Interview w/ Stephen Foundling and Andy Warner, Co-Creators of 'Frown Town'

It's the return of the puppets! Yes, our second puppet-themed interview in a row! This time we're talking with the diabolical duo of Steven Foundling and Andy Warner, the co-creators of the black comedy puppet show: Frown Town.

Following a young " saucer-eyed James Rumsey and his sociopathic stillborn twin brother Phauntleroy," whose parents have been killed in a fire, Frown Town's ensemble of equally odd characters help make it one of the most interesting indie projects I've seen in some time. Not to mention that both of these gentlemen are not only batsh!t crazy but absolutely creative savants with ideas that include pedophile dumpster superheroes, stillborn fetus babies and prepubescent pyromania. If this stuff isn't strange enough for ya, you're not trying hard enough.
Thanks for making the trip all the way from Frown Town fellas. Feel free to pull up a bean bag and grab a vintage issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland while we chat.

Steven Foundling:I'm visualizing this hypothetical internet interview room how the 80's visualized hacking - a cyberspace rumpus room made of glowing green grid lines. Bean bag all full of zeros and ones. Command prompts hovering over everything.

Haha, that's the spirit! So, can you tell us a bit of your different backgrounds, how did you each get started as artists?

Andy Warner: I've been drawing comics and cartoons since I was old enough to grasp a pencil proper. Newspaper funnies totally fascinated me as a kid, and I'd spend hours and hours copying them. At age six, I was pretty sure my future fame and fortune was assured with my 3-panel strip about a sassy parrot named Inky and his exasperated owner. Didn't quite work out that way.

SF: I was a crafter long before I got into the finer arts. Lots of fond childhood memories of hours spent in my parents' basement making things from felt and fabric, wood and metal, clay and melted crayons. I'd design and refine my project ideas in the margins of my notebooks in middle school and then hurry home to retreat to the basement and work on them 'til suppertime. I kept this up for so long, I think I may have missed out on the chance to learn to do something else, so here I still am, making shit for kicks.

How did the two of you first meet?

SF: I first met Andy when I stabbed him in an underground pleasure dungeon in Shanghai. I was an amature assassin with more enthusiasm than experience and he'd gotten on the wrong side of an eminent local warlord by wooing away his most favored geisha. Or college. We might've met at college.

Currently you guys are working on a project called Frown Town. What's the premise behind that?

SF: Frown Town is a multimedia internet puppet/animation project, which we're planning to use to pitch a cult television show. It's primarily about a deeply sheltered and emotionally damaged child and his ill-tempted, talking stillborn twin brother. After their parents die in the fire that claimed the only home they'd ever known, they're sent to live with their deadbeat uncle in the big bleak city. They quickly meet up with an extended cast of weirdos and rapscallions and embark on a series of unfortunate adventures. It's a pretty even mix of magical realism and miserable realism with an obsessively overdeveloped visual style.

AW: You can pretty much get a feel for the mood of the show from the title. And there's a lot of laughs, but they're the "at" kind.

Was Frown Town always meant to be an adult-oriented puppet show or did it begin in another format- comics, animation, et cetera. If so, why puppets?

AW: It was always puppets. I'd done a bit of puppet stuff before, mostly in high school for video projects, and I've made a few little homunculi, but it's really Steve who brings the puppet passion to the table.

SF: I like storytelling and I like working with a variety of materials to build beautiful things. Working on a long form puppet project has allowed me to keep myself engaged by working in a wide range of fields towards a single goal: writing, designing, carving, sewing, painting, costume making, set building, lighting, sound, photography, editing, special effects... puppets let me scratch all of my creative itches with one huge, gnarled, twenty fingered hand. Besides that, Jim Henson's been a deity to me since before I can remember. It'a all for you, Uncle Jim. All for you. Always.

Are you guys funding this solely by yourselves or to you have some sort of fundraising in place?

SF: We were lucky enough to make and break our Kickstarter goal a month ago. Up until then we'd paid for all our puppet supplies out of pocket, but now that we've got a piece of that Internet money, we've been able to buy the tech gear (camera, software, monitors) to move production into its second, largely digital phase.

AW: And our deepest, heartfelt thanks go out to our donors on Kickstarter. The site itself was really great to us, too. It's an amazing resource. We're still pretty astonished we got there.

You guys are building everything from scratch yourselves, is that correct? Have either of you ever taken on a project of this scale before?

