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.
Let’s Build Garden City!‘s huge citywide workshop series How to Make A Million While Selling Your Crops in the Hood is the gift that keeps giving! Here’s our Q&A with Urban Canopy co-founder & farmer Eric Rodriguez! Stay tuned for more gem-filled interviews with farmers in your area! See you next Spring ^_^
What are you up to in 2020?
I’m going to be homestead gardening in Florida until March. We’re really excited about planting fruit trees and getting avocados. I saw avocados that were like THIS big and shaped like a zucchini!
It’d be great to get people to come see the horses, too.
IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Action Network) is gonna be opening up a kitchen [in Chicago] that’s an education space for the community to come in and learn how we cook the stuff that we’re growing at the gardens & offered at the markets. Even some of the stuff that’s offered at the corner stores that people might not even see or know was there.
Yeah and then they go on a track to either carpentry, electrical work, or heating venting & air-conditioning. They pick a track and they’re able to have 8-12 months of immersed hands-on stuff. With soft-skill learning days- so they can learn how to cook and make their own breakfast, lunch, &, dinner for them and their families.
So hopefully that kitchen gets going by the summertime.
When did you start doing agricultural work?
My very first project was working at the Plant Chicago. In that warehouse space [aka Bubbly Dynamics] they were building aquaponics systems and I was on my way out of UIC (University of Illinois at Chicago). For my senior design class we went to the Plant to try to scope out projects and we found out they were doing this vertical wall that they wanted to grow, like lettuce & leafy greens out of.
And then I got connected to the Urban Canopy, one of the businesses that rented space out of the Plant. When I first started we were doing like 3 little farmer’s markets and had 10 compost club members.
What’s some advice you have for students starting out as a professional in the agriculture industry? A lot of the training I got was through the Urban Canopy, little by little. I learned the value of writing things down. And trying to gather as much information as possible so that next year when we’re in the same situation we’re not like ‘What did we do last year? I think we had a good plan but what was it…?’
Because I got to spend 5 years there and see it grow, when I was leaving we had like a THOUSAND compost club members. We had like a hundred CSA members, we were doing like 15 farmer’s markets.
Do you have any other words of encouragement for someone looking for a service learning project to do?
This is a new time we have opportunity to grow, literally & metaphorically. Young people might see it as the biggest employer [in their neighborhood] is selling drugs…but there’s big employers in food, too. Who doesn’t eat food? People are pulling back on supporting bigger chains and supporting local projects.
RSVP & donate to support new student gardens in 2020! 🌻
Let’s Build Garden City!‘s huge citywide workshop series How to Make A Million While Selling Your Crops in the Hood is the gift that keeps giving! Here’s our Q&A with LBGC! founder & rapper +! Stay tuned for more gem-filled interviews with farmers in your area! See you next Spring ^_^
Who are you?
+, aka Plus Sign.
What’s some advice you have for students starting out as a professional in the agriculture industry?
Hustle with the intensity of a famous rapper…and also relax & play with the intensity of one!
What are some local resources you think students should know about?
Of course everything in our resource library…and our community partners like Grow Op Chicago in Logan Square and the Breathing Room Space in the Back of the Yards neighborhood can show you a lot about organic collaboration. Advocates for Urban Agriculture has a huge community of people around it, too (AUA listserv). And Milan Anderson mentioned the Chicago Environmental Network. They seem really helpful!
Do you have any words of encouragement for someone just looking for a fun service learning project to do?
It’s really really exciting and beautiful to give life! And it doesn’t cost a lot but you can learn about any topic you want through it: from black history, to science, to health, to math. It saves lives and makes the world around you more healthy and connected in every way.
What’s the secret to students treating each other right?
Patience & active listening. Freedom from fear.
Anything else you want to talk about?
I’m excited to hit the streets and party on behalf of student gardens this year! Follow @letsbuildgardencity on IG to know when we’re gonna be out!
Can we share your social media?
Yes, please! I’m @nearfutureplus on IG & Twitter.
RSVP & donate to support new student gardens in 2020! 🌻
“God’s Plan” is a song by Canadian musician Drake from his EP Scary Hours.”God’s Plan” became the 29th song in history to debut at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100, making it Drake’s fourth US number one, and second as a lead artist. It also debuted at number one in Canada,and atop the UK Singles Chart on January 26, 2018, giving Drake his second number-one single as lead artist there after “One Dance” (2016). The song also broke first-day streaming records on both Apple Music and Spotify. It is the most influential song in the world right now!
😎 Personal: Watching the opening of The Matrix: Revolutions, I couldn’t help but feel directly represented in my struggle to produce change for the Trainman so I can get back to fighting for the truth about money and borders. The programs Neo converse with obviously represent the entire families and communities that are likewise (but much more horrifically) stranded in our system. I live outside my city now, supported by father and partner and a small circle of very close friends. As Neo’s own family fights through Hell to help him out, The Wachowski filmmaking team give us a moment of peace, of eye-to-eyeness, and open their hearts unabashedly to the globe. This sequence used to feel a little superfluous and ponderous in its construction but that was before I truly understood that the symbolism used is much more naked, empathetic, and urgent.
