'The People's Toonami Site'

Author: Tyrell

nick'savatar

July 09th: An Interview With Jason DeMarco

Saturday, June 21st, began the process of setting up an interview with the co-creator of Toonami, the artist, and repertoire for Williams Street Records, Jason DeMarco. On Tuesday, July 1st, that interview took place. To say that I was excited would be an understatement. I was tingling with nerves and anxiety. Although I considered myself prepared, having an outline of discussion topics in hand, I still kept wondering if this was actually real. 
 
Needless to say, the interview went far beyond my expectations. In the beginning I was just the fan, in awe of this man who helped inspire my career choice. But by the end, we were simply two people discussing a common interest. I learned about Toonami from the view of someone behind the scenes. And to hear about it from the horse’s mouth - or keyboard, so to speak - doesn’t compare to reading about something on a website. 
 
I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did.

 

Ty: Hello!

Jason: Hey man!

Ty: It’s great to get a chance to chat with you, thanks for doing this interview.

Jason: My Pleasure!

Ty: So how did you get involved with Turner and Williams Street?

Jason: I met Sean Akins when I was in college, and I asked him for a job- He got me a job at TNT. While I was working at TNT, Sean got a job at Cartoon Network. Then While I worked at TNT he and I came up with Toonami. I freelanced for Toonami for years and became a full time CN staffer round about ’98.

Ty: Sounds almost too easy.

Jason: There was a lot of luck involved, and a lot of hard work!

Ty: Of course. How exactly did Toonami come into fruition, was there an influence for it from any past work?

Jason: It was Mike Lazzo who asked Sean for an idea to package an action block of cartoons. Sean tried to make something that brought in all of the stuff he was into, like skating, comic books, music, film and anime.

Ty: And Moltar as well?

Jason: Moltar was actually Lazzo’s idea. He thought that if we had a recognizable host, it would make things easier for the viewer.

Ty: As well it did. From the fan’s perspective, Toonami has gone through several changes. Shows like Thundercats and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest are placed with the early years of Toonami, along with its original host Moltar. When the host shifted to TOM, was there expected to be an overall shift in tone for the block? And what was the inspiration for the original TOM?

Jason: The inspiration for the original Tom was a bunch of drawings by Juan Bode. We knew we wanted a robot because robots are cool. It was all Sean’s idea to have him be a little guy. Expectation wise, I don’t think at the time there was any on the network side. We were lucky in that they didn’t really care what we did, as long as it was cheap!

Ty: Well, considering the time, that animation looked far from cheap.

Jason: It was actually expensive as all get out, and we got in some trouble for The Intruder! Hah!

Ty: Really? Do tell.

Jason: It cost too much money, we went significantly over budget.

Ty: How successful was the Intruder? Around the time it premiered, I was about 10. And it was actually one of my earliest memories of Toonami. I thought it was suspenseful and a great was to bring a story to the Toonami universe.

Jason: Thanks. Yeah we really liked it. It did well for us, image-wise. People talked about it for years. Ratings-wise, it hard to know how it did since it aired in such small snippets. I loved killing Tom though!

Ty: Really? Were you excited for a second incarnation of Tom?

Jason: Oh yes, I really like the Tom 2 design and it was my idea to kill off Tom 1.

Ty: Well that’s a surprise. Was there any other direction that the Intruder story could’ve gone besides killing off Tom 1?

Jason: Yeah we had a bunch of ideas, but we just thought it would be really cool to shake everything up, you know? One of the backup ideas essentially became “Lockdown”.

Ty: I thought Lockdown was an interesting event. It was genius, a great event for Toonami. But with the Intruder we were introduced to Tom’s co-host Sara. How was she thought of?

Jason: Hah, Thanks. We had a lot of fun with that one. We dreamed up a whole mess of back story we never used, so much I don’t even remember!

Ty: Oh wow, I’m sure that would’ve been a killer story to tell.

Jason: Sara was sort of a reaction to people complaining Toonami was too “dark”, “boy heavy” etc. We just thought a feminine presence would lighten things up. We also, at a certain point, wanted Tom to have someone to play off of.

Ty: I loved their banter, especially during video game reviews.

Jason: Hah, Thanks. It was fun to write, for sure.

Ty: How successful were the other T.I.E.'s, like Lockdown and Trapped in Hyperspace? We will ever see any T.I.E.'s with the current Toonami hosts?

