Animated Shorts: Max Atoms' Swan Song - 'Underfist'

Halloween must be Max Atoms' favorite season, and who can blame him?

The creator of The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy is back with a new special. Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be his last one, at least for Cartoon Network.

Have to say it, if this is the last one, the populace of Endsville is going out with one heck of a bang. Its called Underfist and while Billy, Grim and Mandy make their mandatory appearances this time the focus is on Hoss Delgado, Irwin, Jeff the Spider, Skarr and the incredible creation of CH Greenblatt, Fred Fredburger. It’s up to them to stop all the candy coming out of the underworld from eating the trick or treaters of Atoms’ crazed universe. Believe it, when your main enemies are Mindy and a crazed marshmallow bunny, you are in for some serious trouble.

If this special is any indication, then it’s time to break out the rotten eggs and toilet paper. Max Atoms proves he can deliver the treats and the PTB’s at CN deserve some burning tricks (in brown paper bag, of course) if they don't get him back.

Here’s what Atoms had to say:

Newsarama: How long have you been working on Underfist?

Max Atoms: I started production on Underfist almost as soon as we wrapped Billy & Mandy. It was done on a standard TV animation schedules, so about a year from concept to completion. It’s actually been completed for about six months, but since it’s a Halloween Special you gotta wait for Halloween.

NRAMA: How did you decide on Irwin, Jeff, Hoss, Fred and Skarr as your main characters? What was it about each one specifically?

MA: I decided on the cast based on, well… I guess it was gut instinct or something. Or memories implanted by the Government. Most of the characters had never really had more than an episode or two that featured them in Billy & Mandy, and these were all the guys that people, myself included, wanted to see more of.

Irwin had always been Mandy’s lovesick stalker and the guy who gets victimized whenever someone needed to get stung by bees or eaten by sea serpents. Over time though, he started to develop all these interesting quirks and a pretty weird history that included his mom being a mummy and his grandfather being Dracula. I’d been wanted to do an episode of Billy & Mandy that dealt with Irwin going through “monster puberty,” finally unleashing his mumpire powers, but it’d never really gelled until Underfist came along.

Lots of the fans like Hoss, but I never felt like he’d lived up to his potential in the series. He’d just sort of seemed like a one-note, beat-‘em-up thug and I’d always felt like he had a lot more to offer. Underfist finds him in a situation where he can’t be the loner he wants to be and survive in an average new world. He has to learn to be a leader, and since he can’t beat-up learning to lead, he has to deal with a lot of “issues.” It’s a very 90210 special in that way, with the issues. If 90210 had way more explosions, I mean.

Jeff had also been a popular character, but I didn’t really see where he could go after, more or less, resolving his issues with his dad, Billy. But Underfist is all about growing-up and becoming your own person, so he ended up fitting in perfectly. He’s also the only rational character on the team besides Irwin.

Fred Fredburger, whether you like him or not, was the big break-out character for Billy & Mandy. And he only appeared in two episodes of the series and in Billy & Mandy’s Big Boogey Adventure. He’s minty green, people like him, and C.H. Greenblatt does such a great job with him vocally that he was in from the get-go. Strangely enough, he’s actually the one responsible for forming the Underfist team.

And Skarr… well, Armin Shimmerman makes me laugh every time he screams. There’s that. And the fact that I think nothing would annoy Skarr more than to be playing second-fiddle in a third TV show. And if you’re not annoying Skarr, you’re not using him right.

In the end, the team was just about having a funny character balance. I think that’s one of the hardest things to achieve when you’re designing any project. I toyed with putting characters like Sperg or Dracula in as full-time team members, but in the end they didn’t have what I was looking for. Dracula still gets a few good appearances, and Sperg makes a brief cameo.

NRAMA: Noticeably missing from the mix was my favorite avatar of chaos, Eris. Any reason?

MA: There are some pictures of Eris left over from Hoss’ shattered relationship with Eris, but she didn’t make it into this particular story. Originally Underfist was going to be a trio of specials, and the second one was to feature Eris as the villain. In that story we find out that when Hoss broke Eris’ heart, she literally split into two different characters. One tries to woo Hoss by being the perfect girlfriend, and the other tries to out-badass him. And both of them are crazy, of course. I hope it’ll get made one day because it’s totally nutso.

NRAMA: Also, no Kids Next Door? Not even #3?

MA: No. Mr. Warburton and I are currently feuding. He started a beef with me on his last album and then I put a fish in his mailbox. It just keeps getting uglier… just like his face! Boom!

NRAMA: The animation looks decidedly different this time. Did you use a different studio? Different techniques?

MA: It’s the same studio, but a different crew here and overseas. I’d lost most of the Billy & Mandy crew overseas months before we started on Underfist and locally it all had to be done freelance because CN couldn’t justify a full in-house crew for an hour-long special.

I deliberately changed some of the things that bothered me about the character designs and I wanted to differentiate the show visually from Billy & Mandy. It really is a different show in a lot of ways. It’s got a different tone and I thought that visually it should reflect that.

