Pat McHale is a writer and cartoonist from New Jersey. He has worked on such big name cartoons as Adventure Time, Over The Garden Wall, and The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack.
First Pat, I’m Irish, and I have to ask; with a name like that, surely you’ve got Irish blood?
I sure do! I’m a mix. Mainly Irish, English, German, & Italian.
How did you get into cartoons?
Well… I liked cartoons growing up, of course. I watched Disney’s Robin Hood and Winnie the Pooh over and over again. And loved the Ewoks tv show. Later I really got into Ren & Stimpy…. which then got me interested in old cartoons. Cartoon Network used to play black and white cartoons at night, which was really exciting. And then in high school I used to watch a TV program called Classic Arts Showcase which runs clips from all sorts of classic performances & old films (it’s actually still running 24 hours a day online) and saw a clip of Winsor McCay’s The Flying House one night… and for some reason that really made me sure I wanted to try to do animation as a career.
How did you know that was what you wanted to do for a living?
I liked making art and film, and liked music… and animation seemed like a way to do everything. I was also just really intrigued by the process. I couldn’t figure out how it was done. So i wanted to learn about it and go to school for it.
I mean you’ve done a lot of writing, were you, are you ever tempted to go into other media like drama, live action, even novels?
Sure! Hopefully I can do all that stuff someday. Being a novelist sounds like a funny thing to be. I wrote that book Bags a while back, which was intended to be a novel that I’d write in one week. Instead it ended up essentially being a short story broken up into chapters. But it was really fun to work on. REALLY fun. Because there was no work involved. It was all just… writing. Making cartoons is a lot of work. At least it is for me. Stage shows and live action films are great too. Seems like it’s easier to do the type of lighting and atmosphere that I like in live action.
How long does it take for a 2D cartoon to come together these days?
From outline to final delivery it took us a little over a year to make Over the Garden Wall. That was to make 10 eleven minute shorts.
What were your inspirations as a kid?
Growing up in New Jersey was a big inspiration for me I guess. There are all sorts of strange things going on there from modern urban legends to old folk tales. But then some of the weirdest stuff is actually true. There was even a magazine devoted to how weird New Jersey is called Weird NJ.
New Jersey has a lot of stuff going on for such a small state; a lot of people, a lot of wildlife/forests, a lot of garbage, a lot of crumby buildings, a lot of beautiful buildings, a lot of history… and it’s all smashed together in this small peanut shaped state.
Adventure time really is, lets say, ‘out there’. Are you as ‘out there’ as the content you create, or do you have to prepare yourself for that mindset? *wink wink, nudge nudge*
I’m pretty good at getting my brain into a half dream-state sometimes. Daydreaming. I’m pretty good at daydreaming and letting my mind wander. So maybe that could be called “out there”… but I think most creative people are that way. But if you’re referring to drug use or anything, definitely not. I drink black tea with milk and honey and I take naps.
And of course it has appeal for both children and adults – is that intentional? How do you achieve that?
I think whenever you write something you want people to like it. The best way to do that, usually, is to write what you think is good. That’s basically what everyone tries to do… just to write what they think is good. Part of that is staying true to the characters and the world (which makes it a kids show by it’s design)… and part of that is introducing deeper concepts that we, as writers, are curious about exploring (which makes it more interesting for adults).
Speaking of something that has appeal for adults, Over the Garden Wall. It’s got great production values and a beautiful aesthetic so fair play on that one. What did you have in mind when you made it, what were you trying to achieve?
Mostly were were trying to achieve a certain mood; a certain experience for the viewer. With all the problems I have with Over the Garden Wall, in the end I’ve happy with it because I think we came close to delivering the right mood overall.
You kind of alluded to “problems” with Over The Garden Wall, could you expand on that?
Oh I just mean… it’s not perfect. It’s probably better for me not to explain specifically, but I probably agree with most reasonable criticisms of the series… but I also have a whole other set of criticisms that no one else can have because only I know my original intentions (and when they fell short). But… yeah overall I’m quite happy with it regardless.
Over The Garden Wall has a fantastic musical score – was that a vital ingredient do you think?
Oh absolutely. Without the music being as well done as it was, the mood would have been totally off. We relied on the music a lot for storytelling purposes.
How did it feel to get Elijah Wood as the voice of Wirt? Was that a good sign of faith?
Pretty amazing. Basically I told my voice casting director that although the character was a little bit Woody-Allen-ish I was looking for someone with an Elijah Wood type voice. So she reached out to Elijah and he agreed to do it! Just like magic.
Blackford Manor is a very dark piece, but along a similar vein; do you especially like bringing in this ‘twisted fairytale’ element? Where does that come from?
Haha, well Jiwook Kim and I definitely share some interests and sensibilities. I can’t speak to where her interest in the macabre comes from… but mine probably comes from watching a whole lot of horror movies when I was probably too young to watch horror movies. As a kid, when it was time to sleep, I would close my eyes and then just see horrible faces swirling towards me. Haha. It was scary to go to sleep.
Here’s a question that could be tricky; What was your favourite project to be involved in?
The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack was the most fun show I’ve worked on. We just had so much fun! It felt like we could just do anything we wanted, and every day was just… hanging out with pals and making each other laugh. It was great. Thurop was an amazing boss.
That said, I guess my favorite project was Over the Garden Wall because it was my own thing.
The Marvellous Misadventures of Flapjack is a very successful project you’re on board with; Is it harder coming up with episode ideas for something like that, or adventure time, that has run as long as it has? (in comparison to over the garden wall, a miniseries for example)
Umm… not really. On Flapjack all the board artists and writers just hung out in a room and told funny stories about our lives and then they’d get turned into episodes. On Adventure Time… the world feels so endless that it was never THAT hard to come up with new stuff to write.
What is your favourite part of your job?
I’m not even sure what my job IS at the moment, haha. But my favorite part of making cartoons is finishing them and not having to work on them any more! It’s grueling to me. But it’s satisfying to finish.
What do you see yourself doing in the future?
Hopefully I’ll get the chance to make some more cartoons and films. Right now i’m working on some Over the Garden Wall comics for Boom! comics. I’d like to write operas with the Blasting Company (the composers of OTGW). Or write books. Or anything. Just keep making stuff ’till my time is up.
What would you say to someone looking to get into the business?
Make stuff. And make friends with other people who make stuff, and support each other.
What projects have you got on the go?
Well I mentioned the OTGW comics. I’m helping out with a Frederator pilot based on the video game Costume Quest. And… there are a few other things that i’m not allowed to talk about yet, because they may or may not happen.
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