Warner Bros. Discovery caught the animation world off guard last month, when it decided that not only was it going to cancel a number of animated (and live-action) productions that didn’t fit into the company’s post-Discovery merger plans, but it would be dropping dozens of already finished shows from HBO Max, making them nearly inaccessible to most audiences in the U.S.
One of the shows on the Warner hit list was Cartoon Network’s Victor and Valentino, a colorful comedy about two kids who live in a supernatural Mexican village, and the people who make their lives endlessly thrilling.
The show’s creator, Diego Molano, was as surprised as anyone when he first saw the show’s name on that list. Victor and Valentino’s final episodes hit Cartoon Network on August 26, and what should have been a bittersweet goodbye turned mostly bitter as it was unclear how audiences would be able to access the show now that it wasn’t going to be on the air anymore.
Cartoon Brew caught up with Molano after the show’s removal from streaming to discuss Victor and Valentino’s origins, what he was able to accomplish over three seasons, what he feels there is still left to accomplish, the fallout from the unexpected HBO Max announcement, and how he’s feeling now that the dust is beginning to settle.
Cartoon Brew: When did you first start working on Victor and Valentino?
Diego Molano: The original goal was to make a video game back when I was in college. I was playing with the Unreal Engine in 3d class and actually built it there. It sucks now though because we used to save stuff on Zip drives and writable CDs. I kept one of the CDs, but 20 years later all the reflective stuff is flaking off so the demo is now lost to time. Anyway, I had three little characters running around, kind of based on a game from Blizzard called The Lost Vikings, and each one had a different kind of move that you can do. Back then my game had three brothers. The smallest one was Vincent and even though he was only like seven, he already had a mustache; he was the stoic leader of the three. Victor was the kind of the bratty know-it-all, and Valentino was the smart, sensitive one. It’s funny to me now because at that time I put all of that in a package – drawings, the CD, a bunch of stuff in an envelope, and I sent it to Robert Rodriguez’s company, Troublemaker. I was hoping that he’d work with me somehow to make something or anything. But of course, I never heard back and I don’t think they were taking materials at that time anyway.
And when did you decide that you wanted to try animating these characters as a show? How long was the development period?
When I started to work in animation, companies were looking for pitches and I thought the brothers Victor and Valentino might make a cool show. So, I kind of took my old materials and I did a new spin on it and redrew the characters. Then I presented it to a couple of companies while I was fleshing everything out before I finally pitched it to Cartoon Network. Thankfully, they liked it enough to commission a bible and a storyboard. That was in like 2013, and then in 2015 I got the pilot, which was the short that came out in 2016. Then it took three more years … before I finally got the show in 2019.
What were your major aesthetic influences when you were developing the show?
When I was a kid, my grandfather always got me thinking about myth and the role of myth in our lives. He opened my brain up when I was little and that still really influences my work today. I’ve always felt compelled to expose more people to the majesty and magic of Mesoamerica and Latin America, because it’s always been fascinating to me, and fascinating for me to know I come from that. So all my artwork, from the time I was in middle school, my time at the New World School of the Arts, and at college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, was influenced by Mesoamerican or Latin American sculptures, the pantheon, the stories, and the myths. So when I got the chance to create Victor and Valentino I wanted to make a show about those things I love, but in a more digestible way because a lot of my influences were in textbooks, and I know a lot of people don’t care about the academic side of mythology.
But obviously those myths have had an impact on the show’s narrative as well …
I always wondered why people didn’t know more about those stories, you know? Why didn’t people know as much about the Mesoamerican myths and gods as they did about Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology? That’s where the idea for Monte Macabre in the show came from; it was my attempt at a kind of Mesoamerican Mount Olympus. The problem with my show is that it was a slow burn, and if we’d done a fourth season it would have all taken place in a god town. I can say this now that the last episode has aired, but at the end of the show Victor and Valentino learn that they are demigods. So season four would have taken place on this Mount Olympus of Mesoamerica where you see all the gods, myths, legends, and folklore come to life.
Are you satisfied with how the show ended?
Season three is serialized. That was a big jump from the self-contained episodes of the first two. And I’m really proud of that… except that when we were building it, we kind of built it assuming we were gonna get a season four. And so, and I can say this now that it’s aired, the very last episode ends on a gigantic cliffhanger. Like, gigantic. It’s like the whole season moved towards the last minute of that last episode, Episode 120. And so, since we didn’t get to resolve that cliffhanger, it’s not satisfying because people won’t get to see what happens.
If not at CN, do you still want to finish that story somewhere, or somehow? Maybe in a movie, comic book, or some other format?
