'Welcome to Eltingville:' Dorkin takes his characters to the small screen

Tue, February 19th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Rob Worley, Columnist

After over two years of development comic creators Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer have completed their Welcome To Eltingville animated pilot. The show is set to air on Cartoon Network early next month.

Recently CBR News spoke with Dorkin about his work on the show. Here, we present Part I of that interview:

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CBR News: What was your animation experience prior to "Eltingville?"

Evan Dorkin: Mainly watching a lot of cartoons. No, [Sarah Dyer] and I worked on "Space Ghost Coast To Coast" for I guess, seven years, writing the scripts for that. That was the first thing that we were doing. We both wrote four Superman's for WB and one "Batman Beyond." We also did the development of the bible for Sunbow for Andi Watson's "Skeleton Key," which Nickelodeon (don't boo...I'll do that for you) has picked up and they are developing or sitting on and squashing it. That's our big experience.

I went to NYU for animation. It was a good experience, I just didn't know what the hell I was doing. I was trying to make a four minute film fully animated on cells by myself. That was stupid.

C2F: Took a long time?

ED: I wish I knew about Avid, which is how we did Space Ghost, back then.

C2F: When did you create "The Eltingville Club" and what inspired that?

ED: "The Eltingville Club," the first strip was done in 93 for Dark Horse's "Instant Piano" anthology. The inspiration for that was, I guess, sheer hatred for fandom at that time. It's not a long story but it's involved so I'll boil it down:

My publisher, Dan Vado was working for DC at the time and he was catching so much flak from the fans. He was getting absolute hate letters for bumping off a third-rate supporting character in the "Justice League" book.

C2F: Who was that?

ED: A girl. Ice? Or one of them?

But he was really upset because the mail was so vociferous over him killing a fictional character that was obviously going to come back some time because DC has to keep the copyrights going. It was just horrific, horrific mail.

[Dork]I got so pissed off at the letters he was reading me and just the way he felt and how backbiting horrible the vocal arm of fandom is. Not all of fandom, obviously. And, I needed a strip for Instant Piano and I wanted to do something other than "Milk & Cheese" or the other things I was doing in "Dork" and I just rattled off this five-page pipe-bomb to fandom.

And people liked it. I did a ten-pager a few months later, "Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett," which is what the pilot's based on. The special's based on those two strips largely. Over the last eight years I've only done about 50 pages of "Eltingville" but they've been very well received.

C2F: They've been embraced by fandom.

ED: Yeah, they've been embraced by some fans and then I've gotten a taste of that hate mail that Dan was getting from some people who felt that I was being too hard on the industry, that I was a comics hater, that I should leave the industry if I don't like it, things like that. Love it or leave it type of stuff. People didn't seem to get that you can love something and still criticize it.

There was also a lot of anger towards the comics industry professionals as well. Rampant fannishness kind of permeates the industry and keeps it...fannish. Keeps it kind of dumbed-down and keeps it in the ghetto we always talk about.

I also write about pop-culture a lot and I write about comics often so, I think it was inevitable that I would do something like this.

C2F: How does the animated show differ from the comics? Were there things that you left out that you wished you could have kept in?

ED: Well they all have giant robots and they're all women now, very good-looking Japanese women, just a few of the changes the network asked for.

C2F: (Laughing) That's not true! I've seen the tape.

ED: Actually, very little has changed. The change that most people who have read the strip will notice and will not be noticed by people who don't read the strip, which is 99 out of 100 people watching the show is, of course all the foul language has been excised. We had to lose the R-Rated dialog that we have in the strip where I'm allowed to do whatever I want and say whatever I want because nobody's paying attention.

But, for the show we were working under a PG rating and I had to obviously lose the F-word...and the C-word...and I tried to make up for that thinking to myself that I've seen a lot of very mean television and movies that were made before people were cursing regularly. One of my favorite movies is a film that I think is a really horrifically mean and nasty and dark film and no one says a curse. And on "The Flintstones" and "The Honeymooners," whenever one of the characters needed to curse they would just start mumbling.

My take on it was just keep the characters aggressive and, if they were aggressive enough people wouldn't notice the fact that they weren't actually saying, "S.O.B" or things like that.

We actually ended up with a PG-14 rating so that, if I was allowed to do another show I would probably try to stretch it a little bit. I decided not to go the "South Park" route. I didn't want bleeping. I didn't want really shocking language. I just felt that that's been done, that it would take away from the story and the jokes and there's just no point in trying to go out there and really shock people. It just wasn't what I wanted to do.

As I've said to people who have written me, "if the cursing and the foul-language was really the only strength of the strip, then the strip wasn't very good."

So, we lost that, but beyond that then we didn't lose anything.

The show is probably more violent then the strip is because the animators actually had to draw them smackin' the hell out of each other, which they do constantly. In the strip it's only a panel. So where Bill is choking Josh out or one of them's punching out the other, in the show they're really just knocking the hell out of each other and destroying things. We actually gained that, if anything.

We lost plaid. We lost plaid and checked patterns on the jacket. It's hard to animate that.

We lost a lot of acne on the faces. I had to clean up the design of the characters a little bit.

C2F: I don't know. There's a lot of acne in the pilot

ED: Oh you've seen it? Do you think that it captures the strips decently.

C2F: Yeah, I think it captures it pretty well. It doesn't feel as mean as the strip. I don't know if that's because of the language or not.

ED: I also wasn't sure how mean I could get. It's the first time we've done this. It might be the last time, but if we get to do it again...you look at the pilot and gauge it and see where you think you went wrong and what you can beef up.

