Part 2 of 3
An hour before the NYCC 2007 Venture Bros. Spotlight was due to start, a small crowd had already begun to gather outside the room designated for the panel. A few minutes later it became a huge line, stretching around a corner and down a long corridor.
Venture Bros. creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer turned up early to view the scene surreptitiously and seemed happily surprised by the turnout. A few fans recognized them (Doc Hammer in particular is an immediately recognizable guy for his hairstyle alone) and greeted them warmly but discreetly, while most of the crowd gathered to see them may not have realized who they were before they appeared on stage: one of the quirks of being famous for a cartoon.
The panel wasn't held in one of the largest meeting rooms; when the doors finally opened, it turned out to be standing room only and I felt lucky to have a seat.
Besides Publick and Hammer, the panel featured most of the main voice actors: James Urbaniak, Michael Sinterniklaas, and Steven Rattazzi -- pretty much the whole regular cast, apart from the absent Lisa Hammer and Patrick Warburton.
If you're familiar with the show, you know the sense of humor the panelists all demonstrated. They really are that funny in real life. James Urbaniak in particular kept things moving with rapid-fire wit and devastating sarcasm worthy of Thaddeus Venture. It's impossible to report on the panel in any sort of coherent linear way -- the audience were generally filling their boots and wiping tears of laughter from their eyes. I was left coughing my guts out from laughing so hard.
I subsequently learned from Adam Philips of DC Comics and other witnesses that the sheer force and volume of our laughter disrupted the simultaneous Crossing Over: How the Comics Boom is Changing Entertainment panel in the next room, and everyone on the DC panel was left wondering what the hell we were doing in there.
(When this news was later passed along to Jackson Publick, he was pumped that we'd been able to stick it to DC: they'd refused to grant the show permission to mention "Batman" in a script, forcing Hank to make references to "the Bat" instead.)
The panel opened with a video promo for the Venture Bros. season 2 DVD set with an offbeat "sexual mind control" theme, promising more "off-topic commentary" and "confusing menus" and clips of the live-action supplemental footage that enhanced the season 1 collection. Then Jackson Publick announced that a third season has been confirmed by Adult Swim, with a very strong possibility of a fourth. (Hammer dismissed this as "the empty promises of a lover.")
After that, the panel was turned over entirely to audience questions -- Publick and Hammer freely admitted they had nothing prepared and were winging it, and feared the possibility of long awkward silences. This turned out not to be a problem.
I couldn't possibly detail the range of questions, nor convey the tenor of the answers. Any question about the new season, unresolved cliffhangers, or the reappearance of favorite characters was rebuffed with sarcastic bluster. "Don't you want to watch the new episodes? Aren't you intrigued? The whole idea of having a cliffhanger is so that you show up for the next season. You are hanging on a proverbial hook! Tune in! We’re not Lost! We’ll tell you!"
A question about how they kept pop culture references from dominating the scripts prompted a surprising answer from Publick: that the pop culture references should be allowed to completely take over the story rather than being held back. He pointed to the episode "Love-Bheits" in which the leads are costumed as Star Wars characters, and this becomes a driving force in the plot. When the references are an organic part of the story and contribute to the action, it works; when they're tacked on as an irrelevance, you get Family Guy. (And I recall a story on South Park making this exact point...)
My favorite question had to be the 11-year-old boy (!) who asked if the Scrotal Safety Commission really exists and paid for the episode “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean” -- opining that a real doctor was unlikely to write something like that. Doc Hammer, who suffered a case of testicular torsion in childhood, sternly explained to the boy that "You should be worrying about this. In fact, it's likely you'll suffer this condition..." And so on, to increasing audience hysteria, until Hammer finally called for security to escort the boy away -- he was clearly pleased to have been on the receiving end of this tirade, I must add.
Another firsthand account of the panel can be read here, and a few photos here. (Update: if I'd known someone was going to post videos of the panel I wouldn't have spent all this time trying to describe it!)
After the panel ended, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick could be found checking out the convention floor and mingling with anyone who approached. I was especially glad of the opportunity to praise their cover of "Hard Candy Christmas" -- one of the musical numbers they've released online each year as a holiday gift to their fans -- both provide vocals in character as the Monarch and Henchmen #21 and #24, while Doc performs the score. This led to Doc expressing his passion for the film version of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas...and I warn you, do not say anything disparaging this film in his presence, nor even hint you've never seen it, as he is a fierce advocate on its behalf.
I've been torn between wanting to provide a coherent description and giving in to breathless fanboy gushing here, because I'm genuinely in awe of these guys. Jackson Publick is a writer in the direct lineage of Joss Whedon and Ben Edlund as well as being a gifted performer, and one of the most self-effacing and approachable people you could hope to meet, genuinely grateful that people like his work and willing to show fans how much he appreciates their support -- in stark contrast to the rock star affectations you might expect from someone with a devoted cult following. The same goes double for Doc Hammer, who is not only those things but a talented musician and a frighteningly skilled painter; it just makes you want to spit with disgust that someone can be so competent at so many things at once...and steadfastly refuses to be conceited about it. As collaborators, they're a sort of Lennon/McCartney pair, in the sense of two equals who are challenged by one another to do their best work while being mutually supportive. Just on a technical level the Venture Bros. scripts are densely structured and I'm consistently amazed by how much they fit in. To finally attach their names to real people was a treat; those people turning out to be such great guys was a thrill.
In our final installment: I drop more names of the "comic book famous" and spend lots of money!