Adult Swim's been spitting out some of the only good TV shows of the past few years. Aqua Teen is good, Metalocalypse is good. Venture Brothers is really good. But Superjail is the best. Art’s not a contest but Superjail wins—it'll blow your mind up like nothing else. The Adult Swim shows have been using increasingly less animation and then this thing busts through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man and shouts “Walk this way!” at Run DMC. Most episodes of Superjail start with a criminal named Jackknife getting beat up by Jailbot (giant floating iPod with metal tendrils) and carried to Superjail. Superjail is a jail of limitless possibilities. It is a lot like if Willy Wonka went into the jail business.
I sat down and talked with one of the show’s creators, Christy Karacas, who's hosting a panel at ComicCon today and then his band Cheeseburger is playing an early show with Andrew WK at Santos.
Vice: Where did Superjail come from?
Christy Karacas: I had two partners I created Superjail with. One of the other guys and I made this short film, Barfight, and it got rejected from every film festival. And we entered a lot. So we were like, "Fuck...". And I got out of animation for a while. The animation world was really dead around 2000, 2001. Years later Adult Swim saw Barfight and gave me call outta nowhere. They were like "You wanna pitch a show?" and I said, "Yeah of course." I had an old pitch about a jail-themed show but it was more like a reality show. It wasn't as cool as Superjail. When we were talking with them, they were really psyched on our idea of a jail show and the show came out of that conversation with the development show. What came out of that was that it was that it was the craziest jail ever and any kind of story you could want to do could happen in that world.
I really love the main characters’ naiveté combined with the intensely horrible things that happen around them.
People tend to gloss over that part of the show. They'll say, "Oh, it's so psychedelic!" or, "Oh, it's so violent." I think there's a weird cuteness that needs to be there or the show would be too over-the-top and creepy.
Like in Popeye how all the characters are selfish but Popeye's goodness and fairness redeems the whole universe.
I like hearing people analyze it because I think sometimes when we make the show we're just trying to make something crazy. Sometimes I wonder if the Warden really cares about rehabilitating the inmates or if it's so psycho that he doesn't care about anything.
The humor is so oblique. The jokes don't usually point out their punchlines.
With Superjail we wanted it to be funny, but we wanted it to be an animator's show. Cool shit happens. Did you see that Popeye where Bluto has the oxcart and the horse won't move so he's beating the horse, which makes Popeye mad? There's not a whole lot of witty dialoque but it's cool to watch. There's this Popeye DVD that just came out and it's fucking awesome. You'd expect the pacing to be slow but a lot of the stuff is funnier than current stuff. There's one cartoon with a barfight and they're all over the bar. There's no dialogue, it's all witty visual gags.
I think that in the 90s being too cool to be into what you're doing was a big trend. Like in Scream where they're analyzing the cliches of horror films while they're in the movie.
I hate how stuff has to be so smart all the time. I was talking to someone and they mentioned that Superjail has a Mad Magazine aesthetic. I love Mad Magazine. I remember in elementary school if you got caught with Mad Magazine it would get taken away because it was dirty and crazy. Now it's not that dirty or crazy compared to a Britney Spears video. My friend Joe has this one issue where Alfred E. Neuman's running to the end of a rainbow and when he gets there there's a pile of trash instead of treasure. So cool.
It's sad that Mad no longer means what it used to.
Every time I fly I go to the newstand and I buy the new issue and the Mad Classics reprints and I laugh out loud at them. Maybe it's nostalgia, I don't know. I like it. I wish Mad TV was like Mad Magazine and more weird. It shouldn't just be sketch comedy. They just took the name.
Mad actually had a musical in the 60s. The TV show should be like the Mad Magazine musical was.
Why is Alfred E. Neumann not in the show? There should be some Aphex Twin style videos of him running around and doing stuff.
Totally. Now back to Superjail. Why’d you guys switch the intro song from “Rubber Bullets” by 10cc?
