May 1, 2017

 




Interview:
Evan Dorkin

By Dan Epstein




I remember when Garry Shandling was on the Charlie Rose Show. Instead of the normal interview they just turned on the cameras as soon as he walked in and let them roll for the hour. Charlie did chime in with a question just to keep Garry from going too off topic. I found a similar situation with Evan Dorkin. Once we got talking we just didnít stop until it was over then we talked some more. He is an extremely funny and interesting guy who can talk. Mainly we talked about his new show on Cartoon Network called Welcome to Eltingville

Evan has done humor comics for about 12 years now and has created some major mainstays in comics such as Mike & Cheese and Hectic Planet. More recently he turned his collection of various strips, which included the original Welcome to Eltingville strips, into Dork. His writing partner and a cartoonist in her own right is Sarah Dyer. Please enjoy my interview.

And anyone who knows Evan Dorkinís middle name, please email me with it.


Dan Epstein: When was the pilot for Welcome to Eltingville finished?

Evan Dorkin: We got the final print in November [2001].

DE: Youíve been developing it for so long. Why did it take so long to hit the air?

ED: It takes a while for even a comic book to come out. When youíre dealing with a large company itís not just one person saying I feel like making a comic book. Let me solicit it and see if I could get it out on time like I used to do when I was younger. It took a year for the negotiations and the contracts because the lawyers put in things that help them out then we want to take things out that donít benefit us and things like that. Just the fact that we didnít want to move to Los Angeles took extra time. 

Then you work up a pitch bible then a script then that gets edited then approved. Then you do all the designs. Iíve never worked on a pilot for anything before plus Sarah [Dyer] and I did pretty much everything so I could not be designing the characters while I was writing them and vice versa. But apparently this is how it goes; you work on something for a while. And since it hasnít been ordered as a show Cartoon Network hasnít been throwing a ton of people to work on multiple episodes.

DE: How many episodes do you have done?

ED: Just one, the pilot.

DE: Then Cartoon Network will just milk it on Adult Swim for a while.

ED: I have no idea what theyíre going to do. Honestly Iím not being fastidious. We only found out a few weeks ago that they were airing it and we donít know if there will be any repeat airings. Thatís not a complaint, we just donít know. Weíve had a very good working relationship with the network. Itís a lot easier to work with them than a lot of comic book companies actually.

DE: A friend of mine writes for Sealab 2021 so he tells me all about them and how laid back they are.

ED: They write that show? Oh ha ha. Thatís what people say about Space Ghost [Coast to Coast] too. Things are really loose with the Williams Street shows. We were pretty heavily involved with Space Ghost but we werenít there for the day to day. The show was never canceled it just disappeared for a while. It was on hiatus. The fifteen-minute shows are almost like mini-comics for cable. I liked working on Space Ghost because they let us do whatever we wanted. They let us do whatever we wanted to on Eltingville as well but with Space Ghost there was a bigger budget and other things like that its not as slapdash.

DE: Will Eltingville become any less dirty once it hits television?

ED: Oh definitely, you canít curse on the Cartoon Network. Eltingville is kind of a pay cable HBO/Showtime kind of strip. But as far as the show goes we cleaned it up. But if the sum of the strip is the cursing then itís not a very good comic. I canít complain too much if it fails. I concentrated more on the characters and the sitcom aspect of the strip, which were always there. They were little geek tragedies with three acts and character flaws taking them down. 

I think itís an aggressive show. Its not a show filled with innuendo, I wasnít trying to be the Powerpuff Girls or South Park. Thatís been done already. If I canít go completely R rated with the cursing then thereís no part in being coy and using bleeps and trying to push the network and tweak the viewers. Iím just not really interested in that because curse words are everywhere and I still have the strips if I want to use the words fuck and cunt. Iím not going to revolutionize animation. Iím not going get into huge fights to show characters asses; I donít find that to be a big creative triumph or to get to say the word shit. I just wanted this to a mean Honeymooners kind of show about moron geeks who are utter bastards. 

Some readers are probably going to pissed off that there is no cursing and if thatís what they wanted to see on TV then they could watch The Sopranos or South Park.

DE: But youíre also not going after only your comic book audience.

ED: Anybody whoís ever read the strip will realize that we did work really hard to adapt the strip and keep the characters the same, its recognizable. When I was a kid I was really pissed off at that Captain Americaís costume stunk and none of the supporting cast was there. The villains werenít any good; I think Christopher Lee with a cane pointed it dangerously. His shield looked like crap. Some people get really worked up over that stuff when theyíre kids and still get really worked up over it when theyíre adults. 

Iím not going to say I donít care about the people who read the book. But if I only did the show for them thatís about 20,000 people tops, not counting readers in Hollywood who buy every comic book to read for their bosses. If I got every reader of mine and no one else, it would bomb. We played down some of the more obscure comic book references. Itís less about comic books and more about pop culture. The strip is kind of like that as well.

