mc chris is known for a lot of things. From his early days as the simple, mild mannered Chris Ward working on Adult Swim, to his super hero like transformation into nerd rapper, mc chris – who’s known for songs such as ‘Fett’s Vett,’ ‘Hoodie Ninja,’ and ‘Part One’ (or as my fiance calls it, the Batman song). Ward has had his share of ups and downs, but has not balked from the downs, openly discussing them. I respect that, and have been a fan of his ever since the line “Hesh wants sex!” from Sea Lab 2021.
I had the opportunity to talk with Ward this week about his Kickstarter and current work-in-progress, the tentatively titled mc chis cartoon.
Geeks of Doom: For all the people who may not know, how long have you worked in the ‘cartoon’ business?
mc chris: I have been working on cartoons for, I’d say 13 years now. I was at 70/30 prod a year before Adult Swim premiered in 2001.
GoD: Solid, I only knew about your work on Brak, Space Ghost, Sea Lab, and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. So, how did working on someone else’s creation differ from seeing your creation come to life?
mc chris: Well for a lot of things in life, you have no idea what it’s gonna be like until you get your hands dirty, and that’s especially true when you go from being a hired hand to being the boss. You have a better understanding of cost, time frame, and basically how difficult everything is. You are in charge of everything. When you’re an animator, a writer, a composer, an actor, your challenge is whatever you’re presented with that day. When you’re the boss, you have to have a sense of everything that’s happening. It’s multitasking times ten, but down the road you get folks to share the burden. When you’re starting out as a creator you do everything pretty much on your own. Although I was lucky to have Titmouse help me out with much of the workload once we started animating. They prepare the budgets, the schedule, and direct the animation. I just write the script, record actors, and send in notes to everyone. My main job is quality control. Is everything up to snuff. Sound and music is a big part of this show, so I’m working on music for a long time before we start to draw and at the end of the process I’m there to sweeten, i.e. add all the sfx. I still have lots to learn, but much of what I know already I learned by paying attention on the job when I was working on the Williams Street shows.
GoD: That sounds incredibly challenging. It is amazing that you have taken this dream and kept with it, despite the monolithic task it seems to be. You’ve said you work on the music far in advance, how big of a roll will music play? Any thoughts or ideas of potentially having guest musical artists?
mc chris: That’s how it was originally designed, to have all these cool folks I met on the road and at Warped be in the show. Since its conception I’ve come to understand how the legal world can be a drag and suck the life out of a project, so I think in the beginning it will focus mainly on mc chris, and each episode will feature a song. That’s gonna be mandatory. And the score is a really important part to me as well. I’ve already started working on the score to the next episode and you’ll hear some of it in the trailer that premieres when we launch the next Kickstarter on June 1st. That being said, I’ve always dreamed of bringing in some amazing guests. And in spite of what I’ve learned about the legal process, I’m still going to try to bring some folks in because it plays an important part in the story. When mc meets the first musician in the story it will be a big deal. I don’t know who we’ll be able to get, but a lot of people owe me a favor. I’ll say that. In the show, his career has fizzled and he’s become an inter-dimensional bicycle messenger pretty much, but when he sees someone who’s succeeded in the music business he’ll start missing his old gig. And he’ll do anything to win back his career. That’s pretty much the story of the whole show. Also, when we reveal his past it will hopefully come with a cavalcade of cameos. His back story is guest star rich.
GoD: That’s awesome! So it sounds like the show will follow a rhyme & reason and tell a story, as apposed to being one offs that never really link together.
mc chris: No there’s a big story. I know exactly how it ends. And now that we’re focusing on crowd sourcing and showing it ourselves, we’ll be telling the story much faster than I had planned. Because we’ll only be able to make a few episodes a year. It will become more of a movie than a TV show. But there’s a huge story. In the beginning it will feel like G.I. Joe Special Missions, one offs that are connected by very subtle clues and hints. But when the story kicks into high gear, it will be unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Because the show was in development and pitched in many different ways, I’ve picked up all these different story lines that I just want to jam into to one big chaotic katamari ball. It’s a lot of different things mashed up together. LOST, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Wolverine, even the Bourne series. Because I’ve been dreaming about it for so long lots of different movies and tv shows have influenced it. And keep in mind it’s an extension off of the skits on my records which are all connected. The show exists in that timeline, so lots of things we’ve set up in the skits like zombies, assassins, heaven, hell, ghost busting, managers, the music business, it all comes back into the show in a fun way. Everything will get a call back. Every character will return. Even all the hunters from GTFO.
