By Elise DeVoe
The self-professed “fourth favorite animated family” returns to Adult Swim for Season 8 of Squidbillies this Sunday, September 21. This season, the Cuyler family takes on marriage inequality, insurance fraud, speciesism and much, much more.
Series creators Dave Willis and Jim Fortier took time to answer a few questions about the long-running series, what inspires them and more, including how they save on animation and splurge on theme songs.
Why has Squidbillies been so successful with audiences over the past eight year?
Dave: You mean, why has Squidbillies become America's most-beloved animated family? Sometimes you just can't put your finger on that magic that comes together with a show. Actually, we were talking about this recently, we have a small group that make this show – dedicated men and women. Everything about it is very much handmade. So many other animated show are just these machines, these assembly line things, and I think there's a look to our show that's a little rough around the edges that we love, that we strove for. There's a specificity to our characters that's unique, that really isn't out there in other TV shows. Once you have a writers' room full of 20 guys it could be blindingly funny but maybe some of the sort of curveballs and warts have been shaved off and it may be a little too smooth and perfect. I think there's oddball charm to Squidbillies.
You both grew up in Conyers, Georgia. What's it like working together and creating a show set in your home state?
Jim: We have a lot of common reference points. Not only did we grow up in the same town and go to the same high school and have a lot of the same friends before we even became friends, but I think we have a very similar sense of humor. We had a lot of the same influences in comedy and in entertainment growing up, so that makes it real easy to develop a short-hand of what the joke is or what you're trying to get at. And that doesn't mean we always agree… we don't. In fact, some of the disagreements force the best idea to rise to the top. One guy has to give up eventually and the better idea hopefully wins most of the time. But we're also friends, so hopefully we're sort of respectful of [each other] when we disagree. And I think we generally choose the best idea to win and we have not come to fists yet at all.
Dave: And we have a third very good friend of ours that we grew up with who plays one of the key roles in the show. Daniel McDevitt, who voices Rusty and Daniel, was probably my best friend growing up and then he and Jim became college roommates at the University of Georgia. I think there's a short-hand with him, too. And we have another friend of ours from high school, David Powell, who did a lot of the original music. So it was a Conyers joint through and through.
What is the writing process like for Squidbillies?
Jim: When we sit down and write together we don't usually come in with an outline, we don't both come in with drafts of scripts. We just sit down in a room together and drink some coffee and usually talk about sports or what's going on in the world or what happened over the weekend. Eventually we find our way to introducing ideas and seeing which one hooks us. Because, like I said, we have this sort of short-hand, we're able to identify an idea together that we think we can hit the ground and run with. For example, in one of the episodes this season Early realizes he may not be American, he may have been born off American soil, and [when the idea was presented] right away we felt like, "Oh wow, that would be a real crisis for him." And we take turns at the keyboard – one of us sits at the keyboard for one script and the other guy sits across the room and you just try to hit your stride and we type it up. And reread it. Type it up. Reread it. Type it up.
How do you keep the show fresh?
Jim: Well thanks for implying that the show is fresh. We used to just write exclusively stupid stories. As the show evolves and we get a little older, we change a little bit as time goes on, you start wanting to infuse a little bit more of what you're noticing around you and maybe making veiled commentary about it in the show. We're sort of introducing aspects of ourselves into it that we may not have in the past. Characters change over time, you get to know them better, you can write better stories for them.
Dave: Sometimes, too, you see commentaries about the South from outside and sometimes they're pretty tone deaf and pretty broad. Sometimes our humor can be broad, but I know it comes from a specific place and a love – there's an ambivalence – there's a lot of tied-up feelings with it. Someone once asked me what it was like writing a show in the South as opposed to being in Hollywood and I said, "Well, I saw a frog this morning." I'm not saying there are no frogs in Hollywood, but you try to find one.
Talk a little about the design process all those years ago.
Dave: I drew some of the original characters and then we had a couple other animators – like Matt Jenkins and Todd Redner – refine those designs. But I did the original for Granny, Early, Rusty and the Sheriff.
Jim: There's a T-shirt floating around that we made after Season 1 that's basically a T-shirt of the fax that had the designs on it – the ones that Dave drew that we were faxing to the animation studio.
Dave: I will say this, eight years later: A lot of cartoons will redraw the animation and we're recycling, adding new elements but we're still using many of the same animation cells that we started the show with. We're building a library over time
Is that unusual for an animated series?
Dave: It sure is. It's very specific to Squidbillies and specific to Aqua Teen Hunger Force on Adult Swim. Other animated series don't do that. And I feel like we pioneered some of the ways of making this show cheaper, in a computer, through a lot of process of trial and error with Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Brak Show, Space Ghost Coast to Coast, which Jim and I both worked on. I feel like there was a lot of figuring out how to make a super cheap cartoon show using just an idea.
Something else that's unique about Squidbillies is that the theme song is performed by different artists and bands every week. Who can we look forward to hearing this season?
Dave: The guest bands and artists doing the theme song is always a nice little bit of frosting on the cake. This season we've got Neko Case, Dwight Yoakam, Todd Rundgren, Centro-Matic, Milk Carton Kids, King Khan and the Shrines. They all did great versions. We've been able to work with some really talented artists on the themes.
The new season of Squidbillies premieres this Sunday, September 21, at 11:45 p.m. ET/PT.