Artist Interviews 2021
By Johnny Otto
Will, your claim to fame is creating a cartoon about a Satanic Dog named Mr.Pickles. Do you eat a lot of pickles? Or what was the inspiration for a show about a demonic dog?
When did you start working on the idea and how long did it take before it became a series. Can you walk us through all of the details?
Yes, I love pickles! Mr. Pickles started as a one sentence idea that I wrote in 2012 which was then expanded on. But within that first sentence,
the core of the idea was that Mr. Pickles was a cute and lovable dog who loved to eat pickles but who was also secretly evil and murderous.
The connection at that time between an evil dog and pickles was an observation that I’d made long ago about pickles. I had noticed that people who don’t like to eat many vegetables
often had a huge hatred of pickles, some people are even creeped out by them. When I was a bartender in Richmond there was a girl who’d come into the place and if there was a
pickle on a plate anywhere near her she’d run out of the building. So the early connection I was making was that if there was an “evil” vegetable, it would be pickles.
Pickles is also a funny word so Mr. Pickles had a funny / cutesy sound too it which is perfect for a dog that kills people and has a secret lair with a river of blood under his dog house.
So the idea started in 2012 or so with a single sentence. Adult Swim liked the idea so then Dave Stewart and I expanded the world of Mr. Pickles with all the characters of
Old Town and then some story ideas. One of those ideas became a pilot script, which then became a pilot and then we were off to start season 1 which later aired in 2014.
You’re originally from Richmond, one of America’s oldest major cities. Is that right? Or did you just live there for a bit? What was life like there and did you always know you’d be leaving someday? Did you folks support your artistic pursuits?
Yes, I grew up about an hour north of Richmond but I moved to the city of Richmond when I was 21 and spent the majority of my 20’s there.
Richmond is an extremely special place to me and it’s where I consider my roots to be. While in Richmond we had been making sketch comedy for an L.A. based sketch comedy show
called Stupid Face which was created by our friends Laban Pheidias and Ted Newsome. After that first season we decided to move to L.A. for season two of the show.
Up until that point, Dave and I hadn’t really been around anybody who made sketch comedy or anything similar, and even before that there was no youtube or anything so
we were in our own world, just trying to make each other laugh. Yes, my parents were always supportive of my art but they weren’t very happy when I decided to drop out of art school with a year left to go.
My focus had started drifting from painting to wanting to make sketch comedy, music videos, etc. I wasn’t accepted into the video department so I followed my gut
and dropped out. I then spent all the money I had on a used computer and started teaching myself how to edit. Along the way, I realized that I could animate by
drawing in photoshop and editing in final cut. I discovered this unique way of animating and eventually my drawing style from middle school and high school reemerged into
animation. But animation would not become my focus until years after that, which then led to Mr. Pickles. Back in the day, I’d also draw / animate with a computer mouse which is crazy to me now.
Most people who draw satanic looking characters are not themselves, Satanists. Are you? Or what are you trying to convey with your religious symbolism in your art?
I’m not a satanist, nor am I religious. I’m more a man of science. I grew up in a religious family though. I was the only one in Sunday school to the ask the kind of questions
that the teacher couldn’t answer. I’ve always felt it’s important to respect the beliefs of others no matter what religion they choose, but early on I knew religion just wasn’t for me.
But the reason I was asking questions as a child to begin with, is because I was curious. I was seeking answers to what I still think is one of the most interesting things there is,
the mysteries of life and death and whether there is a beyond or not. The religious symbolism in my art has a lot of meaning but certain things mean more when I keep that
meaning to myself, this is the case with much of my work whether it’s a painting or if it’s in a cartoon like in Mr. Pickles. I like revealing things in doses, while letting what meaning
does lie beneath the surface to grow without restriction and without defining it too strictly. Ultimately, much of my work is derived from my fascination with life, death, and the mysteries beyond.
I am a man of science, but with my experiences in meditation, it’s clear that science doesn’t know everything yet. Another huge influence on my work and perhaps one of the reasons for my
interests in the macabre, is a ghost experience I had as a young child, around the age of 5. I don’t rule it out to be a dream but I do remember very vividly a green floating head hovering
in the dark corner of my room, looking down onto me and speaking the same sentence in an unfamiliar language over and over, for hours. This has influenced much of my work.
I’d like to talk about your “Junk Mail Series”. Is that done out of necessity, because junk mail is free, or is it an aesthetic choice or both?
Haha, both are true! I think that started by running out of paper and noticing some mail next to me which I then just started drawing on.
But aesthetically I noticed that it was fitting with something I’d been interested in for a while which is layering art on top of art on top of art.
Years back while sitting behind Greg Vossberg, our sound mixer for both Mr. Pickles and Momma Named Me Sheriff, I’d write down notes relating to sound but in-between sessions,
I’d also doodle faces or ideas on top of notes. The effect was this layering process I began to experiment with more. I liked the idea that some drawings were there but
would also become lost in the clutter. It also took the pressure off of having to draw too perfectly which made it a fun exercise. Although the junk mails are just a single drawing,
the products on the junk mail coming through reminded me of this layering process. I guess also it was another way of taking the pressure off, in that it’s just a piece of junk mail,
who cares if it’s not the perfect drawing. So in a way, it’s a tricking of the mind, which I always think is important in any art form, to always find ways to step outside of a routine.