GoD: In the rough pitch you have out, there is mention on the ‘bad’ moral ramifications dealing with time travel. Will we learn more about that?
mc chris: When we do the moral ramifications bit, it’s really a comment on stealing artifacts. I was in London and I was seeing all these amazing things like the Parthenon and the Rosetta Stone and I was like this stuff should be in the country it was found in. So it’s basically putting it out there right away, that this job is stealing, and that mc isn’t an angel. He’s more of a Calvin, Dennis the Menace-type that knows it’s bad and does it anyway.
GoD: That is insanity. The skits from your early stuff (up through Dungeon Master of Ceremonies) were always a big part of my later life. I use to take my mom to doctor’s appointments when she got sick and she would always lose her mind laughing at them. It is personally, very exciting to hear the cartoon will be an extension of all of that.
mc chris: Yeah, it’s all one story. I’m very OCD, so I don’t really know how to not to make it all one story. This leads to this, etc. Anything that happens to mc becomes a part of his back story. I have the skits on the albums all planned out for the next five records say so it all leads up to why mc is flying down into the first shot of the pilot when we first see him. The future records will be a companion piece to the show that will explain some mysteries like how the city got like that. Where the robots come from. There’s a robot in the next album as was set up in the hell albums. We’re doing the ghost robot adventures and it’s a set up to those giant robots we see in that big shot of the city we see in the pitch. Believe me, when I’m done it will make sense.
GoD: Its really cool that this much thought has gone into the cartoons creation. So onto the big question. Robot Owl. Does it have a name and is it going to be a reoccurring sidekick for you? I love the idea of Robot Owl.
mc chris: The robot owl is called Owlbot and he’s very important to the story. He doesn’t talk, but he definitely makes you ask lots of question: What is he?, Where did he come from?, When did he and mc meet?, What’s the deal?, and I won’t explain any of it until the very end of the story. But it’s my favorite part of the story. It’s not just there for laughs or for background color. He has a purpose. The owl was a central icon of Williams Street. They had these fake owls outside to keep birds from smacking into windows, from shitting all over everything. And so he just became mc’s sidekick as the story evolved. It’s mainly a shout out to hedwig in the Harry Potter stories. But I loved Clash of the Titans as a kid, or I should say, I was scared to death of it. Mike Lazzo (CEO of Adult Swim) kinda talked like the owl from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, so it was a secretive way of including him in the show. That’s why he’s blue. A lot has happened since he was invented, but he’s still there and his part in the story has become more and more important as time has gone on. He has all these functions, each episode will reveal a new function. Although in the next episode he won’t be in it much. He’s busy projecting a ‘Howlogram’ to distract Chandler so mc can have his first adventure, but he’ll be with mc every adventure after that. Oh and as a side note you can find him on mc’s grave on the mc chris is dead album cover. He’s included with the mc action figure laid on his grave.
GoD: Has making a cartoon always been a goal of yours? Any other media goals we can look forward to?
mc chris: Yeah, I always wanted to make cartoons. When I was little I went to Disney movies by myself. I loved afternoon cartoons like G.I. Joe and Transformers, Duck Tales. Even as a little kid, I had this Disney animating program that I tried to figure out. I wanted to make cartoons. To work for Disney. My early drawings were inspired by things like Garfield, Foxtrot, and Calvin & Hobbes. I wanted to be Bill Watterson. Nothing was better than that growing up, opening the Sunday paper and seeing those huge color panels. Calvin really captured what it was like to be alone and be a child. I could relate to say the least. When I started to work on real cartoons on Adult Swim, a lot had changed. And I hadn’t been trained properly for the digital age, for styluses and Wacom tablets. But 70/30 let me learn on the job and thankfully I had always been able to draw and could apply it to this new tech. I just had to learn how to draw again in a way. As time passed I started to daydream about what I would do. I always said the skits would become a cartoon, but I didn’t really know what that meant or where the story was gonna go. That’s why studying at Upright Citizen’s Brigade in New York really helped me learn to let things grow organically. To roll with the punches. It kept me relaxed as the story kinda happened by itself. We improvised all of the skits so we rarely knew where it was gonna go or what the jokes were. We just let it flow. And now it’s the weird thing that it is, and I’m still working on it and helping it grow.
GoD: Any news on if a network has picked it up, or is it still being shopped around, or have you decided to forgo all that and just make it yourself?
