Story by Liz Ohanesian
Years ago, Carl Jones had scored a gig working with Roc-A-Fella Records’ short-lived film imprint. He hadn’t gone to film school, never worked in animation and never worked with rappers. Yet famed rapper Beanie Sigel and the rest of the State Property crew wanted his help on an animated series, The Playpen. Jones recalls the guys telling him about this show that was like “Rugrats meets Oz or The Wire.” They needed Jones “to make the shit funny.” He did the conceptual art for the series, but the series never came to fruition. While The Playpen didn’t work out as planned, it did help launch Jones into a whirlwind career in the animation world.
More recently, Jones took on Black Dynamite, a cartoon series based on the 2009 film that will debut on Adult Swim’s lineup in July. Initially, the idea was for a series that wasn’t quite as adult-oriented as the final product is. “I apparently didn’t get that email,” says Jones. In the runaround to figure out where the proverbial line would be, Mike Lazzo, senior vice president, programming and production for Adult Swim, gave Jones the green light to do what he thought best, “just make the show funny.”
If you want funny, something that’s always skirting the line of propriety, talk to Jones. A writer and artist, he spent three seasons working on The Boondocks. He also wrote and produced Freaknik: The Musical, starring T-Pain and featuring an all-star cast that included Cee-Lo Green, Andy Samberg, Snoop Dogg, Kelis and George Clinton.
Inside his office at animation studio Titmouse’s Hollywood campus, Jones mentions the “penis mushrooms” that were intended for Black Dynamite, but couldn’t get past the network’s powers that be. “My argument was that mushrooms naturally look like penises, it’s not my fault,” he says. He went through scores of photos of phallic fungi to prove his point, but the penis mushrooms were still denied airtime. Jones’ wife, Monica, who is also a producer of Black Dynamite, laughs when she recalls the networks response. “Nature is beautiful, but, unfortunately, it’s not going to work for the show.”
Jones’ big break came with The Boondocks, thanks to an impromptu Saturday afternoon drive down Melrose Avenue. After The Playpen fell through, Monica decided that they should head out to Los Angeles. “She knew that this was where my heart was and what I wanted to do,” Jones explains. A day or two after they arrived, they drove through the city, turning onto Melrose Avenue because Jones remembered the TV show Melrose Place. Aaron McGruder, creator of The Boondocks, was walking down the street, wearing a t-shirt with his character Huey on it. “I literally jumped out of the car and I chased him down,” Jones recalls. He told the famed cartoonist that he was looking for work and they exchanged info and kept in touch. When McGruder was working on the TV pilot for The Boondocks and needed help with the comic strip, he brought in Jones, who went on to work for the show after it was picked up by Adult Swim. In the midst of his third season on the acclaimed series, he came across a bootleg copy of Black Dynamite.
“It was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life,” says Jones.
Jones had long been a fan of blaxploitation films and he grew up in North Carolina watching Kung Fu Theater. Michael Jai White’s turn as a former CIA agent with serious martial arts skills in this spoof of the blaxploitation films of the 1970s mesmerized him. Jones immediately felt that the characters and story were perfect for animation. However, he didn’t tell anyone that he had this idea burning in his head. One week later, his manager called and said that Ars Nova, who produced the film, was interested in creating an animated series based on Black Dynamite.
It didn’t take long to get the project in motion. After three solid seasons with The Boondocks and the success of Freaknik, Jones was in good standing with Adult Swim. The interest was there from the moment he mentioned it to executives on the phone. “Some things are perfect for animation and this is one of them,” says Jones.
Though we’re still weeks away from the premiere episode, Black Dynamite is poised to be Adult Swim’s big hit of 2012. The pilot, which debuted on the late-night network’s website last year, raked in just about half-a-million views in one week. When the team behind the animated comedy hit San Diego Comic-Con in 2011, they already had a following. In San Diego, Jones was sitting backstage with White, who co-wrote the film with Byron Minns in addition to starring in it. They heard a roar from the audience. “It was like a blanket of people saying ‘su-wee,’” Jones says. White asked if they were booing. ” I don’t think so,” Jones recalls answering. “I think that’s your kung fu sound.”