Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time has blown-up big time in the past year, with a recent panel at the New York Comic-Con second only to the panel for the Avengers movie as the show’s hottest ticket – the panel line was capped a full hour before the panel was due to start.
Why the fuss? If you’ve seen Adventure Time, you know the answer. The wild, surreal and hilarious cartoon has earned a massive following since it premiered in April 2010 (and before that, when its original pilot became a viral video online) with its chronicles of the bear-hatted Finn and the ultra-stretchy dog Jake as they battle the princess-stealing Ice King, jam with Marceline the Vampire Queen, head to Lumpy Space to party with Lumpy Space Princess, and rescue the Candy Kingdom from threats to its sugary inhabitants.Adventure Time’s mixture of action, comedy and downright weirdness has made it a favorite of kids and adults alike, with its first DVD collection and a slew of merchandise just now hitting shelves. It’s also got its roots in comics, with many of its artists doing webcomics and small-press books.
While we were at New York Comic-Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with show creator Pendleton Ward and voice actors Tom Kenny (the Ice King, along with Spongebob Squarepants) and Jeremy Shada (Finn the Human), for a couple minutes alongside a few other journalists. We’re currently working on arranging a more in-depth interview with Ward about the show and its connection to the world of independent comics, but until then, enjoy our raucous conversation with these stars of the Land of Oo. What time is it? Newsarama Time!
Newsarama Note: Because several other journalists participated in this media panel, we’ve denoted their questions separately from ours.
Question from Panel: Tom, what do you feel is the secret to being a voice actor?
Tom Kenny: I think it helps to have a fairly vanilla, boring voice to start with. I think there’s people who are born with one great voice, like that movie trailer guy, Tom Kane, or that’s his real voice, or hopefully you have enough of a Velveeta middle-of-the-road voice that you can twist it into various balloon animals that you can work around a fair amount.
Q: Do you have a voice for if you have a sore throat?
Kenny: (laughs) Yeah, about once or twice a year you lose your voice. There’s nothing you can do but hope that happens on a Friday, so you have the weekend to recuperate. Sometimes it’s just going to go out on you?
Newsarama: Do you ever get the Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny, Barney Rubble and many, many more) thing where they’re hustling you from studio to studio in a town car so you can get everything done in a day? Because you’re working on a lot of stuff…
Kenny: Yeah, no, I drive my crappy little Prius all over town – limos make me uncomfortable. Scheduling is always a problem in LA. You just try to make it from Point A to Point B to Point C – Point D if you’re lucky. Sometimes you get off track and wide up late and people get mad at you, but you do your best.
Q: Who are your greatest voice influences?Kenny: The aforementioned Mel Blanc, he’s kind of the Babe Ruth of voice-over guys. But there’s also Daws Butler, Stan Freberg was huge. I never got to work with Daws him, though I have gotten to work with people who worked with him, who are slightly older than me.
Stan Freberg I’ve gotten to meet, but there’s a whole group from that era of voice-acting that I never got to meet – Mel, Bill Scott from Rocky and Bullwinkle, June Foray, who’s still with us, still doing voice-overs, still hanging in there, this beautiful little lady.
Q: Jeremy, you in awe sitting next to this veteran? You’re the rookie at voice-overs!
Kenny: Can’t you tell? He’s thrilled.
Nrama: Jeremy, you ever get recognized at school or from kids your own age for doing Finn?
Jeremy Shada: I’m actually home-schooled, so I don’t get that, and because it’s just a voice, I don’t get recognized when I’m out on the street, unless people are really into the show…
Kenny: There are those people out there, though. Increasingly so. (laughs)
Shada: It’s crazy – I was at Hot Topic the other day and somebody noticed me and I was like, “Oh! Hey!” (laughs) But yeah, someone in my youth group figured it out, so they all know, and they quote (the show) and stuff.Nrama: So, there were a couple people lined up to see your panel today…you know, one or two…
Kenny: Right. (laughs)
Nrama: I saw the footage from San Diego Comic-Con, and I imagine working in animation has got to be very isolating. When you guys see the feedback the show is getting after just a year and a half on the air at a convention like this – what’s your reaction?Pendleton Ward: It’s super cool.
Shada: Especially for this guy. They just swarm him.
Ward (re: Shada) And him.
Kenny: It’s been really fun to watch it happen. It’s funny, because you see it grow from the first time we did it at San Diego, which was two years ago, and the show didn’t exist yet.