🔎#Factual: At each moment of crushing near-defeat the only way any of the characters in The Matrix Trilogy make any headway is by believing in their self. Our heroes make a choice to love as the very nature of reality is deconstructed and hanging in the balance, and that is how their world eventually transcends restriction.
In The Matrix Trilogy, Zion, the unplugged human haven, is shown without any discernible currency~ certainly nothing resembling money as it was used at the start of the 21st century.
🔧What Does It Have? What Does It Need?:
If life was asking a question with its production of and investment in The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded answers the question as soon as it intercuts a diverse, classless Zion rejoicing together while Neo and Trinity make love.
The first two films end with rapper Zach De La Rocha & his band Rage Against The Machine rallying against inequality. Later in The Matrix: Reloaded credits is a song by fellow hip-hop rockers P.O.D. imploring you to “unlock these secrets in me” and decode hidden messages. Put together this clearly just means that these films are acknowledging that in real life “the Matrix” is restricted access to space & resources that we wish art could rescue us from politically.
🔧What Does It Have? What Does It Need?:
The people spoken for in these songs have righteous fury, shared culture, and love for each other but need housing, access to basic necessities and to not be targeted as dangerous or for slavery by the needs of maintaining the historical system of money and borders. P.O.D. need you to understand the meaning of the film The Matrix and use your powers to give a voice to the voiceless. “Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear?”
🔎#Factual: In 1999, The Matrix was a metaphor for our lives in the (post-)modern reality of inequality. Neo was supposed to have flown above that inequality at the end of the first film to destroy borders and global injustice. He didn’t, so in 2003, The Matrix: Reloaded & Revolutions would be looking ahead to the endgame of restricted access to space & resources.
🔧What Does It Have? What Does It Need?: Millions of people anticipated the climax to Reloaded to provide an answer and herald a new global awakening. And when the Keymaker opens the Door of Light and The One enters…the films engage us in a recursive loop to be replayed out until the moment is right. Each time, the film tells the viewer to choose to forge ahead even when it seems like the systems holding up money and borders are too much, the genocide too complete. The Architect’s sequence visually references the fact that Neo is being viewed in a sequel to The Matrix, searching (again) for what the Matrix is and thus also anticipates a sense of our social media life via peeling layers of digital reality. Day after day, year after year, we return to these films needing something more to complete the mission. The only reason The Matrix films have not changed the world to the point of eradicating inequality is because art, other than religion, has never had power over money and borders. UNTIL NOW.
😎 Personal: Once upon a time, I was an avid re-watcher of The Matrix the same age as the little “Potential” telling Neo “There is no spoon, it is only your mind that bends.” I grew up with that in… mind. Watching it now, as an adult person with adult relationships and a curious consciousness I kept flexible, I am ready to finish the game!
🌏#Actionable: RSVP to support student gardens here!
#mtvXO is a utopian pop culture network & service learning platform. We partnered with Let’s Build Garden City! to bring you the 10 Laws of #nomoneynoborders and make it easy to share how something creates a free world! We focus on pop culture as the most powerful images, languages, and sounds expressed from all over the world and posit that its message is often literally censored from having the very impact we make it for. We are identifying our global human community’s TRUE demands, elevating them, and linking it all up to real life structures that build utopia.
These are the 10 Laws of #nomoneynoborders:
1. Life Does Not Transcend Money & Borders
2. Freedom Transcends Money & Borders
3. Art Transcends Money & Borders
4. Believing in Yourself Transcends Money & Borders
5. The Savior Transcends Money & Borders
6. Partying Transcends Money & Borders
7. Love Transcends Money & Borders
8. Utopia Transcends Money & Borders
9. Hip-Hop Transcends Money & Borders
10. Future Transcends Money & Borders
You can apply these laws (or your own!) at any time to anything.
🎞#NowPlaying: Clips, videos, or pictures illustrating the topic
🔎 #Factual: Objective descriptions related to how something fulfills a law (or three)
🔧 What Does It Have? What Does It Need?: Can be broad or specific, fantastic or realistic. Ex. What does the protagonist of a movie lack materially and how does that intersect with the plot and what they are looking for emotionally?
😎 Personal: Super subjective but all-important level of analysis, how the writer is indivudually experiencing a piece of art and applying it to their own life
🌏 #Actionable: Ties the subject back into #mtvXO/Let’s Build Garden City! and using art & creativity to actively make a new world.
Click here to find out everything you need to know ahead of the 2019-2020 school year! See you this weekend supporting student gardens at Pledge Day in Pullman/Roseland & Beverly/Morgan Park. Please RSVP for the Garden City Back-to-School Parade on the 31st if you haven’t yet, too. 🙂
I’m the President of Utopia, that means it’s my duty to bring the hundreds if not thousands of young artists, activists, and thinkers in this place together to build their version of a free world.
I’m raising $6,000 in 24 hours to create a lovely new utopia with the wonderful communities around me!
The Cooperation Operation transforms vacant land into opportunities for empowerment. We’re branching out from our farm on the Southside to connect fellow grassroots gardeners through resource sharing, structural support, and advocacy! #F12Network prevents and addresses sexual violence through connection, discussion, and education.
We want to build utopia by helping #10gardens and #100venues to thrive!