Christy Karacas is one of the most inventive, ambitious voices working in American animation at the moment. Karacas’ past efforts include the Dadaist Adult Swim cult hit, SuperJail!, and co-executive producing the under appreciated Cartoon Network one season wonder, Robotomy.
Karacas’ latest effort is a whacked out take on extreme sports called Ballmastrz: 9009. The program is just as insane as its name. It’s still too early into the show’s run to declare how much of a success it will be, but it already seems to operate within a playground that’s tailor-made for Karacas’ more eccentric, out of control tendencies. Ballmastrz is a series that’s somehow weirder than Superjail!, and if you’ve seen Superjail! then you know that that’s saying something. In honor of Ballmastrz: 9009’s recent debut on Adult Swim, we chat with the madman behind the series about the show’s origins, its influences (including animation God, Masaaki Yuasa), and how to get the most out of animation.
DEN OF GEEK: What are the origins for this series? How did this idea come about and was it always the same, or did it focus on a different character at one point?
CHRISTY KARACAS: After Superjail! had wound down I was trying to think of something new to do. I didn’t want it to be exactly the same. I used to be a big anime fan, but then I had stopped watching it for a while. So around the end of Superjail! I was coming across a lot of exciting stuff like Yuasa’s Ping Pong, Kill la Kill, One Punch Man, and just a lot of things that were really dynamic and honestly pretty crazy. Those shows got me really excited because Superjail! was more of a gag-driven comedy. Sure, it was violent, but it was very gag-driven. So I thought maybe this show could be something that’s more action-heavy than flat and reflects a bunch of anime.
There are so many sports anime and manga that are out there. There’s honestly probably one for every sport from baseball, to rollerblading, to ice-skating. So with Ping Pong especially I was like maybe I could do some fake sports thing. I don’t really watch or follow actual sports in any capacity, but I was thinking about sports tropes, Bad News Bears, and those kind of things. It all felt like a good fit together and I’ve always been a fan of ’70s dystopia movies. It really kind of came together very easily, but even once all of those genres came together we didn’t know exactly what it would be about. So we started sketching, drawing, developing this world and how it works, and because this is Adult Swim you typically only have 11 minutes to communicate that. So we knew it had to be comedy, but there was discussion of how much it would be a real sport, how much it would be a game, how much would be story… That took a while, but we built up all of the backstory first and cherry picked what worked, but beyond what you see in the show there’s a lot more to all of this that’s still in my head.
Like you said, there’s such an anime influence in this show, whether it’s with character’s expressions, the episode titles, or whatever. There are so many anime that look at sports, but I can’t think of a single American cartoon that’s about some sport, which is kind of crazy.
It was kind of interesting because like I said, I don’t follow any sports, but when I started to look deeper into them there are a lot of fun, adaptable concepts. Stuff like uniforms, equipment, team dynamics—A lot of sitcoms will have some group dynamic, whether it’s a family, a workplace, or a jail—it’s all some forced social structure. So it was appealing to dig into those group sports tropes like the newbie, the veteran, the player that’s full of themselves. There are tons of sports films, but film structure is so specific as opposed to a series that needs to push longevity. So it was interesting to look at that stuff, but ultimately not be able to take their whole structure away. But there was Eastbound and Down and like I mentioned, Bad News Bears. That stuff is just a bunch of ding dongs on a team and I love that. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they can’t get it together, sometimes they’re the best of friends, that’s all fun.
Another thing is that anime has a tendency to be more serialized, but when I think of American animation it usually plays into that sitcom dynamic where things reset and more episodic. So we become more serialized, but it’s still intimidating to feature team after team and to have an insane amount of characters in an 11-minute show. You can’t do that, so we just tried to focus on the main team and then feature a slice of another one when possible. I want to play with all of those other characters, but there’s just no time!
Off of that, Ballmastrz does have a very serialized structure that becomes more intense as the season goes on. Superjail! had hints of that, but it was definitely a more episodic series. Of the two styles, do you have a preference between episodic and serialized storytelling?
I like both! In spite of how Netflix has really brought serialized storytelling back due to their approach, in the past networks didn’t really want this for comedies because then they couldn’t air them out of order, there are issues if people miss one, and all of that. We try to do a little bit of both here though. The first three or four are more serialized but then towards the middle they start to be more one-off comedy things. Then at the end of the season it starts to come back to a serialized angle as it all comes together. So I hope people dig this approach, but I dug it a lot. It definitely takes a lot more time because you need to thoroughly plan out your whole story before you start. That can be tough with a TV schedule, but I think we pulled it off.
