Free the dogs! Or more correctly, “Free the evil, bloodthirsty and brandishing axes!” JJ Villard has a new show, The fairy tales of JJ Villard, with a series of six episodes premiered this Sunday May 10 on Adult Swim. Yes, this JJ Villard. I know … bloody chaos will certainly ensue. Bet on it. But don’t let this alarm deter you. In fact, it should turn you on, like “Brece yerself, Margaret”. Villard’s cartoon worlds are anything but random or crudely designed. Immerse yourself in the director’s full spirit and you will find a creative stew brimming with cartoons, fine art, comics, sketchbooks and, yes, blood / vomiting / violence. But there is a fiery passion behind madness, regardless of the form of the stream of consciousness, and the good people of Adult Swim have been wise to keep it out of the revered stories of children with its peculiar approach, ” Villardish “.
The network describes the show as “a fun and twisted new version of the Grimm brothers’ classic fairy tales like” Cinderella “and” Snow White “.” Their description of episode one? “Boypunzel – A long haired boy is trapped in a tower by a witch.” What else could you know? Let’s do this!
Villard burst onto the animation scene almost 20 years ago with not one but two hand grenades for animated short films, lovingly described by Ottawa Animation Festival director Chris Robinson like “the short film Bukowski Son of Satanand the madman like fuck Icelandic chestnuts. “Gross, nasty, violent and for some, disturbing, as much for what they apparently say about the creator as for what they say on the screen.
Fast forward to 2020. Villard’s journey from his days to creating two very provocative animated short films at the Adult Swim showrunner was … well … interesting. He spent many years as a vizdev and story artist on several great features of DreamWorks Animation, years that he does not go back with affection, which he will discuss later. Then in 2013, he created, wrote, produced and directed the cult ultra-violent hit, King Star King, for which he won a Primetime Emmy.
Chemin de Villard to Fairy tales was also unorthodox. “Mike Lazzo, the creator of Adult Swim, was flipping through one of my zines, which was based on a sketchbook, and he saw this drawing that I made in my sketchbook, and it just hit people from Cartoon Network and said let’s do a show based on this cartoon. “An agreement came quickly, of course. Like it should be. “He just called the leaders of Cartoon Network Adult Swim, and he said,” I want JJ to base a cartoon on this and make it into a fairy tale, “said Villard. “So it was weird. It was based on a damn sketchbook design that wrote Snow White with a rabbit and some like fucking robots and shit. From what I do almost everyday for fun. “
“I had a lot of development contracts, and this one was by far the fastest,” he adds. “I felt like, just like I was on my game sharing with Adult Swim the idea.”
Villard of course had some experience with fairy tales, having worked on Shrek the third and Shrek forever at DreamWorks, even if the experience was far from stellar. “I worked on Shrek three and Four, so I knew fairy tales very well, “he shares. “I was a storyboard artist on these two shows, and I lost my mind. I mean, I really didn’t like working on these projects. Shrek Four was not as bad but Shrek three just turned out to be terrible. “
While the family storyboard price may have driven Villard crazy (a relative term in this context), it was the boarding skills that helped get his new show going green. According to the director, “I had Johnny Ryan, who is a famous comic book artist, and the lead screenwriter of all Looney Tunes right now… and James Merrill, who wrote the third episode of King Star King for which I won the Emmys for … I had these two writers, and we screwed up a script. We delivered the script, [Adult Swim] they approved it. So, I was just ready to go. I scripted the shit. And what I mean by that is like, an average storyboard for an 11 and a half minute cartoon is 900 panels. I almost went to 1600. I passed it because I wanted to skip the animation stage, which takes another six months of work. And I thought maybe I could impress these executives enough with great advice. And they said, “Let’s do it, let’s go.” And so, they approved the show from the storyboards. It was also the first time I chose my own writers for a project, and I think it made a big difference because I understood their humor and they understood mine. “
It is almost outdated to refer to the animation “sick and twisted” nowadays, except perhaps in a historical context; cartoons, for children and adults, have for the most part removed almost all social taboos, cultural stigma and the level of decency professed or legislated. When The simpsons, the only child on the poster for the conservative lament over the demise of Western civilization, can happily adorn the ad for the new Disney + digital platform, we have to agree, if something is sick and twisted, it is the irony of the general absorption of the very subversive entertainment that we used to circulate in brown paper bags. What does edgy animation even mean?
Example: according to Adult Swim, concerning the twisted and funny version of Villard of the classic fairy tales of the Grimm brothers like “Cinderella” and “Snow White”, the charm and the kindness of the original stories remain, but now they have been put day and wrapped in a ball of raw, visceral, coarse oddity. “And now a word from our sponsors.
