This Venture Bros. article was first published in the Den of Geek NYCC Special Edition Magazine. You can find out about that issue and everything else in it by clicking here.
“This [season] is everybody stumbling around.”
The Venture Bros.’ sixth season is finally happening and it sounds like it could be well worth the wait. This is a show that truly pushes that expression to the limit. Since the Adult Swim cult series debuted in 2003, there have only been five seasons (and the occasional special). Series creators Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick acquired a perfectionist reputation along the way, not unlike that of Dan Harmon or Aaron Sorkin. Still, fans are willing to wait long spans for small bursts of episodes because of the universe they’ve created.
Beyond writing and directing every episode of the series, Hammer and Publick take on an unheard of amount of responsibilities as nearly everything, except for what is animated overseas, falls on their backs. The series that began as a humble Johnny Quest and Hardy Boys homage has slowly transformed into an insanely intricate show with a respect for continuity and serialization that’s as deep as what you see in Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad. Ahead of the anticipated 2016 premiere of season six, we spoke with Hammer and Publick about the future of Venture Bros.
DEN OF GEEK: It’s certainly not a reboot or anything, but this season feels like it has a new energy with the regime change happening at the Guild now, Rusty’s fortune, and everything else. Did the series feel fresh in a lot of ways?
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, we did consciously cleanse the palette and we were excited going into sort of–unofficially–reboot the show.
DOC HAMMER: We didn’t do it in a calculated, “let’s reboot the show” way, but we just came up with these stories, and said won’t it be fun to take these stories in a new direction? And a side benefit is that it’s sort of like a weird reboot.
DEN OF GEEK: The show has certainly ballooned and turned into something different over the years, too I think the series has one of the deepest wells of continuity out of any series of television, and it pays respect to it wonderfully. There are so many different factions on the show now between everything. Did you ever think this universe would get so thorough when you began?
DOC HAMMER: No. Did you, or no?
JACKSON PUBLICK: No, I mean not to the extent that it has. I knew, probably both of our natural inclinations were to keep digging deeper.
DEN OF GEEK: Building more and more.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah. To keep continuity going. We were never interested in a sitcom “everything goes back to zero every episode” kind of thing. But it got pretty convoluted and that’s part of the reason why we did the “Gargantua” special, to kind of clear the decks and go in a new direction. We realized we just had a lot of complex stuff to wrap up. We just wanted to clean up. Yeah, it’s like a house you’ve been building additions on for ten years, and then you go, “let’s just knock it down and build one that makes sense.” Why don’t we just paint over these not-level floors?
DOC HAMMER: But our inclination is to make this kind of storytelling. So I think when we cleared down the house and built up another one, we kept putting doors in there. So it’s not like you’re getting a brand new Venture Bros. A lot of the old stories are still in play, and many new ones are in play.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Some of it will always be this unending Winchester mansion of a show, but things got a little cleaner and more focused. All the old is still a part of these characters’ lives, but there aren’t as many unanswered stray things going on throughout their lives. There aren’t characters who are walking around that we haven’t figured out their motivations, or fully explained their situation.
DEN OF GEEK: As a result of building the main cast so well, you’ve also really fleshed out the supporting characters of your series, too. I loved what you did with Ghost Robot in “Bot Seeks Bot” for instance. Who’s been your favorite to really dig into with the supporting cast, or someone even more ancillary than that?
JACKSON PUBLICK: He’s about as deep cut as you can get, when you give him some lines of dialogue. That episode was like a little walk in the park for two of those characters, because Vendata was the other one who we had a lot of jokes for between us, but there was never a reason to put them in an episode. I don’t know, who do you got, Doc?
DOC HAMMER: Fleshing out, I’ve always enjoyed fleshing out Red Mantle Dragoon, the two-headed old Guild member. I love writing for them, and I also like fleshing out Shore Leave.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Well, Old Team Venture too, right?
DOC HAMMER: Old Team Venture–you love fleshing out Old Team Venture, and we both always want to flesh out Z, but we never get around to it. I got a little bit in this year. He is fascinating because he is that kind of Johnny Quest mold. It’s like playing with a toy from your childhood.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, yeah.
