The Tick: Creator Ben Edlund & Executive Producer Barry Josephson Talk Superhero Evolution And Jazz

Aaron Neuwirth sat down with two of the filmmakers behind The Tick, creator Ben Edlund & executive producer Barry Josephson, to discuss the return of the show for the second half of its first season.

August 2017 saw the debut of the first half of season one of The Tick, an Amazon Studios production based on the popular satirical comic book superhero of the same name. Starting February 23, 2018, audiences will be able to see the second half of the season and learn more about the adventures of The Tick (Peter Serafinowicz) and Arthur (Griffin Newman), as they attempt to save The City from the supervillain known as The Terror (Jackie Earle Haley).

As a big fan of The Tick, I was a big fan of the first half of the season, featuring a new take on the character and I’m looking forward to the second half. Here is an interview that was a lot of fun, as I spoke with Ben Edlund, creator of and writer for The Tick, along with executive producer Barry Josephson, who’s had plenty of experiences in this sort of world as well. In this interview, we discuss what to expect, the fusion of Jazz into this series, possible future directions, the evolution of the superhero genre when it comes to spoofing it, and more.

Aaron: This is exciting. I don’t like to make people feel older than they already are, but…

Ben: [Laughs]

Aaron: I watched The Tick cartoon series when I was much younger.

Barry: Good!

Ben: That makes me feel appropriate in age because of the timeframe in which it took place.

Aaron: Okay, good! It was a show that I really liked back in the day.

Ben: Yeah?

Aaron: Yeah, because even as a youth seeing other superhero properties at that time, it’s something that certainly captured a satirical side of that type of world in the midst of seeing the X-Men show, Batman: The Animated Series, and what have you. Then we had the Patrick Warburton version, and now we have this one, which I love.

Ben: Oh, good!

Aaron: Yeah, I will say now, I have not seen the second half of the season yet [Season 1b premieres February 23rd]. I am very much looking forward to it, my girlfriend and I binged the whole first half the second it came on, but with that in mind for the second half, where are we going with the second half? I like how it fits an arc into the first half of the series, but what should we be looking forward to?

Ben: Well the first half ends on a cliffhanger [Laughs] that’s why we labeled it “Cliffhanger” in case people weren’t sure [Cliffhanger is the final line spoken at the end of the first half of the season]. So what we know is that The Terror is alive, so that’s a big deal for Arthur. That breaks open the floorboards and the basement of his worst nightmare that he falls into and that’s kind of where we start. But for the season, I always see it as book one of multiple book series on The Tick. The stories that are started on this season we intended to carry through, and we do. Arthur is sorta born in a way. His hero’s journey begins when his dad is crushed by the Flag Five, and that day is a very important day. A lot of people’s lives are sort of influenced by that day, and so you essentially go through the season where we end on the anniversary/celebration of that terrible day. So there’s a shape that the two halves build that I’m really excited for people to take part in because those stories get resolved. I guess… [Laughs] I’m advertising resolution, “we started a story, and then we end it.” No, but if you like things like the talking dog Midnight, I’m really proud of the fact that we slowly leave breadcrumbs out, so we end up hanging with that dog, getting into trouble with that critter, and messing up his book tour. That’s fun. We go deeper into the lives of The Tick, and Arthur’s sorta allies Overkill and Danger Boat…

Aaron: And I’d assume the other peripheral characters like Superion.

Ben: Yes, Superion! He…uh…he basically comes to town. It would be sad if we just dropped him out of the story [Laughs]. Yeah, and the Very Large Man gets very, very large. So we didn’t back away from that. We kinda shocked ourselves in terms of the scope and breadth we kinda hammer towards in the latter part of the first half of the season.

Aaron: Something I really like about the first half of season one and this iteration of the series, in general, is how you have Arthur as the protagonist. You have him as the main featured character, and The Tick is certainly big and present, and it’s good to see him, but the arc of his character is not so much the focus as of now. So the first thing you mention as the sort of birth of a hero’s journey in the first episode essentially, and it not necessarily resolves itself in the first half, but if it stopped there, which would be terrible…

Ben: [Laughs]

Aaron: …There’s some sense of closure I would say. Are we going to learn even more about Arthur? Is this going to be an arc that continues along his journey?

Barry: I think you meet a very reluctant hero. Not even a hero, really. It reminds me of the cliche ads where you see the phrase, “A Hero Will Rise,” y’know? I think this is like, “The hero will put his superhero pants on.” In the second half, he really embraces it and wants more. He wants to grow, and he wants to solve certain things. He’s learned about The Terror. Overkill has a certain interesting turn in the second half. The Tick is gung-ho for anything, and his character grows too in the second half. So I think we really have that, where these characters at the beginning who were in different places are going to come together in that second half and rise up in a good way. A little bit awkward, but fun.

