Considering that the fourth season premiere of Dexter, Showtime’s popular drama about everyone’s favorite serial killer, generated 1.5 million viewers, it’s not surprising that the cabler has launched a web prequel of sorts to provide fans with more backstory. What’s interesting about this online series, which premiered last Sunday on www.sho.com is that it’s animated. Narrated by Michael C. Hall, the series is written and produced by Lauren Gussis and animated/illustrated by Kyle Baker, Andres Vera Martinez and Ty Templeton. We recently had the chance to chat with eight-time Eisner Award-winning comic-book artist/illustrator and animator Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn, Nat Turner, Cartoonist) about the four episodes he worked on, which focus on the demise of a corrupt Gulf War veteran.
Animag Online: It’s always exciting to see talented comic-book artists get involved with major animated projects. Can you tell us how you connected with the animated Dexter series? Where you a fan of the show?
Kyle Baker: Actually I wasn’t familiar with the series until I started working on the animated project. I’m old friends with Michael Uman, partner and creative director of INTERSpectacular, and we worked together on another show, so it kind of lead to this job. I love doing low-budget animation for the Internet. You can have a lot more fun doing these smaller projects’if you work at bigger studios like Disney and Warner Bros, you don’t have as much control. Michael knew that I know how to squeeze production value out of a limited budget.
Can you explain about the process and how long it took to deliver the show?
Kyle Baker: I am pretty fast. We started working on it in August, and I believe the series started to air on October 23. I did most of the art in Photoshop, and then the animators incorporated Flash and After Effects and Quicktime. If the animation needed to be extra specific, I did it myself. I happen to know how to make it work with three or four drawings.
Tell us about the four episodes that you worked on.
Kyle Baker: Well, I know that although Dexter is a serial killer, he’s actually the good guy. The web series focuses on three of his victims. My story deals with a character called Mr. Kimmens’and you find out how Dexter got his boat and picks up the habit of collecting these slides of blood. Another thing I like about a smaller indie show is that you get to do everything here in the States. One of my pet peeves is seeing companies spend a fortune on these shows and sending it to places like Korea’and you can never see where the money was actually spent. On the Dexter show, I did all the artwork’we had two directors, one animator and a line producer’just five people.
While you’re very famous in the comic-book world, you have also worked on big studio movies such as Looney Tunes: Back in Action and TV series such as Cartoon Network’s Class of 3000 and Disney’s Phineas and Ferb. What is your take on the animation scene today?
Kyle Baker: I think things are a lot better than when I started out. When I work on the big studio projects, I always notice that there’s so much fat. They send these shows to Korea’where unskilled artists working on sub minimum wage do the drawings. Then you get the TV show back and nothing is actually moving. The only things that are moving are the mouths! What I’m saying is, ‘Hey, why don’t you use my drawings!’ Listen, I’m all about cutting corners if it’s done right. Look at Joe Barbera’he knew how to cut corners the right way. Anime is cheaply produced and relies on limited animation, but it’s all well planned. I see things on TV right now that bore me to tears. Look at Dora the Explorer‘that show, for example, costs a lot to produce, but it just looks wrong. The truth is someone is getting kickbacks from these foreign studios. The producer’s girlfriend owns a studio overseas. I tell you, I look at some of these TV shows, and I’ve seen web pages that move better than this stuff!
I noticed on your website that you’ve also created your own animated projects based on your books. Can you tell us a bit about how you managed to do that?
Kyle Baker: You know, for years I’ve been making my own shorts. I can do the stuff with less money and I can make it look better by using good drawings! For my latest project, I did the toon in 3D and then output it in 2D. I used this low-priced program called Animation: Master, which I downloaded off the Internet. It’s designed for kids, but you know what? It gets the job done! I remember Joe Kubert’comic-book artist who did Sgt Rock and Hawkman for Marvel’and founded the Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, somebody asked him what kind of pen he uses. He said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you use to create’Picasso used a kids’ crayon and produced these masterpieces!’
If you work for one of the big studios, all they want you to do is stick to the model sheets. I was fired from my job doing the Rugrats daily newspaper comic-strip because they just wanted to stick to the sheet. You couldn’t really be creative’they just wanted you to use six standard facial expressions. They do the same thing in superhero comics. They use the same templates’Superman is just Batman without hhis mask! I finished a graphic comic based on Obama’s biography that’s coming out in January’I’m also doing Deadpool for Marvel’I don’t know him very well, but everyone assures me that he’s a great character!
You have been vocal in the past about the importance of hanging on to the rights for your characters and comics. What kind of advice can you give our readers who may be confused about how to survive in this business?
Kyle Baker: Right now, I’m working with a company and we’re looking to set up a studio that launches new original animated projects. The big studios are scared because they’re making less movies’and they are paying much less money for the talent. In the old days, studios paid a big pile of money in exchange for owning all the rights’and they screwed you out of the toy money. But today, they offer no money and they still want all the rights. So it makes sense to develop your own content and distribute it yourself. You can launch your projects on the web, then do a motion comics project on iTunes for a couple thousand bucks. Then take that money and work on a bigger project. I’m friends with Bill Plympton, and he is able to keep going and producing these movies by keeping his budgets very low. Meanwhile the studios are dying because they’re incapable of making movies that cost less than 200 million! Meanwhile, people can download those same movies or buy the bootleg copy in Chinatown three weeks after they hit theaters.
Back in the old days, you could buy a house with the money studios would give you for the rights for your comic-books. Today, I know so many guys in ths business, whose projects have been made into movies, but they’re not getting a dime. Seriously, if you want to learn about how to survive in this business, go read Joe Barbera’s book, My Life in Toons: From Flatbush to Bedrock in Less Than a Century. He’s truly my hero. He is the guy who created Tom and Jerry’with William Hanna, when he was at MGM. But like everyone else, he got reamed while people like Gene Kelly and producer Fred Quimby got the Oscars, while he got fired. He was 50 years old and thought he was ruined. He said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll get into this new thing called television!’ and because it was a new medium, he was able to negotiate, so he got to own everything that had to do with The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. That’s how he was able to survive and really make a difference in his new format. That’s how I feel about the Internet and new ways of distributing your content. It’s all new’so you have the power to negotiate ‘ and don’t forget, if you want to make toys based on my comics, you’ve got to pay me!
To watch the new Dexter: Early Cuts animated series, visit www.sho.com/site/dexter/earlycuts/home.do
To find out more about Kyler Baker and check out his cartoons, visit www.kylerbaker.com