Seemingly the funniest and cartooniest animated projects nowadays are set in jails. There’s the Japanese CG series Usavich, which was written up here last month, and now there’s Superjail, an Adult Swim pilot from last spring which is being turned into a series.
Superjail is one of those rare pieces of animation that reaffirms my faith in mainstream industry animation. (A clip from the pilot episode is posted below; the full series premieres later this year.) At first glance, it’s an unlikely candidate for greatness: it is, after all, a Flash-animated show for Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. But Superjail defies all expectations, both for Flash and Adult Swim. Far from the typical Adult Swim fare of characters standing around with their lips flapping, this show takes advantage of the fact that it’s animated, packing every scene with outlandish visual gags, hilarious drawings, frenetic animation, bright colors and enough gratuitous cartoon violence to fill a thousand Popeye shorts.
The premise of the series is simple: Superjail is an ultra-violent prison complex run by a mad Willy Wonka-esque warden determined to “perfect the art of incarceration.” He is aided by a butch guard Alice, an alcoholic accountant Jared, and the punishing robot Jail-bot. Beyond this basic setup, anything goes. It’s a stream-of-conscious free-for-all that’s both exhilaratingly creative and guaranteed to offend. Heidi MacDonald of The Beat blog called the pilot “the most incoherent, violent and irredeemable thing I have ever seen.” Luckily for her, she hasn’t seen the actual show yet. I’ve managed to peep a bit more beyond the pilot and can say that the pilot is only a taste of what’s to come.The actual series is even nuttier and more insane.
Graphically, Superjail achieves a level of cartoon grotesquerie that would make Basil Wolverton blush. There are also hints of Mike Judge, Yellow Submarine, alternative comics, and Wes Archer’s classic short Jac Mac & Rad Boy . The results are grungy and raw; real cartoons by real cartoonists without any of the on-model fussiness and overcautiousness that hinders most of today’s TV animation.
Superjail is created by Christy Karacas, Stephen Warbrick and Ben Gruber. Karacas is directing the series and Aaron Augenblick, whose Augenblick Studios is producing the series, serves as the animation director. The stories are written by Karacas, Warbrick, Augenblick and other animators on the show, with the finished scripts penned by John Glaser and John Lee. A host of other fine cartoonists and animators are contributing to the series including Fran Krause, Will Krause, Jesse Schmal and M. Wartella.
The show also puts to rest the fallacy that Adult Swim shows are poorly animated because of their small budgets. The creators of Superjail have not only managed to deliver impressive animation on a standard Adult Swim budget, but they’re producing the series entirely in the US, from pre-production through final animation. New York-based Augenblick Studios is cutting few corners on the production, with little reliance on stock expressions and poses, and plenty of original drawing in every episode. Even the impressively laborious animated pan used in the opening titles is being re-animated for each episode with new backgrounds.
It’s refreshing to see a production that puts its budget back onto the screen and gives audiences quality that they can enjoy. I’ll try to write more about the studio’s production pipeline in the future, but suffice to say, Augenblick is one of the few studios that operates with a “no producers” policy.
Superjail will debut on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim line-up in summer ’08 with an initial order of ten 11-minute episodes. Until then, check out some of the earlier shorts by Christy Karacas and Stephen Warbrick like Barfight and Space War.
A few preview stills from the series. Click on the pics for bigger versions.