BEN EDLUND On What Makes Amazon's THE TICK Tick

"The Tick" still
Credit: Amazon
Credit: Amazon

For more than 30 years, The Tick has existed in one form or another – comic books, cartoons, the short-lived live-action Fox show. Now he’s back for a new series, whose first six episodes premiere on Amazon Friday, August 25. But this is a nigh-invulnerable hero who’s changed with the times…

As seen in last year’s Amazon Pilot Season, the new version of The Tick centers around the traumatized Arthur (Griffin Newman), who’s haunted by childhood memories involving a very violent, very ugly encounter with a nasty supervillain. Now, as an adult, that menace might be returning…and Arthur’s found himself unwillingly taken under the wing of the Tick (Peter Serafinowicz), a blue, superhumanly-strong hero who’s determined to make Arthur a hero... unless, of course, Arthur is just going crazy.

The shepherd of all iterations of The Tick has been the character’s creator, Ben Edlund, who spoke with us last year about bringing the new pilot to life. We got up with Edlund on the eve of the series’ official premiere to talk about the evolving world of The Tick, the darker path of this new series, and the psychological underpinnings of the superhero story. Also, cake.

Newsarama: Ben, last time we talked, you had The Tick pilot coming out. It’s been a year, you have the first half-season done. How does it feel to have gotten this first batch out?

Ben Edlund: [Laughs] It feels like everything! It’s great - it was great to have gotten through the pilot process, and been as well-received as we were, and that turned into a really strong backing from Amazon, which is necessary for a show like this.

So then, everybody got in their ship, and set off into the unknown ocean of making this particularly show, which is probably the most challenging show I’ve worked on, in terms of effects and comedy and trying to get a tone of a certain kind of hybrid nature that’s somewhat new and really, at the same time, making a real attempt to set up a superhero universe and all that’s attendant to that, with effects and costuming and detail.

So, yeah, I feel like I’ve been off on a crazy hunting safari in some kind of Seussian forest, and we’ve got the target. We’ve brought it back, stripped it, skinned it…

Credit: Amazon

Nrama: …that’s a very violent metaphor.

Edlund: Creativity is a violent act.

Anyway, it feels like, “Wow, it was a real adventure.” It was a real odyssey to go out and build this thing.

Nrama: In this new version of The Tick, you have a more detailed, complex universe for the character than you did before.

Edlund: Yes.

Nrama: In the previous versions, you had the character loose in the City, and gradually introduced this cast of supporting and recurring characters who came back as needed. And here, you have a significant amount of backstory - some of it very violent and tragic.

Edlund: True. And more of the engine for a mythos in the central story, and a reason for it to be told. It is entirely subject now to the kind of hero-myth critique, while playing with all of those elements. So, I’ve described it as “hypocritical.” [Laughs] Amusingly hypocritical, hopefully. So, watch us try to have our cake and eat it too!

Credit: Amazon

Nrama: I’ve never actually understood that metaphor.

Edlund: It’s like when you can have the peace of having the thing that has yet to be, to be fully executed or unconsummated, like something you have under the vest. But then when you eat it, that’s pretty good. Unless that means you should keep any cake under your vest.

Nrama: Or keeping it under your pillow after a wedding. I never got that.

Edlund: That’s disgusting! Or keeping it around until it dries up and…anyway.

Credit: Amazon

Nrama: Yeah, it’s too easy to obsess about cake.

When you had the pilot coming out last year, you talked about how you did the original live-action series, you were very inexperienced.

Edlund: Yes.

Nrama: And now you’re coming back to it with experiences on almost a dozen different shows -

Edlund: Wait. Has it been that many?! That’s a lot!

Nrama: So, what did you find was easier about doing The Tick live-action this time, and what were some things you found just as difficult, or more difficult?

Edlund: I mean, I would say it was easier to be central - this was a show where, first, development was largely on my shoulders in terms of the pilot, working out the center of that and how it functions. I had allies and friends and eyes on it, and that was the first phase.

Credit: Amazon

By the time I started to work with David Fury and build the season, things were falling into place that were hard to find in the previous iteration. We had a story, finally. The work I’d done to build the backline, the tapestry into which this Tick-Arthur narrative is woven - there’s a reason to tell this story, and a reason you want to come back and find out if the Tick and Arthur succeed, that you hope that Arthur finds his fulfillment.

By having that as a sort of fundamental engineering shift in the whole sort of essence of what the project was, each episode kind of became easier to develop. Because then we could go, “All right, where do we want to do to fulfill these things and tell this story, and what has this sort of flashlight we’ve turned on started to illuminate?”

The writing of this thing - though it was difficult to find the specific tone, it was easier to flow forward, because it was a narrative that wants to find its own resolution.

