On the last day of this years New York Comic Con, I was able to attend the “totally mathematical” panel for adventure time! The creator along some of the cast and crew attended and made things very fun for everyone there.
To make the article easier to follow, I’ve color coded the attendees as follows:
Dave Itzkof: Moderater and New York Times cultural reporter
Pendleton Ward: Creator and Lumpy Space Princess
John DiMaggio: voices Jake The Dog
Jeremy Shada: who voices Finn
Rebecca Sugar: who is an artist, talented ukulele player and writer
Kent Osborne: who is the head of story
To start off the panel, Dave asked “You’ve created a cartoon world where a boy and a dog can be brothers and best friends, where a lumpy space blob can be a princess and a vampire can have daddy issues….what were you like as a child?”
Ward laughs out “eh…I don’t know….I was an idiot! I was fat and I ate a lot of pizza and played Diablo one. As a small chubby nerd, it was my entire life. Video games, comics, and cartoons that was all that I knew. I lived in that world.” he says, “…But I knew what I wanted to do when I was little… I know that I wanted to be an animator. My mom would carry post-it notes in her purse and give them to me… and I would sit by myself and animate stories on them.”
With that, John DiMaggio adds that he has a story that he heard from Matt Groening:
“His mom brought Penn over to Matt Groening’s house as like an eleven or twelve year old. And says ‘Hi!’ Just cold-called, knocked the door. Matt answered the door… and she says ‘This is my son, Pendleton Ward, and he wants to be an animator. Do you have any advice for him? And Matt gave him advice. And sure enough, one of Matt’s favorite shows is Adventure Time.”
When asked how the show was created between that childhood memory and now, Ward says, “The first thing people don’t do is… do stuff. I think you just need to take a stab at stuff as soon as you can. …Just start animating if you want to be an animator. That’s what I was doing. I went to school…”
Itzoff asked Ward about the origins of the Adventure Time characters.
“They were just doodles in my sketchbook, I doodle a lot” says Ward “That’s where it started. I just picked two doodles when I was pitching for my book and I plugged in the personalities of my friends into these little sketches. When you’re trying to figure out what to pitch or what your story is just start drawing and look to your friends. Your two weirdest friends. Fan fic your friends!”
Itzoff asked Jeremy how he got into voice acting and DiMaggio took over the question to tell his story.
“I’ve been acting since I was a kid. I did stand-up in my twenties here in NYC… These are my old stomping grounds. …I started doing voice-over for TV radio commercials. Then I when I moved to Los Angeles there’s more animation there and started to audition. I got Futurama. That’s it.” “Jake’s voice is close to mine, but with a little more… You wanna cuddle up with this voice. You audition and you hope for the best. You never know when a show is going to explode like this show has!”
“So tell us then how Jeremy became part of the show?” asks Itzoff:
“I started out doing live action,”” says Shada “I had done some voice-over commercials… and when the audition came around for Adventure Time, my brother Zack did the original pilot and played Finn in the pilot, and so when it rolled around to Cartoon Network about three years later my voice sounded just like his and I kind of copied him. Went through a few rounds of auditioning and then BOOM!”
“Thank god your brother went through puberty,” adds DiMaggio. “Hooray for puberty, yeah!”
Itzoff asks “Is your brother super jealous of you?”
“He’ll tease me that it should’ve been him”
They then played two clips, one that was completely exclusive for the NYCC attendees, and also a clip that has already been seen.
Itzkoff asks “is the world planned or completely spontaneous?”
“I want it to be real,” says Ward. “I’m playing D&D while writing, and role-playing characters. We’re having the same experiences as the fans…”
Sugar chimes in and says “It’s not all figured out, but you know when something’s right, It’s a powerful thing.”
“We were talking about Finn crying,” says Ward. “I think when you’re writing kids as an adult, you end up punishing them with the getting beat up and crying. I wanted to watch the show and feel inspired by Finn. I wouldn’t be inspired by a big whiney baby. So that was my mandate at the beginning, I was like, ‘Let’s not make him cry a bunch.”
“Can we talk about Ninja turtles? I wasn’t aloud on the DVD…I didn’t want him to be like Leonardo and be a baby, ‘splinter’s in trouble, mike’s being a party animal, what do we do?? Eh!’ Some times you have to pull it back and be a little Raph”
“Does it feel like Finn has grown up in the years?” asks Itzoff
Shada responds, “Do you mean is he not as awkward with the ladies? I think Finn has definitely grown up a lot. He’s had birthdays and stuff. We’re adding some really cool back-story stuff coming up…”
“You know, Jake’s getting fatter! He’s got a gut!” blurts DiMaggio.
Penn adds “Maybe I’ll put a little blue on his eye to uh…(chuckles)!
Izoff asks “I’m sure you get asked this a lot but do you have an ideal audience in mind that you’re writing for? Is it for kids? Is it for adults? Adults watching along side kids? Or does it not really matter?”
“We just try to make each other laugh,” says Ward. “I think that’s all you can do. We crack ourselves up and kick it out the door.”
“I’ve never watched a show that has such a diverse group of people like it,” DiMaggio adds. “People watch the show with their grandparents. It’s just brilliant.”
“I was trying to figure this show out and I was talking to Tom Kenny who plays the Ice King, he says ‘John, it’s this generation’s Yellow Submarine…’
They then do a musical number where Sugar played and DiMaggio sings an amazing rendition of “Bacon Pancakes,” and Shada sang “Buff Baby” That was very cool.
The discussion concludes with Penn voicing the Lumpy Space Princess.
“You’re the only one person that can do Lumpy Space Princess,” says DiMaggio. “It’s perfect!” “I’m embarrassed about how much I relate to Lumpy Space Princess,” explains Ward “But I’ll tell you this ‘I’ll sign your love handles. Gimme those handles. I’ll sign your lumps!’”
It was one of the best panels I’ve been to and it was very cool to hear what they’re thinking behind the scenes. I’m always a fan of group that works well together and can make the audience feel like the characters are on stage. From Penn’s description of his childhood, I’m wasn’t too far off from creating a cartoon world myself. Be sure to check out Adventure Time! on the Cartoon Network.