The next season of the YouTube animation channel Cartoon Hangover kicks off in a couple of weeks with Mike Rosenthal’s “Our New Electric Morals.” And the man behind getting Rosenthal, and “Adventure Time” creator Pendleton Ward and “SuperF*ckers” creator James Kochalka a place to show their oddball programming is Fred Seibert, founder of Frederator Studios.
Seibert, a longtime animation and TV vet (he’s worked everywhere from Hanna Barbera to early-90’s MTV) introduced the world to the more adult animation of Cartoon Hangover last year with the first season of “Bravest Warriors” shorts (which has spawned its own comics line from BOOM!) and James Kochalka’s “SuperF*ckers,” titles that might otherwise struggle to find homes on TV. We spoke to Seibert about the origins of Cartoon Hangover, what he’s looking forward to in the fall lineup of new animated shorts, and how you too could potentially get your animated series on the YouTube channel.
MTV Geek: The big question: how does one make money showing free cartoons on the internet?
Fred Seibert: We make money the same way that any other media does—whether its comic books, television or novel writing: if your show has an audience, that audience is attracted to business partners and those business partners pay a certain amount for it and when it’s said and done hopefully you haven’t spent more than you’ve earned.
Geek: So how did you decide to bring Cartoon Hangover to YouTube?
Seibert: I was in the TV business for more than 30 years (and was one of the first employed at MTV, in fact). I have been in the cartoon business now for 21 years, and like anyone who is making things for a living, what you are hoping to do is make things you like, that an audience likes, and find a way to match that audience with the things you have made.
About 6 years ago when the internet started to become very friendly to video, I started an animation channel on iTunes through the video podcasts—it was one of the first video podcasts—and then moved it over to YouTube and twenty other video distribution outlets. I eventually settled on YouTube as being the most productively place to find the audience for the stuff we do. About years ago, when I sold my company to YouTube, they approached us about becoming part of their original content that launched last fall, and they gave us an opportunity to make cartoons that we felt didn’t have a market out in the traditional television market or that we can get our audience more efficiently in the online universe. And eventually that turned into Cartoon Hangover.
We found that there were a lot of cartoons in the world that for any variety of reasons the TV business had not come to yet, it didn’t work, and historically we found that what we make is very early in the marketplace. We find the market before the market has recognized them. And Cartoon Hangover has given us another place we felt we could find the most talented people around the world and give them a chance to make the films they want to make and match it up with their audience.
Geek: How do you sift through all of the talent when there’s such an easy submission process?
Seibert: Well, historically we find that we have to see at least 1000 pitches before we find 40 or 50 cartoons we want to make. That has been fairly consistent over the years.
One of the most effective ways we started our web efforts in the early 2000s with our first channel Frederator, we basically showcased 1000’s of shows on our show over a few years and what that did was introduce us to talented people from all across the world, you name it, we met people all over the place. We let them know that there is a place for them to make the films they want to make. I tell people if I want to make a film I just go make it so you can make yours.
[Laughs] Luckily for everyone else, I am not an animated filmmaker, I can’t draw, I can’t write; I’m just a professional fan. As is my whole team, whether it’s our development executive, production manager. We work with who we want to be in business with.
Geek: What made “Bravest Warriors” and “SuperF*ckers” the first salvo in Cartoon Hangover programming?
Seibert: “Bravest Warriors” was created by the creator of “Adventure Time” and we produced both pilots together. One of the first things we recognized is that Pen [Pendleton Ward] has a really unique voice. He creates characters and stories that are both somehow commercially viable and completely unique and almost weird.
I just introduced “Adventure Time” to someone the other night and they looked at me, like many others have and said, “Really? This is popular?” Your first inclination when you look at is that nothing else out there is like it. It’s slightly off center from what most people think is mainstream filmmaking is and that’s what makes it great. So when we started Cartoon Hangover and we looked at the things that we were already developing, “Bravest Warriors” was at the top of the list.
The way the characters look, the way they act and the relationships they have with each other, don’t fit the television preconception of how characters should be, but ultimately it comes down to great characters and great stories. Whether it’s “Adventure Time” or “Bravest Warriors,” we knew Pen had tapped into a sensibility. My take on his sensibility is that it is more influenced by video games than filmmaking. He’s one of the first to have brought the almost random sensibility of gaming to storytelling where just like our own human brains, where it is not always linear. Gaming really taps into that, where you can you can be going in one direction and just a rapid be switching to another direction just like a conversation. Pen figured out how to put that into a filmmaking-storytelling mode in a way I’ve never really seen anyone else be able to do it. That made “Bravest Warriors” a natural for us.