The part that’s harder than the earlier series is the technical aspect of TV-making - it’s a superhero story, so there are many elements from design to what you’re shooting on the day. The effects work takes what could be a conventional dramatic narrative where you could shoot an aggressive number of pages in a day, to something where you have to shoot complex action sequences and special effects, and the shooting is conditioned to all these technical demands. And that’s before you get to the comedy of it.

So, it’s a super-challenging operation! Part of the fun, though is to be challenged to that degree - it keeps you somewhere near your toes.

Credit: Amazon

Nrama: You talked about creating higher stakes for the story - what’s interesting is that in previous iterations of The Tick, Arthur is kind of just this regular guy with a superhero costume who doesn’t fit into the regular world, and gets a chance to hang out in the superhero world and play the straight man. Here, he’s more actively resisting being part of this world, and with good reason, and you’re worried he could die or might be having a nervous breakdown - there were a lot of theories that the Tick was a Tyler Durden-type projection after the pilot.

What made you want to go in this direction? There’s always been some underlying darkness and Man-Eating Cows in The Tick, but here, it’s more on the forefront in what’s still a comedy story.

Edlund:  Yeah - I think there’s been a sort of consistent wavering, in the corner of the screen or the comic-book panels, this sense of mental instability, that colors the universe. So, that idea of extracting the essence of all the other versions - that feels like something that was always part of this universe.

The Tyler Durden-ness aspect of it - that feels like something that happens to be also of the moment. The Tick and Arthur live in a world that is kind of extracted from the all the influences of the superhero worlds we grew up with. It’s similar operation to Watchmen, but to a different effect - you can feel the influence of superhero universes that made our conception of superheroes what is it today, but in The Tick’s universe, interpreted as if they were in a dream, with different masks and symbols hung on them, and they’re doing different things.

I feel like that Tyler Durden unreliability of narrator, the kind of shattered-minded main character, is one of the tropes of hero fiction these days, and it’s something that’s been fun to play with - I increasingly see the season we’ve yielded as a commentary on what it is to be male. [Laughs] It has male and female characters, and different points of view, but I think one of the first things about superhero fiction, if you want to comment on it and be a part of it in that way, is that it was built as a diecast male genre that is now recovering from itself.

Nrama: The concept of classic masculinity, as it were.

Edlund: Sure, and there’s a brute simplicity to the classic superhero image - “Might Makes Right,” because they come in and punch the right bad guys, and operate in very self-contained, heroic, masculine terms. And just like everyone has grown over the ensuing decades and kind of fractured and gotten more complicated and had a higher degree of self-awareness and self-analysis thrust upon them, all those things, and we see a hero who goes into a lot of mental struggles. And then the act of being a hero becomes a kind of psychosis.

And where are we now? Some people might say we’re in kind of a post-hero context, this very jaded space. We’re only interested in heroes in our kind of dream-sphere - it’s something everyone is obsessed with. And to me, that’s weird, that’s interesting. And it fuels what we’re playing with.

Nrama: Now, you’re doing the season in two batches. How did that come about?

Edlund: It was something that came about with me, and sort of resonated with other people in the process of determining what they wanted to see. It’s like - binge-watching, as it stands, has a fatal flaw in it, I think, in terms of what you want from having a big pile of stuff, and then some time for intake, and catching up, and being able to process this stuff and talk about it with other people. That used to be an element of the experience - Star Trek came on once a week, and then you’d digest it and discuss it.

This might just be me, but splitting the season in two allows for some time for absorption and discussion and a community of anticipation to be built. Otherwise, we would be a kind of long desert between times with new material of The Tick, and we want to get a second season, to put out new material as regularly as possible and with as much a sense of rhythm as possible.

Splitting the season keeps us from doing that perfect pencil dive where it’s there, and then it’s gone, all at once - there’s a huge number of episodes, and then there’s nothing. This is sort of a step in the direction of restoring the back-and-forth that gives some kind of sustained experience to the viewer.

Credit: Amazon

Nrama: We’re almost out of time, so - if you wanted to give people the hard sell on this, what would you say to get them to check this out?

Edlund: “Check this out, man!” Okay, the hard sell – if you like superheroes, and if you don’t like superheroes, we stand at the crossroads of both forms of enjoyment. We have a lot of fun with superheroes, and whether you wanted to or not, you’ve encountered a lot in your line of experience. We make fun of that encounter, and of them, and have fun with them, and that’s been the longstanding truth of The Tick.

It’s just a story about people. We’ve worked hard to make a story with people, that you can watch and that you can care about. The other side of it is, if you like superheroes, if you’re into those worlds, this is a real labor of love trying to make those things really grow and be played with at the highest level we could maintain. I mean, Amazon’s really behind this, Sony’s behind this, all the people behind it are – me, David Fury, Barry Josephson, the cast and crew – I think everyone kind of worked out of love to make as good a thing as they could make.

So, I think it’s worth your time and attention. And if you don’t like it, that’s okay too. [Laughs]

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