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"Scare Bear"
Courtesy of Cartoon Network

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A repository for our obsessions: Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer talk Venture Bros. season 7

Striking a balance between what they want to get on screen and what is possible.

If someone were to ask you, right now, what the best show currently running is, what would you say?

A few weeks ago, some might have said Game of Thrones. Others might say, it certainly has to be The Simpsons, a show old enough to have a mortgage. Unfortunately for those people, they’d be wrong. The mark of the greatest shows are brilliant humor, characters that you can’t help but love and empathize with, and who inhabit a vibrant rich world. No show has and does those things better than The Venture Bros.

The Monarch and Garry

Courtesy of Cartoon Network

The Venture Bros.’¬†seventh season just aired this past fall, and is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 4th. This season continues the previous season’s trend of giving some much deserved attention to the Monarch’s growth and development. He reprises, then concludes his role as the Blue Morpho with a stunning and yet somewhat anticlimactic double patricide. Then, hot off the prestige of the crushing event, he resumes his post of arch-nemesis and begins slowly climbing the ranks back to his former glory. The Venture boys start growing in different directions, ultimately¬†culminating in an immense betrayal, and though he takes a bit of a back seat this season, Rusty actually gets a moment of being the voice of maturity and reason for once.

Some of the titles of the crew for this season have been jumbled around — somewhat worryingly, Jackson Publick is not explicitly listed as director, in favor of Juno Lee. Rest assured however, nothing has changed in way things are run. In our interview with the dynamic duo, Publick told us that this was an effort to give credit where credit was due, and Lee’s heroic efforts wrangling the story board team warranted significant recognition.

“It’s fun to watch someone completely own your character.” — Doc Hammer

Both Publick and his longtime partner Doc Hammer continue to do all of the writing, and Publick the directing, and they continue to obsess, “for hours,” over minutiae as trivial as the shape of Dean’s lamp. Despite that, the two told us that they are quite open to input from their talented team of artists and actors, though they definitely like to give them a possibly annoying amount of detail to work from.

The Monarch stares down Dean, with 21 and Sirina in the background.

Courtesy of Cartoon Network

Hammer and Publick spoke to us at length about their creative process, and how ideas flow from a variety of sources. Their scripts are generally too tight as to afford for much improvisation by the voice actors, though they can and have. Cristin Milioti (Sirina) was notable for her contributions in this way, as well as Toby Huss [Scaramantula / General Treister / Copy-Cat] who, “would go way off book.” H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of The Master (absent in this season), was known to have improvised hours of material that did not make it into the show. However, these ideas do help shape the characters and thus the universe they inhabit. Hammer, remarking that it was “fun to watch someone completely own your character,” clarified that, to them, it becomes canon: “we think about those things, and we’re like, ‘yeah, that’s who that guy is and he has said those things.'”

“Yes, I had testicular torsion, and so did the boys.” — Doc Hammer

The characters they write are carefully crafted, and live their own unique lives informed by the experiences of their creators. Hammer and Publick tell us in no uncertain terms that no relationship in the show directly represents one that they themselves have in life, but that the way their characters deal with said relationships does come from a very real place. “[Though] yes, I had testicular torsion, and so did the boys,” Hammer jokingly adds to illustrate what he considers a rare direct similarity, but as they continue to talk a more personal picture comes to light.

The boys’ ambivalent relationship with their father is much like Hammer’s was with his own father during his childhood, and Publick grew up without a mom: “my relationship with my Dad is much like the relationship between Dr. Venture and his sons. So, with [Publick] not having a Mom, and me having a father with […] zero interest in playing with me… [the Ventures] do resemble that.”

70's Hank with a bass

Courtesy of Cartoon Network

Similarly to how the boys’ familial structure is an amalgam of that of Hammer’s and Publick’s, so too are the personalities of the boys themselves. When describing the boys, Hammer felt he contained a lot of Dean-like anxiety, and Hank was “only person [he’s] never met.” This came as a seemingly shocking revelation to Publick, who felt Hank (and the Monarch) were the characters who contained the most of him, drawn from “[his] own dumb thoughts, and actions, and misbeliefs […]” Though despite being a Dean on the inside, Hammer was quick to note that in his outward manner, his words, were, “very Hank.”

Attention to detail is significant aspect of the show’s writing, something that is very obviously so important to Hammer and Publick. Part of what resonates with the show’s fanbase is the fact that it seamlessly weaves together subtle nods to classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons, pulp fiction, comics, and pop culture at large, much of which is done with quick snippets of dialogue and details in the background quickly panned over by the camera. This loving detail is a significant part of the drive to make the show at all, which Hammer described as “a repository for our obsessions.”

“A spirit of Chaos” — Jackson Publick

Sleeper, by Mark Wallinger

Photo by Mark Wallinger

That being said, not everything is so meticulously planned out. When the conversation turned to the identity of the ominously silent Scare Bear, the pair laughed. Publick told us that Scare Bear was originally as just a punchline that evolved into something deeper, a “spirit of Chaos,” but the idea of expressing who he is was not important to them. When pressed, and as something of a throwaway joke, Publick said, he was, “actually the murderous moppets standing on [each other’s] shoulders,” then immediately regretted not saving the idea for later use.

Though, perhaps it still is possible after all: “we are the kings of ret-con,” Hammer adds. After all, a lot of their, particularly Publick’s, job is striking a balance between what they want to get on screen and what is possible. There is no budget in the world that could adequately express the wild imaginations of these two. Though, it is important to allow yourself some “dessert” once in a while — “this,” Publick says with an audible smile, “is why I’m making a show.”

Cartoon Network

The Venture Bros. Season 7 arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on June 4, 2019.

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