ADVENTURE TIME Creator Pen Ward Talks Before Season Finale


Adventure Time’s new comic from BOOM! Studios' KaBOOM! line is a hit, and the show's third season finale, “Incendium,” airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. eastern — and will bring about big changes for Finn the Human and his longtime crush on Princess Bubblegum — and possibly even a new flame. 

So when we had the chance to get on the phone with series creator Pendleton Ward, we knew we had to make it big — and we did, by getting some of comics’ most acclaimed talents, including Paul Pope, Mike Allred, Scott Kurtz, Nicholas Gurewitch, Joe Hill and many more to contribute guest-questions (sometimes on behalf of their kids).


And on top of that, we’ve got an all-new, never-before-seen illustration of Lumpy Space Princess (complete with luscious lips) created exclusively for this two-part interview by Tony Millionaire the acclaimed creator of Sock Monkey, Maakies, The Drinky Crow Show and more (and who you’ll soon hear on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast). 

What did we talk about in this two-part interview? Nothing much, just the origins of Ooo (and how Fallout inspired an upcoming episode), whether Fionna and Cake are real, Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, creating an animated series and whether or not there is a Glob. All this, plus you can check out some special art from “Incendium,” airing tonight!

It’s the only interview as big as Adventure Time itself, and you can only read it here at Newsarama. And stay tuned to the site this week for some more interviews with creators of all-ages books, comics and more!

Newsarama: Hey, Pen! We got a few ringers for this interview to do some guest-questions, and throughout this, we’re going to combine their contributions with questions of our own. And this lineup is pretty…you might need some word bigger than “algebraic,” “mathematical” or even “rhombus.”

Our first question – or questions – come from a fellow who informs me he’ll be doing something for an upcoming issue of the Adventure Time comic: Paul Pope, creator of THB, 100%, Heavy Liquid, The One Trick Rip-Off and many more.

Paul writes, “I wanted to ask Pen what his opinion is on the old technique of rotoscope? I know among animation circles, it's a bit of a controversy. It's usually disliked.”

Pendleton Ward: Well, I think any technique, if it helps you accomplish what you want, can work. Rotoscope, these days, looks kind of cheesy — there’s something kind of off about it. I feel like there’s a whole craft to animation and rotoscope doesn’t fit in exactly. When you said “rotoscope,” my first thought was that panther from He-Man that would run across the screen.



Nrama: Panthor? Or you might be thinking of Battle Cat. They used rotoscope a lot of animated fantasy from the 1970s and 1980s, like that show and Ralph Bakshi stuff like Fire and Ice and the Lord of the Rings film he directed. 

Ward: Yeah, exactly. And it just looks funny these days. I think when people use rotoscope, they use it ironically these days, because it looks so funky. There was that film in 2001, Waking Life, which used rotoscope-type footage and looked amazing. So it’s just another tool in the animation belt, it depends on how you use it.

Nrama: And our second question from Paul: “How long have these characters and plot ideas been with him? I love Adventure Time because it's like the best version of letting a bunch of six-year-olds make cartoons – the stories are of course well done, but the logic is so childlike, it reminds me of the kinds of stories I would think up as a kid. It makes me think Pen has had a lot of these characters and stories around with him in his head for a long time...”

Ward: We’re just making everything up on the fly! But the way that we go about storytelling is something that I’ve been doing for a long time – the way the characters casually move about the story and comment on the plot or what’s happening all around them and how they’re felling about it.

I like that, and I think I got that from shows like Home Movies, where the characters have those very intense personalities, and are those very self-conscious, self-aware characters.

Nrama: Your comment about making things up on the fly leads to a question I wanted to ask – there’s a lot of very dedicated fans who will go through all the backgrounds and things you post online with each episode, and make observations like, “When Marceline visits Finn’s memory of growing up in Jake’s house in ‘Memory of a Memory,’ there’s a tiny picture in the background of Jake with his stretchy powers, so he must have gotten them while still a puppy.”

So it seems like the bits that add to the mythology and backstory of the characters are things you and your writers come up with spontaneously, but once those elements are in an episode, do you keep track of them as plot points you can revisit later?