DOC HAMMER: With a lot of the other characters…
JACKSON PUBLICK: A Fun Toy from China.
DOC HAMMER: Like the Chinatown version of a Hulk that has a likeness chest. You could do some Hulk adventure, but you’d have to talk about the likeness chest, and the fact that his packaging says Fun Toy instead of Hulk.
JACKSON PUBLICK: “Says ‘Hulking Monster'” (Laughter)
DEN OF GEEK: What would a solo Brick Frog episode look like?
JACKSON PUBLICK: That’d be about thirty seconds long.
DOC HAMMER: Brick Frog shows up again!
JACKSON PUBLICK: You could do a day in the life of Brick Frog. You know, going to collect his Guild unemployment check, going to the bar, visiting his kid–watching kids from across the street because he’s not allowed to visit his ex-wife. Yeah, I think it would be a pretty sad “day in the life” episode.
DEN OF GEEK: Oh definitely, he doesn’t seem like the most noble character to begin with.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Although, he could turn it around at any time, you know?
DOC HAMMER: Yeah. He could be like one of those great Marvel villains that becomes a good guy after awhile.
DEN OF GEEK: I could see that. He has it in him, I think. This season you have the Ventures headed to New York and spreading the walls of your sandbox even further. Living there yourself, does this add anything at all to the season since it’s now in your backyard? Can we expect to see Rusty returning to his musical aspirations, or maybe another appearance from the Brown Widow?
DOC HAMMER: It’s been tough having them in New York, because Jackson and I are New Yorkers, which meant we had all these little jokes and incidents that were very New York that we wanted to get into the show, but we could never get them in. It became a burden–we wanted to lampshade all of these funny things that happen to New Yorkers, but you get so involved with your new characters, you get so involved with your plots, we just kept pushing these great subway jokes, and Jew jokes–It’s more of a burden! There’s so much to say about the city that’s already been said.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Here and there, we manage. Yeah, it’s been great location scouting for just interesting places to set up that are just quintessentially New York. I didn’t get to do as much as I wanted to, because the stories took over, and you’re like, well they’re just in the penthouse the whole time…I’ll tell you this about New York though: it’s hard to draw, and it’s full of people.
So that’s been a bit of a production nightmare because it’s such a complex place to take on. And any time you’re outside, you’re like, well we need fifty extras walking around. And oh, by the way, there are cars in New York. Those have to be in the background, moving around, stuff like that. Organizationally and design-wise, it’s been really, really hard. It’s one of the many reasons we’re a bit behind schedule, but it’s also great and I hope we get to do some of the stuff that we didn’t get to do in the fifth season.
DEN OF GEEK: You’ve spoken about some setbacks in the production this season. Has it mostly been in relation to that New York aesthetic of it all, or has it been more than that?
JACKSON PUBLICK: It kind of happens like every other season–we just get a rough one–the timing is bad where we get a little behind schedule on scripts, or we can’t get all the artists that we need. This year we just happened to hit a perfect storm. Every season a couple of things go wrong, and you make up for it. But this year like four departments just had the rug swept out from under them. There were kind of too many things going wrong at once. It’s all coming out really great.
DOC HAMMER: Yeah, nobody’s going to notice this, but they will notice how long it took.
JACKSON PUBLICK: It’s been a ton of work and it’s been really challenging, and we’ve had to make more with fewer people. Everyone’s just been working their asses off and that just grinds you down after awhile. You hit other snags, and you have to take a break.
DEN OF GEEK: It’s kind of glorious that Adult Swim has never kept you to firm deadlines or dates. They’ve given you a lot of freedom in that respect at least, haven’t they?
DOC HAMMER: Yeah. They try to keep us to deadline, but they’re very forgiving.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah. We may have pushed that forgiveness to the absolute limit this season, and I hope that we never do that again. It was a weird one. It got away from us. It was a very ambitious season.
DOC HAMMER: It looks beautiful. We just watched some of the episodes last night.
