Debuting in 2003, The Venture Brothers follows the animated misadventures of super scientist and former “boy adventurer,” Dr. Thaddeus ‘Rusty’ Venture, his Hardy-Boy-like teen sons Hank and Dean, and their self-proclaimed arch nemesis, The Monarch. The show has created an amazing universe of heroes, villains and henchmen throughout its first four seasons while sending up everything from Johnny Quest to Hunter S. Thompson. Leading up to this Sunday’s fifth season premiere on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, creators, co-writers and stars, Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer got on the phone to discuss the show’s diverse roster of characters, super science, and the challenges of animating convincing tin foil jokes.
Lauren Damon: Your show revolves around a lot of Super Scientists, is there anything in actual modern science that’s freaked you out or sounded like something from the show?
Doc Hammer: I’m personally not that educated. So I’m personally not up on actual scientific discovery.
Jackson Publick: I have recently subscribed to Popular Science.
Doc: So he knows all the things that are popular.
Jackson: I’m super excited that they might be figuring out warp speed and when they grew a human ear on a mouse’s, I’ve never forgotten that.
LD: How about the 3D printers?
Jackson: I’m not that excited by the 3D printer—Somebody showed me a Green Lantern ring they made with a 3D printer the other night. Actually it was a White Lantern ring, calling it a “White Power” ring, which is weird!
Doc: Do you have to wear glasses for the 3D printer?
Jackson: No, it’s a printer that makes a 3D object for you. Out of like, resin or something, it just carves this thing for you.
Doc: Oh yes. You know what? Those are more like 3D fax machines than they are 3D printers.
LD: You have so many characters on the show, do you find that you have favorites to write or watch interactions between?
Doc: Oh yeah, you can tell just by watching the show.
Jackson: Yeah, you can tell who we’ve turned into pairs, we like those guys.
Doc: And you’ll start seeing pairings that are not appropriate. Like Hank and 21 for some reason are weird pairing…
Jackson: Yeah, yeah.
Doc: They’ve been together and we kind of keep throwing them together because they interact well. Because they both have this kind of love and exuberance. And then there are just classic pairs. I mean 21 and 24. Even though we murdered one…
Jackson: I like when we put 21 and the Monarch together.
Doc: 21 and the Monarch is another…I think when we put them with The Monarch, he was trying to hang out with them…That’s when we realized these guys will interact well because they’re so different.
Jackson: And the power dynamics of their relationship—
Jackson: ‘The creepy boss is trying to be my friend now…I don’t know what to say, he shoots guys sometimes when he doesn’t like what they say.’
Doc: Yeah, and weird combinations show up. Billy and Doc are funny because Billy dresses Doc down a lot. It’s an odd combination—
Jackson: Also he lifts him up a little bit.
Doc: He does! He does, because he fanboys on him. But at the same time he—
Jackson: Yea he’s like ‘I can’t believe that’s what a fucking mess the thing I’m fanboying about has become!’
Doc: Yeah, it’s a weird thing. It’s a weird thing because he loves Rusty Venture but I think he can barely tolerate Dr. Venture.
Jackson: ‘Please try once try to be what you used to be!’
Doc: [In Billy Quizboy’s voice] “I used to love you and you’re nobody! You’re a horrible person!”
LD: Last season, with the death of Henchman 24, Henchman 21 went through so many changes, did you anticipate such an arc when you singled out these henchmen at the beginning?
Doc: Oh no, those two guys were anonymous henchmen!
Jackson:Yeah, we just got sick of them being anonymous. And we liked two voices we did.
Doc: Yeah they were made up on the spot. I mean it was just two voices that we used to do while reading people’s emails. [Both laugh] So we just put them in the show. I mean, I remember when it first happened, you know Jackson was trying to do that every time we would get a nerdy e-mail. He would get like 21 and then he did that weird Ray Romano voice. We just did it not knowing that these characters would be around for ten years.
LD: What type of e-mail would instigate the Romano voice?
Jackson: It was just him. I think we would just pick on him because we had like watched like past episodes—
Doc: We would pick on him and we would use his use his voice for just being not us but not being a character on the show. But now we can’t.