Ward: Totally! We want to continue to build on the world and to make new things. We want each episodes to reference older episodes as much as we can. I think all the storyboard artists are conscious of that too. They come up with a lot of ideas for how to throw in call-backs and how to bring back older characters.


Once we got into Season 2, we were thinking about how to keep the show fresh, and it was important to me to include characters from the previous episodes, to contribute to the “mythology” as you said.

Because I think that’s what The Simpsons did — it kept pulling up old characters and doing episodes around secondary characters. And that makes the world feel more real, I think – the characters aren’t just throwaways, they live in this world and have lives of their own.

Nrama: Here’s a question from a creator who says they didn’t know about the Adventure Time comic, but says they might like to do something if they have the time – Nicholas Gurewitch, creator of The Perry Bible Fellowship.

Nicholas writes, “What God or Gods do you worship?"

Ward: [Laughs.] Personally? Or in the show?

Nrama: …maybe you should just go with “Glob.” Not sure.

Ward: Right! Well, Glob, Gob and Grod.

Nrama: I understand Glob will be making a visit in Season 4….

Ward: That’s right – he will be. Or they will be.

Nrama: That’s one thing about the mythology, where you have Lumpy Space Princess going “Oh. My. Glob.” And then in Season 3 you find out there’s an actual Glob religion and people go to church to worship him…

Ward: [Laughs.] Yeah, we’re having fun with that. I don’t know if anyone actually does worship him in the show, but he is a real entity, and will visit Ooo.


Nrama: Our next question comes from the creator of Madman – now available in a handy 20th Anniversary Monster hardcover – and artist of iZombie at Vertigo, Michael Allred, another creator who says he might like to do something for the Adventure Time comic down the road.

Mike asks, “I wanna know what creative influences directly and indirectly affect the process. Favorite movies, music, books, artists, TV shows and other cartoons?”

Ward: Oh, man… geez Louise. Well, I’m a big post-apocalyptic movie fan and zombie fan, so I feel like George Romero has affected me, and we’re going to make more zombie episodes.

Nrama: It’s weird if you look at the broader premise of Adventure Time – it’s like a nicer version of Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog” or Jack Kirby’s Kamandi. Were either of those influences?

Ward: No, I hadn’t heard of “A Boy and His Dog” until after I started the show. But I love stuff like that, where there’s moments where Finn and Jake get these glimpses of the old world, because Ooo is a grown-over Earth. And I want to see more of old Earth, have them excavate more and find out what happened in the history of Old Earth.

Nrama: I’ve gotten the sense in other interviews that this is something you want left vague in the show, but do you mean that would become more prominent?

Ward: No, it’ll never be prominent in the show. But it’s fun to have them explore, because all they know is Ooo, and they dig up old stuff and experiment with old technology. They never need to know about Earth; I don’t think that’s important. It’s more fun for them just to find things and think they’re interesting, like old typewriters and VHS tapes, and appreciate them as the trash they are.

If you ever played the original Fallout, there’s this point where you find this giant radioactive crater, and you go down and find robots and stuff. That inspired an upcoming episode, where Finn and Jake find this giant crater in the earth and go down there to see what’s in it. I don’t know what’s in it, but it has that Fallout inspiration.

Nrama: Do check out DC’s recent Kamandi hardcover, though. It’s sort of Planet of the Apes where every animal is trying to kill humans.

Ward: Cool!

Nrama: Here’s a question from your old Cal Arts teacher, the creator of Earthworm Jim, Creature Tech, Ratfist and more – Doug TenNapel.

Doug writes, “What are the top three rules for what you won't allow in Adventure Time?”

Ward: Oh man…that’s a good question, Doug! I try to stay away from stuff that’s overly gross. I want my cartoon to be nice overall. I want parents to be able to watch it and not be annoyed by it. That’s a thing I like with the voice acting, we try to hire actors with nice speaking voices. I don’t want anyone to sound overly cartoony.

The only character who really sounds cartoony is the Ice King, and that’s because he’s a cliché of a cartoon villain. There’s more to him than that, but that was intentional, making sort of a cliché Gargamel character.