mc chris: Right now I’ve decided to make it myself. I had such a hard time being in a development with a network. They wanted to change so many things. They didn’t like the time travel. Or they wanted me to go back just to the nineties. They didn’t get the dinosaurs. Why are they there? Where do they come from? They didn’t understand the non sequitur state of mind of the Adult Swim audience. I knew the audience wouldn’t care. In fact, when I showed it to everyone for the first time, that was a part that everybody loved and nobody said, Where do they come from? Why are they British? They just loved it. It was a hellish experience to be under contract. I wasn’t on Adult Swim and they were pecking at this thing that was very precious to me. But networks have money and UCB taught me that I could make anything they asked for and make it good. I could improvise and say “yes, and” instead of what the fuck. Then my lawyer and their lawyer were going back and forth and it was getting weird. I couldn’t work on other shows, I couldn’t use my name on other shows, my music couldn’t go on other shows. I was worried, but I felt like wow they really want me. I signed the contract and I was ready to make my show, and then they blew me off. It was weird. I started to run out of money and I was like “Can I book a tour? because I need to pay my bills.” and they said, we’re gonna pass. And I think what I learned from the experience is that I don’t want to do it again. It took a year out of my life that I could’ve spent crowd sourcing and making stuff. Chris P from Titmouse said to me we could have made a season of shows in the year we lost. And I agreed. So that’s why we’re just keeping it to ourselves right now. I’d be down if somebody got it and had confidence in me and it, but I think the conventional side of fence is grounded in fear and doubt that an unfamiliar idea won’t work. And my fans are like “I’m throwing money at the screen! I want more!” Kevin Smith has been a great source of wisdom to me during this process and when we talked recently he was like, that’s why you have so many fans, so they can help you make this thing without having to bend over backwards for somebody who doesn’t even understand what you’re doing. My fans get it thankfully and right now the show is for them and me. If someone gets it down the road and they can help us make it faster, awesome. I won’t wait around for it.
GoD: I respect that frame of mind. I suspect most of your fans will as well. Are your family and loved ones supportive of this sojourn in the journey of ‘Chris Ward”? And, will you still be touring throughout the process of making the cartoon?
mc chris: My family has my back. They feel the ups and the downs right along side of me. I lost my father to cancer a year and half ago, and that, and the rejection that has come with this cartoon, has given me a thick skin I just didn’t have before. I’ve spent a lot of this time in that ‘9/11’ frame of mind, where you’re like ‘I can’t believe this is real,’ ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ But for me at least, life is more struggle than it is a string of wins. I think I was bummed that I couldn’t get something on tv to show my dad before he passed, something to make him proud. But he was a conservative guy, who’s to say he would’ve liked it or gotten it? A lot of my life he looked at me like I don’t get it but I’m proud of you. He never watched Adult Swim or understood how big it was. So his death almost let me go of that need to please him. I was now just trying to please the audience and myself and that’s really how it should be. I think it’s been difficult to be around me during his sickness and passing, hard for fans and those close to me. But each day I’m getting more and more stoked about what I’m doing and what the situation is. I think the great challenge of life is dealing with the way it is rather than dealing with the way you wish it was. The more I understand what life truly is, the more of a steely resolve forges itself inside of me. I’m here to make this and rejection isn’t gonna stop it, mourning my father isn’t going to break me. If anything, it all can make me stronger as the saying goes. I feel like I’ve been climbing forever but I’m still somehow at the bottom of the mountain. But you just put one foot in front of the other and keep climbing. Stop looking up and just look at your feet. It’s easier that way.
And yes, I will still be touring. We have a tour this summer starting in july. We’ll be Kickstarting on the road. I’ll literally be walking up to fans and asking what their credit card number is and I’ll enter it into the little Kickstarter app on my phone. I think being a backer gives the fans away to connect with the project in a new way. Not only do you get some cool rewards. But this is their cartoon. They wanted it and they made it happen. You just haven’t been able to say that before. This is the people’s cartoon.
GoD: It is awesome to know you have the support of your family. I know personally what a struggle it can be to lose a parent, it takes a strong resolve to to be able to turn a bad situation into positive energy instead of letting it tear you down.
mc chris: Yeah, it’s been hell. But I’m still here thinking about what comes next and what I’ll do next. In a lot of ways my father has inspired the cartoon. He spent the end of his life watching westerns and the next episode we’re Kickstarting is a western so it’s a way to connect with him even when he’s gone. He loved things like knights and cowboys and really classic genre stuff and that will fill up the first few adventures. The whole thing is kind of an ode to him and the classic heroes of the kids from the World War II era. I’m not done thinking about him. I don’t know if I ever will be.
GoD: So, beside the cartoon, what do we have to look forward to this summer from mc chris?
mc chris: The Kickstarter launches on saturday June 1st, and that day I’m doing an AMA on reddit at 4pm EDT. Summer tour will start up around July 9th and we should be announcing those dates right around the Kickstarter launch. Other than that, I’ll just be touring the nation for two months, and finishing my 8th album, which comes out this fall. If the fundraising goes well. we’ll be going into production in August, possibly September, which should make for a holiday release. Beyond that I’ve got a family to start and a couple sequels to write, including FOES which would be the sequel to last Fall’s FRIENDS; both are records set in Gotham City. There’ll be a lyrics book of everything I’ve ever written coming out as well next year, and hopefully many more episodes of the mc chris cartoon!