CN’S New Bun­dle of Joy

Cre­ator Skyler Page and cre­ative di­rec­tor Nel­son Boles spread good vibes with their orig­i­nal se­ries Clarence. By Mercedes Mil­li­gan

Animation Magazine - - Tv -

With the glut of fan­tasy-driven kids’ con­tent rid­ing the air­waves the last few years, a cartoon cen­tered on the or­di­nary ad­ven­tures of a sim­ple neigh­bor­hood kid would seem a breath of fresh sub­ur­ban air. Meet Clarence, the lov­able eter­nal op­ti­mist whose epony­mous show is the lat­est 2D an­i­mated com­edy to join Cartoon Net­work.

The se­ries cel­e­brates the joys of child­hood with­out mag­i­cal em­bel­lish­ment or talk­ing an­i­mals. Whether Clarence and his bud­dies (over­ly­cau­tious Jeff and un­pre­dictable Sumo) are tack­ling epic dirt fights, awk­ward crushes, tram­po­line com­bat or prank-filled sleep­overs, the gap­toothed hero finds won­der in ev­ery­day things.

“I think our show is pretty clearly striv­ing to be real­is­tic … key­word ‘striv­ing,’” says first-time show cre­ator Skyler Page, who also voices the main char­ac­ter. “It seemed like the mar­ket was pretty flooded with fan­tasy and ran­dom hu­mor, and I re­mem­ber a lot of shows when I was grow­ing up that were more poignant, with more re­lat­able sit­u­a­tions … real char­ac­ters who can’t use magic to get out of their prob­lems. I felt like there was a need for that, and that was our fo­cus driv­ing the show.”

The young artist was aided in de­vel­op­ing Clarence by the show’s cre­ative di­rec­tor, Nel­son Boles, whom he met while study­ing an­i­ma­tion at CalArts. (The two bonded over a shared love of Ren & Stimpy their first year.) They be­gan de­vel­op­ing the con­cept a while ago, but when Page landed a job at Cartoon Net­work and found out the stu­dio was look­ing for ideas for its shorts pro­gram, it was full steam ahead. This turned into a pi­lot which earned the duo a green­light — and a lit­tle more time to sharpen things up.

The Amaz­ing Or­di­nary!

From a two- or three-per­son crew pol­ish­ing the pi­lot, Page — who pre­vi­ously worked in the sto­ry­board­ing and writ­ing de­part­ments for Ad­ven­ture Time and Se­cret Moun­tain Force Awe­some — now finds him­self in com­mand of a lo­cal team of 30 to 35 writ­ers, sto­ry­board­ers, de­sign­ers, col­orists and re­vi­sion­ists at Cartoon Net­work Stu­dios. An­i­ma­tion ser­vice work for the show is done by Saerom in Korea. While Page and Boles are a bit har­ried by the pro­duc­tion sched­ule to give ac­cu­rate es­ti­mates, they guess the show or­der is about 60 per­cent fin­ished.

Page points out that though Clarence is “the lit­tle taste of re­al­ity in a sea of fan­tasy,” there’s still room in the show for imag­i­na­tion. “Ev­ery­one gets tired of re­al­ity. We get enough of it in real life,” he jokes. “So, there’s some fan­tasy in our show, too. One thing I like is we can do both and show the in­con­gruity of the two — show a char­ac­ter’s ideal ver­sion of a sit­u­a­tion and then what’s ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing.”

This blend­ing of the real­is­tic and the fan­tas­ti­cal is re­flected in the show’s de­sign, which fa­vors or­di­nary (or even down­right un­ap­peal­ing) lo­ca­tions made invit­ing with car­toony flair. And the char­ac­ter de­signs also teeter back and forth be­tween the scales of prob­a­bil­ity.

“With all the char­ac­ters, it’s al­most like the in­con­sis­tency is the con­sis­tency,” says Boles. “Some look like Mup­pets, some look like they’re from Steven Uni­verse, but the art di­rec­tion ties it all to­gether. The way we jus­tify it to our­selves is, the world is full of dif­fer­ent­look­ing people.” Boles adds that the showrun­ners wanted to avoid the Simpsons ef­fect, where ev­ery char­ac­ter has to look just right to fit in to the ex­ist­ing an­i­mated world.

Page adds that an­other show phi­los­o­phy is to treat back­ground char­ac­ters with care, mak­ing sure what­ever they are do­ing on-screen is mem­o­rable. The old school­mates add that they are al­ways look­ing for ways to take these

smaller roles and use them to ex­pand Clarence’s story pos­si­bil­i­ties. “An­other thing we’re try­ing to push with the show is there’s not just three main char­ac­ters and ev­ery­one else is just there for a joke,” says Boles. “Ev­ery­one has a chance to hang out with ev­ery­one … the world gets big­ger and big­ger.”

Fans of old-school car­toons will ap­pre­ci­ate Clarence’s em­pha­sis on char­ac­ter-based and phys­i­cal hu­mor. Clarence, af­ter all, is not all that aware of how clumsy he is and, frankly, doesn’t care how ridicu­lous he looks (a trait we should all be jeal­ous of). Whether he’s sneak­ily tip­toe­ing about while man­ag­ing to knock over ev­ery­thing around him or fla­grantly vi­o­lat­ing Jeff’s per­sonal space, it’s all part of the plan as far as Clarence is con­cerned.

When asked about the tough­est part of pro­duc­ing his first show, Page says while he loves ev­ery minute, the pace is hard to get used to: “Once you do an episode, and it’s re­ally good and you’re proud of it, you have to start over. Ev­ery time. It’s ex­cit­ing, but it’s very chal­leng­ing.”

Page and Boles list John Kric­falusi’s Ren & Stimpy as well as King of the Hill and SpongeBob SquarePants (a few vet­er­ans of which are on the Clarence staff) and the fea­ture work of Phil Lord and Chris Miller as their top an­i­ma­tion in­spi­ra­tions. But when asked for ad­vice for other up­start car­toon­ists, they say be­ing true to yourself is the key.

“Don’t do what you think other people are look­ing for, just do what you think is funny and cool,” Page says. “And don’t edit yourself, be­cause if you ever do get a show, they will edit you.”

Clarence pre­mieres Mon­day, April 14, at 7 p.m. on Cartoon Net­work. Visit our web­site for an ex­tended in­ter­view.

Skyler Page

Ev­ery­day Ad­ven­ture: The pre­miere episodes of Clarence find the up­beat hero run­ning a fast food fun­land gaunt­let and hunt­ing for rocks with ... a girl!

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