The one good sign is that Sarahís dad has a copy of the tape and he started showing it around to people who donít understand most of the jokes. But they still liked it because they understood most of the characters. They understood what they goals were. When I was kid and watched Monty Python or SCTV, I wouldnít get all the references. Youíre watching a British comedy and there is a culture difference. When youíre watching Mystery Science Theatre you donít get every reference. I wanted to throw some jokes in there where you donít have know science fiction or comics movies or pop culture to get them. I found that over the years that people who donít even like comic books that much like Eltingville still respond to the mania and obsessiveness of the characters. 

At this point I donít even know who will watch this thing. I told my mother to not even watch it. She would find it utterly boring because she wonít care about trivia contests over Boba Fett figures or four kids beating the hell out of each other over Dungeons and Dragons. Sheís sick of that.

DE: She didnít like it when you did it.

ED: Right, how the mother screams into the basement on the show is how my mom and everyone elseís mom was in my geek circle. This thing was commissioned by adults who arenít as big geeks as I am. So they know what they got on their hands. I just hope that people donít expect that full R-rated comic book stuff. I love when people write and ask me why I didnít go to HBO with this. Like I could. Iím not selling any of this stuff I donít have an agent and I donít have a manager. Sarah and I donít use representation, because weíre not chasing anything. Iím happy doing comics. If someone calls and asks me to work on Space Ghost or Superman or a pilot. Iíll do it, but Iím not hustling for animation work or licensing my characters. Iím shocked as shit that Eltingville is going on the air.

DE: The money must be nice.

ED: To be quite honest, the amount of work weíve done on this thing and the amount of money we were paid, I could have done a monthly book for Marvel or DC and probably made more. But thatís not the point. I did this because ever since I was a kid, Iíve loved animation and I always wanted to make a cartoon and never got to. When I went to New York University for animation I set up too large a project and never got to finish. When I was a teenager I got out of comics and really got into animation. I went to film school and that got beat out of me. I didnít like most people in film school, their goals and especially the fact that I would have to work with some of these people if I ever got a career going didnít appeal to me. I like the idea of working at home and I got interested in comic books again especially since interesting stuff like Love & Rockets and Neat Stuff was coming out. But I ended up falling back into animation like Space Ghost and Superman all because of my small press work.

DE: So you got into comics to do comics.

ED: Yeah. Definitely.

DE: That doesnít always seem to be the mentality nowadays.

ED: Well there are plenty of people in comics to do comics. Its just that people arenít talking about them in Wizard or the Buyerís Guide or on the big websites. A guy like Dan Clowes hits big with a movie that does really pretty well and now heís got an Oscar nomination but he still gets an issue of Eightball out and the last issue was really good. There have always been people who use comics as stepping-stones, one way or another. There have always been people who are have been pretty bald-faced about wanting comics to be their stepping stones to film and TV some of them come with tail between their legs backs to comics and the realistic ones keep their mouths shut and still their books because they love them and they realize that Hollywood could chew you up and spit you out.

We havenít had a call to do any animation work in a long time and we may never get that call ever again. That sucks but thatís fine because Iím working on four or five comic projects right now. Iím keeping busy. I like doing the animation because it pays really really well and I like having an audience for my work, but the funny thing is you donít get any response from doing the animation. Except for people who already know your work from comics. You donít know whether people like anything or didnít. Iíve gotten 200+ letters on an issue of Dork and I get maybe three letters from any animation Iíve done because youíre a cog in somebody else machine.

Eltingville was a good situation because one of the reasons we agreed to do it was because we had a really good working relationship with the people at the Cartoon Network. They have a really good sensibility. They like the kinds of comics, the kind that doesnít sell very well. They told us that they donít have a ton of money but they could give us a lot of control. Working on the show was a lot like working on the strip, any limitations that I had I put on myself, if I was to go back and do it again I would ramp up some of the material. I think I was a little too aware of the PG rating which became a PG-14 rating anyway, which I wish I knew at the time. I would definitely rewrite this thing. I would make it even crazier and more aggressive. But you donít know until you do it.

DE: How much did you pay for your Boba Fett action figure?

ED: I didnít pay anything for mine. I didnít even really want one until after I did the show. Then I wanted it as a stupid totem. At San Diego one year a guy offered to trade it to me for a quick drawing. Itís in a closet somewhere right now under a bunch of junk. I had it out while I was doing the pilot but put it back when I was done. I used to be a big Star Wars fan when I was a kid; I actually really hate it now.

DE: It sucks now.

ED: Iíve hated it since the third movie. I still havenít seen the prequel. Iím still into a lot of garbage culture but Star Wars and Star Trek is something I canít stand.


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