Our Interview With Adventure Time‘s Head of Story and the Voice of Flame Princess!

Or should I say Flame KING.

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Adventure Time‘s been on a bit of a hiatus lately, but the series is back on Cartoon Network, starting with “Ghost Fly.” We thought that was certainly enough of a timely event to share the fruits of our New York Comic Con roundtable interview with Kent Osborne, AT‘s head of story, and Jessica DiCicco, the voice of Flame Princess. Read on, for how the Simon and Marceline plotline came about, Flame Princess’ true alignment, and whether Pendleton Ward really went as crazy as Rolling Stone would have us believe.

Reporter: My first question is probably straight from left field, but personally I would like to see an Adventure Time/Regular Show crossover episode. Has anyone ever come to you guys to about that idea?

Kent Osborne: I think you just did. (laughter) Aside from a casual mention. The executives sit down with us at the beginning of each season and just go over a bunch of stuff. So I think that might have been suggested, but they’ve never said “you have to do this,” they just throw it out there. I don’t think Pen is too interested in that, I don’t know if J.G. [Quintel] is either. But yeah we hear that a lot from fans too, they’re like “please do it!” and —

Reporter: Listen to the fans!

Kent Osborne: I like crossovers, I think they’re really fun, I think if there’s a way to do it it could be really fun, but I don’t know if we’ve figured out a way; a reason to do it.

Reporter: Now’s the time!

Osborne: Yeah? Okay, alright, let’s do it.

Reporter: Jessica, how did you start with your voice acting, because you’re in Pound Puppies, you’re in a whole bunch. And you’re Flame Princess. What’s it like, just grabbing into it?

Jessica DiCicco: I actually started voice acting — it just happened very organically. I moved out to LA to produce and direct TV, and I was auditioning on the side, just for voiceovers. And then all of a sudden I’d booked like five pilots and three of them turned into shows and I was like “okay, I guess this is my calling, I guess I’m just gonna voice act.” And I’m just so happy that happened, it’s been so much fun.

The Mary Sue: Adventure Time has a history of characters, like Princess Bubblegum and Lemongrab and the Ice King, who start out as sort of standard fantasy tropes and get characteristics added to them that bring them out of those spaces. Most recently, with Finn and Jake’s dog parents, we’ve seen their mom as being the Protective Mom and then we got a whole episode that’s about her being this Kickass Adventurer. Is this a concerted effort on the part of the crew to sort of flesh out these side characters out of the niches that they come from, and are there any that are on the docket to take a second look at?

Osborne: Well yeah, definitely. Definitely with Ice King, and trying to figure out “What’s his backstory and why did he end up like that?” You don’t want to tell the same story over and over where he’s just this bumbling villain. But I think that’s part of the process in a board-driven show, giving creative freedom to the boarders. They get an outline that’s pretty basic. And that episode where you reveal that Ice King was once Simon, that came from boarding, that wasn’t in the outline. We had a whole different idea for that and we were trying to board it and it wasn’t working and then Pat McHale wrote that whole monologue at the end, and we were like “Oh my god” and “this is gonna be great.” So yeah, we’re organically doing it as we’re figuring it out, which I think is the way to do it. That being said, we don’t really plan it ahead of time, but we do talk about things. The whole Simon and Marcie storyline came because there was an episode where Ice King was doing the Fry Song, and then I think someone said “Have we ever had an episode with Ice King and Marceline?” and we were like “We haven’t.” And we were talking about that, like “What’s a good reason why they haven’t been in an episode together,” and then we kinda started talking about “well maybe they have a history, maybe something painful happened.” So I think just trusting in the process, that’s where a lot of the storytelling, the mythology building, comes from.

Reporter: What goes into writing a character like Lemongrab, that’s just so far out there and just downright crazy? We were talking to Justin Roiland at the Rick and Morty event two days ago, so what goes into that?

Osborne: I mean, a lot of it’s him. We wrote that outline and it was just supposed to be this kind of weird weirdo who shouldn’t be in charge, and then Tom Herpich and Jesse Moynihan boarded it and it was even more weird, because he’s riding that weird camel-horse thing and he was kind of a weirdo. And then when Justin came into the booth and just started screaming his head off, we were just like “what the—” Suddenly, he—that’s like 80% that character. And we thought it was just going to be a one time thing and we were like “No one’s going to want to watch this guy, he’s just screaming his head off the whole time.” He would come in and after the record you go to hug him and he’s just covered in sweat. Super sweaty. He’ll do take after take and ruins, shreds his throat and he’s doing other [shows], you know, he’s doing Rick and Morty. And I think the next episode we had we were like, “oh and now Lemongrab has a bunch of mutants and they’re all gonna be you! They’re all your voice!” and he was like “What?!” And so he started having to break it up into two different sessions, we don’t do that with anyone else. But yeah, hats off to Justin Roiland for being a lunatic.