NRAMA: I couldn't help but notice in the end credits a number of other possible Underfist titles. Any possibilities on those?

MA: Aha! Well Underfist v. the Dinosaurs was my second in the planned trilogy. The one I mentioned with Eris back there. If Underfist is about growing up and becoming your own person, Underfist v. the Dinosaurs is about coping with authority figures and vampire cavemen.

As for the possibilities… well, “possibility” is such an ugly word. Maybe it’s best if I just say, “I ‘unno.” Seriously, though, if people like Underfist, writing to Cartoon Network is probably the only way to get more of it.

NRAMA: Outside the one Jack O ' Lantern episode, was there any other straight-up Halloween-themed episodes for Billy & Mandy?

MA: We had one very early on when we were doing seven-minutes called “Grim or Gregory.” Somehow Billy gets Grim mixed up with an annoying little kid who cries a lot. Not one of our best. We also had a Dia de los Muertos episode. It was one of our last episodes and probably the best of the batch in our last few half-hours, though it really doesn’t have much to do with the holiday now that I think about it.

NRAMA: Is Halloween one of your favorite holidays?

MA: I love Halloween. It might just be the best holiday ever, even beating out the ones that get you out of school or work. What other holiday to people just give you stuff for free and you don’t have to give them anything back? There’s no Christmas guilt or worry about what you’re going to buy someone. No sitting around a table with people you barely know or going to church. You just run around like a maniac in complete anonymity, having fun, collecting candy, and putting fish in people’s mailboxes. At least that’s how we do it where I come from.

NRAMA: What's next? Are you going to continue to tell stories about the citizenry of Endsville or go for something new?

MA: When Cartoon Network changed management, they changed the direction of the entire studio. They’re revamping their image, so anything you’ve seen before is pretty much being phased out. I don’t work there anymore, but even if I did you wouldn’t be seeing anything about Endsville.

You can always tell a good idea because they’re the ones that don’t heal even when you stop picking at them. I’ve come up with a few fun “what-ifs” and “maybes” over the last seven years or so and I’ve been excited about finally getting around to them. I’m just starting that process now.

Beyond that, I don’t have plans. I just do things. I’m not a schemer. But whatever comes next is going to be head-explodingly awesome. That’s a promise.

ADULT SWIM BRINGS OUT THE DEAD

Adult Swim announced its own Halloween special will air on October 31, like it’s supposed to. Entitled “Bring Out the Dead,” it will post many of the best cancelled and one-off shows the mini-network has done in its near half-decade of existence.

Here’s the schedule, kids (all times eastern):

11:00 pm Welcome to Eltingville; Pilot

11:30 Korgoth the Barbarian, Pilot

Midnight Stroker and Hoop, “XXX Wife”

12:30 am Ranger Smith, “Boo Boo Runs Wild”

1:00 Harvey Birdman, “Harvey's Civvy”

1:15 Assy McGee, “Murder on the Midway”

1:30 Minoriteam, “EvilFellas”

1:45 Perfect Hair Forever, “Cat Snatch Fever”

2:00 Saul of the Molemen, ”IC-CAW”

2:15 Space Ghost Coast to Coast, “Baffler Meal”

BEN 10 RETURNS THIS FRIDAY

New episodes of Glen Murakami and Dwayne McDuffie’s Ben 10: Alien Force returns with new episodes starting this Friday, October 10 at 9:30 pm.

As previously reported, B10AF is now part of the new Friday adventure block that includes Secret Saturdays and Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The final series for this new block, Batman: Brave & Bold, is slated to start in November.

Here’s the log lines for October’s new episodes of Ben 10: Alien Force:

• Oct. 10: “Darkstar Rising” – Ben and co. must uncover the truth of a mysterious new villain, Darkstar.

• Oct. 17: “Alone Together” – Ben is transported to a distant planet alongside a Highbreed Commander. They must work together to get off the planet alive.

• Oct. 24: “Good Copy. Bad Copy” – An alien doppelganger impersonates Ben and is out to destroy him with the power of his own Omnitrix.

FIRST RADIOHEAD SHORT COMPLETED

The website aniBoom.com reports the first of the four Radiohead animated shorts is completed and ready for our perusal.

For those who don’t remember, earlier this year the groundbreaking band invited fans to go to aniBoom and do a one minute pilot using a song from their album In Rainbows. The winner would get $10,000 and the OK to complete the short.

As it turns out, Radiohead was so impressed they opened up the purse strings and selected four winners. The first to be completed is by Frenchmen Clement Picon, who adapted the song “Reckoner” to his own devices.

You can now see it at the band’s website, www.Radiohead.com, along with commentary from band vocalist Thom Yorke.

NEXT COLUMN: We sit down with animation mega-producer Don Hahn (Roger Rabbit, Beauty & The Beast, Lion King, the upcoming Frankenweenie) about his book The Alchemy of Animation as well as the future of the industry.

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