'm in the company of legends! It's really a dream come true.

NRAMA: What did you think of the viral promotion that was done around the show?

JS: Viral promotion? I don't know what you mean. Weirdworld and Cryptids Are Real are honest sites. (Laughs wickedly).

NRMAMA: Where are you in production these days? How many episodes completed, etc?

JS: We just got the rough cut back for episode 26, the grand finale, and that first run comprises one long story arc that sees a big change in characters from start to finish. It's a genuine continuity show, but with plenty of stand alone episodes and jumping-on points. I hope to get you all hooked!


The New York International Children’s Film Festival announced its schedule for Fall/Winter 2008. As always, it includes superlative animation from around the world, plus a few live action surprises that should be part of any knee biters cinematic experience.

Here’s the schedule:


France, Animation, Michel Ocelot, 2006/2008, 98 min

In English - For Ages 6 to Adult

Sat & Sun, Oct 18 & 19, 11am - IFC Center, 323 6th Ave (at West 3rd)

Sat, Nov 29, 11am, 2pm - Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th)

NYICFF is thrilled to present the US premiere English language version of this stunning new animated adventure from acclaimed director and animator Michel Ocelot (Kriikou and the Sorceress). The poetic, fairytale-like story weaves together themes of family, culture, race and respect within a visual landscape of incomparable brilliance and beauty.


USA, Animation, Nina Paley, 2008, 82 min

In English - For Ages 9 to Adult


Sat & Sun, Nov 8 & 9, 11am - IFC Center, 323 6th Ave (at West 3rd)

Tragedy, comedy and music collide in this gloriously animated new film from Nina Paley, New York's own "One Woman Pixar" (Wired Magazine). Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three bickering shadow puppets with Indian accents act as comic narrators as these old and new stories are interwoven in a post-modern retelling of the ancient Indian epic Ramayana. Animated in a dazzling mix of traditional and collage animation styles, and backed by a soundtrack from legendary 1920's jazz singer Annette Hanshaw.


In English – For Ages 3 TO 8

Sat & Sun, Oct 25 & 26, 11am - Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th)

Kid Flix Mix is a continually updated "Best of NYICFF" assortment of animated, musical and experimental shorts for ages 3-8. The program features audience and jury favorites cherry-picked from the past ten years of the festival, including works from Mexico, Germany, UK, France, US and Canada.


Ages 8 To Adult

Sat & Sun, Oct 25 & 26, 1pm - Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th)

Party Mix is a continually updated "Best of NYICFF" assortment of animated, live action, experimental, and musical shorts for ages 8 and older. The program features audience and jury favorites cherry-picked from the past ten years of the festival, including works from South Korea, Japan, Russia, Germany, and more.


USA, Leo McCarey, 1933, 68 min

Ages 6 To Adult

Sat, Dec 20 at 1pm & Sun, Dec 21 at 11am - Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th)

One of the funniest films of all times (ranked #5 on the AFI Top 100 Comedies), this slice of anarchic irreverence from the Marx Bros. is a rollercoaster collision of slapstick, lightning-paced verbal banter, and silly songs. Groucho plays the cigar- chomping Rufus T. Firefly, president of the tiny nation of Freedonia and all-around scoundrel. With his country on the verge of bankruptcy, Firefly intends to salvage the economy by wooing the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale, but instead accidentally starts a war with the neighboring country Sylvania! Non-stop, wall-to-wall hilarity.


USA, Gus Meins, 1934, 77 min


Sat, Dec 20 at 11am & Sun, Dec 21 at 1pm - Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway (at 95th)

(This film is also known under its alternate title, March of the Wooden Soldiers.)

The legendary comic duo Laurel and Hardy, who play two low-level toymakers in Toyland, live in a surreal fairy tale universe populated by slightly off-kilter Mother Goose characters. The pair live a comfortable life in a shoe, helping to make toys for Santa's big annual orders, until their hilarious incompetence gets them fired. Towering wooden soldiers, monsters from Bogeyland, a live monkey in a rat costume rip-off of Mickey Mouse, and a dastardly pignapping make this film a memorably bizarre take on the popular Victor Herbert operetta, packed full of slapstick gags by comedy guru Hal Roach.

For information, trailers, and tickets:

NEXT COLUMN: I’ll have recovered from the NY Anime Fest. You’ll have to wait to see what that means next time.

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