The spring slate of new programming of Cartoon Hangover begins today with “Our New Electrical Morals.” Sprung forh from the doodles and absurd imaginings of webcomic creator Mike Rosenthal, the long-running strip is the opening salvo in the YouTube channel’s pilot-style releases of animated shorts which, with enough interest, could join “Bravest Warriors” as an ongoing series.
In our first interview ever conducted while wearing a monocle (not really) Rosenthal talked to us about the origins of the strip, the origins of the Business Cat, and his strange, conflicted feelings about dubstep.
MTV Geek: First, tell us a little about the secret origins of “Our New Electrical Morals.”
Mike Rosenthal: “Our New Electrical Morals” is based on two doodles I drew during class when I should have been taking notes. Douglas was originally a sketch of Abraham Lincoln during 11th grade Geography, but beyond the top hat there’s no connection. When I first drew Business Cat in Freshman Neuroscience, I thought he might look more like a Boston terrier than a cat. He was almost Business Dog.
Around 2009 I was drawing a comic strip about an angry mountain, and I was really into modernist design elements—clean lines, black and white, slick, Helvetica. But that got boring so I decided to draw something hideous. “Our New Electrical Morals” was all clashing colors, random fonts, and jokes without punchlines. The comic has calmed down since then, but there’s still a frantically messy spirit about it.
Geek: How about some details about your characters here? What would you like viewers to know about your Business Cat?
Rosenthal: Business Cat is all about business, straight up. He’s a good guy but sometimes gets tunnel vision when protecting his diverse investment portfolios (net worth: about $18). His employee, Douglas, is all about friendship and the power of dreams. He’ll friend anything—babies, dead birds, rocks, his lunch—even the no-nonsense Business Cat. Douglas’s cousin, Wendy, plays synth in a band nobody likes.
Geek: So how did you get your way onto the spring Cartoon Hangover lineup?
Rosenthal: I’m a big “Adventure Time” dork, and I wrote a spec script and cold emailed it to Eric Homan of Frederator Studios. He didn’t read it. Apparently, “Adventure Time” is developed with storyboards, not scripts. Though Eric was kind enough not to write me off as a complete idiot and asked if I had any original material to send. I sent a 30-minute pilot I’d previously developed, he told me he’s looking for 4-minute shorts, so I storyboarded one based on my comic “Our New Electrical Morals.” Frederator greenlit it February 2012.
Geek: What was it about your pitch/concept that you feel allowed Frederator to say “yes” to “Our New Electrical Morals? “
Rosenthal: I wonder that myself. I guess because it’s a cartoon about friendship, but none of that doughy Hollywood fluff. Our New Electrical Morals is real, like what it takes in this modern world to not shank your friends with a knife. That’s what America wants to know. Also, it’s fun as heck.
Geek: What were some of the challenges of only getting a few minutes to tell your story? Opportunities?
Rosenthal: I completely underestimated how quickly 4 minutes blows by, and we ended up having to cut a lot. There were originally scenes with Mr. Mountain and Time Buffalo (characters from the comic), as well as a time travel paradox subplot. Animated, all of that would have pushed the short to 6 minutes. Yet 4 minutes is still a heck-ton longer than a 4-panel comic. Finally had room to allow 3 characters to have a prolonged conversation without drowning the frame in speech bubbles.
Geek: Tell us about young Mike, aspiring animator—what were your hopes and dreams and who did you look up to?
Rosenthal: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a zoo keeper or a janitor. I think I was into keys or something. Watched a lot of cartoons as a kid—“Rocko’s Modern Life,” “Rugrats,” “South Park,” “The Simpsons,” “FLCL,” “Dragon Ball Z”—but I don’t think I ever looked up to those cartoonists. TV is so distant and glossy. It’s unreal, like it was made by aliens on another planet.
The first time I started feeling a connection to actual cartoonists was with finding independent cartoons online. “Homestar Runner,” “Weebl” and Bob, Don Hertzfeldt’s work uploaded in low-quality to YouTube—independent cartoons were so bare-bones and unique that I got a better sense of the person behind them. They felt like real people making imperfect projects that were still hilarious.
Geek: This spring lineup is acting as a kind of pilot season for animated shorts. How far ahead do you have “Our New Electrical Morals” planned if fans clamor for more?
Rosenthal: Every “Our New Electrical Morals” comic is a fragment of a much bigger story, so I have jumping-off points for at least 300 episodes. There’s also backstory I never write in the comic because I figure online comic readers are more interested in short jokes than lengthy character exploration. Backstory would be easier to tackle in a cartoon series format.
Geek: The webcomic has been running since 2009. What’s kept you going all these years?
Geek: It says on your site that although you talk about dubstep a lot, you don’t actually like dubstep. Still, I think you secretly like it.
Rosenthal: Okay, this is a very complicated issue, and I’m going to bore you for a minute answering it. When I talk about dubstep, I’m implying American dubstep, which is miserable. UK dubstep (where the American musicians stole it from) isn’t that bad. Post-dubstep, on the other hand, is pretty great. Check out Burial or SBTRKT—they know what’s up.
Geek: Finally, would you say that you’re a businessman, or “a business, man?”
Rosenthal: Haha! I’ve literally been asking my sister this ad nauseam, though she still won’t listen to the rap I send her. So a businessman sells a product and a “business, man” is the product him or herself. Nobody gives a bunk and a half about me, so I’m still a businessman, pushing my comics and cartoons on the dirty streets of the internet until a sympathetic passerby spares a retweet.