The Jellies! Interview with Carl Jones

By: Lorenzo Simpson

Image Source: Meltdown Comics, The A.V. Club

So, let’s jump right into it. Whose idea was it to choke out a white man in the trailer?

Carl: *chuckles* That’s the mind of Tyler, The Creator, that’s about as much as I can give you. For me to go inside his mind and tell you how it works, where it came from and why, I could not. But I will say it came from his mind.

In the clip running around this girl asks Tyler why the main character is black now instead of white.

Carl: It’s a weird question, first of all. Like I guess if the question was “why did you change the character from white to black?” that makes sense. But I think because we’re so used to — I always get questions like “Why is this character black?” or “Why do a black show?” or “Why in a black world?” like there always has to be a purpose or a reason why to tell a story with a black perspective or you tell a story that doesn’t have anything to do necessarily with a black perspective but with black characters.

People got so accustomed to not seeing cartoons or even some TV shows that have a lead black character unless it actually hinges on the fact that they’re black. So whenever you see character that’s black and he’s not in the ghetto, it’s like “How is this possible? This is a phenomenon! There’s a black character in this show, and he’s not in the projects, there’s something wrong here! Can you tell us why you did this?”

Story wise, The Jellies is set up like a family sitcom, but the episodes are in 11 minute segments like a cartoon. How did you decide on this combination of TV formats?

Carl: That was decided before I got involved with the project. Originally, the episodes were 3 and 4 minute shorts, but it was for a digital platform, so content is consumed differently online. This show in particular was a part of Tyler, The Creator’s app, so when Adult Swim decided to consider the show as a real series, and they’re known for doing shows in 11 minute formats anyway, so I think they decided it would work better in an 11 minute format.

Although I will say, even within that 11 minutes you get a whole lotta show. We cram a whole lotta show in that 11 minutes. It’s like you’re getting an 11 minute movie. I usually come from more of a half-hour format so it was also a learning curve for me, to find a way to condense these stories into a smaller format, which a lotta people think it would be harder to write a longer episode, but it’s actually harder to write a shorter episode.

Because typically you overshoot, and you write way more pages than you can actually animate. Like even on Boondocks, some script used to come out like 55 pages long and they’re supposed to be around 38. You gotta really streamline the story that you’re telling and find ways to get to the most important things that you need to tell the story within a smaller frame.

Right. Like, all of Huey’s speeches are valid, but he can’t have 4 every episode.

Carl: Right, right. *laughs*

The first episode of the Jellies has the main character, Cornell, traveling to an old folks home for washed up 90’s characters to find an old school R&B artist in order to save his parent’s marriage. This episode is straight up 90’s nostalgia porn, were there any characters you wanted to shove in but didn’t get the chance to?

Carl: Hm…I don’t know maybe like Steve Urkel would’ve been funny to have in there. We probably could’ve gotten Jaleel White to play him.

Let’s talk about Cornell’s parents. Barry reads as the Homer Simpson type, the dumb, lazy husband type who always stresses out his wife and Debbie is the fed up wife who always has to deal with his shenanigans. After listening to the voices and the way the both of use language the husband comes off coded as stereotypically white and the wife comes off coded as stereotypically black. Was that a conscious decision?

Carl: It was a conscious decision to create the contrast between the two characters. I don’t know if we were necessarily aiming for a white/black thing. And you’re right, they obviously are that, but I think we were looking for more of the contrast in their personalities. I think that was more important than anything. But at the end of the day, we’re trying to create characters that resonate with true, honest people we do know in real life. They were just personalities we thought would be fun for their dynamic.

In this world of The Jellies!, Walla Walla, humans and anthropomorphic animals live together. How did you find the right balance between human and animal characters?

Carl: Well, we didn’t really look for any balance necessarily. I think a lot of times with a show like this you find a funny idea or something you wanna say and you kinda let that drive the series we have a funny enough idea and it’s 90% animals, if it works best for the story then we make it 90% animals. We we’re necessarily looking for the right balance between humans and animals, because a family of jellyfish is funny, a whale running for mayor is funny, it’s really ridiculous.

So we go for ways we can get a nice juxtaposition. For example, we have this one character named Leonard Jenkins who’s the mayor who’s a real hood nigga, so he’s obviously the opposite of anyone you’ve ever seen as a mayor. So it’s trying to find those weird personalities that shouldn’t be in places that they are, like why would a black kid get adopted by a family of jellyfish? It’s absurd. That’s the tone of the show, we try to find those weird, random, obscure jokes and we let that be the engine of the show.

Who is your favorite superhero, and what person, living or dead, do you wanna see him beat the crap out of?