Aaron: I want to switch gears a bit to talk about how, stylistically, the show has been working. In watching the initial pilot episode, I really liked how it infused jazz into it, and I was wondering where that came from.

Ben: The theme of the cartoon is actually oddly jazz-influenced and kind of started the relationship between jazz and The Tick, that’s got a Gene Krupa sort of band-drum beat and scatting. For me, I think all of my relationship to Jazz comes from my dad who was an unpaid jazz lounge pianist who would just play in our living room. No one would even tip him, he would just play constantly and was a jazz listener. So there’s something about that.

Barry: I think a big part about that too is that I happened to stumble in when Ben was first meeting with Jackie Earle Haley. Ben’s a musician, he has a band, and Jackie is a drummer.

Ben: Yeah.

Barry: And so they got to talking about music that they love and playing, and so Jackie playing was born from that meeting. You’ll see. In the promo, you see that, so you know that he does that. So I think that it was sort of born from two musicians talking. Which is cool. That’s sort of essentially like jazz right there.

Ben: And Jackie…well, The Terror speaks music. His whole metaphor of how life works and how you follow vision is a musical idea. The universe is a musical instrument as far as The Terror is concerned.

Aaron: In a broader sense I see it with The Tick, who like you say is ready for anything, he’s so earnest, and he can jump into action, and jazz is so freeform.

Ben: Yes.

Aaron: So you have a guy that’s just like, “Evil’s there, okay. How am I gonna do it? I don’t know…”

Ben: “I’m just gonna solo my way through it.” [Laughs] “And we’ll just get there.”

Aaron: “Maybe I’ll grab Arthur, my drummer or saxophonist and throw him into the mix.”

[Laughs]

Ben: Or even a washtub base. [Laugh] Yeah, that idea of virtuosity…

Barry: Y’know what, that idea of jazz underground and underground places and so on, and The Terror has had to go underground because of Superion and taking on the idea of being dead, so now he’s living in this sort of jazz world underground.

Ben: Yeah, a creepy speakeasy, tapping out his jazz rhythms. [Laughs]

Aaron: So now, in terms of tone, I wanted to talk about how The Tick sort of functions in a world where we have a lot of other superhero media. Obviously, The Tick was created over…25 years ago?

Ben: 32 years ago.

Aaron: Wow!

Ben: I know, it’s crazy! [Laughs] He’s been around. He’s been trying to protect us from our age.

Aaron: Yeah, so back then you have things like that or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles which was spoofing on Daredevil, so you have a level of satire at that time already ingrained. So I’m curious what kind of changes and how you’ve adapted to them in a time like now, in this cinematic age when superheroes are all over the screen and pop culture in general. How has The Tick evolved in that manner?

Ben: Well you know, we have so much more to draw on for a popular cultural imprint of superheroes. It’s much more articulated, and the zeitgeist is well-educated for that. So that gives us a lot of latitude for humor where we can make jokes and people will get them because they understand the superhero world to a greater degree. They’ve been forced to. But, I think for us we knew that this new version had to embrace this time and place in superhero culture, which means, and it sounds silly to say it, but it had to be darker and grittier and more realistic. It had to resonate with Netflix and the raft of Netflix-Marvel stuff. I like that we start in a very Hell’s Kitchen sort of dark space in the pilot and by the time we get through to the twelfth episode, we’ve gone from Daredevil to Superman and Avengers. We’re up in a blue sky with mad science and craziness.

Aaron: I can see hints of that in the season 1a cliffhanger episode. 

Ben: Yeah.

Aaron: Yeah, it’s a lot broader than where it started. That’s why I talk about the jazz where the mood and palette of that episode, which got me on board, made me think I want to see where this is going. It was so different, but not in a way where I felt bludgeoned by tone. It’s more like, I know what The Tick character is. This is a nice new take on it. I’m not one of those guys who needs to be beholden to how one thing was in a comic book years ago. There are so many different iterations and wonderful ideas you can come up with.

Ben: Exactly.

Aaron: Especially when you collaborate with different people. So it is exciting. It’s exciting to see where things can go. With that, let me back up to a basic question for clarification: Does The Tick every receive any sort of backstory in the comics?

Ben: He has none. In essence, he’s never had an origin story depicted. In a sense, this series is designed to be a long-form version of his origin story in the same way it’s Arthur’s origin story as well. So, that’s what we vowed to examine for the first time, which is kinda scary but cool because once you’re three decades in [Laughs], you might as well just take a look under the hood and see what started it.

Barry: That’s the cool thing about this version of the show and this season. You have a version of The Tick that you’ve never seen before. This is a sometimes-introspective Tick.

