Entertainment & Media Magazine; Issue #1

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CONTENTS Media Entertainment


James Gunn Celebrates World Rat Day With The Suicide Squad’s Cutest Star


‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ Reinvented TV Animation And Its Influence Remains 30 Years Later


Michael Cusack and Zach Hadel Talk Comedy and World of Adult Swim’s Smiling Friends [Exclusive Interview]


Godzilla vs. Kong Was Completely Changed Before Movie’s Release, Says Star


How Cuba’s Greatest Cartoonist Fled From Castro and Created ‘Spy vs. Spy’


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James Gunn Celebrates World Rat Day With

The Suicide Squad’s Cutest Star


n honor of World Rat Day, The Suicide Squad writer/director James Gunn shared a behind-the-scenes picture of Ratcatcher 2 actor Daniela Melchior and one of the rats who played the character’s rodent companion Sebastian. The photo sees Melchior holding up the rat in front of Starro’s prison in Jotunheim from The Suicide Squad. Above it, Gunn wrote, “Happy [World Rat Day] [Daniela Melchior].” Gunn, who loves rats, previously discussed his hope that The Suicide Squad’s take on Ratcatcher 2 would get more people to adopt the animals as pets. “I had many pet rats growing up,” the filmmaker stated. “They are much more intelligent [and] affectionate than gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs [and] other small animals. I’m not a proponent of raccoons being pets, which we sadly popularized with [Rocket Raccoon in Guardians of the Galaxy]. But I’ll be happy if [The Suicide Squad] inspires more pet rats.” It had also been revealed by Gunn that Melchior’s audition for the part of Ratcatcher 2 involved her spending time with rats, with Gunn recalling, “[My team and I] auditioned hundreds of actors from across the world. [Daniela Melchior] from Portugal ended up being one of [three] actresses to screen test - a test which included making sure she was ok chilling with rats.”


As for a possible return for Ratcatcher 2, Melchior expressed interest in reprising the role, though with the character being a true villain. “[Ratcatcher 2] had the opportunity to talk about her father, so I would love to see a little bit more about it,” Melchior explained. “But I would love, also, to see Ratcatcher learning from, I don’t know, why not Bloodsport? How to shoot a gun, how to fight with someone, I would love to see

Photo James Gunn posted on twitter of Melchior as Ratchatcher holding her pet rat

her debuted as a supervillain for real.” Ironically, “[My team and I] auditioned hundreds the original ending for The Suicide Squad would of actors from across the world. [...] have prevented more appearances from Rata test which included making sure catcher 2 in the DC Extended Universe, as it had she was ok chilling with rats.” her die at the hands of Amanda Waller after she had gotten the information about Starro out of Jotunheim. In regards to Task Force X’s future in the DCEU, it was announced earlier this year that Gunn was working on a second spinoff from The Suicide Squad for HBO Max, which also features the movie’s first spinoff Peacemaker. Although details about the series’ plot and characters are being kept under wraps, Gunn said that he doesn’t think the project “will be the same genre as Peacemaker.” The Suicide Squad is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Photo of Melchior during the audtioning of The Sucide Squad as Ratchather


The Ren & Stimpy Sh ow Rei nvented

TV Animation

And Its Influence Remains


30 Years Later

creative and production choices that would have been unthinkable pre-R&S.

nimation awoke from a decades-long slumber in the early Nineties. After decades of network-driven and script-driven animated shows, a new crop of series redefined animation for the modern era. The Simpsons (1989) set a template for primetime adult sitcoms that persists to this day, Batman: The Animated Series (1992) transformed action-adventure series, and MTV Animation merged indie aesthetics and mainstream culture through various series like Liquid Television, Aeon Flux, and Beavis and Butt-Head (1991-1993). Then there was The Ren & Stimpy Show, which premiered on Nickelodeon thirty years ago: August 11, 1991. This series completely upended children’s tv animation. It didn’t evolve kids’ cartoons; it chewed ’em up, spit ’em out and then made something entirely more entertaining. Thirty years later, its influence is so deeply embedded within the industry that it’s almost as if animation has always been this way. When the show first came on, it was followed by knockoffs that tried in vain to imitate it, like Hanna Barbera’s 2 Stupid Dogs, Disney’s The Shnookums & Meat Funny Cartoon Show, and Nickelodeon’s own Rocko’s Modern Life. But today, we’re long past the knock-off stage. Multiple generations of artists have followed, and you’ll rarely hear anyone say nowadays that they’re referencing R&S. And yet, the DNA of R&S has passed through the industry over the last three decades and much of animation today unconsciously references