But in all honesty, every ball of gross, visceral, and gross oddity is not the same. And for Villard, his approach to animating cartoons is far from the bloody chaos he portrays in the series. On the one hand, according to the director, you must have empathy for your characters. “Well, a lot of people don’t realize it, but you have to take care of your characters,” he says of his development of the series. “No empathy for your characters, no matter how sick and twisted a fucking cartoon is.” So this is the part where I think people are going to be really surprised … you really feel for these characters. We put them in hell, but not without reason. “
Another aspect of Villard’s development process also contradicts the stereotype of a sick and twisted comic book creator. He is an expert in studio note taking. In fact, he loves it, using the limits of executive directives as a type of call to arms. “So look, I’m a master at taking notes and I like challenges,” he explains. “Dude, if there’s one thing I pat myself on the back for, it’s that I listen to leaders’ notes like a motherfucker. I mean, I write down what they say. “Everything about creating your own cartoon. It’s part of the whole system. You have to take notes and I take really good notes.”
“Many of my friends don’t do that,” he said. “They get angry, they get angry. It’s just like, okay, you need to weigh, which notes of standards and practices are important, which ones you can avoid making, which ones are very important that you need to hit? It’s all a balance. Look, man, it’s just part of making a cartoon. While you worry about the layout guy who does your character design well, while you worry about the background guy, damn, using the right red, you will get S&P notes by mail electronic. It’s part of this whole fucking creation system, and I embrace it all. “
Villard sees executive notes as a personal challenge, a type of “come on, hit me with your best shot” exercise. He laughs when comparing his point of view to the character of Sonny Landham Billy Sole from the film Predator. “You remember this guy Predator who was standing on the log bridge and cut a fucking X over his chest with a big butt knife and yelled, “Come on, damn, kill me!” This is what you are as a creative. You’re like, “Let’s go!” That’s why i think Ren and Stimpy Seasons one and two are the best seasons, just because there were so many limitations that John Kricfalusi had to face. And these limitations create better humor because you are like a little child in Catholic school. Like: “I am going against what the nuns told me to do. I’m drawing on the desk right now. »»
He also fully embraced the three no-no’s from Adult Swim for the show, although his past work is a true celebration of the trio. “We were told three important things from Adult Swim. “No religious jokes, no sex jokes, and can you stay away from the vomit and fart jokes?” You know? It’s just like you can’t … I mean, if you watch the new show, there are no sex jokes, there are no religious jokes, and you rarely see a joke vomit or fart. Yes, it was a challenge because King Star King is overloaded with this shit. And surprisingly enough, I mean, how crazy is it that such an overloaded cartoon won an Emmy Award? It was the first Emmy Adult Swim ever won for a cartoon. “
In addition to being able to choose his own writers, Villard was able to build and lead a team of his choice. “I’m a good show runner,” he says. “As if I were kissing … I respond to my artists. I make sure I have personal relationships with them, just because we’re all in the same boat. You know? And the end result will be what will be released. So let’s make it as fun as possible. “
But Villard is equally adamant that his team devotes time and effort to get the job done; he has little patience for the “lazy” who have problems with the discipline of a creative process which he clearly adores. “What discourages me are the people who start to shit on the team, like the ones who ruin the well,” he notes. “That kind of thing for some reason really pisses me off. Like someone who doesn’t do his job and doesn’t say anything to the people on the team, just saying, “Man, this show is tough now. Fuckin ‘shit. “They come home early and just don’t do their job. I have very little patience for people who complain about their work.”
His disdain is palpable. “Dude, totally. Look, I know. We are artists. But how hard is it to be a damn responsible artist, where you have to be at work at 9:00 am, and you have to stay until 6:00 am, and you have to be consistent? I mean, is it very difficult? If they have one in five bad days in a week, I agree with that. It’s like making sure the work gets there on time, and you’re doing your best and yes, that’s it. Fortunately, we did. With Fairy tales, not only did we have a great show, but we only arrived in three weeks, which is a crazy calendar, because we didn’t have recurring characters. And more important than that, we fell under the budget. This is completely crazy. And it’s a union store at Cartoon Network Studios. We have worked hard, and I know how important it is for leaders to stay on schedule and all that. “
While a pickup from season two for Fairy tales is out of his hands, Villard has more fun and twisted stories to tell. “Adult Swim is waiting to see how Fairy tales “He says. “I’m more than happy to make a second season, but we’ll see. What happened is right when I finish Fairy talesNetflix knocked on my door and said like they really wanted me to do a show. So between the seasons of Fairytales, I’m working with Netflix on a new show. Look, I love swimming for adults. They were really good to me. I love Fairy tales. But if we continue, I want to enter American folklore, like the Aesop fables. I want to get into Biblical stories, Scripture bullshit. I have a lot of ideas for this show. “
Dan Sarto is editor and editor in chief of Animation World Network.