ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke to King Star King creator J.J. Villard about the cult series’ new special, which premieres on Adult Swim at midnight on Monday, February 13, and the next day on HBO Max.
“King Star King is back! And this time he’s a fat, bald, middle-aged slob with a family, a mortgage, and a job at Amazon,” says the synopsis. “Join King Star King, Hank Waffles, Pooza, and Gerbils on a dimension-spanning adventure to save King Star King’s family!”
Tyler Treese: The special came out great, but it’s been nine years since King Star King aired. So how did this even come up to where you got the opportunity to go back to the series and do the special?
J.J. Villard: Dude, it started with a phone call from Adult Swim and an apology. So they called me up and they said, “Hey, we’re sorry we canceled King Star King, will you do more?” And I was like, “What the fuck?” I was really shocked. And I said, “To what capacity? A series, a feature, a special?” And they’re like, “We would love a special.” So I was like, “Let’s do it!” So you know, I do what I always do as soon as I get a call for any freelance or work in the industry, I started drawing the characters. So I was drawing him all ripped and I was like, “This doesn’t feel right. Something doesn’t feel right.” And I started drawing all the other characters like I used to, and everything was just like, “Wait a minute, what is wrong?”
The thing is, I’ve changed a lot since my late 20s, early 30s, you know? And I’ve learned a lot, being a creator since then, as well. So first thing you do with artwork, at least for me, is I make it more personal. So King Star King … I mean, I’ve gained a lot of weight since then. I’ve lost hair. I’ve gained a family. I have a dog. So I was like, “Let’s start throwing all those things into the new King Star King.” And that’s what it is. So that’s kind of what the new special is representing. It’s not only my personal life, but a new style of King Star King.
How was it, getting back into that universe? You had to make a decision: how are we going to get these characters back? I really liked how you handled it, so how did you come up with that, creatively?
The first thing that always comes to my mind, before writing, is the look. So back then, I was inspired by different artists than I am now. So I started looking at artists that I love now and thinking, “How can I fit that into this special?” And you know, the most important thing for a look in a cartoon is the art director. So there’s this guy named Greg Sharp — I fucking love his work. We kind of had an email relationship. We hung out once before many years ago and I thought this could be an opportunity for him to bring his look into my world. And I hit him up and thank God he said, “Yes, I’ll be the art director.” And so he fucking brought in his homies, which all art directors do, and they did an excellent job for the look of the show.
Also interesting is since it has been a long time, some watchers will be introduced to King Star King for the first time through this, and though it’s a continuation, it’s almost like a soft reboot with the new look and everything and that’s happened. So it’s a very good entry point.
Oh, yeah, totally. I mean look, Adult Swim and I had many discussions, and one of them was like, “Hey, think about recreating this whole thing — a new look, a new idea for these characters,” which is like a weird request to have, you know? You just go back home, you’re like, “What the fuck are they talking about?” When you’re on the freeways in L.A., so many ideas spawn when you’re driving, you know? So that’s when this whole idea started coming to me. King Star King should have a family and we should put him in the Krudzone, which is a gnarly fucking third-world planet, I guess, for a traditional suburban family to live.
There are so many new dynamics to explore. You talked about the family and he’s living in the Normal Zone and back to the Krudzone. So how fun was it to get these characters back and then tell a whole different story with them and take them to new places we haven’t really seen them in before?
Dude, it’s so fun. And, and on top of that, Tyler, you’ve got to understand how difficult it is to get something made of your own in this industry. Let’s say like … I guess in the animation guild, I think there’s only like 2000 members, which is extremely low. It’s like 2,500. It’s really not that many members, as you would think. So let’s also say all the shows that aren’t in the guild. I guess in this industry, there’s about 10,000 people and all those people want their own show. All those people — well, not all of them –but a lot of them want their own movie and their own show.
So you walk into getting a special, and you just realize, “I am so fortunate. I’m so lucky to have this opportunity to make this piece of art of my own and get to make it how I want.” Hopefully, the back and forth with executives isn’t too hardcore. Coming from DreamWorks as my first job, that place made my heart cold, you know? Just all the rejections that you get there. You get three years to make one feature. You redraw a storyboard scene there, you could be doing it for six to eight weeks, one scene, just so it fits the movie perfectly. So your shit gets thrown out constantly at a company like that. That’s what DreamWorks taught me, is yeah, get prepared for rejection.
You did such a great job with the voice cast here. I love Robert Englund as Jeff Bezos. I thought that was such a fun casting. How was it working with him again?
Tyler, you did your research, man! You knew I worked with him for a second time, that’s awesome! He’s so professional. The guy comes in, memorized lines, and he comes in with strong ideas, and you’ve got to listen to him. He is just like a film historian. He’ll bring up so many movies, like black-and-white movies from the 40s that you’re like, “How does he even know this romantic film?” And he’s taking from that and putting it into a character. It’s just … it’s absurd.
He is so fun to work with — not to say … like John Waters and Andie MacDowell and Tommy Blacha, Will Sasso, Rachel Butera — all of them are just amazing. Andie MacDowell … I was so nervous casting her as this, because it’s so left-field for her to be in an Adult Swim cartoon, you know?