I also think we needed to introduce the characters and situations and once we're free of that we can do whatever we want. I think it's a pretty decent translation but I don't know how the readers will react.

C2F: How was it working on a show where you created everything, as opposed to working on "Space Ghost" or "Batman Beyond?"

ED: We had some run-ins on "Batman Beyond" and "Superman" where you would just keep rewriting and rewriting, and you felt it was arbitrary. You did not know why they were changing things. You'd find out later that they didn't want this to be close to this other script that somebody was working on and this had to go because they want Al Roker to have a cameo so he's in there now. You really had no say.

And you're really hamstrung by the fact that those are DC characters and somebody owns the copyright and they're protective of it and DC's protective of it and the producers are protective of certain things that they're fans of.

In a lot of ways we had some problems on the show because of professional fannishness. DC was incredibly uptight about Supergirl could not be from Krypton. That would somehow dilute Superman and make him a wuss or something if there's another survivor. That kind of thinking is what "Eltingville" is all about. That kind of "who cares?"

There's plot logic and character logic and structural logic, and then there's fan logic. And fan logic is crazy.

And obviously we were not involved in how things were done on those shows. With "Space Ghost" we were heavily involved. It really is a writer's show in a lot of way. It was not a show where a lot of egos come into play. Sometimes they'd stick with our script 95%. Some times things would get chopped up for logistics or what have you.

Working on "Eltingville," of course, Sarah and I pretty much did everything. I did all the designs, except I couldn't draw a vulture. I just finally just asked the clean-up guys to help with the motor cycle and the vultures that I did not have time to do (and I'm not the greatest artist on the planet). I decided I did not need to take art courses for two days when I really needed to get other designs done.

Sarah did the color modeling. We used Stephen DeStefano for the boards, who we worked with before and he's a friend of ours and he's done a lot of stuff for the Cartoon Network and worked on "Ren & Stimpy" and a ton of things. So we were really able to make it feel like we were doing a comic, for better or worse.

If nothing else I think the show comes off as it doesn't feel exactly like other cartoons. It's not the most beautiful design because I didn't want it designed beautifully. I thought if the characters and the backgrounds were esthetically pleasing it would sort of defeat the purpose of the show. They're not supposed to be beautiful. They're rotten, awful trolls.

I kind of felt like we were doing a cartoon for ourselves. The network was very hands off. They told us in the beginning that what they didn't have in budget they would give us in control, which is very appealing.

We could have made our living doing comics for Marvel and DC and probably done better on the pay ratio, but you know we really enjoyed working with them. That's not P.R. bullshit. I've been working with [producer Keith Crofford] and [producer Michael Lazzo] for seven years and we knew [producer Linda Simensky] and we had a really good relationship with the producers in L.A. and they basically let us run with it. If there's any weaknesses in the show its basically our learning to do this on the job.

We had no nightmares, no arguments. It was a great experience.

The downside is that it was a ton of work. I was drawing these comic book stores with every comic book title. I was drawing and designing all the characters and that really was a lot of work.

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C2F: Did you have to do much research for the Trivia Showdown in the pilot, or are you fanboy enough to come up with all those questions yourself?

ED: Well, we used a lot of stuff that was from the original script. I rewrote a bunch of it because, as a fan geek I wanted to get Jack Kirby's name on the air and call him the King of Comics, and I wanted to credit Otto Mesmer with creating Felix the Cat because he was screwed out of it for years by Pat Sullivan, that sort of thing. We just had to make sure everything was legally accurate. We did research a bunch of things.

And, I wanted to make sure in the script that the words were funny, that the questions actually sounded funny. A lot of K sounds. A lot of odd movie titles names like "Dr. Butcher" and "Queen of the Cannibals" just to emphasize how absolutely stupid this stuff is, as much as I love a lot of it.

Doing this for a living and talking to my editor...what is the best sound effect for a guy with wet shoes to hit the ground when he's knocked down, or a car to hit somebody, or a guy slapping another guy's face when he's wearing a mask? You just sit there and go, "this is the dumbest thing I've ever said in my life. I can't belive I'm trying to figure out the onomatopoeia of wet fruit hitting a guy's face" or something like that. Or when you're working on a cartoon and you're trying to get the right color for a bursting zit. You just feel like a moron. You're like, "I don't believe I'm getting paid to do this and that people want to see stuff like this." You know, we should be paying teachers, not guy's trying to figure out the color scheme of a zit. That's what's crazy about this stuff.

With the trivia-off we really wanted just insane stuff that would sound crazy. Kind of like an old Monty Python skit where, you figure every cheese they're mentioning for two minutes straight is real and it's this just sheer trivia and obvious research just becomes funny.

When we did the strip in '93 we looked up a lot of that stuff. I got a lot of mail on that story and they asked, "did you know all that stuff," because they were horrified and they were like, "I thought I was a loser and I don't know all that stuff."

I basically told them we looked up about 90% of it. 10% of it I knew. But I knew where to look for all of it! I had all the books or I had the fanzines or I knew where to go so it's like, my mind's ruined. I can't remember my mother's birthday and I don't remember my second phone line's number but I remember who inked Ross Andru on "Spider-Man #136" and what the name of The Melter is in real life.

But that's the world. We know more about celebrities than we do about our own neighbors. The TV Guide looks like Starlog now.

That's kind of what I was hoping we could catch in the show. Put a mirror up and make people laugh about it.

Coming Soon: In part II of the interview Dorkin talks about the future of The Eltingville Club in both comics and animation.

Welcome To Eltingville airs on Cartoon Network on March 3 at 11:00p.m.

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