The MALESTROM talks new Amazon show The Tick with show creator Ben Edlund
He’s big, he’s blue, and he hasn’t got a clue. In case you were wondering, we’re talking about The Tick. For the uninitiated The Tick is a spoof superhero cartoon character first drawn by the multi-talented American Ben Edlund over thirty years ago. Our blue hero has had a number of different incarnations, his latest as a shiny Amazon Prime on-demand series starring Brit comic actor Peter Serafinowicz as the besuited icon who here teams up with an accountant called Arthur with no-powers to battle villain The Terror. Tick creator Edlund has long been a mainstay on American TV, scripting for hits such as Supernatural and Gotham, but more recently he’s turned his attention back to his own loveable lunk to develop a whole new world for him to inhabit. The MALESTROM caught up with Ben to talk about his vision for the new series.
THE MALESTROM: First off congratulations with The Tick, we’ve seen the first two episodes and it looks great.
Ben Edlund: Well thank you, we’re really happy, it was a long road but we’re happy with what we got.
TM: Could you tell us a bit about The Tick’s origins? He started out as a mascot for a newsletter didn’t he?
BE: Yeah. I grew up in Massachusetts in America and there was a comic store about three towns away from where I grew up. I’d just been drawing and creating characters as a kid, and I heard they did some publishing so I brought them some stuff, one thing was a character I’d created called The Tick, that was just a little hilarious throwaway notion. That began a thirty-year relationship with this character, through multiple forms of media, starting with comic books, going to Saturday morning cartoons in the 90s, and then in the early 2000s there was a live action show with Patrick Warburton and other cast, which was a really wonderful experience. It’s been real life defining.
TM: With the many different incarnations of The Tick, how did the idea for this new series come about?
BE: It initially began with Barry Josephson one of the key producers on the previous live action show. I’d discovered a real well of enthusiasm at Sony to re-visit this, and they came to me and said that might be something cool to do. I think I turned him down about twice as I was daunted by the physical realities of making another live action show like that, you know? Then I kind of defined it for myself, if we were going to do something like this it had to be a 10-13 episode show, it had to not be on broadcast, it had to be done to make something excellent, it had to be a labour of love, and that’s something from the moment Sony signed on, and we signed on Amazon, everybody seems to have conformed with that basic practice of trying to make this the best that we can possibly make it.
TM: Of course. How did you set about making it markedly different from the previous live action and the cartoon version from the 90s?
BE: A cartoon has it’s own gravity and up and down and sense of what works in it, and that presentation worked kind of perfectly, it all fell together tonally and worked very well. The problems of design presented by a live action interpretation of a cartoon, those were the ones we were grappling with in 2001, I had to get my mind around how to do this live action superhero comedy. What happened was, in the three years after Amazon signed up and wanted to do it with us that was a long creative process… I learned some things, I learned some other things. I realised that Arthur who was the sidekick was the centre of the story, that Arthur’s hero’s journey taken sincerely was the means by which we could keep peoples attention on this trifle (laughs). And that’s the kind of philosophy that’s gone into this series
TM: How carefully have you trodden the tightrope of presenting comedy and drama? Obviously it needs to be funny but you need to draw people into caring about the characters through the dramatic scenes?
BE: Yea. For example there’s a moment in the pilot where a young Arthur… he loses his Father in a terrible tragedy, we see a flashback of that. So in the middle of something where your asking people to allow you to take things very lightly at times, sort of be almost a point of view on superheroes. Yet still depicting real life tragedy, and not necessarily looking away from it. So tonally, I’m very happy and sort of very intrigued by the tonal space we’ve carved out, it’s a little bit unusual, it’s almost… it might be new (laughs).
TM: We think you might be right. In terms of form and tone it’s definitely feels different.
BE: Yea. I certainly feel like you’re pursuing things that are of the greatest potential value when you’re feel like you’re in uncharted waters. I think that’s how we felt when we stepped into the pilot and stepped further into the series. I developed the pilot myself but when we worked out the season that was with long time friend and collaborator of mine David Fury, who helped build a bridge to the tone. It’s interesting; I’m really interested to see how people respond.
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TM: The casting is obviously so important, how did you go about choosing the leads Griffin and Peter?
BE: It was a typical casting process, but with The Tick it was extra terrifying because what you’re asking for in terms of this particular character… I mean we were so fortunate in 2001 to have Patrick Warburton and his ability to embody that character, he was very powerful. When we came to the conclusion that we wanted to find a new Tick to be at the centre of a very much new projection of this character, that was uncharted, because where do you find a towering, and also comedically towering presence.
There are a lot of hard requirements. Firstly the facility with vocabulary, the facility with language in general and the ability to come from an unusual angle sometimes comedically. All of those things are embodied by Peter. That was toward the end of our casting process, it took that time to make sense of it all, cause we had all this investment, but this thing could not move forward without an adequate centrepiece. Peter has that amazing gift, so that’s amazing.
The hard part before that, we felt in Griffin Newman we’d found our Arthur and that happened early in the process. He was at the point in his career that he was coming up and he did not represent to Amazon, you know… you need a certain amount of star power in a production like this to offset the tremendous funding that this kind of show requires. But having seen Griffin I was adamant he was Arthur, so that was touch and go for a while, but luckily the thing about Peter is, he’s sort of everywhere and everyone knows him, but everyone is waiting to know more about him.
I think he’s very established here (UK), but in the United States people know him from key roles, they don’t really realise how comedically important I think he is, what the depth of his skill is. Amazon bought into that idea and I think now we’re in a position where everyone we wanted we got. Scary (laughs). You just want to go through that ocean and come out with the right team, and we did.
TM: The theme of destiny comes up quite a lot in the first two episodes, do you believe it was destiny to get that cast you got?
BE: Yes, I would say in a way destiny did help us there. I actually feel like synchronicity and destiny… I don’t know, I think this process has been extraordinary and I feel that potentially there’s been a guiding hand… or it could be the collective unconscious helping with stuff.
TM: Just finally, what can we expect for the future? What are plans on expanding The Tick’s universe?
BE: Ultimately if everything goes the way we want it to, we would be putting the show on for a number of seasons, and building out a universe that gets even more full of fun characters and interesting relationships. We’re very excited that Amazon’s enthusiastic, they really just want us to find more crazy rocks to lift up and see what crawls out from under them. We promise humour and pathos in great amounts.
You can watch the pilot episode of The Tick on Amazon Prime now with the rest of the series available from 25th August.