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‘Venture Bros.’ Creator Jackson Publick on Failure, Penis Anxiety, and Stephen Colbert

Courtesy of Cartoon Network


The past year and eight months have been a long, grim slog for Venture Bros. fans; it's been that long since the Venture clan — Hank, Dean, Dr. Rusty Venture, and Brock Sampson — cavorted across Cartoon Network's Adult Swim Sunday-night cartoon block. Since then, it's been a string of lonely nights with only Assy McGee for company. But let the rejoicing begin! Season three premieres this Sunday, marking the return of the subversive but hilarious cartoon which takes a typical adventuring male household and turns it on its ear with a baroque world of supervillain organizations, one-eyed midgets, and a fixer who's a cross between Henry Kissinger and Mary Poppins. Creator Jackson Publick emerged from his endless duties writing, directing, and voicing the show to talk penis anxiety, the season premiere, and yes, The Venture Bros.: The Movie.

You warned us that we would learn a lot more about the supporting characters this season and you weren't kidding. Do you think the first episode is going to shake people up?
I've gone back and forth while we were making it between being excited about the subversiveness of [the season premiere] and being terrified that people were going to hate it. [Laughs] I think it wasn't until halfway through that I realized it was actually funny. I think giving people the last thing they expected is a good thing.

It does tie in with the whole theme of the show the way it's evolved. It started out as a parody of Jonny Quest, and now it's become this meditation on failure.
I probably wouldn't have put it into those words or thought about it philosophically, but I guess it always was. The main character for me has always been Dr. Venture, and his story is one of a failed boy adventurer. Plus, I was always interested in the rust that's accumulated on the Space Age.

Do you ever have a hard time not letting Brock take over, since he's the only person who is competent?
Actually we have a harder time remembering to write cool shit for him. A lot of fans, particularly younger ones, were upset that in season two every episode didn't have Brock seeing red and flipping out and tearing people in two. It became more fun to play him against type and put him in nanny predicaments. But we remember to make him kill stuff or fuck stuff every once in a while.

It seems like all we ever read on your blog is how hard you're working and how busy you are: You missed a plane to Bermuda, you didn't have time to buy clothes for vacation…
I really have to cheer up on the site! It's a lot of work, and not that I would ever want to stop doing it, but you can't do anything else while you're doing it. It's old-school animation and I wear ten different hats and Doc [Hammer, series co-writer-director] wears seven different hats, and the way things overlap, postproduction always takes longer than we think it will. We always think, While we’re doing post, I'll write that screenplay, and that doesn't happen and then we start a Shirt Club like idiots.

Speaking of which, Venture Bros: The Movie — fact or fiction?
Fiction, but possible. I would love to do one. One of my conditions was that we have to have a budget for actual pop songs and a soundtrack. That kills us. Every year there's always some episode that’s either inspired by a song or that would hysterical to put a song in there, and then we can't get it. We'll try for three months and find out it's $40,000. So it never happens.

You never heard back from Stephen Colbert about coming back as Professor Impossible. Is he just too big for the Ventures?
The guy had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on his show. I wouldn't be wasting my time either! He's a really good guy, and we haven't edited the episode he's in this season. It's worth a try. I'm not hopeful.

One of the reason the show has the following it does is clearly that it deals with men's issues like testicular torsion. This season you have dad's penis anxiety.
I don't think there's a male out there who was not horrified when they saw their father's penis for the first time. And I'm not talking about anything lewd. It happens. You're very young and your parents bathe you or you play racquetball with your dad, or your dad gets up in the middle of the night and his thing pops out of his boxer shorts. Whatever the reason, innocuous as it may be, you see that thing and you are years away from having a fully formed hirsute member and it's traumatizing.

Will we ever learn what Dr. Girlfriend told the Monarch on their wedding night?
You learn it in the premiere. We just don't state it verbatim. What is this show if not setup and a debilitatingly disappointing revelation?
—Heidi MacDonald