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Talking to the minds behind Adventure Time: Pendleton Ward and Tom Kenny visit Austin to unveil inspired art

Adventure Time Course 1
Annie Ray Photography
Aventure Time Feast Course Two
Annie Ray Photography
Adventure Time Feast Course Three
Annie Ray
Adventure Time Feast menu
Adventure Time Course 1
Aventure Time Feast Course Two
Adventure Time Feast Course Three
Justin, Pen and Tom

Saturday was a big day. Early on, I stopped by Mondo's new brick-and-mortar gallery space, where they are currently hosting a tribute to Cartoon Network's animated series, Adventure Time

After perusing walls filled with art inspired by the avant-garde cartoon, I sat down with 200 other Adventure Time fans — some costumed with incredible precision — inside of Alamo South Lamar's largest theater for a marathon viewing of the series accompanied by a specially prepared feast.

The three course meal, conceived by Alamo Executive Chef John Bullington, consisted of dishes directly inspired by the show: A Meatman sandwich with lumpy space potatoes; the everything burrito complete with candy key imprisoned inside a jello cube; a rainbow hotdog served along side peach, caramel and vanilla ice cream. It was downright algebraic how well the food fit with the onscreen antics.

I also had a chance to speak with series creator Pendleton Ward and one of the show's stars, Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePantsRocko's Modern Life, Mr. Show), about their work on the series, the inspiration behind the Adventure Team, the difference between us and robots and much, much more.


I’m a big fan of the music. All of the 8-bit sounds, the singing, Olivia Olson’s stuff  do the voice actors sing all of their own parts?

Pendleton Ward: Yeah, yeah, Olivia sings. She’s an amazing singer, you can look her up on YouTube.

Are there any plans for an Adventure Time album?

Tom Kenny: Funny you should ask about that... it’s almost like that question was a plant.

PW: Yeah, we’ve been planning that for a while and all I can do is just keep asking Cartoon Netowrk to produce it. It seems like a really simple thing — sorry I was trying to sing that, I can’t remember the tune. So yeah, it seems like it would be a really simple thing to just put those songs on iTunes.

 "I ‘d write songs, and I’d recycle songs I wrote to ex-girlfriends, and just put in chemical names instead of whoever I was dating."

TK: Well, music is a big component of your show, and it’s really inherent to the world of the show. The way it sounds, the way people sing, even the theme song with Pen and his ukulele. The music is almost like a character on the show.

PW: On [The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack] I'd write songs, and I’d recycle songs I wrote to ex-girlfriends, and just put in chemical names instead of whoever I was dating

TK: Instead of looking into your little black book you’d look at the periodic table of the elements.

Ice King’s origin story [Holly Jolly Secrets] is a big fan favorite, and especially one of my favorites. Are there plans for any other origin stories? I’m particularly interested in Beemo and how he joined the Adventure Team.

TK: Is Beemo a he?

PW: Beemo is a robot. A sexless, genderless robot. They call him he and she at different times, characters in the show call him he or she or Beemo. But yeah you’ll get to see more of Beemo. We’ve got one in the works where you’ll get to see where Beemo came from. He’ll be playing on a Ceemo, which is a smaller Beemo and there’s a Deemo. I don’t want to give too much away.

TK: But it’s funny, sometimes I don’t know if it’s a good idea to say where these characters come from. You watch these big Hollywood movies like The Grinch or whatever, and it’s like, Dr. Seuss does it in 16 pages. You don’t know why the Grinch is the Grinch and you don’t care why the Grinch is the Grinch; he’s just an asshole. Then the movies come out and they expand. Oh this is what made him, this is why Willy Wonka became Willy Wonka — the Johnny Depp version I’m talking about here.

 "Marceline’s dad, when he turned into a giant monster, we had a bunch of notes about it, that it was too vagina-like. We had to change the shape of it and then they said it looked too much like a penis."

PW: I definitely don’t want to do an origin story for the movie. I wanna make sure it’s an original story.