When an artist today talks about going off-model, it’s just a given that you can go off-model on a production. That wasn’t always an option though. In pre-R&S tv animation, you followed model sheets and the expressions and poses on those sheets were what you had, no more, no less. When we talk about a board-driven versus a script-driven show, it sounds so obvious, but there was no such thing as a board-driven show in Seventies and Eighties tv animation. Artists can write? You’d be hauled off to a psych ward for even suggesting something like that in the Eighties. These were Golden Age animation ideas that had long been abandoned, before being resurrected in the late-Eighties and most succinctly expressed in R&S. Many artists working in the industry right now weren’t even born when the show was made so it’s difficult to imagine a time when tv animation was created differently. But before R&S, tv series were created in smoky network boardrooms while bored suits nursed martinis and planned after-hour trysts. Writers developed and wrote entire shows before the majority of artists even knew what the damn thing was about. The role of the artist happened deep into the creative process; their role was to add some perfunctory visuals so that kids wouldn’t stare at an empty screen. The legacy of R&S is both the show itself and something far greater. The show set a new standard for tv animation. It proved something


Media Entertainment that had long been forgotten: entertainment animation can be an art form and it can be created with dignity and craftsmanship. Most importantly, it could not be created using the ways of the past. Thus, the tumultuous history of the series is a given. A new approach like this could not exist for long. First, it was impractical from a production perspective. Second, at its core, it was antithetical to how non-creative people think about animation, which is not as entertainment but as a product. But before everything bad happened and the dream fell apart, there was a brief period of glory where artists finally saw what was possible. Those who followed in the years immediately afterward and became superstars did so with R&S as their north star. Many succeeded in creating shows as memorable and iconic as R&S including Genndy Tartakovsky, Craig McCracken, and Stephen Hillenburg, and


they often did so with the input of artists who had worked on the original Nickelodeon series. The late Hillenburg even managed to surpass R&S in popularity with SpongeBob SquarePants, which has remained the number one rated kids’ series on cable for the last twenty years. Sadly, many of the specific production ideas innovated in R&S were too good to last. The shortlived idea that comedic series animation should have a layout phase is, for the most part, gone. Studio number crunchers decided they could skip that step if they simply overworked the board artists, a solution in which both the artists and the end product suffer. These are the kind of innovations that slip away over time when everyone just accepts things as the way they are and doesn’t challenge convention. It’s also why R&S remains memorable. Its brilliance was not just what appeared onscreen, but its one-of-a-kind pipeline that emphasized quality every step of the way. What remains of Ren & Stimpy’s infuence, however, is still great. A commitment to craft and the notion that artists should be in charge are still potent ideas that resonate across the industry, and there are many showrunners today who are fighting to keep these ideals alive in hostile corporate environments. While R&S itself continues to recede further and further into t h e past, its legacy as a launching pad for a more creative animation industry continues to pay dividends.


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Michael Cusack and Zach Hadel Talk Comedy and World of Adult Swim’s



[Exclusive Interview]

☺Smiling Friends co-creators Michael Cu-

sack and Zach Hadel just want to go around and put smiles on your faces. They may accomplish that mission on the new highly laughable and definitely bizarre series that premiered on Adult Swim.

☺Smiling Friends follows the employees ofa

the unpredictable billionaire Boss who founded the company. Michael Cusack and Zach Hadel created the series for Cartoon Network’s block of Adult Swim. The pair provides most of the voices for the cartoon series, including Pim and Charlie, respectively. LRM Online’s Gig Patta spoke with co-creators Zach Hadel and Michael Cusack about this wonky and delightful series. We spoke about the originations, the worldbuilding, the characters, their mission, and even why there are human beings in the cartoon.

small company dedicated to bringing happiness to a bizarre yet colorful world. The company con- sists of cynical Charlie and star employee Pim, each tasked Zach Hadel is an animator and YouTuber. He is with out-calls to cheer people up. There’s also meticu- well known for his animations, including Hellbendlous Allen who keeps things ers. Also, he is a podcaster, in which he hosted in order, mysterious Glep, and Schmucks from 2017 to 2019, and a regular member of Sleepy Cabin podcast. His YouTube channel psychicpebbles has over 1.44 million subscribers. Michael Cusack is an Australian web cartoonist. He is well known for his Adult Swim series YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. Along with Zach Hadel, they appeared together in Twitch Adult Swim meeting live streams.