It’s amazing what a difference what a couple of seasons makes – not only do people watch the show, it becomes part of the fabric of their lives, and as a result, they want to know more about these obscure characters and what’s this guy like, and are you going to do a story with this character, and most of all, they want to get next to the mind that creates all this (indicates Ward). It’s fun to watch it happen.
Q: You’re no stranger to cult status with Spongebob – do you find yourself going , “Wow, this is what I’m going to be stuck with for the next 10 years?”
Kenny: (laughs) Boy, I hope I’m complaining about that. I always hope everything lasts 10 years, as a guy with two kids that are going to go to college. For me, having worked on a lot of different series, every so often you get to work on one that achieves, like you said, that cult status.
It happened with the Powerpuff Girls, it happened with Spongebob, and it’s happened with this. You just see the process where people don’t just watch it, they don’t just consume it, they absorb it. It’s not just wallpaper in their houses while they’re doing the dishes. It’s a destination.
Q: You can’t just listen to it – people know things like when that little snail comes down in every episode.Ward: He gets harder and harder to find. There’s one episode where he slipped through the cracks, and I was super-bummed about that.
Q: Do you ever run into censorship problems with Cartoon Network about some of the content? There’s jokes like the suicidal balloon in one episode that are pretty edgy for a kids’ show…
Ward: Yeah, I grew up with Ren and Stimpy, and that blew my mind in a good way. Shows like that and Beavis and Butt-Head rocked my world.
Kenny: (to Ward) I guess as a creator, you have to make the show that you make, and not second-guess yourself – “Oh, this mom in Des Moines is going to freak out if I use this word…”
You start censoring yourself before the fact, and I guess with greater visibility, I guess there’s more eyeballs on it…Spongebob’s always in trouble, and the Powerpuff Girls got in trouble because they were cute little girls hitting things…
Q: The latest complaint is that it affects their school grades…
Kenny: Four-year-olds, after they watched Spongebob, apparently found it harder to focus than if they watched…I don’t know, Sesame Street.
Q: Jeremy, do kids you know ever get out their cell phones and have you record the Finn voice as their voice mail?
Shada: Not as much as you’d think, actually. I knew them all before it all came out and stuff, so it’s not like that at all, and that is awesome.Nrama: (to Ward): I’m ashamed to admit were this not a professional setting, I would ask you to do Lumpy Space Princess for my voice-mail…
Ward: (as LSP) Oh my glooooooobbbbb!
Kenny: (laughs) That’s me and my daughter.
Q: Tom, you mentioned the Powerpuff Girls earlier – any talks of them returning?
Kenny: You know, every so often you hear some snipped of talks of something, but so far, it’s come to naught. But everything’s on a 20-year plan – there’s a new Ninja Turtles show on Nickelodeon right now, there’s a new Strawberry Shortcake, a new My Little Pony – everything comes back.
Q: Anything about what’s coming up on Batman: The Brave and the Bold? You do Plastic Man and other characters and Jeremy’s Robin on that…
Kenny: That’s wrapped.
Shada: It was a lot of fun working on that.
Kenny: They’ll find the most obscure 1960s comics to refer to for that that show…it really reminded me of the Adam West Batman, which is my favorite Batman. I’d rather watch that than the Tim Burton Batman. (laughs)
Nrama: I caught the final episode. It’s so meta it’s meta.
Kenny: So meta. (laughs)
Nrama: Tom, Jeremy – what would you like to see happen with your characters in the future?
Kenny: Um…you first, Finn.
Shada: I don’t know, really! Most of the stuff I thought would have been cool has been done. My mind doesn’t work like these guys’, and it’s blown every time I get the script.Nrama: Are you more of a Marceline type or a Princess Bubblegum type?
Kenny: That’s a question.
Ward: Marceline’s pretty cool, man.
Shada: Yeah, I’d go with Marceline.
Kenny: Wait, do you mean like in terms of being attracted to her or…?
Nrama: Uh, I just meant would he rather Finn date Princess Bubblegum or Marceline…
Kenny: (to Shada) Do you like the Goth chicks?
Shada: In real life, no. On Adventure Time? Yeah.
Nrama: I don’t want to get too weird here…
Kenny: Too late:
(Cartoon Network’s rep tells us it’s time to go)
Nrama: Well, last question, for Tom – would you ever want the Ice King to get into a stable relationship?
Kenny: The Ice King, I think, will never be happy. He will never be in a successful relationship. He’s his own worst enemy.
Watch Adventure Time Mondays on Cartoon Network at 8, or check out the first DVD collection, My Two Favorite People!Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!