If you’re having a bad day, the key to cheering yourself up might just be an episode of Bee and PuppyCat. The hit animated web series from Frederator Studios’ Cartoon Hangover has earned millions of views and widespread acclaim since it premiered as a short last summer, and raised more than $872,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to turn it into a full-fledged series. You can watch the original short on YouTube here.
Bee and PuppyCat tells the story of Bee, an often-unemployed young woman whose life takes an unusual turn when she meets the species-nonspecific PuppyCat, a cranky creature whose access to interdimensional temp jobs gives the two of a them a chance to make some extra cash and encounter fantastic beings between hanging out and enjoying the mundanities of everyday life. The series combines observational humor, hommages to anime and 8-bit videogame music, and plenty of colorful drawings and vivid characters.
The series is the brainchild of Natasha Allegri, who’s best known for her work on Adventure Time, where she created the hit gender-flipped versions of Finn and Jake, Fionna and Cake, who went on to star in several Adventure Time episodes and their own KaBOOM! comic, written and illustrated by Allegri herself. Allegri, who’s also done some stories for a KaBOOM! Bee and PuppyCat comic, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about the series just as the latest episode drops today.
Newsarama: Natasha, the show’s gotten a big launch and received some great reviews. What’s been the biggest challenge of going from the short last year and the Kickstarter campaign to realizing this as a full series for Cartoon Hangover?
Natasha Allegri: The biggest challenge is now that I’m working with a bunch of people I really admire – the hardest thing is telling them what to do, because they’re super, super talented and I don’t want to tell them what to do, but I have to.
Nrama: Once you had the funding in place, what was the hardest part of sitting down and going, “We have this amount of resources, what kind of story we can tell?”
Allegri: When I sat down, the writing was me, Madeline Flores, and Frank Gibson. They paid us to start writing before the Kickstarter even finished, and we had the Kickstarter up on the screen all day, and were planning around that – “If we get another episode, we want to do this kind of story.”
Nrama: Was there anything you didn’t get a chance to do?
Allegri: Yeah, but those ideas came after the fact – we had a character leaving at the end, and we wanted to follow them, and then at the last minute I had another story where I wanted someone to have a bunch of beautiful men-brothers. [laughs] And it was too hard to cram in those stories, but maybe someday…!
I figure, “I can always put it in a comic if I can’t get to it in the series.”
Nrama: Yeah, you’ve done some neat stuff with the KaBOOM! comic – enjoyed the issued with the music you can hear if you scan the barcode with a smartphone. Are you planning to do more?
Allegri: I’m not sure – it depends. I wanted to do both at the same time, but they wanted to start the comic while I was working on the show at the same time, so there wasn’t time to do both. It feels like everything’s up in the air now, which is fun, I guess – it makes me work harder! I always figure if nothing else, I can make stuff and put it online for free.
Nrama: Well, you’ve had luck with that – going back to Fionna and Cake. They’ve really caught on, with the episodes and the comics you’ve done, from these little comics you did for fun.
Allegri: When I’m on the Internet, I’m surprised what’s most interesting to me – like fast drawings of something that’s happened to someone. If something has energy, or something where someone’s had fun drawing them, I really like it, and I think that’s what happened with me and Fionna and Cake.
Nrama: What’s very appealing to me personally about Bee and PuppyCat is that there’s something gentle about it. There’s some hints of darkness, but it’s kind of a hangout show – you just hang out with these characters and watch them go about their lives.
Allegri: That’s important to me. I grew up reading journal comics, just diary comics put online, and they were very basic, slice-of-life comics. I was very attracted to that, and it’s what I try to replicate in every comic I do.
To me, plot is there to get to character moments, though I’ve been proved wrong many times!
Nrama: What are some of your favorite journal comics? I’m guessing stuff like James Kochalka…
Allegri: I tried to draw like James Kochalka, actually! This was in high school, before I had Photoshop. I would try to draw like him and go, “How the f*** did he draw that colored line, it’s so beautiful! And I think everyone who’s tried to do journal comics liked James Kochalka.
There’s a journal comic I love called Make Me a Woman. Pendleton Ward, who created Adventure Time, did some of the best journal comics I’ve ever read, and that’ show I met him, I emailed him to find out how to make journal comics like him. Lucy Knisley, her stuff is good. I liked Liz Prince a lot when I was in high school.
I was part of a thing called “The Journal Comics Jam,” and there were so many awesome people in that, though a lot went away. But James Kochalka, he’s just the best. When American Elf ended, that was just crazy. And when his cat passed away, it was like my cat passed away.
Nrama: Now, this wasn’t clarified until the first episode of the regular series aired, but the Bee and PuppyCat characters live on an island…?
Allegri: Yeah, that was an accident! I realized, “Oh, we don’t know that, there’s no visual cue that they live on an island!” and that was something I realized we needed to show, because that’s going to play a big role, especially in the last episode.
I was a little reluctant to commit to it until we had written it; “Isn’t it too expensive to live on an island?” But once I had everything thought out, it became part of the show – we didn’t have a wide shot to show that right away, but we will by the end.
Nrama: Well, it was interesting to me, because I’m from North Carolina, and we have the Outer Banks and all these beach towns, so it’s intriguing when something like this or Steven Universe uses that kind of beautiful-but-isolated community. And – you’re a lot more into this than I am – I was making connections to Studio Ghibli stuff like From Up on Poppy Hill, those anime that use ocean-side settings like that to create a timeless quality.
Allegri: What’s kind of cool about that is half my family lives in Okinawa. I spent a long summer in Okinawa and had the best time, even when I got horrible sunburns and couldn’t move for days. And Miyazaki will go to these islands, these little islands around Okinawa, and paint the scenery there.
There’s something special when something takes place by the ocean. It can make things feel more dramatic, because it’s so peaceful – I think it emphasizes whatever emotion you’re trying to convey when you’re by the ocean.
There’s something good in everything that you can find. If it’s personal, someone will find a way to identify with it. I think that’s what’s so good about Miyazaki’s stuff; it’s about things that are personal to him.
Nrama: What’s the production schedule for Bee and PuppyCat look like right now?
Allegri: It’s really challenging right now because we’re new at this, and on the artists’ side, we’re finding out we’re kind of green. So it’s taking longer because we’re making mistakes and learning from our mistakes.
I think the only pro I’ve worked with so far is Luke Webber, he boarded an episode and it turned out perfect. We sent out five and six to be animated, so they’ll be back soon. We’re going as fast as we can! There’s so many obstacles and so many things we’re learning! But we’re also trying to make every episode as beautiful as we can.
We want to make every episode as good as it can be and send it out when it’s that good, instead of just sending something out when it’s not ready.
Nrama: You worked on an episode of Over the Garden Wall – are you doing anything else outside of Bee and PuppyCat?
Allegri: No! [laughs] Over the Garden Wall was actually at the very, very beginning – I had agreed to work on it before I had started the Kickstarter. But I wanted to put everything into Bee and PuppyCat. It’s just that show for now.
Nrama: What are some comics you’re currently enjoying?
Allegri: Phil McAndrew is hilarious. Frank Gibson and Becky Dreistadt are doing Capture Creatures, and it’s so beautiful and funny! I love Jillian Tamaki’s stuff. I’ve been reading a lot of Rumiko Takashi’s stuff like Ranma ½ and it’s so good.
I haven’t had much time to read stuff lately, though! I’ve been too busy working! But I want to catch up as soon as we’ve got Bee and PuppyCat finished.
Get to know Bee and PuppyCat on Cartoon Hangover here.