I love that you retain a lot of your signature style in this. Bodies are exploding, there are all these gross elements and you can definitely tell when a show is yours. So how would you best describe your style? I know you have a cartoon short with Cartoon Network coming up. Being able to adapt that style into something more kid-friendly blows my mind. So how would you describe your style?
Yeah, for this … I guess, looking back at the old character designs and all that, they’re a little more harsh and angular and all that. Here with the new one, they’re more round and soft — like me. I’ve become more brown and soft and that’s mentally as well. I’ve become more soft. So I guess it’s just like you just put yourself into whatever it is you’re drawing, you know?
As far as the cartoon — you’re the first interviewer to know that I’ve got a children’s thing coming out as well, which is really cool. Tyler, you’ve done your research, man! I can’t wait for everyone to see the kid’s show thing that I’ve been working on, Scaredy Cat which we’re going to be done next month on that.
You’ve just got to put yourself into these characters. If you’re not putting yourself into them, there’s no point. It’s just going to be harder on you, you know? This stuff takes a lot of work and it takes long, long hours. When you’re working in your office at 9:30 at night, when you want to be home, cuddled up with your family and watching a movie or the new fucking TV show that’s coming out, or streaming show … you’ve got to love what you’re doing. It just has to be personal and passionate, because there’s no other way you’re going to get through it, you know? And that’s it.
I love the logo you did for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. I thought that looked so awesome. What was the biggest thrill of getting to work on that franchise and give your own logo treatment to that?
Dude, that was an email that … I get a lot of freelance emails, but Turtles meant so much to me as a kid. So when Nickelodeon hit me up to do the fucking new logo for the new Turtles?! I mean, this is going to be all over the packaging of toys and t-shirts, and already is! We got sent a Christmas gift from Nickelodeon with a sweater with the logo on it, but I’m like … Turtles is bigger than life for me, you know? So it meant a lot to me to do the new Turtles logo.
I gave them so much more work than they needed. Like, they wrote me, “Holy smokes, we did not expect this.” I was like, “Look, I want it to be perfect. This is why you guys are getting all this work. Just pick what you love.” There was one I thought they were going to absolutely pick, but they didn’t. I’ll tell you what it was. So it said Mutant, right? And the “t” for the Mutant was Raphael’s … what do they call that?
Yeah, the sai! That’s what it is. Yeah. It was the letter “t” and I colored it in the same brown as the toy packaging back in the day — that brown that they used to have. I thought they were guaranteed going to pick that one, but they picked the one they did. But they said they really did like that one, but it was cool.
I was checking out your Instagram. You’ve been so busy with so much cool art. I saw that Travis Barker bought one of your pieces. I’m a huge Blink-182 fan. What does it mean for you when other artists are supporting your work and digging your style like that? That has to be cool to see.
Yeah, man, I mean, it’s crazy. A lot of it I don’t even tell people about. Like, no one knows I did a t-shirt line with Kanye West in 2019. People just wear the clothing and they don’t know it’s me that did it, you know? But these things happen, you know? For a guy like Travis Barker to buy my painting … it’s just really cool. He owns a sound studio and he put it in the waiting room there. The amount of musicians that have taken photos next to that painting is just … it’s crazy. Like this rapper named Trippie Redd, he took a photo next to it and it’s just like … God, dude, it’s just nuts, you know?
What was your collaboration with Kanye? I’d love to hear about that.
Okay, so you know Kanye and XXXTentacion?
Yeah. Rest in Peace.
Yeah, rest in peace. So after he died, I guess Kanye got ahold of some of his work, and he did a collab XXXTentacion’s mom, who owns all of XXX’s stuff. So they dropped some music, and with the drop they released a hoodie and a couple long sleeves and some t-shirts, and they hit me up to do the designs.
That’s really cool that you got the pay tribute to XXX. I never would’ve expected that, that’s really cool. A lot of that Florida rap scene was really bubbling over back then.
I would’ve really loved to collab with Lil Peep. That would’ve meant a lot to me.
We’re seeing a real boon for adult animation lately. Obviously, Adult Swim’s always been leading the charge, but now we’re seeing so many streamers embrace it. As you mentioned, it’s always your dream to have your show. So how’s it been seeing the popularity kind of rising and more opportunities being given out?
Dude, it’s crazy. It’s so insane. That question has so many answers to it, because first of all, like I said, I’m really fortunate to get to create my own thing. Second of all, there’s a drought right now in animation where during the pandemic, they couldn’t make live-action. So what happened was that animation went on a peak.
All these actors were wanting to all-of-a-sudden make cartoons — it’s not that, it’s that they’re greedy as shit, you know? And they have no real passion about this stuff. They just want money. So there was a peak in the pandemic of cartoons where everybody had like two jobs, right? The bubble was going to burst. And sure enough, right now, look at yesterday’s news — 7,000 Disney people will be unemployed and that’s happening all across the board with Netflix, Warner Brothers.
And so, as much as adult animation is booming, it’s getting harder and harder to have your own TV show and make your own feature. So thank God for YouTube and Patreon and other outlets and all social media, where you can just blast your own. That’s really important. Have your own niche, blast your own stuff. It’s so important to keep your own personal work going.
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