So that’s one thing, to answer your question, I’m going to need some time to think of two other things… 

Nrama: Well, while you’re thinking, I literally just now as we’re doing this interview got an email from Joe Hill, the author of such novels as Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, and of course such comics as Locke & Key at IDW.

Joe sends in this question from his 12-year-old son Ethan: “Will Billy ever return in another episode, and will he team up with Finn and Jake?”

Ward: You’re going to see Billy in an upcoming episode again, but we’re going to allude to him more.

Nrama: Will Lou Ferrigno return as Billy?

Ward: Yeah, we’re going to try to get Lou back.

Nrama: In the question before that, you addressed not wanting to make the show too “gross,” which leads into a question I got a while back from Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians and The Magician King, and a regular contributor to Time.

Lev writes, “ When I first saw Adventure Time, I loved it, but I was worried that the visuals were too shocking for my 7-year-old. The sugar zombies ... Marceline's Dad ... of course I was totally wrong, and my daughter had already been watching and loving the show at her grandparents' house, and it wasn't a problem at all. But how does he know that it's not too much? How does he know where the line is?”

Ward: I don’t have a line. We just try to make stuff that’s cool. I mean, I watched a lot of stupid stuff as a kid, like Beavis and Butt-Head climbing into a tire and rolling themselves down a hill, and that wasn’t appropriate for me to watch and I f***ing loved it because it wasn’t appropriate for me to watch.  I’m trying to make entertainment for everybody and all ages, so I try not to draw the line. But I don’t really have to draw the line – Standards at Cartoon Network draws it for us.

But we don’t really push the boundaries too much. I don’t want it to be shocking. I want it to be funny, and that’s what I’m shooting for, stuff that’s funny.

Nrama: Well, have there been times when you’ve had to take a step back? There was that thing last fall with the “Mathematical” recap of “What Was Missing” on YouTube, which made some implications about Princess Bubblegum and Marceline, and that was taken down. (Newsarama Note: Cartoon Network’s rep, who was on the line for this interview, wanted it mentioned that this decision was made by Frederator Studios, who produces the show, and not Cartoon Network). Do you have any comment on that, or on art that fans or people on the show might post online with Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, or similar imagery?

Ward: It’s hard to comment on that, because there were so many extreme positions taken on it all over the Internet, and it happened so quickly. I don’t really want to comment on it because of that, because there were so many extreme sides taken. It was a big hullaballoo.

To answer your question in the simplest way, I’m stoked whenever people are drawing anything with Adventure Time on the Internet. It’s fun to see how they take the show in all these different places and create fan-fiction with unexpected relationships between all kinds of characters.

Nrama: With the “Fionna and Cake” episode, I got the sense some fans were angered by the fan-fiction reveal at the end, but I also got a sense that was meant to be a wink and a nudge that a lot of people were creating stuff like that online.

Ward: Yeah. Natasha (Allegri) made those characters, and I thought they were rad, and I just wanted to make an episode about them.

I just thought of two other things, to answer Doug’s question. One of the things that’s a hard rule is I don’t want Finn to cry unless he has a real reason to, like if someone dies.

Nrama: Well, I got an advance of the season finale, and Finn cries a lot in that one… though he’s got a good reason.

Ward: Yeah. We try to reserve for extreme situations. At the beginning, people tended to draw him crying more often than not, so I pulled back on that. [Laughs.] He doesn’t cry unless something’s really worth crying for.

Another thing we stopped doing after the first season, and I’m not sure how many people noticed it, was having Finn’s eyes bug out so there was white around the pupil. I stopped doing that because I wanted Finn to feel more real, and I felt that was breaking reality. When you go back and watch the first season, you’ll notice all the times his eyes bug out, and how we stopped doing that.

Next: Scott Kurtz, Katie Cook, Chris Roberson and even a special appearance by Scott McCloud highlight the conclusion of our interview, where Ward talks about creating a cartoon show, his favorite comics, and answers such questions as “Do Fionna and Cake really exist?” and “Is the Ice King Finn’s dad?”

Adventure Time’s season finale, “Incendium,” airs tonight on Cartoon Network at 7:30 p.m. The Adventure Time comic from KaBOOM! is in stores now, and a special limited variant cover edition with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline goes on sale at Chapel Hill Comics ( this Saturday.

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