Kill Pretty: So what’s going on?
JJ Villard: I just found out this week I won an Emmy!
KP: No fucking way! How did you find out?
JJV: It was Monday morning. I hit the gym early. Wait hold on. I’m gonna double up.
*JJV pours two shots of Patron Silver into a cup with mineral water,
This is my drink right here. So after the gym I go and get my car washed. It’s around 9am. I get this phone call and it’s a 626 area code. I didn’t recognize it. Something told me to pick it up and I usually don’t pick up cause it’s usually bills or something. So I go and pick it up and this chick goes, “Hello is this JJ?” I go, “Yeah,” and she goes, “I’d like to congratulate you.” I’m thinking, “Oh my god if this cunt asks me for money…” Cause I just paid the Television Film Academy $600 to be a member. She goes, “Congratulations, you just won an Emmy award!” In my mind it’s 9am I’m thinking I just won a cruise or some shit. I’m like, “What?” she goes, “You just won an Emmy award for King Star King, congratulations!” I just hollered, I screamed. All the car wash guys stopped washing the cars and just looked at me. It was such a sincere gut of just joyness and screaming. Just pure bliss.
First thought was my mom and dad. King Star King only had one season, but winning that Emmy just solidified all the hard work we put in to it. On the phone with the Emmy girl I was just like, “Are you fucking kidding me? Are you fucking kidding me?” She’s like, “No, no, no you won, you won!” I’m like, “That’s insane, that’s insane! Thank you, thank you!” She’s like, “Look you seem like a cool guy, I gotta tell you this. It’s on the DL.” I’m like, “Okay, what?” She goes, “We’ve never had anyone hand in a package quite like yours. You’ve got to understand we get things from Disney, Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. They hand in these perfect bound leather books with pages of character design that are so well put together. You handed in a brown paper Kinkos bag with six laminated sheets. We were laughing the whole way through. Right off the bat you got our attention with this brown paper bag that said JJ Villard on it.” I had forgot I had even handed that in, it was two months ago. She was pretty happy for me and right away I called my mom. My mom started crying immediately and my dad was just in shock.
KP: It’s so unreal because I think of your show as such a grimey underground show that is for a certain type of audience. There’s nothing higher than an Emmy, so for them to acknowledge a show like that really says a lot about, not just your show but also the Emmys and their judges.
JJV: THAT! That’s the part...as you said that the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I can’t believe it happened. It’s just so strange. I would have never expected to win in my whole life time. Let alone my first show with my first designs where I storyboarded and directed it. That is validation. As Johnny Ryan said, “That validates it!” Everyone I told thinks I’m lying. They’re just like, “How?”
KP: When you told me I was like, “This dude is fucking with me.”
JJV: Everybody has! The second person I called was Mike Lazzo at Adult Swim (Editor’s Note: Mike Lazzo runs Adult Swim). Of course I got the secretary twice. I was like, “No, you have to tell him this is important!” So I got through and he was like, “Yes, JJ?” I’m like, “Hey man, congratulations, we just won an Emmy!” He’s like, “What?” and I’m like, “King Star King just won an Emmy!” He’s like, “Well that’s incredible! Congratulations JJ!” He didn’t even doubt it! I was like, “I couldn’t have done it without you! You saw it, you saw the vision. You’re the one that approved all that shit.” He was pretty shocked, as I was too! That just started a slew of phone calls. Sure enough my boys all took me out to a strip club and I spent way too much money on strippers but it was fun, it’s wild.
KP: You’re never gonna win another Emmy for the first time again. No matter how many Emmys you’ll win, you’ll never win that first one again.
JJV: That first one was wild. In a parking lot on Vine and Santa Monica. It was very surreal. Even till now. I still have to make sure it’s real. Then all these people I was talking to were like, “Are you sure?” Then I started doubting it. Could that have been a prank call, my boys and I fuck with each other all the time with prank calls. Then, thank god, I got a phone call from another person who was high up there, a girl you don’t fuck with, and she told me congratulations. That’s when I was like, “Wow, this is real.” Then I got the email so that was good.
KP: It’s so cool you got the Emmy for character design because a lot of things stand out about your show but the characters feel both original and iconic. What was the inspiration behind the characters?
