By Jared Cornelius
At Wizard World Philly I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the very fun and friendly Sam Ellis. If you're not familiar with that name you should be, Ellis has a long list of accomplishments in the animation world. Sam's accolades include work on Adult Swim cult favorites Sea Lab 2021 and Frisky Dingo as well being lead character designer on FX's Archer. Ellis informed me that he'd be drawing the backup feature for Adventure Time #31 from Boom! Studios with his sister, Sara Ellis, on writing duties. So with the issue poised to hit stores this week I contacted them and had a long chat with two of the friendliest funny people working in comics where we talk about everything from the emotional ranges of characters, touching a dead body, and tingly feelings for David Bowie.
Jared Cornelius: Sara I'm familiar with Sam's work from meeting him at the con, but a little less familiar with yours, would you tell me a little about your work?
Sara Ellis: Most of my stuff I've done in collaboration with Sam. I was a dancer but not a lot of that was in print obviously, I've collaborated a bit with my friend Valerie LaPointe who's a story artist at Pixar, so I've been helping her with some stuff. I've also been working on a really long graphic novel with a good friend but she's since decided she wants to stay in fine arts right now so I'm trying to rewrite the scrip as a prose novel. Otherwise I work on developing a lot of pitches with my brother.
JC: You guys are doing the backup for this month's issue of Adventure Time.
[*Canned applause sound effect*]
Sara Ellis: Sam that's so obnoxious.
Sam Ellis: Sorry.
JC: Sam you know that's going in right? I'm going to write out audible sound effects.
Sam Ellis: YES!
JC: Can you guys give us a little taste of what readers are in for?
Sara Ellis: Yes, Lemongrab has an existential crisis.
JC: Lemongrab has an existential crisis!?
Sara Ellis: Yes, Lemongrab has an existential crisis and a couple people get in the way.
[*At this point in the interview Sam uses Google Hangouts to put on visual effects, including Pirate hat, monocle, and clown wig.*]
JC: Lemongrab seems like such an existential mess to begin with the fact that you're throwing more psychological things at him for a character that is already so broken.
Sam Ellis: I'm not gonna say he's the Sweed from Hell on Wheels but he's an agent of chaos and he seems to be a slave to order and when things don't go his way he can't take it. He just wants to be loved and accepted.
Sara Ellis: I don't think that's what he wants.
JC: I think that's really interesting since you guys collaborated on the story and you have two different interpretations of what that character wants. I think that's fascinating.
Sara Ellis: I don't think he wants to be loved, I think he wants to force everybody to love him the way he thinks love is which for him is everybody doing what he says.
Sam Ellis: Exactly.
JC: What drew you to Lemongrab of all the characters since there's such a wide variety to choose from?
Sam Ellis: I had drawn a picture that made me laugh hysterically and I had sent it to my sister doing the Lemongrab voice and said we needed to work on a story together and she was on-board.
Sara Ellis: I picked Lemongrab because he's my favorite, because he's the most terrible character. He's a terrible character and I love him! I like character that try to maintain a compartmentalized world and it never works, I love people trying to do something over and over and it never works. I think I relate to Lemongrab in his rage, it's that childish juvenile part of you. You know how toddlers shake when they're so angry? It's the only way they can express how angry they are. I think that's what Lemongrab is like.
JC: So this is the genesis for the cover?
Sam Ellis: Yeah I think so, I thought it would be funny, it was like, "cow udders are funny, so's Lemongrab's head when he's wearing a little Finn hat." So we just started doing some sketches, we came up with some ideas and I just thought it would be funny. I thought if there was some way we could get Ice King to interact with Lemongrab outside of being in a mystery dungeon trying to navigate their way through, how would they react?
Sara Ellis: I remember our first conversation about the comic before the picture.
Sam Ellis: When I called you up before?
Sara Ellis: I told Sam it would be fun to dress Lemongrab up in a bunch of different costumes.
Sam Ellis: That came latter, that came much later because it was after I did page one.
Sara Ellis: No.
Sam Ellis: Yeah.
Sara Ellis: We have a difference of opinion on how it started. I can tell you what really happened.
JC: You guys are brother and sister I would put that as being par for the course.
Sara Ellis: We disagree on the origin of every idea we come up with.
Sam Ellis: The Way we work is like… have you ever seen Sesame Street?
JC: It's been many years.
Sam Ellis: There's an episode with Dave Matthews and Grover about feelings, "And Grover is sad" [*done in Grover voice*] so Dave and Grover sing about them, that's the relationship Sara and I have when it comes to working together. We work really well together but we do fight furiously for what think is the best idea for the course, then we get to the point of total annihilation.
Sara Ellis: I'd say when it comes to overarching ideas we agree and really don't fight until we get to the tiny insignificant details that we choose like what shoes is a character wearing and I get really emotional about those choices.
Sam Ellis: Although there is a song in the issue that Ice King sings that we agreed right away that should be the song. Which is kind of sad because no one gets to hear the music. Music is always a big part of Adventure Time so we wanted to stick stuff in there.
JC: I think its super interesting the way you two collaborate as a brother and sister team.
Sam Ellis: Form of a bucket of water!
Sara Ellis: What?
JC: Super Friends joke.
Sara Ellis: Oh my gosh.
JC: Sam I know you've worked with Frederator before, is this issue going to be share a style with the main story or are you adding some creative affectation to it?