Reporter: So there have been some pretty significant events in recent episodes like Simon and Betty, and everything that Finn went through with his dad and the side effect of the Lich becoming some giant baby or what have you. Coming down the line are there any adventures you can share with us that you would consider a big moment?

Osborne: Well, there’s definitely going to be more episodes dealing with those things like the Lich and Betty. I don’t know if we’re completely done with Finn, with what he’s been going through with his dad. I can’t get into specifics, but we’re going to continue some of that stuff we set up. But sometimes we like to plan something and just put it out there and let it sit there for a while. In the writers room we had a piece of paper that said “Unresolved Stories” and we had “The Lich” and “Finn’s Dad,” and after a while they started really adding up and we were like “Okay, we’ve gotta start dealing with some of these.” So we’d pick one and start to talk about it. It happens very slowly and very organically. But yeah, definitely. Season Six is gonna end and deal with a lot of that stuff pretty well. I’m pretty excited for people to see it.

Reporter: You guys have done some experimental episodes like “Food Chain” with Masaaki Yuasa. How does that kind of arrangement come about?

Osborne: Well the first one was David O’Reilly and it was just, I think, Pen and Adam Muto being fans of those guys. And I think because we’re pretty successful and we were in our fourth and fifth season and sixth season, I think the executives at Cartoon Network were—we asked them “Hey could we do something cool like this” and they were like, “yeah, do whatever you want.” They’re really good about [that]. They trust us. I mean they still want to see “Well what’s the story going to be” and what’s it going to look like; it goes through all the stops. We had to submit everything at every stage, but yeah, Yuasa just came to LA and met with us a couple times. That was all his idea, he wanted to do something with the Food Chain and had all these big beautiful watercolor illustrations that he does, I don’t know if you’re familiar with his other stuff. So it was incredible, and then we help a little bit, shape the story, but it was all him. And then we record it and send it to him and then he animated it. We’re doing a couple more of those, having guest directors, it’s pretty exciting.

Reporter: What’s it like working with celebrity guest stars on your show? Andy Milonakis was the little rapping robot [Editor’s Note: N.E.P.T.R.].

DiCicco: That was my first episode!

Osborne: Oh really?

DiCicco: It was with Andy Milonakis.

Reporter: What’s it like having them come in and record for a show that you’re working on?

Osborne: Well Andy’s great, he’s been back a bunch, he’s always really funny and he’s happy to be there. And sometimes yeah, I’m pretty starstruck. We’ve had some people from The Office, I’m a big fan of that show, and so anytime someone from The Office comes in I get all — like Creed came in and it’s the only time I ever asked to take a picture. “Can I take a picture with you?” and he was like “Okay.” But Rainn Wilson, he actually contacted us, he’s a big fan of the show and he watches it with his son and so and he contacted us. So I got a post-it one day that said “Rainn Wilson wants to do a voice” and we were like “Oh!” And so we were like “okay” and we kept it in mind. We don’t want to just shoehorn him into something, so we were waiting for a good opportunity and it actually got to the point where he called again. The next post-it came in all caps, “RAINN WILSON REALLY WANTS TO DO A VOICE.” And then when Rattleballs came up we were like “Wait, this would be perfect for him,” so we brought him in for that. And he was great, because he was really interested in it and wanted to look at the board and when he wasn’t recording he was watching us direct the actors. So that was great, but yeah I get really star struck and we’ve had a lot of funny comedians come in. They’re really nice, Stephen Root loves the show, and Andy Daly, they’re all super fun to work with.

TMS: This is I guess for both of you, it seems like Finn cares enormously whether Flame Princess is evil or not, do you think Flame Princess really cares?

DiCicco: I think she knows that she’s not. She’s just such a complicated dynamic character and I feel like I learn more about her every episode that she’s in. [To Osborne] I don’t think she’s evil, do you think?

Osborne: She’s—no, she’s chaotic neutral? (laughs)

DiCicco: She’s passionate!

Osborne: There’s a great Flame Princess episode coming up this season. It’s one of my favorites, and Jessica’s amazing in it.