☺Smiling Friends premiered

this past weekend on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.


What inspired you to become animators? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

Michael: I always loved cartoons as a

kid, and I just downloaded Flash on one of my computers when I was a kid and “tinkered” with it until I could make little cartoons. I was also inspired by people like David Firth, Marc M (Sick Animation) and a lot of other online animators.

Zach: I loved toons from both television and

online as a lad and really wanted to create my own stuff. I found Newgrounds at a young age which allowed me to upload my work and, more importantly, to get the proper feedback to learn how to improve.

You both got your start as YouTubers. How did you transition to TV? Was your dream always to direct for Adult Swim?

Michael: I got my start in YouTube doing

short animations. The goal for me wasn’t to get into TV, but that certainly was a wish of mine. It didn’t even seem possible when I started making videos for YouTube.

Zach: I'm not sure what the "standard" expe-

rience is because I only know my own, but the leap from YouTube to Adult Swim was really just a difference in scale. Essentially all the underthe-hood stuff like what programs we used and how we went in to change something were exactly the same as we're accustomed to doing things independently, which was really important.

How was Smiling Friends conceived? Where did the story come from?


Zach and I would just get together and draw and throw ideas back and forth, and a lot of the time it’s coming up with characters, whether it be a voice or a drawing or both, then we figure out the funny circumstances to put those characters in. That seems to be the main writing process for us both when we come up with a show concept or even just writing an episode.

Zach: Michael and I knew we wanted to make a show and knew what humor worked well when we went back and forth, and from that characters, locations, and gags sprung up. Then we spent the next few years assembling all of that into something semi-coherent.


Media Entertainment Can you tell us about the show’s visual style? It’s distinctly surreal, and you can definitely see the overlap with Michael’s YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. What inspired that look?

Michael: The show is a stylistic mix be-

tween Zach and I. We also have characters and moments in the show that are completely different to anything we’d draw or even a guest artist. We like the idea that we can go anywhere stylistic in the show.

Zach: Michael and I usually just redraw the

same character in each other’s styles back and forth until something feels right. But you already knew that if you read what my friend Michael wrote above!

I understand that, in addition to directing Smiling Friends, you also voice the show’s main characters, Pim and Charlie. How were those two created? Do you consider their friendship a reflection of your own?

Michael: Pim and Charlie aren’t based on

our friendship, although when Zach and I improv with each other, those characters seem to make sense interacting with each other, seeing as they are both very different.

Zach: We really didn’t have a set in stone

idea for what the characters were at the start of things, but as we went along it became apparent that we needed the main characters to be voiced by Michael and I to allow for easy back and forth improvisation and the ability to run in quickly and do re-records instead of forcing some poor voice actor to redo a small, inconsequential line of dialogue because it fit better.

Where do you see yourselves in the future, professionally?

Michael: Doing more cool fun creative things teehee!!!

Zach: Umm, same as above! Finally: What is the Number One reason why viewers should watch Smiling Friends?


Michael: Because it rocks! Nuff said! Haha. Zach: For every 10 people who do not watch Smiling Friends, Pim will lose a single digit on his hand or foot. This is the beginning of a long game, and we hold all the cards.



Was Completely Changed Before Movie’s Release, Says Star


Eiza Gonzalez is revealing that Godzilla vs. Kong was completely changed before its release. The fourth installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse, the film was directed by Adam Wingard and premiered back in March 2021, serving as a sequel to Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It follows the epic battle between the two creatures, as humans attempt to lure Kong into the Hollow Earth to recover a power source capable of stopping Godzilla’s mysterious attacks. First announced in 2015, the film was part of Legendary’s plan to establish a shared cinematic universe, and following its successful release during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic affected the box office, a Godzilla vs Kong sequel will start filming later this year.

Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir. Zhang Ziyi, who appeared in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and Jessica Henwick were also set to star, though they were eventually left out of the final cut. While Godzilla vs Kong received a largely positive reactions from fans and critics alike, many felt it lacked essential character development and drama aside from the large-scale battle taking place. This became more apparent after Wingard explained how many of the movie’s characters were meant to have conflicting allegiances, affecting some audiences’ expectations. Prior to its release, the director noted that the project could be viewed as two separate stories, and that each human story in Godzilla vs Kong was following the monsters’.