JACKSON PUBLICK: We were trying to figure out and cut together some sort of promo reel or something for the conventions that are coming up. We were looking at some of the older ones and I realized, oh every shot this season looks better than every shot we put in the promo over a season ago.
DEN OF GEEK: Awesome. Do you have any idea when we can expect season six?
JACKSON PUBLICK: I don’t know officially, but my guess–I mean I know in terms of–
DOC HAMMER: We can tell you when it’s delivered, but not when it’s going to air.
JACKSON PUBLICK: I would say the earliest that you possibly get it on would be January. And I certainly hope that we can put it on then. But I haven’t talked to Adult Swim in an official capacity about–they’ve got to plan their scheduling.
DEN OF GEEK: Of course, it’s out of your hands to a degree.
JACKSON PUBLICK: But maybe we’ll get a sweet spot! It really depends on what else is going on, but January is about the earliest because we have three episodes that won’t even come back from Korea until September/October/November.
DEN OF GEEK: Okay, so January makes sense. The idea of digging into the past has always been present in the series–usually through the conduit of Jonas–but it’s felt even more built into the show now with the changes that have happened. Why does now feel like the right time to be getting into this sort of material?
JACKSON PUBLICK: I think this season because there’s so much new, it’s good to have one foot in the past, particularly when a theme of the show is that you can’t escape from your past no matter what. That there’s almost a destiny to people like Rusty. They were born into this world, no matter how much they try to get out of it–and sometimes people who try to get out of it get punished in a weird way. In my mind, Jonas Jr. had to die because he refused to be a part of the game, you know? So I think when you’re bringing a bunch of new elements in, it’s good to dredge up the past to see that it’s all the cycle of this lifestyle and world.
DOC HAMMER: Doc has always been haunted by ghosts more than he has real people, so to turn Jonas Jr. into one more ghost from his past, it fits on him much better now that he’s dead. He still has to live up to his past.
DEN OF GEEK: You guys must be pretty ecstatic that there’s going to be a whole litany of new Star Wars references that you’ll be able to pepper through the series now.
DOC HAMMER: We have to watch the movies first. We have to wait 25 years until they become a part of our conversations, and then we can put them into the show.
JACKSON PUBLICK: We have to be seven years old when we watch them, and then just never forget.
DEN OF GEEK: I think something that the fans really love about the series are the niche properties that get indulged in, whether it’s Totally Spies, or Sabrina the Teenage Witch, or The Eiger Sanction…
DOC HAMMER: The monster hid the Eiger Sanction!
DEN OF GEEK: Oh my God, The Eiger Sanction is insane. I love it so much. Did you know that Archer did a big thing on it last year? I’m just happy that it’s slowly making its way into the public consciousness.
DOC HAMMER: Oh did they do a little thing on The Eiger Sanction?
JACKSON PUBLICK: Did they? I didn’t see that one. But I think Doc Hammer and I can take full credit for any Eiger Sanction renaissance.
DEN OF GEEK: I think so! I saw it through your commentary track.
DOC HAMMER: If you’ve seen The Eiger Sanction, then you can thank us. I promise you, nobody was watching that weird rape-y film until we started mouthing off about it.
DEN OF GEEK: It’s crazy. Are there any references like that that you’ve tried to work into the show but have been unable to?
DOC HAMMER: We just put them in and then forget we do! It’s the way that Jackson and I think. We’re so deeply mired in anything that’s ever happened to us, so when we make a reference to it it’s not something we’re doing with research or intention, it’s just comes out.
JACKSON PUBLICK: It’s part of our vocabulary.
DEN OF GEEK: It’s how you talk.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Those are our cultural touchstones, as much as Johnny Quest or Star Wars are–some of them even more so because they hit some weird pocket in your adult mind where you’re like, “That thing’s stupid. I’ve got to talk about that!”
DOC HAMMER: We’ll reference Degrassi, and we’re not really thinking about it. We just reference it because it’s a weird portion of your life.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Well you did invest heavily in a pretty deep cut in your first episode this season.