Jackson: Right. To express the opinion of someone—usually a negative one. [in Henchman 24’s Romano voice] ‘HEY WAY TO GOOOOO’
Doc: ‘GOOD JOB.’ That kind of crap.
LD: And, as opposed to 21, which character do you think has changed the least over the course of the show?
Doc: Has changed the least? Doc, actually.
Doc: He’s gone through a lot of revelations but his basic character has not changed so much. Even Brock has had more changes than Doc has and Brock is rock steady.
Jackson: Even Hank has had more changes.
Doc: Hank, the boys, have had a lot of changed.
LD: Your characters have such great names, working on this for ten years are you just constantly thinking of new potential characters?
Doc: It’s like a bi-annual thing.
Jackson: Yeah, I forget the good ones…
Doc: I think both of us have notebooks filled with idiot names and then there are actual documents of names of episodes that don’t exist. Like “Return to Spider Skull Island” was just a bad episode name that we wrote around.
LD: Does that happen often?
Doc: More than it should. I don’t know about often.
Jackson: Probably yeah, like two episodes out of every season we like, just have a working title the whole time we’re making it and then when we’re making the credits, we have an argument about what to name it and then we both make a list of about forty things and try to hone in on one.
Doc: Oh yeah. The amount—just like the season premiere, we both probably wrote forty different titles for. All of them would have been fine in anybody else’s book, and of these eighty, of the eighty titles that we came up with “What Color is Your Cleansuit?” was the one that we liked. Which is insane. That was just a good one for us.
LD: Any names from season five that you’re particularly excited about that you can share?
Doc: We’re very particularly excited about season five, but we can’t give out any spoilers because season five is coming and the episodes themselves—
Jackson: Oh! You can drop a name out, can’t you?
Doc: What? Titles? Characters?
Jackson: Or name.
Doc: Go ahead! I’m not gonna do it. I have a firm line on spoilers. But you can do it.
Jackson: We’ve already told people that there is an Augustus St. Cloud. Which we were excited about him this season. He exists. What’s the best episode title do you think?
Doc: Best episode title?! Pick yours…Mine are awful.
Doc: I have awful episode titles. They’re always awful. Name one of yours. One of yours that isn’t clever or just stupid. Those are my favorites.
Doc: “O. S. I Love You” is a good title.
Jackson: There ya go.
Doc: That’s not bad.
LD: You’ve had a lot of gross stuff on the show—half-formed clones and skinsuits are jumping to mind—has there been anything that’s made you as grateful as I am that it’s all animated?
Doc: Like disgusting things that happened? Well nobody wants to see anybody turn into a caterpillar, we did that in episode three.
Jackson: Oh that would look so much better if we did it in episode five.
Doc: Oh, right? Yeah…
Jackson: It really just kind of looked like he was wearing a caterpillar costume, it was very just flat and stiff back then.
Doc: Some of the things that we do are bad ideas. Like we make a lot of jokes that really don’t work as well in cartoons as we think. Like we made a terry cloth joke. And you can’t animate terry cloth. It looks just like color.
Jackson: Right, or tin foil. We did eventually get good tin foil though…
Doc: We kept asking for tin foil and eventually we got tin foil.
Jackson: We did the worst tin foil hats for season one and then we did like amazing ones last season that the Korean studio even called us and went ‘Hey, can you simplify the tin foil design please?’ It was like five hundred facets of tin foil…
Doc: And you couldn’t really move it. You could only draw it once and then have tin foil floating. The first season just looked like a gray hat—
Jackson: Like a gray walnut shell is what it looked like.
Doc: Yeah, you knew it was tin foil. But you can’t make tinfoil jokes, you can’t make terry cloth jokes—
Jackson: My god, I want to make corduroy jokes so bad!
Doc: And you can’t show corduroy because you can’t really animate corduroy…
Jackson: I know!
Doc: We can barely get a car to turn the corner nicely. We’re never gonna get corduroy on that screen.
Venture Brothers premieres Sunday, June 2nd on Cartoon Network. Also making a return this year is the show’s exclusive weekly Shirt Club, not seen since season three. More info can be found, here.
In the meantime, Adult Swim has released a full four-season recap video hosted by Henchman 21 to get you all ready for the new season!