There’s Constant Exploration And Discovery: The ‘Adventure Time’ Entrance/Exit Interview With Christopher Hastings And Ryan North
With this month’s Adventure Time #36, the award-winning run from Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb comes to a close, making way for the new creative team of Christopher Hastings and Zachary Sterling. It’s an interesting and exciting piece of news, especially for fans who know Hastings from his work on the long-running Adventures of Dr. McNinja webcomic, but after three years, North, Paroline and Lamb’s run is worth looking back on as one of the best comics — not one of the best licensed books or one of the best kids comics, one of the best comics — of the past few years.
Today, we conclude our two-part interview with Hastings and North by looking forward to what Hastings plans to do in his run on the title, why the wackier aspects of the show have to be held together with an emotional core, and the character than North "fake killed off" for his three-year run.
ComicsAlliance: Chris, you're an interesting creator for a lot of reasons. I always think of you as a cartoonist, someone who writes and draws his own comics, but when you worked with Ryan on Galaga, you were the artist, and in your recent work on Longshot for Marvel, you were the writer. Is there an aspect of creating comics that you're more comfortable with? Do you see just writing as giving up control of the page, or is it a relief to not have to handle everything yourself?
Christopher Hastings: It definitely skews towards relief, for sure. I greatly prefer writing to drawing. Drawing is work, and writing is making up fun stories. I always drew Dr. McNinja because I figured I was good enough to do it, like "Well, I'm good enough to draw this comic so I don't have to hire an artist or worry about that," and if you draw every day, you get okay at it and other jobs come along.
Ryan North: An inspiration quote. "If you draw every day, you get okay at it, I guess." Take that, Gladwell.
CH: I don't think I've gotten to 10,000 hours yet. But to that point, I think that every artist who has drawn something for me is a lot better of an artist than I am, so it feels great.
CA: Was there ever a moment where you thought about writing and drawing Adventure Time? "Yeah, I can handle that, those characters are all cylinders. Easy!"
CH: Oh, that makes it so much harder! They have to be on-model! Listen, my main character in Dr. McNinja doesn't have most of his face, and I can't draw that the same way twice.
CA: But you do so much expression with eyebrows.
CH: Expression is one thing. I think I give him different muscular structure under his eyes in every panel. There's different people in there. It's a problem.
RN: Is the reason that Dr. McNinja wears a mask that you can't draw faces?
CH: It turned out it made the job a lot easier. As I started having to put in characters with faces, I was like "ugh, that part between the nose and the mouth?!"
RN: That's why the No-Nose Bandit showed up.
CA: With Dr. McNinja, there's an episode that summarizes the cosmology of the strip, where you have the world sandwiched between the mundane world of the Honda Accord, and the more radical world with ninjas and monsters and Dracula. It's this big wild fantasy that still has this connection to the mundane, and when it was announced that you were writing Adventure Time, I thought that was perfect, because you're in this completely fantastic world that still has this fascination and attachment with the mundane.
CH: Yes, I agree! I'm also excited about that, it's totally a style that I'm super comfortable in. The world of Adventure Time is one where you can basically have anything you want, and so is Dr. McNinja. They both have that similar structure there, both from whatever structure the creators want to give to it.
CA: So it was an easy adjustment to make? You've said before that Dr. McNinja is coming to a planned ending.
CH: Yes, we're currently on that course.
CA: It seems like that's a feeling that runs through a lot of what you've done as a creator. Longshot focused on a very weird segment of the Marvel Universe, Galaga was a pretty weird take on a massive invasion by alien invasion by space-bees.
RN: That classic genre.
CA: And now, moving into Adventure Time, was there anything that was a bigger adjustment than you expected, other than plotting out a story that was already in the works?
CH: Gosh, it has been really fun to write. A lot of it comes very easily, I'm happy to say. There was definitely an adjustment period where I went in, after I got the email, and started going back and watching every single episode of the show. You know, there's that period where I suddenly have to watch it with a very critical eye and take note of certain themes and character voice and continuity, and somewhere in there hopefully have new ideas that pop up for this world. That was certainly the most difficult part, but it's going pretty smoothly right now. I think I have the voice of the characters pretty well down, and hitting things tonally.
RN: I think you have, too. I read your first two issues and they're good.
CH: Thanks, Ryan.
RN: In fact, they're more than good. They're really good.
CA: There's the pullquote for your first issue. "They're more than good. They're really good." Was there anything in the series that you saw while you were rewatching it, any moment, any piece of continuity or relationship, that jumped out at you or that you understood in a new way?