Jason: They were all moderately successful, for sure. We probably won't see any T.I.E.s with the new stuff; it's too expensive and tied too much to sponsors.

Ty: Along with the Total Immersion Events, the early Toonami had different bumps than we see now. Like the speeches, was there a specific goal to the Moltar and Tom 1 speeches? Looking back on those speeches now they’re really inspiring and send out great messages to all ages.

Jason: That was- well, we had a need to fill airtime, and we were always coming up with ways to try to do that- game reviews, interviews with people, etc. It was partially a way to bring across our character’s values and a way to re-use footage! Most of the messages were very heartfelt. I always felt that we should sometimes try to inspire the kids between commercials, you know? I’m glad if even one kid saw something we wrote and felt better about themselves or their situation.

Ty: I’m sure many people took those speeches and applied them to life.

Ty: Another huge aspect of Toonami is music.

Jason: Yes sir!

Ty: And I know that you love music; did you have a word in the early music of Toonami?

Jason: I did. We just decided we wanted to put the music we were listening to at the time, hip hop and drum and bass, on the air. It felt like most kid shows and action blocks were always going to the screaming guitar, and we made a very conscious decision to go against that. And I would argue that to this day, very few people have gotten that aspect right when talking to kids.

Ty: I completely agree with the screaming guitar sentiment. It was refreshing to hear something that, at the time, was completely new for the viewers. And when Deep Space Bass was released, people got to have a piece of that with them.

Jason: Hah, but nobody bought it!

Ty: How dismal were the sales?

Jason: Really, Really bad. But there was no advertising for it at all. I’ve now made records that have sold well and records that haven’t and that one was definitely under people’s radar.

Ty: What was behind the decision to release that album? I do have a copy and I think it’s a great listen, even for someone who isn’t familiar with the Toonami universe.

Jason: It was a request from our off channel commerce dept. They had a little money and a relationship with Rhino, and asked if we might be into the idea.

Ty: So let’s go back to 2001, September 11th. Did that have any effect on the content Toonami, what could and couldn’t be shown?

Jason: Not really- we pulled Gundam because it was about a colony crashing into another and a big catastrophe, and there was some shuffling of certain DBZ episodes, but that’s about it. We kind of wanted to try going forward business as usual.

Ty: DBZ is almost iconic for Toonami, I think when any fan thinks of Toonami they identify it with the Dragonball series.

Jason: True Dat.

Ty: When was the decision made to show Dragonball Z on Toonami? And how did you guys go about acquiring Dragonball and Dragonball GT?

Jason: Sean was actually a big fan and would buy the bootleg VHS tapes of the movies from his local Japanese rental place. He asked Lazzo to look into it, and it turned out DBZ was airing in small scattered markets across the country. We snapped it up, and the rest is history!

Ty: The rest is history indeed! I believe you guys still show Dragonball Z on Toonami Jetstream. But before Jetstream we had the Toonami Reactor. I remember going onto the reactor was back when and always watching Daft Punk videos. What kind of content did you want to integrate into it and how did it come to be?

Jason: Reactor was really an experiment. The online guys were looking for something that was a good fit to try a new “Web TV” type of thing. We were a natural fit with the variety of programming we had. And as far as the videos, we just put them up there because they were cheap content. We had done the Toonami video show and had a good relationship with the acts, and got their permission.

Ty: Yes I remember the video show, a great idea.

Jason: Yeah, we always wanted to do another one but couldn’t get it off the ground.

Ty: Speaking of getting off the ground. Black Hole Megamix, what was the story behind that?

Jason: Ha-ha

Ty: Are we allowed to discuss it?

Jason: Sure. That was just me listening to a lot of our music at the time, and thinking how much I loved a lot of it. I’m an amateur DJ, so I decided to just work with one of our audio guys and make a Toonami mega mix for the fans. For a little while there it looked like we might pull it out, but it wasn’t meant to be. So I gave it to Tyler at Toonami Arsenal for anyone who cared…

Ty: Anyone who cared? I love that mix, I still listen to it often into today.

Jason: Ha, Thanks. Reviews from most fans were overwhelmingly negative though.

Ty: Speaking of the fans, have they always been an integral part of Toonami? I remember often back in the earlier days Tom-1 would show fan art during the breaks. Do you guys still receive anything like that?

Jason: We don’t, sadly. After the whole Anthrax mailing scare, we weren’t allowed to accept anything like that. We did have a whole wall in an edit suite that was all drawings we got sent… I have a painting of Dorothy from Big O a fan did hanging in my office right now.