Who do you consider to be the main character in this show, Gaz Digzy or Ace?
It’s funny because we’ve talked about that a lot in the writers’ room and we kind of decided that it’s the trio of Gaz, Ace, and Ball. They’re the three main characters. We kind of roll a little more towards one than the others at times, but they’re pretty much always the center of attention for the story. We kind of felt like it was this dynamic where Gaz has this good conscience who is Ace and this bad conscience who is Ball. So it follows that dynamic a lot, I think.
Which member of the Leptons do you think will surprise the audience the most in the end or is the unsung hero of the group?
We screen the episodes for the crew and I’m always curious what people are going to laugh at in them. I think everyone really has their moments and I don’t have a favorite, but Bob and Lou don’t even talk and still score big. We try to give every character an episode where they’re in the main storyline. We try to give everyone some time and if we’re lucky enough to have multiple seasons you really will get to know the characters a lot better. Having that many characters you want to make sure that people can pick up their personalities pretty quickly.
Talk a little on Quasar because he’s certainly an exaggerated, interesting character that also feels like the Warden from Superjail! in a lot of ways, too. What’s his deal and will be learning more about who he is beneath all of the flair?
Yes, you will learn more. Also, when we started the show he wasn’t so central of a character, we just needed someone who started this sport. I did worry a little that he may be a bit too much like the Warden, but they’re different in that he likes to mess things up and watch what happens as opposed to the Warden who’s probably more of a control freak. Quasar is just bored. He’s thousands of years old and needs excitement. There’s some really great Quasar stuff that I want to do with the character down the road and I just want to get to that point. I think we were a little hesitant to jump too quickly into that stuff and instead focused on the common, but it’s definitely there for season two.
But another thing, a lot of people gravitate to how this is supposed to be “the world’s most violent sport,” but the show’s really not that violent. I really tried hard to make this super exciting and dynamic, but not violent. They’re fighting and it’s action, but it’s not the same sort of gore jokes and gore gags that Superjail!! was. I’m not going to lie, it was really hard to stop thinking and drawing that way when you’ve been doing it for so long. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut that way, but I don’t want to repeat the same jokes or sequences, so I wanted to get out of my comfort zone with this show. There were moments when I was boarding the pilot when I was like, “God, there’s no way I can do this as good as Superjail!” and it was kind of this breaking point where I talked to a lot of friends in animation and came to this conclusion that you can’t worry about imitating this thing, just do the things that excite you and deliver this raw, skewed version of it all.
I think another thing that helped the show out a lot is that I really wanted the animation team to have fun, so I encouraged them to put in ideas or push ideas to me and that they can experiment with this show. This show will change animation styles at times and do all sorts of unusual things. It was just a fun, exciting production to work on. It’s sometimes goo to jump into something that you don’t fully understand. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just do something fresh and try new things.
I love your animation style so much and I’m sure that you’re an inspiration to a lot of other animators out there. Who else in the animation worlds really inspires you though or who do you think people should check out, whether it’s in television, comics, or whatever.
Specific influences for the show are probably more common things that the audience will recognize. Yuasa is such a huge influence and he’s someone that people should definitely check out. Jorge Gutiérrez who did The Book of Life has such an amazing body of work and his stories always have such heart. I like a lot of indie stuff. I also teach and the work of my students really blows me away.
Do you have a favorite episode or a particular sequence of animation that you’re particularly proud of from the first season?
I definitely have favorite parts from each episode. A lot of it for me comes down to seeing an incredible piece of animation and being like, “Oh my God, who did that?” There was a lot of growth on this production, I felt. So it was exciting to see when someone would break out of their shell so much and I wouldn’t be able to tell who was behind it. So the flashbacks to the Rad Wars are a big highlight. Also, the season finale has an end sequence that features a song and it’s probably the most insane animation sequence that we did. That’s another thing, as you move forward in the show the animation gets progressively crazier. So I think the finale is my favorite.
Ballmastrz: 9009 currently airs on Sundays at midnight (ET) with back-to-back episodes on Adult Swim