TK: Sometimes I recoil a little bit, but I thought that Ice King episode, the origin was so strong and good. The storytelling was so good that I was interested in it. Like wow this is really cool. [In Ice King’s voice], “I like where I came from!” And it was very heavy. It really all comes down to writing. These guys are so great and it all starts with Pen and two other guys pitching stories.

PW: Yeah, Pat McHale wrote that whole speech that Ice King gave on the VHS. It was awesome to see Tom deliver those lines because it was so real, and moving.

TK: Yeah it was great to look at the paper and see those lines.

Another favorite aspect of the show are all of the fast, subtle euphemisms scattered throughout. Like, how Finn and Jake are constantly “princess blocking” the Ice King. Has there been anything that Cartoon Network wouldn’t let you put in the show? Maybe something a little too adult?

PW: Yeah, on certain monsters — every now and then we’ll get a really odd note. It’s sometimes on stuff we don’t do intentionally.

TK: Is it often subconscious? Like, that looks like a...blank. Whatever it is.

PW: Marceline’s dad, when he turned into a giant monster, we had a bunch of notes about it, that it was too vagina-like. We had to change the shape of it and then they said it looked too much like a penis. And we were just like, “What is happening? This is a monster, with just a crazy, weird face.”

So after that note did you think, “Oh yeah, I can see it,” or was it just a case of the network being too hesitant?

PW: I don’t know... I think you can see anything in anything.

TK: But I do think there are layers of subconscious to everything.That’s what makes this stuff work, it’s tapping into something. Why was Pat McHale able to write that episode of Ice King so convincingly? I guess he has to have a little bit of that in him somewhere, and it’s great to have that.

PW: This is a tangent, but there’s a video game called Half Life where they based all the monsters off of genitalia. And they did it intentionally to make people feel uncomfortable when they’re playing the game, fighting the monsters and stuff. Which I thought was brilliant playing through it.

Yeah, you really get that feeling when you find the headcrabs.

TK: Yeah, wow.

 "But the uniting factor of all those shows, that I think were good shows, it’s got these strong guys’ has their fingerprints all over it. It comes from a person."

Tom, I’m a big fan of your work, the voiceover stuff especially. I practically grew up hearing your voice, even though I didn’t know it at the time.

TK: Oh, thanks, man. That doesn’t make me feel old at all.

Do you maybe have a story to share about one of the other animated series you worked on? CatDog was one of my favorites.

TK: Oh boy. There’s interesting stories from everyone. I mean, i don’t know where to go. Every story has interesting aspects to it — actually not all of them do. The ones that are good and fun are usually the interesting ones. But, I guess if there’s a through line to any of those shows that I like, that I’ve done, or the good ones that I’ve done, is there’s a strong creative guy at the helm.

Whether it’s Steve Hillenburg with Spongebob or Pen with Adventure Time, or Peter Hannan with CatDog. And they’re all totally different kinds of people that come from different kinds of worlds. Hillenburg came from more of a... not storytelling animation, but more of an abstract animation background. Peter Hannan was like a pen and ink, print cartoonist. He didn’t really know animation at all. And Pen comes from a different world from either of those guys.

But the uniting factor of all those shows, that I think were good shows, it’s got these strong guys’ DNA... it has their fingerprints all over it. It comes from a person. It’s not a consortium, it’s not a property. Like, “Hey, there’s this Dreamworks movie and we should turn that into a television series.” It’s some guy walking around with this stuff in his head, drawing in a notebook, making things about those ideas. And I’m lucky enough to be brought in at the part where they go, “Well, what does this thing that I’ve been thinking about for years talk like?”

That’s a pretty important part you play.

TK: I just feel very fortunate that I know how to do it, and I love doing it. And it’s fun to do it, whether it’s Craig McCracken or Genndy Tartakovsky or Pen, or Joe Murray, or really any of these people. They’re all very strong creatives. But all in completely different ways.


The Mondo exhibition runs until May 26, so don't miss your chance to catch some Adventure Time-themed art!

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