JJV: A lot of it was an accident. You draw in your sketchbook as much as I do, you just start laughing at shit. I have a few philosophies about sketchbooks and just about drawing in general. My sketchbook philosophy is simple, it’s just one quote, “Go big but remain small” Work at Dreamworks, work at Adult Swim which is big, but remain small. Keep this fucker (sketchbook) always by your side. Every day. It’s my daily planner. It’s always on me. This is my remaining small. My other philosophy is, “What makes my friends laugh?” At a bar, at a restaurant. We do so many napkin drawings. We are constantly trying to gross each other out and diss each other with drawings. That’s how Gurbles the bear got his head on his dick and balls…I was talking shit to my friend and I drew his head right on his dick and balls and that made me laugh. I came up with that simple bear character and it was just a bear. I was like, “Dude, this could be so much better, what can I do?” A week of thinking went by and I remembered that drawing! I put his shit where his dick and balls were and sure enough that made that character.
KP: I want to know about Pooza, he’s my favorite.
JJV: So Pooza, the duck, he goes like this. It’s weird that he’s your favorite cause I have a mentor. He got hooked on some heavy, heavy drugs. The worst kind. This industry will fuck you up in ways that you wouldn’t even believe. I know we’re dealing with children’s stuff, cartoons and all that but I’ve seen and heard many dark stories of what Hollywood can do to you. It can fuck you up. He ended up in the loony bin. He eventually comes out, he’s off the hard shit, he comes and sees me and we chat. He says in this really ghostly way like Marlon Brando at the end of Apocalypse Now, he goes, “I was drawing this one character throughout all of that.” I go, “Through out all of that? Oh, all of your shit?” He’s like, “It’s that one character from He-man, I don’t know his name but he’s got two floating eyes and a wizard hat.” “Orko? You were drawing fucking Orko the whole time?” and he was like, “Yeahhhhhh.” And there was something about it. It was this Lynch moment, some seriously dark shit. So I was like, “That’s it! Orko’s my favorite character right now.” I had to do a character to give him a shout out and play with the depths of where my buddy was at. That’s how Pooza came about.
KP: There is something about Orko visually that just connects. It’s a really sick character.
In the sound booth to get ready for his voice, because I’m the voice of Pooza, to reach the insanity of Pooza man, I say some crazy, dark, fucked up shit. Stuff I can not say. It would get me in trouble. It’s really foul stuff. It’s perverted as shit.
I didn’t know if I could do the voice, it’s the first voice I ever did. It was fun. The whole thing was fun. Sid and Marty Krofft are the two best character designers of all time. They did all the Mcdonalds characters and they did a number of major shows in the 70’s. Hank Waffles is based off the Mcdonald’s line. If I had a franchise of any sort I thought waffles would be it so that’s pretty much it.
As far as King Star King, I’m a huge UFC fan which not a lot of people know. I keep it VERY quite. It’s embarrassing how much I know about these fighters man. It is so sad. In cartoon land you don’t have many people you can talk about that shit to. I read up on it, I study upon it and Brock Lesnar happened to be at the peak of his fame at the time that I was coming up with these characters. His aura, I couldn’t believe it. He’d talk about drinking beers and hunting and shooting shit. King Star King was originally a kinda dark dude. He lightened up. We had to make him more likable for him to make sense so I thought, “What about a friendly Brock Lesner?” but still did drugs and wild shit like that. Mixed with Cable from X-Force. That’s how King Star King came about.
KP: What about the dude that narrates each episode?
JJV: HOLY SHIT. Jesus Christ I can’t believe you caught that character. That character is wild man. He’s based off a very specific dude. He’s part of the Ed Wood crew and his name is Criswell King. “Criswell Predicts” was a TV show in the 50’s, it’s this guy that would predict the future. He always predicted wrong. He was so sad. His whole thing was, his voice was just amazing. He would always predict something before the show started. I was like, “This guys a fucking freako! Look at him!” So I copied the hairline and all of that.
KP: I think you improved on the voice though, I like your voice better.
JJV: We got our dude to do the Dos Equis guy. I’m telling so much here. But yeah I said, “Do the Dos Equis guy but with a little bit of Criswell too.”
KP: When did the whole idea for the show begin?
JJV: Man, it was a long, long journey. So I worked at Dreamworks and I was really unhappy there. I graduated in 2004 from CalArts. Three months after school I got a job. I can not begin to tell you how lucky I was finding work. I worked at Dreamworks and they threw me on Shrek 3. I went from a budget of $50 films at CalArts to these $160 million dollar films at Dreamworks. Already there was a bit of culture shock. They don’t really teach you the corporate lifestyle at CalArts, nor should they. That’s going to be most everyone’s life after graduating college. I tried to hang and bang at Dreamworks but I just couldn’t.