Aaron: Yeah, it’s little touches that I see in Peter Serafinowicz’s performance as The Tick when Griffin Newman (Arthur) asks The Tick questions, and Tick doesn’t have the right handle on how to answer some of them. But you still see layers. You see it in his eyes; how he wants to be like, “Yes, I can answer this question for you,” but he doesn’t know how.

Ben: Right.

Aaron: And I like that sense of innocence. It’s a really neat angle brought into a world that I’ve been familiar with in other forms, and now you have this new Tick that has this grittiness to it, regardless of how cliche that sounds, it fits to the nature of The Tick in general. It’s satirizing things that are common in these kinds of worlds. So I wonder, what are your favorite aspects of this universe? In a world where we have so many superheroes, what makes him so special to you?

Ben: I mean, one thing I wanted to make sure we had, which we did maintain in great part, comes from Griffin and Peter and how they mesh. But just in the relationship between The Tick and Arthur I wanted to maintain that affection and warmth that they have and that we’ve got. So that’s something that each time this thing starts again that’s something where either the chemistry won’t work or it will, and it’s working. So that’s sort of like a basic ante. But the thing that I’m really happy about in this version of the universe is that we have enough of a dramatic thing going that we can care. The more we have that, the more we can be crazed. So we really do have the opportunity to go forward into this. I think we prove it in the second half of the first season and we’re going further still to get to a place where we’ll be funny, smart, oddly adult, and yet we’ll be able to have…like for example on The Flash, I think there’s a guy with a shark for a head – that’s the kind of thing you want. You can’t just have Hell’s Kitchen and discussion of whether murder is cool. [Laughs] You’re gonna also need a guy with a shark for a head, and I think we’re getting all of that. So that’s cool.

Aaron: Speaking to that, I’m well aware The Tick has a variety of other supervillains and superheroes in the comics and have appeared in the various TV shows and what have you. We haven’t seen that or at least too many of them so far. Are there going to be any appearance of those kinds of characters?

Ben: Yes. To me, that’s something that we’re going to be able to pull things out of and please the audience by bringing some of the older friends back to life. Right now, to me, we’re first laying out the sort of tablecloth of the new series. More and more people will come to the table as we move forward in the seasons. I guess that’s a pretty generic offer.

Aaron: Well, I can understand that. You’re putting character first.

Ben: Yes.

Aaron: You have The Tick and Arthur, and you have to get what they’re going through. And you’re introducing these people like Overkill, which are reflections in some way, I would say. 

Ben: For sure. Actually, Overkill has always very much existed if you go into the comic book, he’s sitting in the Comic Club in the comic book. There’s a parody of The Punisher already. Basically, Overkill in a sense is all murderous vigilantes through all time. Anyway, we’ll be able to play lots of games with characters and types that we start to kick up in the previous iterations. I do want to see a Cow on the show that eats people, eventually.

[Laughs]

Ben: Because we could get a cow. We could probably get a cow?

Barry: We could.

Ben: We could probably get a cow.

Aaron: I want to ask something to you Barry. You and Barry Sonnenfeld are partners on this show. He’s an executive producer also. This is not your first comic book enterprise, as Men In Black was also based off a comic book. But that’s in the cinematic area. Has it been an interesting change of pace to do something of this kind of scope on an episodic level?

Barry: Yes, it’s been great to me. I collaborated with Barry on Men In Black and that was a great experience that sort of informed the tone of The Tick, and it’s one of the reasons why I love this so much. But I’ve also come from producing twelve seasons of Bones, and I think I was in season nine or ten when Ben and I sat down to talk about this version of The Tick. And there’s a kind of invention in Ben’s creation that I love and I love producing and working much the same way I enjoyed seeing Men in Black come from graphic novel to screen. So, for me, it’s a challenge and exciting, and it’s funny. I really do enjoy those moments in a comedy when you’re on set, and something’s working. Y’know, we were making the pilot episode and just watching Peter invite Arthur over to his side and put on the uniform, those moments were so great. I just enjoy producing the show because I’m getting to see Ben’s creation come to screen, but it’s also just watching these actors come in and do such a great job. And Peter, Griffin and our whole cast, it’s just…they’re fabulous. And they’ve spent a lot of time talking to Ben about their characters and where it’s going and what they’re doing. And just watching them do it has just been great. And the growth that you see in the second half of the season that you see for all of the characters is just fantastic. It’s like the friction between them, the growth between them; it’s fun.

Aaron: Well, I look forward to seeing the second half of the season. I look forward to seeing where it goes from there.

Ben: Great!

Barry: Awesome!

Aaron: Thank you very much.

Ben: Nice to meet you!

[Interview edited for clarity]

The Tick Season 1b Premieres On Amazon Prime February 23, 2018.

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