OLD INTERVIEW // Adventuretime showrunner Jesse Moynihan

This piece was created as part of PERFORM/TRANSFORM: World’s Fair 2018 🌍


Jesse Moynihan is an artist, composer and director best known for being a writer and storyboarder on the animated television series Adventure Time as well as being the creator of the graphic novel FORMING. He also released the animated short Manly exclusively through Cartoon Hangover, made with his brother Justin. We caught up with Jesse to ask about the inspiration behind Dogon, a “perfect world” created in the most recent (and ongoing) volume of FORMING.

+: Is there anything you want people to know off the bat about FORMING as it relates to the themes of freedom and utopia?

Jesse Moynihan: It’s hard for me to step away from it and totally analyze what I’m trying to talk about. I don’t know if I’ll really fully know until it’s done. And then I can look at it in retrospect like, “Oh, this is probably what I was thinking about.” I know a lot of making it is following my instincts and things in the moment that interest me. It might be in the moment [that] I don’t know why something interests me fully, you know? I’m just like ‘Something in this is sparking something in me’ and so I write around it, address it and then see what happens. A lot of times I’ll write from someone’s point of view that I feel disconnected from then try to find a way to relate to it. Or maybe something in me that I think is like the worst part of me that I want to get rid of. A lot of time FORMING is an exploration of points of view. I think I gravitate towards writing from a lot of people’s very very aggressive points of view and trying to find sympathy for those types of people. I’m really trying to find these vital things that are like bright lights, things that stick out. Whether it be like vibrant levels of good or vibrant levels of evil, you know? Something that, when I think about it, I go: “Oh, that would be shocking” or “That makes me feel really strong emotions,” and I’ll try to incorporate that. Or “That image feels really meaty. It’s got a lot of juice in it.” And then I’ll do that.

So that utopia, that whole sequence where this guy finally achieved World Peace on this planet and there’s one guy on the planet who just hates it is based on this exchange I was having on 4Chan[.org] for a while where people were talking shit on me and me trying to engage with that. Which was a little social experiment I was doing for a while. I was seeing what my pain threshold was [laughs]. I got really fascinated with 4chan because it’s a place where you can anonymously say anything you want. So in some ways 4chan is… completely free. Almost. And because it’s completely free these really really cool, funny ideas come out of that and sometimes things that are horrible come out of that. It’s like a grab bag. You never know what you’re gonna get [laughs]. It’s like a pure, perfect example of chaos. It’s like a chaos demon. Sometimes a demon can reward you, sometimes it will curse you for life [laughs]. Yeah, and so I was really fascinated with 4chan for a while because of that. I was interacting with [the users] and having good interactions sometimes and then having the most toxic, volatile interactions. The thing I really found interesting was that different people will continue the same argument. So it’s almost like you’re talking to the same person because they’re all anonymous, right? But it’s like a person who has no consistency. They’ll flip on a dime or they’ll… you’ll reason with one person and you’ll get them on your side but then another person will pick up the thread as if that conversation never happened. So this character, this marblelike void, I tried to base him off… I have this obsidian ball in my room. I like to stare into it for a while to remind myself of something that happened during a ayahuasca trip. There was this black void I was afraid to look at or acknowledge. Afterwards I was like “I think this black void is… important.”

I bought this obsidian ball to remind me to look at this void, this dark enemy, whatever it was. So I based this character on that, this like endless, deep, deep darkness. That will always hate whatever you’re doing [laughs]. No matter how great it is or how great you think it is. So this guy built this world that was perfect but you can’t build a perfect world, I think, was what I was trying to say. In that sequence I was also trying to talk about art and why we make things. And who we’re making them for. Are we making art for ourselves or are we making it for other people? And when you make something is it done? Or is it done when you show it to somebody? It’s hard to say. And then when you show it to people, it’s not in your hands anymore. You’re weirdly held accountable for it yet you have no control over how it’s interpreted. A lot of people can take what you make and really find fault in you because of it. So that’s what I was trying to talk about in that section of the book, I think! It’s been a while since I worked on that. I still have to finish that scene. I cutaway from it go address some other stuff. I think he’s starting to realize that he’s dreaming. He never really created that world. There might be some carryover. I think my ideas might be that in some sense it is real. I generally don’t like dream sequences. Unless they have some carryover in having some weight to them, you know? If you just had a dream, like ‘Oh it was all just a dream,’ that’s sort of disappointing, narratively. So it’ll be real to some degree. He’s hibernating. His Earth body is hibernating, right now. The character Nommo.

+: What you’re saying about dreams having a purpose definitely makes sense in the context of FORMING. It also sounds like a metaphor for being an artist. I mean, the Utopia & [Nommo] being an artist. He’s the ruler of this world and he’s talking to kids and giving them artistic advice. It seems like you’re just engaging with creativity. How are you planning to… Do you feel like your personal growth is invested in whatever you’re going to do with FORMING in 2018?

JM: Yeah, I have to be making progress in myself while making it. The solutions I come up with in order to resolve all the storylines have to reflect things I’m learning about now. I have to ask all these questions while making the book at some point I have to try to answer at least some. In some way! Or, like, find some resolution. I started the book in 2009 now it’s 2018, hopefully I’ve figured something out. [laughs] Not everything but at least some of the stuff. At least grown a little bit. It’s like having a conversation with myself. Hopefully nine years pass and I’ve gotten a little wiser. That’s the big hope. If I’m just the same person I was nine years ago I guess I fucked up.

+: Unless that ends up being the point. I feel like there’s a lot of looping going on, recurring things… Yeah, I love it. I’m excited to see it keep growing because the threads going feel very lifelike and I can see the working through of all that.

JM: Yeah, hopefully people can see that. I don’t just want it to be a genre exercise. That’s why it’s hard for me to explain what it is when people don’t know about FORMING. Because well…it’s a sci-fi action book, sort of. But it’s sort of also about my life, you know? In a weird way. Also: I’m trying to be funny. So it’s also a joke-y book. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it to people. “Oh, it’s kind of funny. It has some philosophy in it. It’s science fiction. And it has a lot of spiritual stuff, too. So it could be a lot of things! When I describe it to people they could maybe imagine like a super serious 70s Heavy Metal graphic novel or something. Or they could imagine, like, a goofy webcomic. Hopefully it’s not either of those things. Even though I like those old serious Heavy Metal comics- but that’s not what I’m trying to do.