Teen Titans are heading back to Cartoon Network beginning tonight. This time around, though, the young DC superheroes are up for a different kind of adventure. Teen Titans Go! is an animated comedy centered around Beast Boy, Cyborg, Robin, Raven and Starfire. Sure, the episodes will be as action-packed as anything that started out life on comic book pages. The source of those action sequences, though, might be a tad unexpected.
The famed characters first made a splash on Cartoon Network back in the early 2000s with an eponymous cartoon series that lasted for five seasons. That incarnation of Teen Titans was helmed by Glenn Murakami and, while the show had its humorous moments, it was primarily an action series. Years after the show ended, the crime-fighting team popped up in shorts that ran during the network's Saturday morning programming block, DC Nation. The New Teen Titans shorts inevitably lead to the latest Teen Titans vehicle. However, Teen Titans Go! has become its own entity. The voice cast of the core characters remains the same, but the show has new adventures, a new look and even a revamped theme.
We caught up with the creative team behind the new series.
Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath admit that they are an odd pairing. Jelenic, the head writer, has a background in action series. He worked on Batman: The Brave and the Bold and was an executive producer of the excellent, and, unfortunately, short-lived, Thundercats reboot. Horvath is the animation producer who comes from the comedy world. His credits include El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera and Cartoon Network's MAD television series.
“Basically, Jelenic thinks that it's funny when people get hurt,” says Horvath. “I think it's really funny for characters to eat different types of food. So there's a lot of people getting punched in the face and then eating tacos.”
“That's where our sensibilities merge, violence and food,” adds Jelenic.
Horvath gets philosophical. “It's like the primary focus of life. You need to eat and you need to fight to survive.”
The two are carefully balancing action and comedy in the series. “If they're just goofing around the house, we'll make them look serious. If it's serious action, we make the stakes super low,” says Horvath.
“We sort of approach the action scenes where they're sort of bored of fighting villains,” says Jelenic. “They're looking for new and interesting ways to beat up people.”
Ultimately, the goal of Teen Titans Go! is to bring in fans who weren't apart of the early-'00s series and, maybe, don't know a whole lot about this aspect of the DC universe. “We don't want to hinge an entire punchline on something that you would have to see episode seven of season two to get,” says Horvath.
Jelenic points out that, possibly, the closest comparison for the show is The Tick, but even that has its differences. The Tick, he points out, was created specifically as a “send-up” of the superhero genre. These Teen Titans exist in a completely serious form somewhere else. “We're taking characters and using them in a way that maybe no one ever intended them to be used,” he says.
The Art Director
Dan Hipp is an art director for Teen Titans Go! who focuses on backgrounds and color. Although he's done freelance design work for animation studios before, this is his first time working on the production of a show. “To be contacted for this was a little unreal,” he says.
If you follow artist blogs, you might be familiar with Hipp's work. His work is heavily influenced by comic books, television and film. His mash-up pieces, bringing together titles like Duck Tales and Tales from the Crypt and characters like Robin and Hulk, have also garnered a good amount of attention. Hipp's style is eye-catching. He uses colors that recall the most breathtaking sunsets you'll see, lots of pinks and purples, maybe a little orange and yellow and definitely some soft blues.
“I was brought in because I have a particular, general look,” Hipp explains. You'll be able to get a gander of Hipp's style when you check out the backgrounds of the Teen Titans' current TV world. Look closely, there might be a few references to other aspects of the DC world lurking behind the foreground. Hipp himself is a fan of the comic book universe. “If I love it as a fan of DC, I'll try to put it in there,” he says.
Hipp describes his job as playing in a “giant sandbox.” It's work, but it's fun work.
The theme song you remember from Teen Titans is coming back, but it's going to sound a lot different. Mix Master Mike, the award-winning DJ who famously worked with the Beastie Boys, put his stamp on the track with a wild remix.
“It's kind of a match made in heaven,” says Mike. He's an anime fan, a longtime admirer of Ultraman and a general aficionado of of cartoon themes. (The Speed Racer theme is amongst is favorites and he used to use a snippet of The Amazing Spider-Man theme as an intro on some of his mix tapes.) Mike's goal for this remix was simple. “Get the little kids' hearts pumping,” he says. Certainly, the turntable master does this with a remix that brings in a heart-racing drum 'n' bass element.
The show's producers were elated with Mix Master Mike's worth. Says Horvath, “We had to pull out the best twenty seconds of it, which was hard.”