DOC HAMMER: Yes! I did.
JACKSON PUBLICK: You built the whole story around it!
DOC HAMMER: I made the entire story around one object in one moment of the video.
DEN OF GEEK: Oh man, that’s great.
DOC HAMMER: We talked about it!
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, no, we talked about that. We talked about doing that.
DOC HAMMER: Yeah Jackson, we talked about doing that for a really long time, so it’s not like I just pulled that out of my ass. That was an obsession of ours for a long, long time.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, yeah. With even heavier reference and payoff.
DOC HAMMER: Oh yeah! It’s not like we’re not going to do that. I promise you.
DEN OF GEEK: You’re both still very deep into Venture Bros., but do you still have any other ideas that you’d be interested in turning into a show post-Venture Bros., or are you just too focused on this right now to think about anything else in that capacity?
DOC HAMMER: If anybody wants to call us up to make a Johnny Quest movie, we’ll make your movie and then get right back to the Venture Bros.…
JACKSON PUBLICK: Oh you mean Robert Rodriguez’s Johnny Quest movie?
DOC HAMMER: Yeah! Anybody that’s making things like Dr. Strange–we’re interested!
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, I would have really loved to have gone on a hiatus to write for Daredevil. I’ll be straight up and down with you, that would have made me happy. I’m actually at the moment where I’m lucky every two or three years, when I’m just kind of in post production and there’s nothing cooking yet in terms of the new season, and I can go through my notebook and be like, “Hey, where are all those ideas that I thought that I wanted to do if I ever had any time off?” Some of them suck. And most of them require months of research because they’re like period things, or stuff that I’m not an expert on. I don’t know, yeah, there’s stuff.
DOC HAMMER: And there’s something about Venture Bros. that people don’t understand. We’ve lived in this world for years, and people approach us like, “Would you mind talking about Venture Bros.?” I don’t really know much else…
DEN OF GEEK: It is your world.
DOC HAMMER: A lot of wacky ideas that I get, my first inclination is always to funnel it through Venture Bros., even if it has nothing to do with the Venture Bros. There’s always a place for it.
JACKSON PUBLICK: It’s a pretty big umbrella.
DEN OF GEEK: And getting bigger!
DOC HAMMER: Yeah.
JACKSON PUBLICK: That’s how I ended up turning it into a show in the first place. I took a bunch of crap that was in my notebook from like five years time. That some of them probably started as ideas for The Tick, or a comic of my own, or something else, and then I went, “Oh wait, they can all go here!” because superheroes, and spies, and scientists all live in this world.
DEN OF GEEK: Lastly, it was thrown around a lot in the infancy of the program, that the show’s theme was “failure.” I think you’ve outgrown that for the most part. I mean, it’s still present of course, but if there were one word or theme that encapsulates season six, what would you say that it is?
DOC HAMMER: It borders around the idea of “misunderstood destinies.” Who you are, who you’re supposed to be, and not really quite knowing it…which is also part of failure.
JACKSON PUBLICK: Yeah, and also still the idea of how you can’t escape from your past, no matter how much everything else around you is new. How to be a new version of yourself, that I guess pays homage to the past and the present at the same time.
DOC HAMMER: It’s the season of trying to become what you’re supposed to become and just not having it mapped out for you. Like human destiny–you know when you’re on the path, and you can feel it, but you never know where the path is. You’re just kind of stumbling around until it feels good. This is everybody stumbling around. Also, it’s the season of the Monarch. I’m just going to say that.
DEN OF GEEK: Oh yeah? That’s exciting.
JACKSON PUBLICK: It’s a pretty heavy Monarch season. A lot of Monarch, yeah.
DEN OF GEEK: I can’t wait.
JACKSON PUBLICK: You must.
DEN OF GEEK: Yeah, I must wait.
JACKSON PUBLICK: If I’ve gotta wait, then you’ve gotta wait, man.
Season Six of The Venture Bros. should air on Adult Swim in early 2016. The first two seasons can be streamed on Netflix, with its entirety being available on Hulu and Adult Swim’s website.