It’s no different than one of the ways I like to write on our shows and that is what we call a “write-off”. When everybody in the writer’s room is kind of stuck on an idea, we
have everybody speed write any ideas that come to mind for about 5-20 minutes, with the only rule being to take the pressure off and only try to make others laugh, knowing that
most ideas will never work. When this pressure is taken off, that’s usually when the good ideas come. This is actually how the core idea of Mr. Pickles came to me.
Another example as far as writing goes is when I’d spend all night writing, trying to crack a certain story to no avail, then I’d sleep a couple a hours while dreaming about writing,
wake up, accept that I’d be going to work with nothing, but then jump in the shower and the right idea would pop into my head out of nowhere, the moment I stopped thinking.
Is there someone you’d absolutely love to collaborate with? Should we stalk them?
Haha, yes. That would have to be David Lynch, he’s one of my favorite filmmakers who also happens to be an amazing artist.
He’s a master of the weird but his work isn’t just weird for sake of being weird, it has soul to it. There’s a point in writing I always find that when you explore a
character so much, the character or story comes alive, almost as if it has a “soul”. The writer can then sort of know everything the character would do. I see this in
everything that David Lynch does and when I see it in my own work, whether it’s something I’m painting, writing, or directing, I know it’s going down the right path.
David Lynch is also very much into meditating as I am, so I see some of the things he’s tapping into in his work. When you slow down and let all the thoughts settle and
disappear, you can tap into this sea of creativity you never knew existed. A lot of people don’t like that some of David Lynch’s work isn’t explained, but from my
perspective and in regards to art in general, this makes the art more rich. As long as the artist knows what it means, that’s all that matters. Art I think, needs to have some meaning under the surface.
Other than art and cartoons, is there another medium that you’d like to try that you haven’t? Music? Poetry? Knitting?
I dabble in writing music, playing guitar, but just for fun. I mostly play for an audience of one, my nine month old son, Apollo.
Ultimately, I hope to one day be able to write and direct feature films. I’ve also always wanted to get into sculpture. But knitting sounds like a good challenge haha!
I read that cats are attracted to you. Even cats that don’t like other people. Maybe they want their own cartoon and that is how they communicate the idea to you. Would you accept a pitch from a cat? Mrs.Pickles, maybe?
Haha! Yeah, it is strange that pretty much all cats do like me. In fact, my cat’s name is Pickle which is just a coincidence because she was named that before
Mr. Pickles and she became my cat after Mr. Pickles. But she was one of those cats that everybody always said was mean, but she warmed up to me right away and eventually became my cat. Cats are very weird and wise,
and Pickle is no different. She’s tough too, in a fight with Mr. Pickles I think Pickle might have a good shot. But yeah, I’d love to hear a show pitch from a cat! Maybe that’s what Pickle is trying to do when she meows at me for no apparent reason.
Pineapple on pizza has always been a topic of heated conversations. What should you put on a pizza that is maybe a little controversial?
I grew to really like pineapple on pizza. But let’s invent a new pizza right now. The toppings will be pizza sauce, cheese, pineapple, an old shoe,
mummy salt (ground mummy teeth), a wolf’s ear, malt liquor, snake spit, motor oil (synthetic), a copy of Easy Rider magazine from 1976, and green peppers.
This reminds me of a specialty drink I created back when I used to bartend. The drink I came up with was called “The Blood Fart”,
it was a shooter with the ingredients: whiskey, tequila, merlot, creme de menthe, vodka, milk, tomato juice, barbecue sauce, hot sauce, rum, and goldschlager, with a ketchup rim.
I remember one night, this frat boy asked me to make him the “nastiest” shot I could think of for him and all his friends, so I told him about “The Blood Fart” and listed all the ingredients.
He said that that sounded perfect! It was hilarious to watch their faces when they drank these, it must have been so gross. But believe it or not, later they came up to the bar and ordered another round of them!
Any shows coming up? Events? Collabs?
Not anything I can talk about yet. I’m mostly busy finishing up the second season of Momma Named Me Sheriff which has been interesting making it almost entirely
from home during the pandemic. Instead of working with people in person, it’s through a computer, instead of recording voices in a studio, I’ve been recording my voices
from a corner of my home. 2020 was such a strange year and my heart goes out to all who were affected by the virus. As far as the show goes, we had to find new ways of doing everything,
but I’m very proud of the new season which airs February 14th on Adult Swim! I’m also always creatively collaborating with Liquid Death Mountain Water, which by the way, if you ever want
to see the craziest water commercial ever, you should go on Liquid Death’s youtube channel and check out the animated commercial I wrote and directed for them.
What is the experience like working with the folks over at Adult Swim? And do you use the show to express some of your frustrations?
Working with Adult Swim has been amazing. They’ve given us so much creative freedom but at the same time so much great guidance throughout the years.
We’re always trying to do things with the characters and the show that we haven’t done before, to see what bigger and crazier things can be done within the parameters,
or to even break our own rules and see what happens. All of this is in the name of growing both the characters and the show. Adult Swim is good about giving us an extra
push in this area when we need it. Their feedback is always smart and always helpful. So it’s been an amazing experience working with them. Do I use the show to express
some of my own frustrations? Sometimes yes, but ideas come from all places, frustrations, things we like, etc. There’s always positives and negatives.
But it’s tough to say that a particular episode came from one single place. Each idea starts as one thing and then turns into another and another and then another.
As each writer’s ideas are expanded on by the other writers, the ideas improve and evolve. Ultimately, it takes that team effort in all areas of the show to get it to the screen.