If you’ve ever watched Cartoon Network’s series Uncle Grandpa, you know things tend to get real crazy real fast. After all the main character is magically the uncle and grandpa of every kid in the world, and travels around with a crew including a pizza slice, a dinosaur, and a living photo of a tiger, helping children with their problems…and not always for the better.
How, then, could such madness be translated into the mere confines of a comic book? Well, you’re about to find out this week when KaBOOM! launches its new Uncle Grandpa comic. And this isn’t a mere adaptation – oh no, the first issue has at least eight different cartoonists writing and drawing stories, games and more from everyone’s favorite magical double-relation.
KaBOOM! offered us the chance to talk to all the people working on the first issue. We took this challenge, and barely lived to tell the tale. Here are the results of our journey into the heart of darkness…uh, we mean Uncle Grandpa #1!
Newsarama: Guys, each of you tell me what s your Uncle Grandpa story/strip about.
Scott Roberts: Uncle Grandpa and Pizza Steve try a remodeling project that has some pretty far out results. What's meant to be a new pantry is more like a (SPOILER ALERT!!!) dimensional gateway.
JimmyGiegerich: My story is about Uncle Grandpa, Pizza Steve, and Mr. Gus having a sleepover and telling each other scary stories. Things turn out to be a little too scary though when one of the stories comes true!
Yehudi Mercado: I'm doing several different stories. The main one I'm doing is Uncle Grandpa, as host, talking directly to the reader about how to read a comic book. I'm also doing an exclusive cover, a Xarna the Movie ad and will be doing a series of Pizza Steve stories.
Evgeny: Uncle Grandpa in my story is completely silent, since my comic has no words!
Pranas T.Naujokaitis: It's four newspaper comic strips with an Uncle Grandpa twist. And it's going to look like Uncle Grandpa literally cut them out of a newspaper and taped them into the comic book. You even have to turn the comic book on its side in order to read them. It's really fun.
BrendonGillas: It’s a sad story of lost love and Kaiju.
LauraHowell: Mr. Gus learns the terrible consequences of picking your bellybutton, and Uncle Grandpa learns the terrible consequences of having an enormous green butt.
Nrama: What is your favorite thing about Uncle Grandpa?
Roberts: I'd say the freewheeling, anything-can-happen sense of fun and magic. When your housemates are a dinosaur, a tiger and a slice of pizza, you know to be ready for surprises.
Gillas: The cartooniness of it- it knows it’s a cartoon and embraces the things that separate cartoons from other mediums.
Evgeny: I like his crazy transformations! Uncle Grandpa could easily use his body as a bowling ball or replace your head with a funny head! He could start to juggle with his hands and feet! It's craziness and it's great!
Howell: Giant Realistic Flying Tiger, obviously! I'm trying to teach my cats to fart rainbows, but it's not going so well.
Naujokaitis: How crazy it is and how anything goes. There are no rules, really. You can go as crazy and exaggerated as you like, both in the writing and the art, and it still fits in that world. Want to draw Uncle Grandpa's arm making loop-de-loops? Go for it! Want his head to detach from his body and rocket off to the moon? No problem! It's just really freeing to be able to do stuff like that. I can let my inner-child just go to town when working on this stuff.
Giegerich: I love that the style of the stories and the sense of humor can go in any direction in Uncle Grandpa. Everything is so fun and open ended that it really seems like anything can happen!
Mercado: I love that it's like a cartoon made by cartoon characters.
Nrama: Uncle Grandpa always has his magical fanny pack, Belly Bag, where he holds all his supplies. What would you keep in your Belly Bag?
Roberts: My drawing tools, my iPod, a few snacks... and a back scratcher would probably be a good idea.
Gillas: Tacos and Trading Cards.
Evgeny: I would keep my bike and of course a comfortable chair with a cool drink in my Belly Bag!
Howell: A spare Belly Bag, in case I forgot to bring the first one.
Naujokaitis: In mine I'd keep my sketchbook and assorted loose deli meats.
Giegerich: A hamburger, a battle axe, a skateboard, and my pet turtle!
Mercado: I would keep a magic sleeping bag that would let me take a nap and freeze time, so I could wake up refreshed and not lose any productivity.
Nrama: How'd you come on board this book?
Roberts: I tried out for the Peanuts comic. (True!) They said, "There's a long line waiting to get into Peanuts, but we have another comic that's exactly like it." … You know, I think they were pulling my leg.
Gillas: Met some cool people, who showed my stuff to other cool people, and next thing I get referred by the show’s creator Pete (who I got to meet!) which was awesome.
Naujokaitis: Been working on different KaBOOM! titles over the last year or so (Regular Show, Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors) and was asked to jump on this one. Guess they thought my style and sensibilities would fit this title. They were right!
Mercado: I demanded to work on it.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite member of Uncle Grandpa's runnin' crew? If so, tell us who and why.
Roberts: Pizza Steve is my man. He's cool, and he looks delicious.
Naujokaitis: Probably Mr. Gus. He's kind of the "straight man" of the group, often the voice of reason. I always feel like it's hard to be a really good straight man in a comedy, so I have a lot of respect for people (and dinosaurs) that can pull that off. That, and he's a Godzilla-like dinosaur wearing a tank top. That's just super fun to draw.
Mercado: Having written and illustrated a graphic novel about pizza delivery drivers I'm preternaturally drawn to a talking piece of pizza.
Nrama: Give us a walk-through of how you produce the book (plotting, art, etc.)