KP: What was it like? Did you get a fancy
JJV: Oh, dude, top of the line. The pay was top of the line, the office I got, I had my own secretary. The food is all there at
Dreamworks for free.
I was a storyboard artist.
KP: How many storyboard artist are on a movie?
JJV: For each film there’s about 6-8 and they’re treated like gods. It was my film Son Of Satan. It got into Cannes in 2004 the same year Shrek 2 got into Cannes. So that’s where they first heard of me.
KP: That was a short film?
JJV: Yeah, I made it at CalArts. If there’s a lesson I can give anyone in college it’s: The only difference between me and my homies films is I put them in festivals. They were lazy and didn’t. So I did every festival around the world. Brazil, Hiroshima, it was a tour man, I went around the world for free. They pay some people to go to the actual festival and talk. Son Of Satan was an animated film based off a Charles Bukowski short story. Linda Bukowski saw the film, loved it and she gave me the rights to just put it in festivals. I was legit with that. She was a sweetheart for doing that. I am in debt to her forever. That’s where Dreamworks heard of me, through Cannes. It’s nuts because it’s really a dark film.
So, I went right into Shrek, did a bunch of Shrek shit. Went onto Shrek 4, that was cool, worked on Peabody and Sherman, Monsters vs Aliens and a bunch of other films. But dude, it’s the weirdest thing. MIA came out at that time. She was brand new to the scene and I was listening to her music and I was drawing Shrek and never before had I felt so out of tune with what was cool then at that moment. I was listening to MIA’s first album which was so sick and then drawing Fiona and Donkey. I just felt, “Man, I’m a part of culture but I want to be apart of my own culture!” I can not tell you what happens to your body, your nerves, how you shut down. You can’t figure it out. I didn’t think I could get my own TV show. I never even had the idea to do that. Everything at CalArts at the time was about getting to Pixar or Disney, one of the feature places because then you end up as a director and then you end up directing one of their films. Then I got there and I saw the directors and I was like, “I do not want to be them when I grow up, man.” Those guys are fucking sad and depressed.
2010 I went to comic con and I had my first book and it was called Someone’s Getting Fucked Tonight. It was pretty much sketchbook shit. This girl Laura Allen saw the book and knew me from CalArts. She was like, “You got to pitch a show to Cartoon Network.” That’s when I pitched to Craig McCracken, the creator of Powerpuff Girls.
KP: When did the idea come around?
JJV: She said I had two weeks because they were closing down this thing called The Cartoon Network Shorts Program where you’re allowed to pitch and you could possibly get a seven minute short cartoon. I said, “Okay, I got two weeks. I’m going to do Son Of Satan but a children’s version.” Which is based around three kids because Son Of Satan is about bullying and almost murdering another child. So I thought I could do a kids version of that. So that’s when I made Stix And Bones. They bought the idea and I met Nick Weidenfeld. It went super far but they said, “No, you can’t make this. It’s too adult like.” So Nick Weidenfeld, the producer at the time, he discovered Superjail and had a big part in Metalocalypse, he’s got taste, he’s like, “Fuck this Cartoon Network shit, I’m going to introduce you to Mike Lazzo.” Mike saw it and said, “Let’s do a show with this kid.” And they gave me a development deal.
They said, “Create a show that sisters Superjail.” So I created this show called Happyland. Mike Lazzo wanted to meet me so he came in and I was like, “Dude, what’s up?” I’m like a used car salesman, I’m used to always kind of hustling. It goes back to CalArts and entering film festivals. It was free, anyone could have done it. Mike Lazzo came in and I thought he would like to see some of my art books. I had four books at that point. He loved Happyland, the show I was working on, I gave him the four books. He flew back to Atlanta, that’s where Adult Swim’s headquarters are. On the plane ride back he’s looking through my books, calls Nick Weidenfeld and says, “Stop Happyland, we’ll buy that from JJ, have him do a cartoon based on this drawing on this page of this book.” Nick called me into his office right away and he was like, “I don’t know what the fuck just happened but you got to do a show based on this page.” He just loved this one page I put together.
KP: So what was Happyland?
JJV: Oh, Happyland is dope. It’s a theme park that is constantly being invaded by bad guys like the Hells Angels, the KKK, crips and bloods. And the mascots of Happyland had to protect it. So that was it.
KP: So suddenly you’re in this place where you have to create a show based on this really abstract drawing you did in this sketchbook.