Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
It’s hard work constantly murdering prisoners, and no one knows that better than the co-creators and animators of Adult Swim’s 11-minute comedy show Superjail!
“We don’t do it for shock,” co-creator Steven Warbrick told journalists at New York Comic Con, where he was joined by co-creator Christy Karacas, head writer Janine DiTullio, animation director Mike Carlo and layout artist/voice actor Richard Mather.
“Usually there’s some kind of visual gag, like if a guy sticks a hose in a guy’s moth and his head blows up it’s like a blowing up balloon joke, like Looney Tunes,” Karacas added.
“It’s animation!” Warbrick laughed as Karacas grinned and nodded.
Now in its third season, Superjail! is an animated comedy that follows the egomaniacal warden in charge of a gigantic, futuristic prison. The staff of oddballs nearly runs the jail into the ground each episode, often resulting in the death, torture and dismemberment of most or all of the inmates. Despite the show’s violence, when it came to Season 3 Karacas and Warbrick found they’d been given more freedom by the network.
According to the co-creators, the main goal this year is to combine the best story and character developments of Season 2 with the madcap action of Season 1.
“We were trying to get more into the story second season, and I think it got a little boring,” Karacas explained. “We learned a lot from that and took the things we learned and have that skeleton there — but not overdoing it and leaving room to pop in that violence.”
“I think the key for this season was keeping the scripts manageable and not too long so that there was time for the action and not all dialogue,” Warbrick said.
Karacas added that their Season 2 scripts and animatics often ran 14 to 15 minutes too long due to their story development, which in turn cut down on the fight sequences and led to cutting scenes out, negatively affecting the flow of the story. However, the creative team, including animation director Carlo, learned from the second season.
“It’s funny because this season we were trying to combine the best elements of one and two, the story with the violence,” Carlo said. “Kristy is really good at mapping it out for us, but they’re writing the scripts and the cool thing about Superjail is that the animators get a lot of free rein coming up with the gags.”
Mather explained that while there might be a scene in the script that calls for 50 people killing each other, the details of who and how were mainly left up to the animators, to the point where storyboards, “Might just be a storyboard with some blobs and the animators pull designs from the inmate sheets we have.”
“Sometimes you’ll be tired of animating people walking and you go, it’ll be cool if we rip this guy’s guts out through his mouth, really off-the-cuff stuff. It’s really great!” Carlo laughed.
Speaking about the animation process, the co-creators cited Looney Tunes and Beavis and Butt-Head as artistic influences, adding that in their eyes the show has a “raw style.”
“It’s funny, we worked together back in the ‘90s, and back then things like Powerpuff Girls and the Cartoon Network stuff was really big and it was a more clean, slick stylized look, but I couldn’t get work because I don’t draw like that,” Karacas said.
As for how he would describe the style of Superjail! the co-creator laughed, “It’s like the stuff you draw in your notebook when you’re in high school, just a guy ripping a guy’s head off!”
While Carlo and Mather defined the animation process as “loose,” with details often left up to the animators, the two sheepishly laughed when head writer DiTullio asked whether they ever saw the actual scripts.
“I see them because I’m voice-acting!” Mather said. As for his new role as layout artist the voice actor/designer joked, “It was really easy the first year because all I did was showed up for an hour!”
All five members of the Superjail! creative team believe without a doubt the show’s biggest challenge has been coming up with new fights for three solid seasons.
“Once you do something you don’t want to do it again, so it’s getting harder to be like, ‘Oh, they fight underwater or they fight in the fire,’ because a lot of them are simple settings — like they fight in the freezer — because that helps give the gags,” Karacas said. “There’s one episode this season where there’s a huge fire, the whole jail’s on fire, so what are some jokes with fire? It’s going to get to a point we’re going to run out!”
Unlike many animated shows, the Superjail! creators and writers pen full scripts before they storyboard, a process that DiTullio said was just as loose as the animation side.
“Me and Steve and Christy and the writers this season just throw around ideas, and we spend more time then anyone would imagine asking what this character would do in this situation,” DiTullio said.
She added, “If we’re really pressed for time, Stephen and Christy will go, ‘Oh, two seasons ago we had this idea and never used it, and it involves the prison, the Warden and a television network! And rats!’”
“There’s a lot of rats in Season 3,” Carlo admitted as Mather nodded vigorously.
Touching on the characters, the creators praised the Warden actor David Wain for fleshing out their strange protagonist.
“We go back and forth on [the Warden] a lot, because he’s crazy, but is he crazy-crazy? How in control is he?” Karacas said. “We kind of danced around that a little and we sort of left it ambiguous, but he’s selfish, he’s an egomaniac. I think he wants to help him but he gets distracted by his own stuff he wants to do.”
As for the Twins, the identical aliens played by Mather who live in the Superjail basement, the actor said he first came up with their high-pitched voice during the casting process.
“I auditioned for it and that was the accent I came up with, and it’s when I get drunk,” Mather laughed. Slipping into the Twins’ accent he continued, “I’m getting drunk I’m like, ‘Hey everybody, let’s do something!’”
“I thought that was sort of funny, so I took that high-sounding voice you do when you’re partying and I married that with a gay dude and a robot. So it’s supposed to be a gay robot thing,” Mather added.
With the first episodes of Season 3 now airing, all expressed gratitude to the fans for sticking with them through the second season and into the upcoming “madness.”
“All the characters are very involved,” DiTullio promised. “The Twins are very involved in later episodes, every character has their 15 minutes of fame this season”
Superjail! airs Mondays at 12:15 a.m. on Adult Swim.