Interview: Maxwell Atoms

From the development team that brought you “Cow and Chicken” and “I Am Weasel”, we present Maxwell Atoms, the creator of Cartoon Network’s Big Pick 2001 winner, “Grim and Evil”. We got a chance to chat with Maxwell to ask about the future of the series, some mysterious questions, and generally picked his brain for inside information. Read on to learn more about the man behind Cartoon Network’s macabre comedic hit.

CNF: The Fansite: What were some of the influences as an animator?

M. Atoms: Surrealism, monster movies and old Saturday morning cartoons. I love the idea that anything is possible in animation. I learned a lot from all of the great animators working out here, too.

CNF: The Fansite: What are some of your favorite cartoons?

M. Atoms: Aside from the cartoons that a lot of people would list like old UPA stuff and “Ren & Stimpy”? Actually, I can usually find something to like in most cartoons. Grim and Evil is influenced by a lot of the stuff I watched as a kid. There’s a lot of Hanna-Barbera, G.I. Joe, Galaxy High, and Saturday Supercade stuff in Grim and Evil.

CNF: The Fansite: Cartoon Cartoons fans know you played a big part in David Feiss’s “Cow and Chicken” and “I Am Weasel”. What did you do, and how do you think you added to those shows?

M. Atoms: I started out doing design on those shows. I had just come off of four months of unemployment after the disastrous “Blues Brothers” animated series. You don’t remember that one because it never aired. Anyway, David was always very flexible with me and allowed me to do pretty much whatever I wanted. I ended up doing storyboards and writing for a lot of the episodes. I always thought Weasel had a lot of unfulfilled potential. Hopefully I did something to improve that show. Apparently the Cartoon Network really took notice of me when I did the storyboard for “The Magnificent Motorbikini”, which I pretty much made up off the top of my head. That’s the one where Weasel develops a superfast bikini and takes Babboon into a dimension ruled by intelligent hams.

CNF: The Fansite: Grim and Evil was the first show on Cartoon Network totally chosen by the fans. How does that make you feel?

M. Atoms: That was a harrowing time. I was competing against friends and co-workers for a chance at a series. Thanks to the fans I was able to overcome these friends and co-workers, grinding their dreams to a thin paste in the wake of my rise to power and glory.

CNF: The Fansite: Grim and Evil is really two shows in one. What made you want to do this format?

M. Atoms: Well, the Grim portion won the vote but there was a lot of good buzz about Evil at the time. It only seemed natural to stick them in the same show. They’re two great tastes that go great together.

CNF: The Fansite: Will we ever find out more the origins of the Evil Con Carne story? i.e. Hextor’s brain/stomach thing, the circus bear, and the whole world domination deal?

M. Atoms: Yes. As a matter of fact, the first new ECC of the season is Hector and Ghastly’s “origin” story. You get to see Hector before he was just a couple of loose organs. In the second season, which we’re working on now, you get a few hints as to where Boskov came from but I’m really saving that story for later.

CNF: The Fansite: What gave you the idea to give Grim his accent?

M. Atoms: Actually, it sort of happened accidentally. During the casting for the short Greg Eagles did a take and it sounded sort of Jamaican. It was an accident but I thought it was funny so it stayed.

CNF: The Fansite: The horror-comedy genre in American animation seems to be taking off. First Scooby Doo, then Courage. Do you find it difficult to do a show that is both scary and funny?

M. Atoms: There really haven’t been many scary episodes yet. We’ve got a few kind of creepy ones coming up though. I think funny definitely takes priority over scary, but any real humor is going to have both. We’re kind of limited to what we can do as far as scary goes.

CNF: The Fansite: Fans love the chemistry between Grim, Billy, and Mandy. What inspired that twisted relationship? Are any of your characters based off of people you know in real life?

M. Atoms: Billy and Mandy were from a short film I did in college. Grim came much later. He adds a little bit of spice and keeps the show from being just another buddy kid comedy. They’re not really based on people I know, but I suppose I could use the “they’re all different aspects of my own personality” line.

CNF: The Fansite: Which character are you most like on your show?

M. Atoms: I’d like to have the cold callousness of Mandy and the fun-loving freedom of Billy, but I’m probably just frustrated and crabby like Grim.

CNF: The Fansite: Will the worlds of Hector and Grim ever overlap into a crossover episode?

M. Atoms: It would seem like the obvious thing to do. If it ever happens I want it to be something special, though. I don’t have any plans for it in the near future.

CNF: The Fansite: It seems the series was picked up for another season, congrats! What can we plan to see in the upcoming episodes?

M. Atoms: The look of the show has come a long way since the stuff that’s airing now. You’ll notice that the designs and the timing are much improved when the new episodes start airing this Summer. There are some fun new characters being introduced this season, and a bizarre musical episode coming out this Fall. I suppose you can expect the usual cartoon fare for the next season. Lots of fighting, romance, cannibalism, mysterious sentient growths sprouting from people’s spines. That sort of thing.

CNF: The Fansite: TV Guide listed your show as one of the top ten cartoons to watch this summer. How do feel about reviews from critics about the series thus far?

M. Atoms: The reviews have generally been pretty positive. I can’t complain about that.

CNF: The Fansite: I’ve talked to a few other show creators at the network, and they all seem insane. Are you bonkers as well? Is that a vital part of creating cartoons?

M. Atoms: I’ll answer your question with another question. Do you have to be insane to get into animation, or does working in animation make you insane?

CNF: The Fansite: Do you have any side projects or upcoming things you’d been working on? How is production of Grim and Evil coming along?

M. Atoms: The production is running smooth as butter for the moment. Well, maybe butter with some sand in it. We have some amazing new storyboards for some of the weirdest cartoons I’ve ever seen. As far as side projects go, I’m trying to decide whether to pursue the computer game I want to work on. I actually started out working on computer games in college. There’s also a more adult-oriented flash cartoon I want to make and a live action film. I think I need an outlet where I can be funny without pulling punches. I figure I only have the free time to do one big project. Well, I don’t actually have any free time at the moment, but you get the idea. Thanks for the interview and thanks for watching!

Thank you to Maxwell Atoms for doing this interview and be sure to watch more of the new episodes of Grim and Evil coming this summer on Cartoon Network!