DiCicco: I—can I say that I… sing…

Osborne: Maybe… that you maybe sing a song?

DiCicco: Yeah. Maybe… (laughter)

TMS: Well now that she’s the monarch of the Flame Kingdom, I imagine that there’s a change from the sort of wandering, living in this wooden teepee that Finn made for her.

DiCicco: Mmhmm. Is she considered Flame Queen now? Or is it still Flame Princess?

Obsorne: I think, well, I think we were calling her Flame King. (laughter)

DiCicco: Nice! And [voice of Flame King] Keith David. He’s so awesome.

Osborne: Yeah, you were really upset when they broke up.

DiCicco: I was! I thought it was such a good—I really liked [Finn and Flame Princess] together! I don’t know, I think that Finn obviously has so much room to grow, and Flame Princess has been locked up in a lantern her whole life, for sixteen years, so it’s just interesting to see how she navigates and what her compass is. I don’t know, I’m interested so see where you guys take her.

Reporter: Is there any real concerted effort to explain the world that Adventure Time happens in? You have the Simon/Marcie episodes that happen more in the past and personally I think those are some of the most well thought out, most amazing stories. Those are the ones that I really look forward to. Are we going to get any kind of indication of what happened to the world, is this the same world?

Osborne: I don’t know if we’re ever going to get super specific and explain everything where you can, you know, go by date and see everything that happened. But we’re definitely going to revisit that stuff and try and add more to it. Maybe connect things and explain things. Yeah, usually we’re more interested in just telling a good story and then it happens to be “Oh we can set this in the past and have a flashback” or something, and that’ll help tell the story. I like those episodes too, Simon and Marcie, it makes me cry. It makes Pen cry, everybody cries.

Reporter: On the opposite side, do you ever stop and think about a few of the episodes that you make? You do have your standard one shot episodes where nothing really seems to happen ultimately, and then you have episodes like “A Glitch is a Glitch” where as a viewer I don’t know how to interpret something like that.

Osborne: That’s definitely a one-off. And that’s all David O’Reilly. I guess if I didn’t work on the show and I was a fan I would just be like “Oh, I’m watching someone else’s interpretation of something that exists.” Like I’m watching, uh… how would you describe it?

TMS: Fanfiction?

Osborne: Yeah, fanfiction! Yeah, yeah, you get to watch someone who you really like who’s a good animator in a different style do some fanfiction.

Reporter: That’s a good way to put it!

Osborne: Yeah! Good job.

Reporter: Just the matter of bringing up Pen switching roles, are we looking at it with fresh eyes now or is that going to change the direction of the show in any way?

Osborne: Yeah, well he—You’re talking about that Rolling Stone interview? Yeah, when he got to Season Five he was pretty exhausted, I mean, he’d been working on it nonstop. I don’t know if it was as dramatic as they kinda made it sound? I think that guy was kinda, you know, he was doing his job. (laughter) But it’s weird. I mean, I think it’s totally normal. All the shows I’ve worked on—SpongeBob was my first job and Steve Hillenberg did three seasons and did the movie and then stepped away and Paul Tibbit started running the show. And I know that’s kind of similar to Matt Groening with The Simpsons. So for me it just seems kinda normal that, yeah, you can’t, nobody can keep that up. But when he stepped down he did it in a real gradual way, and he’s still in the writers’ meetings, and he’s boarding episodes, he’s writing songs. He’s still there, and Adam Muto has been on since the beginning and that guy can do that job. For some reason he drinks coffee and is just always there and always working and he’s just constantly—you never see him on Facebook or anything, he’s just constantly working. Yeah, it was funny. I think Pen just wants to keep being creative. He wants to make video games and he wants to write a movie and he wants to make music, and I think he just wants to not be doing this day to day grind. It’s really tough. It’s a full time job and it takes a lot out of you. But I don’t know if it’s as—that Rolling Stone interview came out and then Cartoon Brew was like “Pen Ward Was Going Nuts And So He Quit!” and there’s a picture of him and—

Reporter: Not so much?

Osborne: Yeah. It’s weird because that picture is, that’s just, he’s just tired of having his picture taken because he always makes that face. If you search there’s just all these pictures of him going “raaawrr,” you know, he’s like “I don’t want to do that anymore, I’ve already done it.” So yeah, it’s not as dramatic as they were making it sound. It’s not like they rushed him out in a straight jacket. (laughter)

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Susana Polo
Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.