There are still more things I want to say and that I want to show. If it’s in a comic book, that’d be great. I’m a big comic fan. If it’s a movie, that would be great too. We wrote the ending, it’s there. We know how it would have ended with another season. Now we just need to find a platform and finish it, whether that’s a movie or four more episodes or something else.
When did you find out the show was being removed from HBO Max?
I found out through my writer friend, Spencer Rothbell [Clarence]. He was the head writer on my show, and he texted me the morning of the announcement asking, “Hey, did you know about this?” He showed me one of the first articles that said that these shows are coming off the platform and I told him no, nobody had alerted me to that. So, I just started looking around and yeah, my show was on pretty much all those lists. They definitely didn’t let me know beforehand. And when I finally talked to CN, they said that they were blindsided by the news as well. This decision had come from way above them, and they said that if they would have known, they would have been ahead of it and given us a heads up.
How did those first couple of days play out? Were you able to get any confirmation or clarification from anyone at Warner?
It’s weird because I didn’t know what to believe. There were different sources saying different things and I was told that Cartoon Network didn’t even know themselves. They told me when they were told, but that was after [the articles were published]. Also, people tend to interpret information in their own kind of skewed way. For me, it still feels like eventually all our stuff is going to land somewhere; it’s not just going to disappear. At first, I was like, “Wow, this was really hurtful.” But after sitting with it for a while, it’s fine now. [The show] is going to end up somewhere, someone’s going to buy it. I’ve even heard rumors that somebody might pick it up soon. We’re still in the trial-and-error era of streaming. People are trying to figure out how to monetize these shows and what the best strategies are. We just happened to be the collateral damage of the trial and error of the beginning of the streaming era.
Was there communication between the creators of the other shows on the list?
Yeah. I reached out right away to Ian Jones-Quartey, the creator of OK K.O.!, to see what he knew. Then I reached out to some other friends at other places, and nobody really knew what was going on. Those first few days there was kind of like a fog of war like in an RTS video game that we were all walking through and slowly revealing more of the big picture. We were all trying to assess and gather what was happening. Mostly it was just confusing and weird.
Let’s go back to what you said about the show being sold: Have you been told officially that Warner is looking for a buyer for your show?
So, this is where interpretations of different pieces of information come into play. I read that they are trying to actively find homes for these things. After reading that, I asked my producer if that was true and he told me it was, although nobody knows exactly where the show will end up. That made me feel a bit better about everything. So no, I haven’t heard anything official from higher up; I kind of heard about it second hand and then I asked for clarification.
Do you feel differently now that a couple weeks have passed?
At first, I was shocked and confused. But as the dust starts to settle, and we’re starting to get a clearer picture of what’s happening, it doesn’t feel as bad. There was that initial shock when it had just happened. Now we’re piecing everything together, and I think it’ll be fine. It really does feel like we’re at the beginning of how we have to start to think about animation and where it can go. I think there are a lot of people out there that want HBO to go down for this and they’re boycotting it and stuff. And to me, that doesn’t make much sense, because it’s another place to showcase animation. If HBO Max goes down, that would be one less place to showcase animation. I think that as they figure out what works for them, and they figure out their contracts and everything else, there’ll be a new status quo. I think they were trying to hold on to the old models of monetizing animation in this new age, and it didn’t work. And so, like I said, I think we’re just casualties of this period of trial-and-error.
A lot of people right after the announcement came out started asking why anyone would want to work for Warner if their work could just be erased like this. I get the impression you don’t feel that way.
Yeah, I guess maybe that’s just my personality. I’m kind of a cooler head in general. But yeah, I mean, if the circumstances were right, if they wanted to do something and I was on board with it and liked what it was, sure. It’s not like Warner is cutting out all animation. It’s not a big sweeping cut to animation. They just have to reconfigure what works for them. So, if what works for them works for me and we see eye-to-eye on a project, then I don’t see why not.
Well you seem pretty excited for the future. Can you talk about anything that are you working on now?
When I was doing the show and researching Mesoamerican history, there were a lot of ideas I couldn’t use because the show was for Y7, and the myths weren’t age appropriate. So all these ideas would sort of drip down and create the pools of really cool stuff that over time started growing into stalagmites of ideas. So now I’m working on six or seven different things that I would love to do and am enjoying it. I’m still at the stage where I’m polishing some ideas that spun out from the show.
Could you see yourself doing something for adult audiences?
Absolutely, yeah. It would be a pleasure to do that. Some of the ideas I have are definitely for adult audiences, but with my kind of cartoony spin on them. But the idea now is to keep working on them and when they’re ready, present them and see what happens next.