What if Willy Wonka presided over a deathtrap prison stuffed to the gills with deranged inmates, killer robots, ancient gods, and horrible mutants? You'd have the premise of Adult Swim's Superjail!, perhaps the most violent cartoon on television.
Superjail! returns for its second season next Sunday (here's our exclusive clip of the first episode), and we talked with series creators Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick about life in animation's most frightening candy-colored big house. The duo told us about the show's origins and how they organize their mayhem.
Superjail! is renowned for its many Tex Avery-meets Rube Goldberg death sequences. The prisoners (and sometimes the staff) continually get eviscerated in the most ghastly ways possible. How do you storyboard this chaos?
Christy Karacas: We do the show on Flash and sketch it out. Sometimes it's within the script, sometimes not. We'll go over to the board guys together and think of some fun, interesting sequences.
Similarly, the opening of each episode has a montage of the surrealist lands surrounding Superjail — they're filled with cyclopses, robots, vampires, and other dioramas filled with sundry horrors of the imagination. How do you script these scenes?
CK: First season we used to have a board where everyone would put up tons of ideas. We came up with 80 different environments. We got to the point where the obvious ideas just go first. We just try to combine weird things that don't go together.
Stephen Warbrick: Matt Taylor [at Titmouse Studios] was really gung-ho to do them this year. He did a great job.
Do you guys have any favorite deaths from the show?
SW: We have a big race coming up that has a lot of crazy stuff. Last season I liked the episode "Combaticus" a lot.
The show can get pretty graphic. Have you ever been like, "Whoa. This is too gory, even for us."
SW: No, not really. Standards and Practices thought so on the last episode we just sent in.
CK: We're always trying to push it as far as we can. It's gotten a lot crazier this season, and some of the animation is really over-the-top.
Superjail seems to have about a million psychedelic rooms. Do you guys have a map sketched out with locations like the yeti refrigeration room and the petting zoo?
CK: We're working on this huge map and it takes up like two walls in a room. We're getting it ready, and mapping out all the locations. It's going to be a huge wall poster someday, we hope.
On the show, David Wain from The State voices the chipper but sadistic Warden. How did you guys hook up with David?
CK: He begged us to be on the show! No, not really. We did animation for the first season at Augenblick Studios, and they did animation for David's movie The Ten. The Warden was the last character we figured out. We were fighting the whole time to just not totally rip-off Willy Wonka, but at the end we were just like, "Fuck it, it's Willy Wonka." We called him and thought he'd say no, but he said yes. David is the Warden.
What can audiences expect from Season 2?
SW: There's more character and more characters. You'll get to know the surrounding cast better.
CK: We did a lot more with the inmates. There are also new recurring characters. This season is crazier but a lot denser in terms of plot and characterization. We're doing the new season at Titmouse Studios, the guys who do Metalocaylpse and a new show called Professor Brothers [Brad Neely's brainchild]. We have an amazing team and the animation is wild.
Christy, you voice Jackknife, the perpetually escaping inmate who only communicates in guttural yalps. How do you get in character?
SW: He practices for hours. It's so annoying!
CK: It usually takes about 40 takes to get it right. We wanted the whole show to have no talking initially. They said no, so we're like, "Okay, how about just the opening sequence?" With Jackknife, it's about trying to get his lizard brain emotions to come through. It sounds like the Tasmanian Devil.
SW: He usually watches a marathon of Cops first.
CK: Smoke a lot of cigarettes, smoke a lot of crack.
For Season 2, The Venture Bros.' Chris McCulloch (a.k.a. Jackson Publick) came onboard as a story editor. Any chance of seeing a Venture/Superjail! crossover in the future?
SW: There almost was once!
CK: Chris has been really awesome. I'd love a crossover. We have a new character named Stingray who's kind of like a G.I Joe-type villain. Chris was his voice, and when we colored him, he had the similar colors of the Monarch. The network was like, "No way, this guy is too much like the Monarch." So we changed his voice. It would be cool, but Venture Bros. is too good for Superjail! [laughs]
What was the origin of Superjail!
CK: We worked together at MTV in the Nineties and did a short called Barfight. It was rejected from every film festival, so we shelved it. It became a cult thing for animators. It was on VHS, that's how old this thing was.
SW: It will be 10 years old this year.
CK: Adult Swim later saw it, and we pitched a show.
What was Adult Swim's reaction when you pitched a show about several hundred psychotic prisoners getting torn limb from limb in under 15 minutes?
CK: When we pitched it, it was more like, "It's Willy Wonka but he owns a jail instead of a chocolate factory." Originally it was more about the inmates, but it became more about a dysfunctional staff with a horrible boss. Season 2 returns the focus to the inmates somewhat.
SW: The inmates are supposed to be dangerous, but they're actually rather likable, dumb guys.
The season premiere of Adult Swim's Superjail! airs on Sunday, April 3 at midnight. Bottom image via Halro Lee.