Carl: Wow…my favorite hero. Man, that’s a good question If we were talking about superheroes, I would say my favorite superhero would be Silver Surfer. I like the idea that he was like a homeless guy, a vagabond or a bum, he’s covered in all silver and he rides a really cool surfboard into space, which is really kinda awesome to me. And who would I like to see him beat the shit out of?

Yup.

Carl: Well of course you’d want him to beat up Donald Trump *laughs*

That’s literally everyone’s answer this year.

Carl: Yeah, so let’s get all the superheroes together to help beat the shit outta Donald Trump. Everybody’ll be happy.

Did you watch the animated Silver Surfer show in the 90’s?

Carl: Yeah, I remember it vaguely man, but I did used to love the comic book, there was like two or three issues Moebius did, this really dope French comic book artist. He did this really short run for Silver Surfer in the mid to late 80’s which was my favorite of all time. It’s really dope man, if you get a chance you should check it out.

Did you enjoy Laurence Fishburne’s portrayal of the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four?

Carl: Yeah, man! That was cool. It’s so dope to be able to see all these Marvel characters come to life now. I think there’s still so much more to explore, and I’m curious to see what they do with this Black Panther movie.

It’s finna be LIT!

Carl: Yeah, it could go either way. Either we’re gonna love it or we’re gonna hate it, and I’m a little nervous about it because everybody’s talking about the misappropriation of culture and there’s this concern with Marvel all of a sudden wanting to do a Black Panther movie, but I still think it’s a big step for black people, that we’re actually being appreciated on screen now. Unfortunately it took so long to see a Black Panther movie, but we’ll see how they handle it.

Back to The Jellies, there was a scene in the first episode where a whale was discriminated against for not having a shirt, which was a funny way to address discrimination in general. Do you guys go deep into social issues or just some light touches here and there?

CarlYeah, I think it’s some light touches here and there I don’t think we’ll go too heavy on the social commentary, but there is some thread throughout the entire series. This show is tonally different than what I’m used to doing, a lot of stuff I’ve done in the past went heavy on the social commentary, but this is more like a really, really fun show. It has way less rules to the world, which gives us space to play in, so we can do a lot more ridiculous things in this show. The type of show that Tyler wanted to make was one that didn’t really have any boundaries.

Will your show have any openly queer characters?

CarlOh, wow. I don’t know how much I wanna give away with that. Um…yes.

Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?

Carl: Yeah, I’m actually producing another show for Adult Swim. It’s called Laser Wolf. It’s about a wolf that wears a laser on his back, and his best friend is a Jamaican sasquatch and a stupid white horse. It’s pretty crazy.

I dig it. So my last question is, with this new wave of black creators pushing out content. How does it feel knowing that there are still countless black creatives out working to write stories for a demographic that’s been underfed for so long?

CarlI mean it feels good, because I like working *laughs*. The more headway we get the better chances of me keeping a job. But I’m proud of that, I think it’s really awesome, and I think it’s been a long time coming, y’know?

There’s never been a shortage of people of color writing and producing, it’s just that we haven’t really had as much of an opportunity. The more success we have, the more opportunities that will open up. And I think we’re gonna see a lot more black female directors and writers and producers as well.

That definitely needs to change, for some reason that’s been a harder door to open for some time. There’s some really talented women out there, too. They just don’t a lotta opportunities. But I feel good about it, I think that’s the direction we’re moving in, I think the world wants to see these new stories told from these new points of view. Everyone wants to be represented at some point. I got a call one day to do a black Flintstones.

Whaaaaat?

CarlYeah, but I turned it down. I felt a little funny about that. There’s so much you can do with black characters, you don’t have to paint old white shows black.

I wanna correct something I said earlier. When I was talking about the Silver Surfer, I was actually referencing a very specific storyline that was in a comic by Moebius where he turned him into an alien who was homeless in the streets of New York. So he starts with him being a bum on the street which I thought was really cool because it felt very grounded and real, y’know?

He had his surfboard all wrapped up like a vagabond which I thought was really dope. So I say that to say when I basically said Silver Surfer was a homeless guy, I was talking about him in reference to a specific storyline that I thought was really dope. Cuz I know the geeks are gonna go, “wait a minute, he’s from planet whatever!”

Yeah, he’s never home so everyone would assume that’s he’s homeless.

Carl: Yeah, and that’s why I thought that story was so dope. It makes sense, I can see him as a homeless guy.

Mr. Carl Jones, it has been an honor to speak with you today, and I wish you success in your future endeavors.

CarlAw man, thank you. I appreciate it so much.

The Jellies premeries on Sunday, October 22 at 12:15am ET/PT on Adult Swim!

Editor: Han Angus

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