Our friends at Kickstart Comics have been putting out some excellent graphic novels over the last year. I’ve been excited about each of their new releases, but when I found out about the upcoming KNOWBODYS (out in October), I freaked out a little. See, it’s written by Matt Maiellaro, co-creator of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I’ve frequently gone on record with my love of ATHF (and its new incarnation as Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1), so I was really excited to see what he had brewing over at Kickstart.
I got to read a preview copy, and I loved it. It’s the story of a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators, trying to save the world while not letting the kids know what they really do for a living. There will be a full review later, but for now, I’ll just say that it’s a lot of fun. It’s very funny, but in a different way than you might expect. And it’s a story where the stakes are high and there are actual heroes, which is as far from the Aqua Teens as you can get. It’s surprising and it’s really great.
And just to make things even better, I got to interview Matt Maiellaro. (Yes, I totally freaked out.) We talked about KNOWBODYS, Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, andAmerica’s next favorite character. He is, unsurprisingly, a very funny guy.
You’ve been working in TV for a long time now – what brought you to comics? Was KNOWBODYS created specifically to be a graphic novel, or did you initially think of it in terms of a TV series?
KNOWBODYS was an idea I had for a movie a few years back. In the original idea, the Knowbodys were created to track down a series of mutants that had escaped a secret bio-weapons lab. The Knowbodys had powers – but not efficient ones – more like, stupid ones. I pitched it around a tiny bit and then put it on the shelf. Kickstart caught wind of the idea through a friend of mine and they called, wanting to make it into a graphic novel. Since I had never written a graphic novel, I said yes immediately. As the project developed we ended up changing some elements to give it a more grounded tone: we added ghosts, goblins, ghouls, the Mothman, werewolves – all the ingredients of a well-grounded story. I wanted to add a Tree-Shark but held back on that knowing it would make its own great story up the road “Shriek of the Tree-Shark.” So yes, it was a television series turned into a comic.
How did you come to work with artist Jesus Redondo? Was the script finished before you had an artist, or did his style influence the way you told the story? (And did you have any idea Sylbert Raven was going to look that disturbing?)
Jesus was recommended to me via Samantha at Kickstart. I like how he gave the book a unique, timeless, style. Jesus lives in Spain, doesn’t speak English, and I’m not sure if he’s ever been to New Orleans but he sure nailed it. I saw pencils of the characters in the beginning and I felt like he was hitting the mark pretty well, so I forgot about the drawing part while I was writing the script. So no, he didn’t influence how I wrote but I strangely found myself listening to more and more Flamenco music.
How did you approach writing KNOWBODYS as opposed to the way you write Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1? Is it harder to write a story where you don’t have the option of, say, killing everybody and bringing them back next week?
Here is what it’s like to write Aqua Unit: 10am. “What if Meatwad made friends with a giant, inflatable gorilla who was secretly out to sacrifice Frylock to the original Planet of the Apes film print?” “That’s good, let’s write it.” 12noon – done. Record it tomorrow. Move on to next episode. Total anti-television and anti-storytelling, yet fun. With KNOWBODYS, I wanted to graduate to real storytelling and have the reader embark on an emotional journey with characters that they cared about.
Speaking of Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, I just have a couple of questions I’m dying to ask. Why the relaunch? For me, it’s worth it for the new theme music alone, but what caused the title change? Are you carrying the gag from “One Hundred” over into the real world?
We had to relaunch it under a new title because the ratings were so huge and we were starting to embarrass other shows on the network. We thought a new title would curb the viewing audience but we discovered that our ratings were more enormous than ever. As for the music, we reached out Josh Homme, who had done a voice on the show in the past, and he was game for creating a new theme. We gave him the vibe of the new direction; 70’s style cop show and he turned in absolute gold. For the end credit theme, we did a remix of his original instrumental stems from the open and I plugged in a Steinberger and shredded over the music. Michael Kohler made the end-theme remix, he’s the genius sound designer behind all the shows and the movie. We have to now change the title of the show each season. What was the question?
There have been a couple of episodes that implied the end of the series. (I’m thinking specifically of “The Last One”, and “The Last One Forever and Ever”.) At the time, did anybody believe those actually were the last episodes, or do you just enjoy causing message board controversy?
We love causing controversy, as in the alleged fake bombs that shut down Boston. We would run ads that would shut the show down every year just to give us something to giggle about.
This is probably a ridiculously nerdy question, but I have to do it. When the show was called Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock was the only one of the main characters who never died during an episode. And now that it’s Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, he’s died several times. Was that a conscious change with the new incarnation?
Hurt the ones that don’t deserve it? I don’t know. Maybe we haven’t persecuted Frylock enough, or maybe we’ve persecuted Shake, Meatwad and Carl too much. The audience loves it when we turn a 180 and destroy what has never been destroyed. It’s like showing Al Gore the video footage of snow in Burbank last year; it’s unexpected.
Back to your new book, I was really surprised by the tone of KNOWBODYS – While I think fans of your TV work will really enjoy it, I was surprised by the idealism of the characters. You have characters who really care about one another, and Derk and Betty spend the book risking their lives to do good. On AUPS1 and your other shows, the lead characters are cynical, simple, or sometimes both. Basically, Derk Knowbody is the exact opposite of Master Shake. Along those lines, there’s the scene with the Hallowed Passage. It’s just this lovely little moment before all the monster fighting. To me, it seems like it establishes that there’s good in their world that makes it worth fighting for, and I find it really interesting. Is there anything you want to say about that scene?
It’s a great moment in the story that defines Derk and Betty, especially Betty. She is keeping her pregnancy a secret and is discovering what’s most important in her life, while Derk is enjoying the romance of passing souls and probably hoping they will all obey the laws of the supernatural world.
I love Gymjangle. I realize that’s not a question. I just feel it needs to be said.
I love Gymjangle too, thanks. America will love him in the movie as well. I foresee a whole spin-off with Gym.
Wrapping things up, do you have anything you want to say about KNOWBODYS, and in particular, why people should be ordering it?
I want to say that KNOWBODYS embraces a global value, which is; pay attention to what is most important in your life. And one more thing; if you visit New Orleans, you are being watched.