We couldn't get the rights to the song but we tried. It's so fucking crazy. It was too expensive. Nobody knows who they are anymore and I think it woulda been good for them. The record label that owned the song wanted an insane fee. They wanted like 20 grand for each time we used the song. Their rationale was, "This is a TV show," but I kept saying, "You don't understand, this is on at two in the morning.” The band wanted it to happen. I'm happy on some level that we didn't get the 10CC song because my band ended up doing the theme song and we never would have made a song that sounded like that otherwise.
It seems like your signature move is elaborate fight scenes.
They're just fun for me. I always really liked choreographed action/fight sequences in movies—stuff like in Indiana Jones or kung fu movies—stuff where the action is exciting and unexpected-fast paced etc... With barfight I'd try to do stuff like try to not have “cuts” and animate around the characters and the action, or have stuff break through the floor or ceiling when you'd least expect it. with Superjail we wanted a really exciting and new fight in every episode. it was my biggest worry creatively. Could we keep the fights interesting and exciting each week? I think we did. I’m really excited about how they turned out. Usually we'd brainstorm lots of ideas of what funny, cool stuff could happen, and then I'd board the actions out and try to connect them in interesting ways. It’s not all about the violent jokes either. Sometimes it’s more about direction of the action—almost like planning a dance number. You follow something across the screen from left to right, then have something else come in from the right to the left, then follow it in space, et cetera. Keeping the viewer’s eye moving and having fun, weird things keep popping up keeping it fresh.
There are a lot of awesome visual references in the show. The Time Police seem like they’re based on the Cheap Trick record, Dream Police. There's that speech that's like Watership Down. The warden has the same carpet as the psychic kids from Akira's nursery. Are there are some that you are proud of or don't think people will get?
Mmm...Let’s see, The warden’s carpet was actually based on that counting animation from Sesame Street (the one that went "1, 2, 3, 4, 5 ," etc., with the pinball machine), but now that you mention it... Yeah, I remember that Akira carpet! I love Akira. Some other references: when the warden is imprisoned in time court the laser cage is from Dr. Who (it's imprisoning The Master from the new ones); the Time Police helmets were from "Bubblegum Crisis"; the fight with Alice and Jared in "Terrorarium" where he Hulks out is suposed to be very "comic book style" and if you listen to the music it's a take-off on the Incredible Hulk cartoon; the twins' outfits are from Logans Run. Hmm...there's like a ton of that kind of stuff because me and a lot of the staff all love comics and sci fi and cartoons. I'm trying to think of more but my mind is blank.
Oh, also, when Jared becomes the king of the inmates his main cronies look like members of ICP and Slipknot.
We had this crazy wing that we wanted to be a little more vicious than normal Superjail, kind of an insane serial killer-type wing. So we thought, "Why not make it all Juggalo style?" Slipknot look like serial killer psychos too so it was a no brainer to put crazy masks and Jason-type masks on everyone.
I want to buy Superjail merchandise. Why isn't there merchandise? When's the DVD coming out?
Hopefully there will be merch. I don't know when the DVD is comming out but i'm sure there will be one. the merch I'd most like to see would be the warden's army troopers. They are very cool.
What about season 2?
We're in talks about season 2 right now. Excited.
What's it like having a TV show on Adult Swim? Do people assume that you're rich?
It's awesome to have a show on Adult Swim. The coolest things for me were seeing the billboard up in different cities and seeing all the fan art. There is some AMAZING fan art out there. I found a bunch on deviantart.
What's the reaction to the show like?
I got this weird letter from someone who said, "I'm a vet from the Iraq War. I've seen violence. You should think about what you're showing to kids. It's irresponsible." He'd seen the one where Superjail conquers the world, and I was like, "It's a fucking cartoon, dude." There's so much shit to write a letter about. You probably saw some crazy shit but a fucking cartoon didn't start it. World's crazy, what are you gonna do?