CH: Let's see. The really great storyline with the Ice King's character arc, when you discover that he's not just this weird old villain. His arc from cartoonish villain to incredibly sympathetic victim of circumstance is really terrific. I haven't actually done anything with it, but I really appreciated it.
RN: I had a thing with Princess Bubblegum and Marceline. I think their relationship is really interesting, but I didn't touch it for the first ten or fifteen issues. I wanted to do it well, and I was afraid of doing it wrong. I feel like that's kind of a weird thing, but it's nice to have a world that's so big that you can explore other things while you have that in the background. You don't have to hit it right away, but it's there when you want it, and it's there informing everything else that goes on in the world.
CH: One thing that I think is really interesting about the show is that it seems like the show itself is maturing, probably at the same rate that its viewers are. That also lines up with the voice actor who plays Finn, his voice is clearly getting deeper.
CA: I've noticed that.
CH: I think that's really interesting.
CA: So does that change how you approach the comic? Do you have to figure out the tone based on the "age" of the audience that you're writing for, or do you have a direction to make the comic friendlier to little kids? Or is that something that just comes along with trying to write an all-ages comic?
CH: No, I don't necessarily think so. I don't know, I feel like if I'm trying to do that, it's not going to work out, so I just basically try to write how I'd want to write, and then nobody says bad words. I think the trick with that sort of complexity is that Adventure Time is a property where really insane things happen, and must happen, all the time. But there has to be this sort of character honesty in order for it to all be satisfying and for it all to make sense and not be something that you just zone out of. Otherwise, it's just crazy town all the time, and it's very easy to become something easy to ignore.
CA: How do you balance that? Dr. McNinja is the same way by its very nature -- the central joke is in the title -- but you go to so many different places with it.
CH: Thanks! It's certainly one of the tricker things to juggle and it doesn't always work, but when it does, I think it's very satisfying and surprising. I try to always think about if something nutty, weird or "LOL Random" happens, what does that actually mean to everybody? Then from there, you can hopefully get to genuine stuff from it.
CA: How mad would you be if I made the headline of this interivew "Nutty, Weird And LOL Random: Christopher Hastings Talks Adventure Time?"
CH: Oh boy. Well, you'd ruin me, so I guess a little cheesed.
RN: Kinda cheesed.
CA: Ryan, in your run on the book, you used a lot of characters from the show, obviously, because it's a licensed comic and that's what you do.
RN: That's what's expected of you, yes.
CH: Except for one!
CA: Who did you not use?
RN: [Laughs] I'm not the biggest fan of Tree Trunks, so my little joke to myself was that in the first arc, there's this bag that people are being sucked into, and it's destroying Ooo,. Finn and Jake stop the Lich from doing this and people from the bag are restored, but I never actually wrote in the script that Tree Trunks made it out. I kind of fake killed her off and didn't use her for the rest of the book.
CH: She's not in the book for three years!
RN: Before Chris took the job, we had what was sort of the phone call equivalent to the letter in the President's desk, where we talked in secret about things that I can't share, but among the things discussed was Tree Trunks. It was great, actually, because I got to tell him stuff that I wanted to do but never actually got around to doing, so he has whatever future stuff I had planned in mind, he can use it or not, but it's there. It was nice. It was a nice passing of the torch.
CA: You also created a lot of new characters. Adventure Tim is probably the biggest, weirdest and most disturbing one.
RN: I love him.
CA: That's honestly something that I was surprised did not happen on the show first. There are a few others, too.
RN: Desert Princess, Lamprey Princess, who is also my favorite. She has a red dress and a mouthful of teeth like a lamprey eel.
CA: She's horrifying.
RN: She's great. There was Truth Field Projection Princess...
CH: That mind-flayer guy.
RN: Yeah, the Mnemonoid.
CA: Who is obviously not a mind flayer, as tey are intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast.
CH: Psychic octopus heads. They're great.
CA: Chris, are you looking forward to creating your own new characters, or going back to any of Ryan's, or do you plan to just stick with what's already there for now?
CH: Basically, I think it's whatever feels appropriate. I've written three issues at this point, and it's definitely a mix of established characters and new ones. I think I've come up with a couple of new bad guys, some who are bigger problems than others. It's definitely a mix, because in the spirit of the show, there's constant exploration and discovery of new things, but you also have your buddies -- buddies being characters who talk to you from the TV. As for the others, I haven't had the opportunity ot bring any of Ryan's characters back yet, but we did talk about one in particular that we'll definitely make use of. I'm not sure how spoilery I should get.
RN: It'll be a surprise.