In addition to Gonzalez, the film featured a large cast, including Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick,

Now, in speaking with THR, Eiza Gonzalez reveals that Godzilla vs Kong had undergone a lot of changes before its release. vealsw that Godzilla vs Kong had undergone


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a lot of changes before its release. Gonzalez played top-tier Apex Cybernetics executive, Maia Simmons, but the actor explains that her character and storyline completely changed. She also states that Jessica Henwick’s removal from the film affected all of the other characters, and that the main reason for the modifications was to focus more on the two monsters headlining the project. Read Gonzalez’s quote regarding all of the changes in Godzilla vs Kong below:

My role completely changed in that movie, for sure. A lot of the story got cut out and the story was completely changed, so it was a bummer because my character had a whole different storyline that went in different routes. And Jessica [Henwick] getting cut out of the movie really affected all of the other characters. But it wasn’t anything to do with Jessica’s character. It was just that the storyline changed because the movie is called Godzilla vs. Kong and it obviously has to service them. They’re the big stars. But listen, I’m just grateful that I got to do a really fun movie. So my experience was really good, but that’s just par for the course, sometimes.


One idea to limit the amount of storytelling involved with human characters is to simply reduce the amount of them in the films, something writer, Max Borenstein, had previously mentioned. Borenstein shared his thoughts on creating a MonsterVerse project with limited humans, saying that it would be amazing and could afford the creatures more of their own characterization and development. Having written for the 2021 feature, as well as previous Godzilla and Kong installments, he has an understanding of the world Legendary is looking to build, but has admitted that it would be ambitious. It would certainly be interesting to see audiences react to a MonsterVerse film with little to no human characters, but given how much Gonzalez says Godzilla vs Kong was changed to service the monsters, it could be worth trying. With details surrounding the upcoming sequel being scarce, fans will have to wait and see what direction the next installment decides to go in. All of the success enjoyed by Godzilla vs Kong suggests that there is still a lot for audiences to look forward to though.


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RETRO COMICS! Krazy Kat By: George Herriman

Sparkly Watts By: Boody Rogers

The Captain and the Kids By: R.Dirks



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How Cuba’s Greatest Cartoonist Fled From Castro and Created ‘Spy vs. Spy’ BY ERIC GRUNDHAUSER AUGUST 11, 2016


ONE OF THE GREATEST RIVALRIES of all time has been raging since 1961 between two figures who don’t even have real names. The pro/antagonists of the long-running gag strip Spy vs. Spy have been trying to one-up each other for decades, and it’s all thanks to a Cuban expatriate who was once accused of being a spy himself. The creator of Spy vs Spy, Antonio Prohías, had already enjoyed a successful career as an illustrator in his native Cuba before he created the legendary strip. Born in Cienfuego, Cuba in 1921, Prohías picked up illustration at an early age thanks to a sympathetic teacher, then went on to study briefly at Havana’s San Alejandro Academy before leaving after a year to become a full-time newspaper illustrator. After working his way up through some smaller publications, and receiving a number of awards for his editorial cartoons— including Cuba’s highest newspaper honor, the Juan Gualberto Gomez medal—Prohías achieved national fame while working for Cuba’s (at the time)

largest newspaper, El Mundo, beginning at the end of the 1940s. His style was defined by clear, bold lines, and exaggerated comic forms which would eventually evolve into the characters of Spy vs. Spy. Award-winning artist Peter Kuper, who currently creates Spy vs. Spy for MAD Magazine described the spies, saying, “They have this very strange look to them, that I’m now used to, but their shape is so odd.” Kuper, a lifelong political illustrator and author, whose latest book, Ruins, recently won the Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album, took over Spy vs. Spy duties in 1997. “Which is kind of wonderful because they create this surreal universe just by their appearance.” Back in Cuba, years before he he would make the Black and White spies (and later the female, Grey Spy), Prohías created a number of popular characters, which he used to comment on both the government, and life in the country. His most famous creation prior to Spy vs. Spy was a comedically vicious character known as El Hombre


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Siniestro. This agent of chaos, in his widebrimmed hat and exaggerated snout, was an early, more grim, iteration of the spies. The “ Sinister Man” took part in a series of wordless capers where he rained down hilarious misfortune on unlucky passersby. While many of the gag strips weren’t outwardly political, in a quote recounted in the introduction to Spy vs Spy: The Complete Casebook, Prohías described the character as being, “born out of the national psychosis of the Cuban people.”

ing any form of hypocrisy, and no doubt there was some hypocrisy going on with Castro as well as with Batista,” says Kuper. Once the Castro regime got wind of Prohías’ satirical attacks, it began to filter down that Prohías was thought to be working with the CIA, and he was labeled a spy. He began being fired from many of the publications he worked for, and in May 1960, he’d had enough. Unable to continue finding work, and fearing for the safety of his fellow El Mundo workers, Prohías, unable to speak a word of English, headed for New York.

