In Adventure Time, Finn, a young boy who uses exclamation like “algebraic!” and “mathematical!” even though he isn't very good with numbers, and his sharp canine pal Jake traverse the Land of Ooo, where they fight zombies, save princesses from the Ice King and embark a variety of other quests that may remind you of video games.
The series began life as an Annie-nominated seven-minute short that had garnered quite a bit of attention online. It first aired on Cartoon Network, originally under the name Adventure Time with Finn and Jake, last spring. At Comic-Con, the show will be the subject of a Friday panel featuring creator Pendleton Ward and members of the cast. Later that afternoon, they will be available for autographs.
We spoke with Ward, who is also known for his work as a storyboard artist for The Misadventures of Flapjack, about video games, The Simpsons and Comic-Con.
The plots of the show remind me of video games like Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda. Were those an influence on you?
Yeah, of course. I grew up playing both of those games. Yeah, for sure.
We just did an episode where they go inside a video game and they collect coins and stuff and they bring them outside of the game and the coins turn into pennies and Jake's all mad because he took all those coins, he thought he was going to be rich.
There are lots of video game references or, not so much references, but, I guess, inspired by video games and playing with video game logic in the show.
What were your favorite video games to play when you were growing up?
A unique one was A Boy and His Blob. I liked that one a lot. I think it was for Nintendo. It was a little kid and he could feed this shape-changing blob of jellybeans and he would turn into different stuff like an umbrella or a ladder.
I thought it was fun just watching the blob jump around, so I would let the screen rest and watch the animation cycle of the kid and the blob and pretend I was the kid.
It's really hard to play. It's really challenging. You can't really beat it, I don't think. I never could.
Do you play any now?
Yeah, I think that's all I spend my money on are video games. I just go to work and I come home and play video games to relax. I like Left 4 Dead. I think that's cool. Zombies. There's another game called Nazi Zombies, which is a mini-game that's inside of another game called Call of Duty, which is fun. I like zombies a lot.
For the past couple years, zombies have been really popular. Do you know why?
No, I'm just really happy that it keeps going, though. You would think it would end, but it doesn't end.
I'm so happy that the production of zombie media is continuing to pour out of everywhere.
What goes into the development of turning something that was a short into a full TV series?
The short was just these two dudes hanging out at their house and saying something interesting, then leading to something else and that leading to something else. That's all I wanted to do with the show too– have these two characters that were buds who have this way of talking to each other hanging out and then they step outside of their house every day and discover something interesting and then follow it and see what happens. I usually don't know what to expect either when I'm writing or boarding. I'll figure it out as I go along and as I draw. I think that is maybe what gives the show part of its charm is that these guys are kind of bumbling through the world and discovering wacky stuff in a casual kind of way.
To tie it into the whole video game thing, is it like when you accidentally hit a couple of buttons and realize that you just found a short cut through the Super Mario world?
Yeah. I like that idea. I like that kind of logic. There's a really difficult task ahead of them, but I want these characters to be able to break away from the story. One of the episodes, “The Enchiridion!”–where they're going on this big quest to find this book and there's a whole mountain of trials that they are supposed to get through– originally, that episode was twice as long and had fifteen more trials…Finn gets into trouble and Jake is being eaten by this giant ogre and sees an opportunity to steal this giant ogre's wallet and take a dollar out of it and then he uses the dollar later and rides it to the top of the mountain. It was a fun way of cheating the level or the story, since we're relating it to video games.
How many times have you been to Comic-Con?
Four or five. I think this is my fifth time going to Comic-Con.
Were you working on a series or anything when you first went?
The first time I went to Comic-Con, I didn't have a cartoon series. I was still in school and doing mini-comics. I had a booth with six or seven other people, squeezing behind a four foot table trying to sell my comics.
Has Comic-Con changed for you now that you have a series? Is it a different experience.
I do different stuff there now. I don't have a little table anymore. I just go for the panel, the Adventure Time, Cartoon Network panel.
It's wild. Last time, I went to the panel last year, there was a crowd of maybe a thousand people. It felt like it could be a thousand people in one of those big auditoriums It was wild addressing them.
I wanted to make jokes and stuff and I was trying hard not to be snarky because I knew that if I said anything, there was such an intense vibe with a thousand people checking you out, that if you say anything snarky or have any kind of an attitude, immediately half of those people are going to be judging you and not liking you anymore.
Do you go for the entire Comic-Con?
I go for maybe two or three days. It's pretty intense to go for the whole trip, the entire four days, is it? You have to walk around like a baby because there are so many people that you can't help but walk like a toddler. There's always someone two feet in front of you and moving back and forth, it's just bumper-to-bumper traffic just walking.
Do you have anything you really like to check out when you're there?
I like the indie tables. I like buying mini-comics. I try to buy as many mini-comics as I can. As far as panels go, I don't know. I'll usually hit up the Klingon wedding. Why not?
Do you have any mini-comic recommendations?
Cheap Paper Art, Kelly Nelson's comics, I like.
What was your favorite cartoon series growing up?
The Simpsons, hands down, was the most influential on me. The early seasons of The Simpsons were awesome because they were so emotional, but they were cartoons. I was laughing at all of the stupid stuff that Bart got into but it was really emotional. It makes you so invested in the characters and the cartoon and thinking it was real. Like, I had a crush on Lisa and thought Bart was really cool. I was really sad, with the Flaming Moe's episode, where Homer comes up with this secret recipe for a cocktail using Bart's cough syrup. Maybe that's not a very emotional episode to pick, but I felt so terrible when Homer goes crazy and Moe is treating him like crap and he's abandoning him. I couldn't watch that episode when I was a kid. It made me choke up so much.
Did you have a favorite comic book?
I remember this one series called The Good Guys, which no one liked except for me.
It was kids who go to a comic book store and they're all reading these comics when this magical thing happens at the store that gives them the powers that they're thinking about at the moment when this powerful thing happens. One kid gets magic. Two kids get the same power, which is like jumping power, which is pretty stupid, but they both get jumping power. What's cool about that is that I would just take that idea and I could go into my backyard and pretend that happened to me. I think anything with power when I was a kid was badass. Like X-Men.
Pendleton Ward will appear on “Cartoon Network: Comedy Animation” panel Friday at 11:45 a.m. in Room 6A with Jeremy Shada (Finn), John DiMaggio (Jake), Tom Kenny (Ice King) and Regular Show creator J. G. Quintel. An Adventure Time signing will take place in Autograph Alley on Friday from 2-3 p.m.