Doc Hammer, Jackson Publick and the Cult of 'The Venture Bros.'
The Venture Bros., which begins the second half of its fourth season Sunday night at 11:30 on Adult Swim, is a curious show. It hasn't won the awards that Robot Chicken and The Boondocks have. It didn't spawn a rock band with a Billboard top 20 album like Metalocalypse did. It doesn't have the super hip love-it-or-hate-it buzz of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! What they do have, though, is an extremely loyal, and vocal, fanbase. You can see it online, in the forms of fan sites, fan art (some of which we've covered before on Style Council) and, of course, fan fiction.
Shannon CottrellDoc Hammer and Jackson Publick with cosplayers at San DIego Comic-Con International, 2010
You can catch glimpses of the fandom at San Diego Comic-Con International, where cosplayers dressed as the superscientists, spies and supervillains that comprise the action-adventure comedy roam through the Gaslamp Quarter. Mostly, though, you'll see it at convention panels. This year at Comic-Con, Venture Bros. masterminds Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, known to fans simply as Doc and Jackson, sat on two panels, one for Adult Swim and another dedicated to the show. At both, there was a wild, almost concert-like vibe within the crowd, a sense that very little that could be said might be considered out-of-line.
"I think why [the panels] are kind of refreshing is because we don't have stuff planned and we aren't doing a big presentation and selling something. We're honestly just going there and talking to people," Doc said in a phone interview. "They work best when people just ask us questions."
We were inside Adult Swim's Comic-Con panel, which also featured the people behind Robot Chicken and Metalocalypse, listening to a slew of run-of-the-mill convention questions when a girl we could not see pointedly asked if either brother for whom the cult hit series is named will get laid. The crowd erupted with laughter, but it didn't stop there.
"I would tap Dean so fast your head would spin around," the girl added in response to a comment made by one of the panelists.
In a lot of situations, a statement like this would be considered completely inappropriate, but if you were in the room and heard the handful of screams in agreement, you would know that people don't necessarily frown upon inappropriateness here. Instead of avoiding the question, Doc proceeded to give a short lecture on the perils of deflowering the sweet, but astoundingly naive character.
"The responsibility of popping Dean Venture's cherry is way more than you've even considered," he said.
"It's safer in Hank country," Jackson added, referencing Dean's twin brother with the occasional rebellious streak.
Shannon CottrellCosplaying The Venture Bros. at Comic-Con, 2010
A short exchange followed (Adult Swim has a video, start watching at the three-minute mark) with Doc concluding, "Nobody wants to have sex with the boys and that's why the show has legs."
There's a lot of romantic and sexual frustration in The Venture Bros. It wasn't until the first half of the fourth season that Dean finally gave up pining for the goth-next-door, Triana Orpheus. His father, Dr. Venture, began reciting the lyrics to "Jessie's Girl," while standing as best man to The Monarch when the series' primary supervillain wed Dr. Girlfriend. Even Brock Samson, bodyguard, secret agent and resident stud on the show, can't get together with one woman he really wants, Molotov Cocktease, thanks to her chastity belt.
The show isn't about sex, though, the frustration is more of a metaphor for the rest of life. The Venture Bros. started out, seemingly, as a spoof of mid-20th century adventure cartoons, but quickly evolved into a complex world surrounding the titular duo where the difference between heroes and villains is always blurrier than one would think. Old sayings like "you can't always get what you want" definitely apply when watching the series. No major character is left without flaws, without suffering some miserable embarrassment. Take away the comic book, science fiction and music references, the occasional dorm room humor and the sly satirical elements and you still have a show that's incredibly relatable.
Shannon CottrellJackson Publick and Doc Hammer at Adult Swim's Comic-Con roundtable session, 2010
It isn't just The Venture Bros. that's attracted fans, though, it's the two guys who run the show. Doc and Jackson are the stars for more than just the myriad characters they voice.
"Our personalities are so all over every character that if nobody ever knew what we were or what we looked like, our personalities are still affecting the shows," Doc said at a Comic-Con press junket.
During the course of the two interviews we did for this story, it became apparent that Doc and Jackson are, in many ways like their characters, chatty, almost in competitive fashion. Doc is the more talkative of the two, but Jackson is quick with the retort. They oftentimes begin to speak over each other, finishing sentences with sharp observations and quirky references. A flippant comment from Doc about firemen calendars leads to a remark from Jackson about Fahrenheit 451 and so on until the conversation leads to Logan's Run. It's a little like listening to nerdy sort-of-villains Henchmen 21 and 24 banter on the show.
When Doc and Jackson turn up at a convention-- their usuals are San Diego Comic-Con International, Dragon*Con in Atlanta and New York Comic-Con-- they are the recipients of a rock star welcome. The line for The Venture Bros. panel in San Diego was long enough to acquire the beginnings of a nasty sunburn and, if you followed Twitter during Dragon*Con last weekend, you would be privy to real time results of who smoked a cigarette with Doc and who was able to snap a cel phone photo with Jackson.
"We kind of register it," said Doc of the popularity. "A lot of it happened because we were so communicative with our fans. Jackson has his junky little LiveJournal and I have my junky little MySpace thing and..."
"And we sold t-shirts to them," Jackson interjected.
"And we sold t-shirts to them and we talk about our studio, The Astrobase, like it's the coolest tree fort in the world and it makes people want to be a part of our kind of obtainable club," Doc continued.
The Venture Bros. thrives with very little media attention. In a way, it's a Web 2.0 phenomenon. News often breaks through Jackson's LiveJournal or Doc's MySpace page, then travels through a network of fan-based media outlets. There are news sites, like The Venture Bros. Blog and The Mantis Eye Experiment, in addition to forums and a wiki resource. There are commentary sources like Very Venture Vodcast. Then there's the almost voyeuristic Doc Hammer, Fuck Yeah, a Tumblr page that features little more than photos of the boisterous and fashionable co-writer.
Yes, there's a heartthrob element to the fandom as well. They're friendly and photogenic. They wear suits (or speedsuits) to panels. It helps. While Doc in particular jokes about this, there's always the sense that they are aware of the appeal.
"We kind of want to work it Edward and Jacob style, so you can be Team Doc or Team Jackson," said Doc, jokingly. "What do you like? Do you like a rugged, traditionally handsome man? You've got your Jackson Publick. You like kind of tattooed, kind of junky looking thing? You've got your Doc Hammer. We're like the Backstreet Boys with two options and they're both not that great."
Much like in the show, self-deprecating humor peppers interviews as well as panel sessions, but Doc and Jackson are riding the fine line of celebrity right now. They aren't as instantly recognizable as, for example, Seth Green and Nathan Fillion, but are well-known to a point where they will be stopped at conventions.
"I have a little easier time getting around than Doc does. I'm not as distinctive looking," said Jackson. "We get stopped a lot. When he's alone, he gets stopped a lot. When I'm alone, I get stopped maybe once, which is great because then I can read comic books. "
It's almost as though The Venture Bros. exists in its own world, a secret that for the past few years has been fairly well kept amongst the fans. Whether or not the show will surpass that level remains to be seen, but, in a way, it might not matter.
" It seems like we're entirely loved by only fans. Our panels are huge, they're jammed pack, but no press wants to deal with us," says Doc. "It's almost good. We're almost underground. You know what I mean? We haven't sold out because no one has given us any options to do so. "
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