Roberts: After watching several episodes I knew I'd never be normal again. Because of that, I sent a pitch for a story.
When that was approved, I worked it out in a thumbnail script (writing and really rough drawing at the same time.) I sent that in with a typed script that was easier to read than my handwriting. Once they thought that was okay, I was turned loose to draw. Pencils, then tighter pencils, then ink.
Gillas: I start with a few little tiny thumb-sized pictures, very loose just setting up the overall composition. Next, I grab a few pens and a large piece of paper. Then I draw till I like it, scan it, clean it up a bit, then add color.
Mercado: I start by thumbnail sketching directly into Adobe Flash and laying out dialogue first, writing dialogue as I go. It's a cartoon full of comedic turns, so it's really important to get the timing and punchlines right.
Nrama: What problem would you have liked Uncle Grandpa to have helped you with when you were a kid?
Roberts: Math. He must have something in that Belly Bag that can solve those lousy word problems.
Gillas: I lived on a farm- cleaning horse poop would have been a big help!
Naujokaitis: Help me dig up dino bones in my backyard when I wanted to become a paleontologist. I blame Jurassic Park for that one.
Mercado: I accidentally smashed the windshield on the family car by pretending to be a discus thrower. I could have blamed it on Uncle Grandpa.
Nrama: There's been a real run of success on Cartoon Network's shows and the comic versions from KaBOOM!, and what do you think is unique about how these concepts and their adaptions appeal to kids and adults alike?
Roberts: They like their audiences. They don't talk down to them. The creators look like they're having fun, and they really want the viewers and readers to have just as much fun. Young ... old ... who cares, as long as a splendid time is guaranteed for all.
Gillas: The comics are like a variety show you can flip through, full of varying styles and ways of telling a story, while still feeding the reader's adopted fandom!
Naujokaitis: I think what makes the shows great, and in turn the comics, is that they don't talk down to kids. That's one of my biggest beefs with "kid" entertainment. They talk down to their audience, think they are stupid.
Kids are actually really smart if you let them be. They can follow complex stories, complex jokes, complex emotions. But you look at a lot of the shows and books and other media for kids on the market today, and they just dumb everything down.
The people who are making these awesome CN shows and comics are adults who are making the shows/comics they themselves would watch as kids AND would watch today as adults. They are creating something that is actually “all-ages.” There's something for kids, something for adults, something for both kids and adults.
Also, they are creating stories and characters that they are very passionate about, and people, both young and old, can pick up on that passion. And something that I think makes the comic adaptations really work and have created a lot of the appeal is that there is a lot of freedom given to the writers and artists, especially considering that these are licensed properties.
Cartoon Network and KaBOOM! have created this fun little sandbox that it invites a wide variety of cartoonists to come over and play in and put our own spin on these established characters. I think a lot of readers pick up on the fun that we are having.
Mercado: There's a real effort to make these comics stand on their own. That's the big difference.
Nrama: What are some other comics and creators you currently enjoy?
Roberts: Scary Gary - that's a crazy fun comic strip. Spongebob - and I get to work on the comic books! I will, perhaps soon, read Bone again, and I will enjoy it again.
Gillas: My all-time favorite comic artist would be Tsutomu Nihei, as his sense of scale and time blows my mind every time he makes something. I also am waiting patiently for the next SF by Ryan Smith, whose self-produced comics are great.
Naujokaitis: There's just too many to list. Just look at who I follow on Tumblr, most of them are there. I've been loving all the stuff my peers and friends have been doing for KaBOOM! Can't wait to get my mitts on my pals Jeremy Sorese's and Coleman Engle's Steven Universe comic when it comes out (NOTE: Out now!).
Also lately I've been reading a lot of old stuff, a lot of old timey newspaper comics. I'm currently working through the Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse collections that Fantagraphics is putting out. I like my Mickey pie-eyed and noodle armed.
Mercado: I really love Lumberjanes, but who doesn't? I think Black Metal by Rick Spears and Chuck BB is great. Justin Peterson's Very Near Mint is amazing.
Nrama: What's next for you beyond this book?
Roberts: More Spongebob Comics. My own online comic strips – Working Daze and Maria's Day (both with gagwriter John Zakour.) Maybe I'll finish my graphic novel Nan Teller At The Edge Of The Stars. And hopefully, more people will buy my fantasy novel The Troubling Stone and my Kindle book The King's Wings.
Gillas: I'd love to do more! I’m also working on a short for Youtube's Toonocracy channel, entitled Cuul World – you can check my updates on ingvy08.tumblr.com
Naujokaitis: I illustrated a children's book, Belches, Burps, and Farts - Oh My! written by Artie Bennett and being put out by Blue Apple Books sometime in September. Also for Blue Apple I'm writing and illustrating a sequel to my kids comic Dinosaurs in Space which should be out sometime next year. They working title for that isDinosaurs in Space: Out of This World!
And then I'm continuing doing work for BOOM!. Have some stuff coming up in their Bravest Warriors and The Amazing World of Gumball titles, which is super exciting. I also have an online journal comic that I'm four months behind on now (ugh) and will hopefully be starting a new webcomic project before the year is over.
And that's all on top of the handcrafted minicomics I make. Man, it's been a pretty busy year! Just Google me.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Roberts: I get this pain in my right knee sometimes that- no, you don't want to hear all that. It'll go away when people buy my books (see last answer) and make me some cash.
Mercado: I've been drawing the fake ads in The Amazing World of Gumball, that's been awesome.
Hang with Uncle Grandpa and friends this week from KaBOOM!.