Ty: Aw, that’s cool.

Jason: Yeah it’s a great painting.

Ty: I remember in an interview a couple of years back with Sean Akins, he told Jeff Harris of thexbridge.com that you guys did keep up with the fan sites. Do you guys still do that, even with Adult Swim?

Jason: We sure did! It’s actually kind of hard. Not as much now. AS fans are even harder on us than Toonami fans.

Ty: I imagine so; in 2003 the block received another visual upgrade. From Tom2 to Tom3, and eventually the second incarnation of Sara. I know there as a comic detailing the story of it. Was there ever an intention to have a televised story like the Intruder?

Jason: There was, but the demand wasn’t there. We did the comic as a lark, and because I’d never tried my hand at a comic before.

Ty: Who wrote the story?

Jason: Well, there have been two comics. I wrote one and the other was written by Paul Pope, who is great.

Ty: And the latest visual upgrade for Toonami didn’t really receive a story at all. How was the reaction to it?

Jason: The reaction was NEGATIVE. We LOVE the new look, but it polarized the fans. That’s okay. We were trying to re-contextualize Toonami for a new audience. We decided not to do a back-story because no one was willing to give us money, and we didn’t think there was much demand.

Ty: I believe the fans stuck through the new look anyway, the packaging of Toonami isn’t what it’s all about.

Jason: I agree!

Ty: Who was behind the current Toonami design, and who came up with the wonderful Flash and D?

Jason: The current Toonami design was done totally in house, by Eric Watchman and his team at Williams Street. It was made in Renderman, which is why it looks so good! We all came together and worked on the characters. Flash and D were two personality types we built around actors we liked from IGPX. We just wanted to bring that Miguzi idea of a larger cast into the Toonami world.

Ty: So let’s go back to April 2004. The shift from weekday afternoons to Saturday nights, who made the decision for that change?

Jason: That was a programming decision based on the new direction/audience we were trying to find at the time. Hence Miguzi! 'We' Being Cartoon Network.

Ty: Ah, Miguzi. I always did have mixed feelings about it. Was that meant to be an extension of Toonami. Sort of like breaking the fans in two; the older would continue to watch on Saturday nights, and the younger would watch miguzi?

Jason: That was the thinking as I recall. We were just told to make a new block for the afternoons that skewed younger and could be sort of 'Toonami jr.' We actually had fun making it. The skits, etc, were fun to make, and we liked all of the goofy characters- I was the voice for all of em! It was our little chance to see how hard it must be to be Pixar. The answer is VERY VERY hard!

Ty: Yes. I imagine how much work that had to be, working on Toonami, Miguzi and having a hand in Adult Swim. Speaking of Adult Swim, was that an extension of Toonami as wel?. Like the graduated version of the Midnight Run?

Jason: Well the action AS certainly started that way, and we did all of that first year or two of packaging, even about 6 months into the beginning of the 'card' era.

Ty: The 'Card' era?

Jason: Yeah, the on-air bumpers that we call “cards.”

Ty: Ah yes! I love that.

Jason: Yep, it’s genius. All Mike Lazzo.

Ty: Really?

Jason: His idea entirely. Lots of folks work on 'em.

Ty: It looks like a treat to be able to work on those cards.

Jason: Yeah they have fun.

Ty: So you’re involved in music for both Toonami and Adult swim, do you still handle both?

Jason: Yes, pretty much. I run the Williams Street Label and get a lot of music for AS, and I put together music videos and find a a lot of music for Cartoon Network.

Ty: I think this year Toonami has been an enigma. Last year the block went from a strong four hours on Saturday night to two. Will we ever see the return to four hours?

Jason: I don’t think so. I think this is what we have now. I’m not sure how long we will have it. Let me just say that there will always be action cartoons on Cartoon Network, and as long as we are working here we will be making most of these promos. But nothing lasts forever, especially in TV.

Ty: So the future of Toonami, any new shows coming up soon?

Jason: I don’t really know what’s in the pipe that I can talk about, but there are some great originals coming up for sure. And acquisition wise, things have changed out there. It’s getting tougher and tougher to find those shows. We are also not a part of that process.

Ty: Originals, that’s good to hear. Especially after the success of IGPX.

Jason: I wouldn’t say it was a success really, but thanks.

Ty: Oh? Were there problems in the run of IGPX?