SF: We are doing 98% of the work ourselves. We've had the occasional helping hand from some talented friends, but every one's got their own projects and passions to pursue, so we're not about to try and rope our mates too hard into ours. Andy and I, our creative histories are littered with the partially finished remains of ideas far too vast in vision to ever be accomplished by individual artists. A 13-volume graphic novel spanning the entire United States, stop motion music videos and preposterous puppet projects that make Frown Town seem like a pine cone/peanut butter bird feeder, or some other lazy Sunday afternoon craft project. Our creative histories are a lot like current day Dubai.

AW: Scope creep has always been a problem.

You have quite a diverse cast of misfits for the show. What sort of inspiration did you draw from for the actual puppets aside from your initial sketches and drawings?

SF: All our puppet kids are amalgamous Frankenstein monsters, sewn together from bits and pieces pulled from innumerable outside sources. The medium was borrowed from Jim Henson, the tone from Tim Burton. Our writing style springs from the pitch black absurdism of the best of the BBC, the metameme-building intensity of Arrested Development, and our own proclivity for fantastical world building, endemic among kids who were better at throwing twenty-sided dice than baseballs. The characters came from divvied up factions of our own personalities, as well as tried and true archetypes, including orphans, ravers, hipsters, sociopaths and southerners. A motley mix to be sure.

AW: We went through a whole lot of planning before starting anything. Probably too much. At first we based what we thought would be the four main characters (Geer, Orly, James and Phauntleroy) on the Beatles, then we tried out different mental disorders, and on from there. A little bit of everything ended up gelling into the characters we ended up with. There's whole drawers full of typewritten index cards in the basement.

The world needs to know... whatever happened to Bum Man? More importantly, will we ever see him again?

AW: The world's not ready for him. Too avant garde.

SF: Bum Man was a "get in the van" pedophile joke that somehow turned into the central thrust of our pilot episode, pun intended. He was a thoroughly loathsome one-shot character, so spending so much of our first episode with him was an indubitable folly. With a pilot episode, you want to put your best foot forward. As it turns out, a homeless superhero with heavy overtones of child molestation is not our best foot. Good for us. Which is not to say we won't return to that well at a later date. After all, comedy writing doesn't get any easier than pedo puns.

What have been some of the biggest obstacles/challenges in the entire process?

SF: Time is the rarest of commodities. Nothing we set out to do is physically impossible, or even especially difficult, it's just that it'd take a team of a hundred five years to execute it. Whoops. That said, I got hung up for a month trying to build a Phauntleroy puppet with a moving mouth and wiggling arms that would be contained in a huge glass jar full of water. I ran into a lot of problems trying to pull that off and when I finally got it together, I realized the movements weren't convincing and the jar leaked.

Who's your favorite cast member and why?

AW: I think I like the way Orly looks the best. His glasses came out much better than I expected. Personality-wise, I'd have to go with Geer. He's a sociopath who cares. Trey's always a ray of sunshine, too.

SF: I like writing for Orly and Geer the most because they're both so deeply weird and damaged. It's a lot of fun to see what horrible anecdotes seep out in their casual conversation. But my favorite cast member is definitely James, because he's so pitiful. You can't look at him without feeling sorry for him. You'd want to reach out and hug him if he weren't already clutching his stillborn twin floating in mason jar.

What are some of the things that influence you each as artists?

SF: Jim Henson, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I am amazed and inspired by the auteurs who take creative control over all aspects of their work. These are inevitably the most memorable and enviable of films- self assured and deeply stylized. Though hundreds of people are involved in executing their films, each bears the distinctive hallmark of an individual artist.

AW: Charles Burns, David Cronenburg, Edward Gorey, David B and (always) Bill Watterson. I can't get enough weirdness.

Do either of you have any solo projects scheduled for 2010 as well?

AW: I'm going to grad school at the Center for Cartoon Studies in the Fall, so I'll be working a lot more on comics this coming year. But I'll be putting in a bunch of time working on backgrounds and art assets for Frown Town. Really anything I can do remotely.

SF: Frown Town's all I've got going art wise. It's too much of a time commitment to work on much else and have any hope of getting it done. Besides, I'm more than a bit obsessive and if I shifted my focus to something else, there's a chance Frown Town could get left behind. And that is something I cannot abide.

Lightning Round! What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid? Get your buzzers ready... go!

AW: I was briefly convinced that I could read the thoughts of animals. Not true.

SF: I would catch wasps in butterfly nets, put them in the freezer for ~30 seconds to throw them into hibernation and then, while they were unconscious, I'd lasso threads around their abdomens and when they came to, I had my-child-self an army of wasps buzzing around in circles at the ends of threads. I was an odd one.


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