Thurop Van Orman’s beautifully animated and quirky toon, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, has developed a nice following since it debuted on Cartoon Network’s Thursday night comedy lineup in June. We caught up with the talented Cal Arts grad who began his career as an intern on The Powerpuff Girls and moved up to storyboard artist on Camp Lazlo and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. We were lucky enough to catch up with the very hard-working and talented 32-year-old animator and father of a three-year-old son and four-month-old baby girl.
Animag: Your show is about the ‘misadventures’ of a young boy, raised by a protective mother whale and his pirate friend, Captain K’Nuckles. Tell us how you came up with this premise.
Thurop Van Orman: It has a long, winding back story. When I was a kid, we lived in Panama City, Florida, and I used to fantasize about living near the dock and having adventures all the time. Then, we moved to Salt Lake City when I was 13 and I really missed the ocean. I wanted to have adventures in the wild and began reading all these adventure books and Jules Vernes novels. I dreamt about living off the land and building my own hut with my bare hands. I got a job as a janitor after school and saved up enough money for a plane ticket. My plan was live on Shell Island [an underdeveloped island between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrew Bay, near Panama City Beach, Florida]. I brought some rice and potatoes and matches and paddled to the island on a surfboard.
Animag: And you battled the elements alone?
Thurop: Yup, I was all by myself. When I got there, I found out that it was infested with rattlesnakes. But I managed to build myself a hut. I planned to live on sea urchins and I even speared a a manta ray. But eventually I began to starve’I was all blistered and sunburnt. I had failed as an adventurer, but I got plenty of stories out of it. One summer I went to Mexico and lived in the jungles and found myself eating out of dumpsters. My perspective on life began to change. Now when bad things happened, I told myself that I was having adventures.
How did you get Cartoon Network interested in your show?
Thurop: I made a Flapjack short in 2001 and put together all my favorite things from my childhood. A lot of the visuals are inspired by etchings from old adventure books. I pitched the show in 2001 and got a lot of notes, then, I re-pitched it two years later. I put together a bible and outline and storyboard. They are pretty open about hearing pitches from anybody at Cartoon Network. I remember the first time I pitched the show to Debbie Reber at the studio, she was watching TV and looking out the window and people would walk by and she’d say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ right in the middle of my pitch. I knew I needed to get some experience and work really hard to be taken seriously!
When did you realize you wanted to get into animation?
Thurop: In high school, I wanted to make my living as an adventurer. I always loved to draw and tell stories, so I was going to become a book illustrator. My first real art job was at a video game company [Zantaro], and that’s when I got really interested in animation. I took a road trip to Cal Arts and was thrilled to find out that I could actually go to a school for animation. One of my teachers at CalArts, Randy Myers, recommended me for an internship, working on The Powerpuff Girls at Cartoon Network.
What are some of the lessons you learned about creating an animated series in the past two years?
Thurop: Honestly, I wasn’t prepared for all the storyboarding. You can go to school as long as you want, but nothing prepares you for it than doing it on the spot. What I learned that you really have to throw yourself completely in the work. You have to put so much time into it, you’d better be all about making the show. Your hobby has to be doing the show. People sometimes make the mistake of wanting to get into the animation business for the wrong reasons. It can’t be about the money. The show has to be your dream.
Has anything really surprised you about the show?
Thurop: You know, to me, the stories have been really engaging. Flapjack is a storyboard-driven show, but I find myself really wanting to watch the show because of these great stories that our writers are telling. These are the best stories I’ve heard! We were also lucky to have L.A.-based Screen Novelties work on our stop-motion animation and the credits of the show.
Is it true that you put a lot of yourself in the different characters?
We are very lucky to have Roz Ryan and Brian-Doyle Murray playing Bubbie and Captain K’Nuckles. I can’t imagine the show without the Roz Ryan and Brian-Doyle Murray who do the voices of Bubbie and K’Nuckles. Flapjack’s personality is one hundred percent me. He’s oblivious to danger. K’Nuckles is the crazy direction my life could have taken, while Bubbie is the protective, maternal force’and that’s what life is, a mixture of the crazy brutality of K’Nuckles and the heartfelt warm moments with Bubbie. [Editor’s note: Actor Paul Reubens’aka Pee Wee Herman’was originally supposed to create the voice of Flapjack, but as Van Orman told The Great Falls Tribune, “Pee Wee Herman was going to come in and do Flapjack and I was a little nervous ’cause he wouldn’t come in and audition or anything. Then the day of the record, he didn’t show up. His manager was like ‘Oh, no. He’s going to come in tomorrow.’ I just went in and recorded them all real fast, and we just ended up using it!”]
The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Cartoon Network as part of the special Har Har Tharsdays comedy block.