Jason: Well, it was taken out of Toonami and moved to Fridays at midnight, which was a bummer. I am very proud of the work we did together with I.G. on that show though. Toonami fans did seem to not really embrace that, but it had a small following. It was a great, great working experience.

Ty: From some of the fans I’ve talked to, I hear nothing but good things from IGPX. But I understand that as a fan we only know so much.

Jason: That’s nice to hear. Just on the message board after the eps aired, it seemed like we were always getting ripped a new one. And then the ratings weren’t super. Like I said, I’m happy with the show. Still to this day I defy anyone to show me a better looking cartoon on TV since IGPX!

Ty: haha, RahXephon? That was a pretty bang up show.

Jason: Not even CLOSE! Great show though.

Ty: I have to give it up to everyone at Toonami though, the recent revamp may not have been a big hit with the fans, but I must say the quality is SUPERB.

Jason: Thanks, we got really close to the level of quality we always wanted.

Ty: I must say, one of my favorite things about Toonami nowadays is the new 'later' bump. The music, coupled with the animation of TOM4 flying off into the distance. It’s great work, you guys should be proud.

Jaosn: Thanks, I’ll relay that to the CG guys. They busted their humps.

Ty: But to the content of Toonami. I have always been proud to say that I watched this block because it really got me into animation like nothing else ever could.

Jason: Oh yeah?

Ty: From airing anime to American shows, you guys really had a great spectrum. I was elated when the Batman and Superman animated series airing.

Jason: We did, we did. Thanks. A lot of times it was just getting stuff we wanted to see you know. My Batman promo is still one of my favorites that I have ever produced.

Ty: Was there always a demand to show anime on the block?

Jason: Not really. It was just something we saw an opportunity to open the doors for. Then DBZ hit and anything was possible there for a bit.

Ty: Was it hard to air shows like Tenchi Muyo and the Gundam series when it needed editing?

Jason: It was hard! Especially Gundam 08th MS Team, which had such a weird structure. Tenchi forced us to invent the "digital bikini" just to get it on the air, but I'm proud we did. Neither of those shows would ever get on the air today I think...

Ty: Giant Robot Week. I myself love a good mecha show, but I heard this week was a total bomb in the ratings department.

Jason: It was! What can you do? We just wanted to try a cool stunt. In retrospect, it was hard for folks to jump into random episodes of shows I think.

Ty: That’s true, but it was great to see shows like Evangelion and (one of my favorites) Nadesico on the block, if only on that short time.

Jason: Yeah that was our thinking. We got em on there! We’ve really been able to show most of the classic, classic shows of our era.

Ty: And one of my absolute favorite moments in Toonami history was the Month of Miyazaki.

Jason: Mine too. He is my absolute favorite director and for me it was a dream come true to even make promos for those movies. And they did well for the most part, so that was icing.

Ty: I couldn’t see that not doing well. Do you have any desire to see Miyazaki’s latest films premiere on Toonami. Like Howl’s Moving Castle or Ponyo On the Cliff By the Sea?

Jason: Of course. But that’s all out of my hands. Cartoon Network showed Howl and we did the promo’s though, so that was cool. I actually saw Howl with the Production I.G. folks when I was in Japan.

Ty: Wow, that must have been an honor.

Jason: It was. So was going to the premiere of Ghost in the Shall 2: Innocence.

Ty: Wow! So I guess to say you have a profound love of Japanese animation, as well as American?

Jason: Yeah definitely. Less chance to see new stuff these days as I’m so busy, but I try to keep up. Anime and animation was/is always a major force in my life. From Star Blazers to Wall-E!

Ty: Did you always want to be in animation, even when you were younger?

Jason: Not really. Always loved to draw and stuff. I just wanted to work in TV or Film, tell stories.

Ty: I think you reached your goal.

Jason: Looks that way, thanks.

Ty: Well I think we can wrap this up. Thanks again for doing the interview. Anything you’d like to say to the readers.

Jason: Just keep watching! Keep drawing, keep writing, keep making beats. Being creative is hard and doesn’t get easier as you get older, but it’s still the most rewarding life you can have, for my money. Thanks!

Ty: Thank you.

Jason: Thank YOU. For all the support, now I gotta get back to work.

 

Now, I'll have to get back in touch with Turner about setting up an interview with Sean Akins. For a Toonami fan, that would surely put the icing on the cake.

 

Discuss this topic in our forums.