Juxtapoz – Adult Swim Special / Sealab 2021

Not just for the design heads or computer art junkies, Juxtapoz mag has remained a proper crossover for the crowd that profess to only read Wire or other similar offerings that make some of us feel smarter than the rest of you. 140 issues deep is nothing to take lightly, and every occasion I’ve picked up for myself or at someone’s house it’s completely drawn me in to it’s perverse world on the underside of fine art. As an underground design / art / culture mag a lot of it I’m sure goes right over my head, but I don’t need to know the ins and outs to enjoy what I’m looking at whilst feverishly stroking my chin.

This month they’ve taken it next level, giving us an Adult Swim themed issue, talking our language to perfection. And to be honest, although I wouldn’t have intentionally made the connection, there’s probably no one better suited to represent or feature with either product / medium. Adult Swim is a brand at the top level who’s influence we take for granted, especially outside the US. It’s like the trustafarian teenager still smoking weed in it’s parents lavish basement, or like a secret language some of us talk and relate to that’s infinitely less complicated then the mask worn at the jobs we hate. It’s the dirty secret that everyone still finds funny but refuses to talk about in public. It’s grittier than most, and some would say pushes boundaries, but it doesn’t ever cross the line that would see it kicked off it’s original network partner Cartoon Network. It’s programs are stupid and funny, unnecessarily poorly edited but crafted in an intelligent way, gaining audience through respect instead of cult status purely through shock.

Adult Swim was also the first platform most people heard Flying Lotus’ beats on, including him as the story goes. In 2005 they were the catalyst for one of the greatest hip-hop albums made since the golden-era, when MF Doom and Danger Mouse collaborated to create the Danger Doom supergroup. The only album they ever did was titled The Mouse and The Mask, entirely themed around the Adult Swim block and narrated by all the characters from the shows at the time. Listening to Talib Kweli rhyme about watching cartoons over cereal was a definite highlight.

Never hiding their mistakes, Adult Swim has equally had it’s share of majorly expensive fuck ups, all of which they’ve been instantly able to laugh about. The 20 episode order of Assy McGee (a talking ass) without ever seeing a pilot is probably one of the best wastes of a million dollars ever.

The three best known programs on their current roster are Robot Chicken (classic clip from series on below), Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Venture Brothers, all of which are dope and worth talking about in depth, but covered nicely in Juxtapoz via decent interviews with the creators and crew on the show. Just head on over through the linked titles if you want to check them out now. It’s especially nice to hear the Robot Chicken guys getting excited when talking about how the techniques have changed, new toys that have opened up shoots and the thrills of people biting their style.

The first interview in the mag happens to be the most intense, chatting to Carl Jones the creator of Black Dynamite, the youngest of the Adult Swim programming having just dropped the first episode last month. Surprisingly, despite it hadn’t been broadcast yet, it was Black Dynamite who supplied the cover art. Might be down to a promotional push but most likely this is due to the show having by far the best artwork Adult Swim have ever produced. Part Dolemite, part Charles Mingus ala pimp and father era and part Samurai Jack, it’s a dope animation done by the guys behind The Boondocks, and based on the live action Blaxploitation film of the same title that came out a few years ago. I never saw that one, but just remember the two records (limited pressings) that came off the back of it as the soundtrack, done in conjunction with Wax Poetics.

Jones goes in to the race issue in general, and racism in the animation industry specifically. It’s pretty crazy to think that despite their years of contribution to a show you love you probably won’t recognise any of these poeple walking down the street. It’s easy to forget there’s real people and problems, and proper industry issued behind the drawings. Despite the weight they carry through their productions, it’s still an industry that has to operate and a job that has be turned up to.

The Squidbillies creators round off the production highlights (though there are a few more worth checking out I’m not mentioning, shows I hadn’t actually heard of but one featuring Henry Winkler), with some proper candidacy in to their casts relationships and drinking habits, scaringly admitting that Squidbillies can be tied back to people they grew up with.

Yes, I’m a fan of most things Adult Swim does (and as a fully functioning adult with humour you should be too) and a magazine takeover can’t go close to covering their extensive list of productions over the year, so a few omissions need to be mentioned. Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law was straight classic, featuring cameos from mostly Hanna-Barbera cast, and alongside Space Ghost: Coast To Coast and The Brak Show was the start of what would become Adult Swim, and in my mind remain the most impressive. There was nothing like them on tv at the time.

The most glaring oversight of all in Juxtapoz however was the exclusion of any mention of Sealab 2021, the totally random, wonderfully voiced and amazingly scripted underwater series that ran for three years. The characters were proper cash money, and it was THE one to stay up for on Cartoon Network no matter how tired you might be. A parody in style and premise on the more serious 1970s kids cartoon Sealab 2020 (which was short-lived, eco-themed and much crappier), Sealab 2021 was set on the bottom of the ocean, the premise revolving around the scientists that worked in the laboratory they’d built there. The comedic timing and themed randomness that was written in just constantly had me surprised and in stitches, working sue to the demented logic that these fictional characters followed that still made sense somewhere in a small part of your brain rarely touched upon. This was before you could record on to a hard drive with the push of a button, and I’ve still got the VHS from 2001 recorded with the push of a button because we didn’t trust the timer.