In terms of “SuperF*ckers,” I’ve been collecting James Kochalka’s work in comics for many years, but more for the art and sensibility than for the characters and the story. When we were first introduced to “SuperF*ckers” through another animator named Eric Robles, who created a show for us called “Fanboy and Chumchum” at Nickelodeon, I was immediately attracted to James’ art way as I always have been, but I was also attracted to the way in which the first four comic books that he put together, he had created characters and stories that ran true to me as a group of 20-year-olds living in a house. It really reminded me of the “Real World”—the original “Real World,” but with superhero costumes.
Interestingly, when you get into the characters and stories, the fact that they’re in superhero costumes is just sort of a tropes of comic books because somehow when you draw characters in superhero costumes, they look better than with suits and ties or t-shirts, they look cooler. But when you get into it, I don’t even know what their superpowers are. The fact that they have superpowers is really just sort of a side issue. Instead, I can fall in love with the empty heroics of Jack Krak, our lead character, or the snobby narcissism of Princess Sunshine and the innocence of Grotessa and her pet Grotus. Just like anything else, what we saw there was characters we could fall in love with and it made sense. The fact that it has been as scary as it has to put out a show into the mass media called “SuperF*ckers” was something we decided to ignore.
Geek: Will we see a “Bravest Warriors” season one DVD at some point?
Seibert: Yeah, were already talking about it, interestingly, it might be that we have to release it ourselves, because even our close friends in the DVD business seem to have a lot of anxiety about putting out the DVD when all the episodes are always available on the Internet. I’m sure within the next 12 months or so there will be a physical package.
One of the things we’re also waiting to do is whether we want to put out the first few seasons complete, since our seasons are much shorter than most TV series in terms of minutes. So what we might end up doing it put out a DVD with seasons one, two, and three.
Geek: How do you plan to evolve Cartoon Hangover and what should fans expect?
Seibert: I come from a time when pop music was the coin of the cultural realm and in a certain way was the only coin of the realm, movies didn’t matter as much, and not TV, it was all about pop music. In the era when I started—which was the early 60s—it was all about singles leading to albums. So when I started in the cartoon business twenty years ago. And when I started looking at the history of the greatest cartoons ever made, which for me was the “Looney Toons,” Mickey Mouse and “Tom and Jerry,” in those theatrical shorts.
I realized that in many ways the ways in which theatrical shorts had developed was very similar to pop America, which is they would find an animator with a short to make. They would make a short about a cat wanting to eat a mouse and it did really well, they made another one and it did really one and they just kept going until there were hundreds of “Tom and Jerry” episodes over 20 years. The same thing happened with Bugs Bunny. But also the opposite was true for a cartoon they wanted to make called “Scribble Squirrel”—they made six of them—and it came to marketplace and the marketplace decided they didn’t want to watch any more of it and it died after those six episodes.
So I said let’s find filmmakers who are really passionate about their characters and we’ll let them make their equivalent of the short cartoon and if we and if the audience really likes it, let’s make another one, and another one, and everything we make over a year is on that basis. At Cartoon Hangover, one of the things that we recognize is that mainly most of the arguments that have been made against cartoons over the last decade have been for kids. Kids like cartoons more than adults, and you can look at “South Park” and “Family Guy” but somehow or other, the marketplace has been more accessible to many more kid cartoons than adult cartoons. So with Cartoon Hangover, we can extend this idea of our singles program and instead of rejecting a lot of cartoons you’ve seen over the years that we like because they really weren’t appropriate for kids. A lot of them stretched the definition of what’s right for kids, “Adventure Time” being a case and point.
We decided that Cartoon Hangover would be a perfect place to try a lot of different kinds of things. So our shorts we’re watching, whether it’s Natasha Allegri “Bee and Puppycat,” or “Rocket Dog” by Mel Roach, both of which hit our criteria of great characters and great stories, but probably stretch the sensibility of what traditional TV is like. That’s really our laboratory for the next generation of great cartoons. And I think that all of our shows today have a potential to go on to really great things whether on line, in television, or in feature films. We have a lot of great hope for those shows and their creators. In which I think we have greenlit now, shorts from Australia, LA, Boston, and the UK. And I expect we’re just going to continue to venture out past the traditional subjects.