By 1959, Prohías was not only enjoying a successful run at El Mundo, as well as in magazines including the political Bohemia, but he had also become the president of the Cuban Cartoonists Association, making him possibly the most famous cartoonist in Cuba.

In New York, Prohías took work in a factory during the day, while working up his illustration portfolio at night. Taking inspiration from his supposed spy status, Prohías altered the look of El Hombre Siniestro, and gave him a counterpart, creating what we now know as Spy vs. Spy. In 1960, just months after moving to the city, Prohías, along with his daughter Marta who acted as an interpreter, walked unannounced into the offices of MAD Magazine. The editors were skeptical of the artist, but his silly spy gags won them over, and he had sold three of the strips to the magazine before leaving that day.

Prohías’ cartoons did not escape the notice of the government itself. Many of Prohías’ cartoons had an anti-Batista bent before the Cuban Revolution in 1959, so Fidel Castro initially welcomed him. In Prohías’ New York Times obituary, the paper notes that Castro himself handed him a cartoon of the year award. The artist soon became fed up with Castro’s strong arm policies regarding the press and many of Prohías’ cartoons started taking aim at Castro. “He was attack-


From that initial meeting on, Prohías’ Spy vs. Spy cartoons became a fixture in the magazine, the pointy-nosed Black Spy and White Spy, getting the better of one another in some outlandish way or another, every few months. Most of the jokes were simple turns of fate, a button meant to blow up the White Spy would blow up the Black Spy instead, etc, but through them all, there was an underlying

subversiveness. “He really did something original with Spy vs. Spy, that was a comment on the bigger world of the Cold War, and the futility of war,” says Kuper. “He made it a very, very flexible strip, that had political commentary in it, or could sometimes just be surreal. And always come back to the basic futility of war.” Based on the simple, but strong foundation of two spies who can never truly win, Prohías went on to create the cartoons for decades, both as published in MAD, and in separate books where he could experiment with longer narratives. All throughout, Prohías kept his cartoons wordless, a fact that Kuper believes was a key part of their success. “You can be preliterate, and get them. That’s one of the powers of why Spy vs. Spy is so popular in MAD. It’s the first thing everyone looks at. You read it before you even intended to. It was a brilliant choice on Prohías’ part to do a wordless comic.” That same use of wordless humor that had benefitted Prohías in Cuba was just as effective, if not more, in the U.S. “It’s no doubt [also] because he spoke Spanish. He would have had to deal with translating his work.”

El hombre sinetro, the charcater who was the precursor to the now iconic spies


Media Entertainment Despite its seeming simplicity, Spy vs. Spy became a phenomenon, inspiring video games, cartoons, a board game, commercials, toys, and more. Prohías would continue creating Spy vs. Spy comics until the late 1980s, when he retired due to poor health. However his iconic spies lived on. The strip was taken over for a time by MAD mainstays Duck Edwing and Bob Clarke, before finally being taken over by Kuper in 1997. “I had done a fair amount of wordless comics and the people at MAD saw that and asked me if I wanted to try out for it, and I almost said no immediately,” says Kuper, who quickly rethought his stance. “When I sat down to work with it, I realized rather quickly what an important influence it had been on my own work over the years. MAD certainly, in general, but how I had really focused on Spy vs. Spy. It’s probably one of the reasons I did wordless comics.”


Prohías passed away in 1998. He was living comfortably in Florida, and still spoke next to no English. Unfortunately Kuper never got to meet Prohías, but he keeps working on the cartoon, which he describes nowadays as “more Road Runner than it is Kennedy and Khruschev.” This is not to say that Kuper has lost the political edge that Prohías embedded in the strip. In fact, in addition to the open-endedness of the gags and characters, it is part of what Kuper finds most appealing about the comic. “The parameters are so wide in the way he created the strip. I’ve added to the line-up, I’ve made them cavemen. I can put them in outer space, or I can have them doing very mundane things,” he says. “Unfortunately we keep developing new, insane weaponry, so I have new things to pick up.” The Black and White Spies keep killing each other, but Spy vs. Spy may never die.


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