Sam Ellis: It's very similar to on model but I have deviated slightly into more of my style. I would say it was a way I could draw quickly and efficiently and have fun with. I wanted to make sure I had the essence of the characters but at the same time was able to follow certain rules that the Adventure Time characters follow in their style guides and I tried to stay relatively close to that but I might draw someone's feet a little bigger on the model sheet, or elongate a characters nose especially if it was to sell and idea of a characters acting or attitude. I think I did give everyone a little more, "katukus" on their…Sara do you think I gave everyone a little extra butt sticking out?
Sara Ellis: Oh yeah, everybody has extra butt.
Sam Ellis: There's plenty of butts in my work.
Sara Ellis: A little extra butt on everybody.
JC: You just gave me the headline for this article, "Adventure Time #31 backup with Sam & Sara Ellis: More Butts For Everyone".
Sara Ellis: That's Sam's favorite style choice, a little extra butt.
Sam Ellis: Yeah putting a little extra butt in there why not?
JC: Who are your favorite Adventure Time characters?
Sam Ellis: Lemongrab by far, he's my absolute favorite. My second favorite would be King of Mars Abraham Lincoln, we don't get to see him much but I love him and he's an American hero!
Sara Ellis: It's probably a tie between Lemongrab and Peppermint Butler.
Sam Ellis: I like Peppermint Butler. I like his dark side.
JC: He is rocking the whole Goth thing.
Sara Ellis: Unexpectedly, I feel like I would want to be Marceline, but I'm probably closer to Lemongrab or Peppermint Butler in real life.
Sam Ellis: I feel like I'm a mix of Jake the Dog…
Sara Ellis: You're Jake.
Sam Ellis: …Lemongrab, and a funny amount of Ice King in there.
Sara Ellis: You're like 85% Jake.
Sam Ellis: Yeah probably.
JC: If you have another opportunity to write more Adventure Time issues are there any characters you'd really want to work with.
Sara Ellis: I know they just did the Candy Capers series with Cinnamon Bun and Peppermint Butler, but I'd like to do one where they go to the shadow world and fight with some dark arts. Other than that maybe one of the more obscure princesses would be fun.
Sam Ellis: Starchy! The little donut-hole. The first episode we have a grave digger and it's a donut hole I'm sold!
JC: If you two were given free creative reign to do whatever you wanted what characters would you want to work with?
Sam Ellis: In Adventure Time I really like when these characters that they call the B-listers or even C-listers have their own adventure, like when BMO went off with bubble. The episode with Shelby the worm recently when Mark Van Orman came in and played his brother Kent and just this whole story about under the tree and adding that kind of mythos to the cannon of Adventure Time. I think it would be fun to use someone like the Duke of Nuts or someone whose only showed up a once or twice and have them do something off to the side of a main story. I'd really like to do a story with Finn's dad, a horrible father just like myself.
JC: If you could have a crazy comic universe spanning adventure with anyone you wanted to work with?
Sam Ellis: I would do a Doctor Fate, Specter team up.
JC: That would be great, they haven't been in a ton of New 52 stuff.
Sam Ellis: I want them unsullied though.
JC: Other than the Adventure Time backup you two are doing your creator owned web comic, Robot Cowboy Samurai, can you give me a little background on that?
Sam Ellis: I had come up with a really not great concept about a robot that was a cowboy samurai and was doing a presentation at a school that happened to have a Disney executive in the audience and afterword's he came up to me and said, "Did you say you had a property that had a robot, samurai, and cowboy in it?" I told him yes because I knew that's what he wanted. So I called Sara and said there's this Disney executive who's interested and he wanted a copy of the pitch and wants it in a week. So I knew Sara and I come up with pretty good ideas in a short amount of time that I need to put these things together and Sara was in Virginia Beach at the time and I was in Atlanta so she took the Greyhound down.
Sara Ellis: One way! We only had enough money for one way.
Sam Ellis: Didn't someone die on that Greyhound?
Sara Ellis: Yeah.
Sam Ellis: Yeah, so she rode down and killed some guy.
Sara Ellis: 18 hours on the Greyhound and the guy sitting behind me died.
Sam Ellis: Was that the guy who was putting the Brute on his face?
Sara Ellis: It was awful, I tweeted about him, and then he was quiet and no joke started I started to come up with a story of a ghost on a Greyhound bus, and we stopped in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. And when we stopped…I guess he fell out of his seat and into the aisle and people were just stepping over him and I was telling people it doesn't matter if he's asleep or anything you don't step over somebody's body. So I went and checked for a pulse and it was the first time where I had checked and there wasn't one. So I really didn't know what to do and I was like, "OK time to get off the bus! You've got to get up!" So we all got off the bus and they took his body off and tried to perform CPR.
Then I ate a banana and went to the bathroom and we came back out, and they were taking his body away. I texted my friend about what happened and told him about what happened and he texted that he hoped I washed my hands and I thought, "OH CRAP I JUST ATE A BANANA! I ATE A BANANA THEN WASHED MY HANDS! I TOUCHED MY FIRST DEAD BODY AND ATE A BANANA WITH THE SAME HAND!" It was really sad and I obsessed about it for the rest of the drive. His death, not the death-hand banana.
Sam Ellis: So we locked ourselves in one side of the house and started to work non-stop on changing the moderately OK story into something we think was really good. Something that I was really excited about is its great if we can entertain people with this but it's also really entertaining to us. We're getting ready to get into chapter two with all the action stuff where they're gonna fight these chupa-aguas which are vampire, zombie, cactus. I really want to start putting more up online but I have to pay bills and I don't want to disappoint Frederator or Cryptozoic so I guess I'll just disappoint my family I'm good at that.
JC: Robot Cowboy Samurai has a lot of different influences with sci-fi, western, and eastern influences were there any big overarching influences that helped inspire you?
Sara Ellis: Star Wars, the original trilogy. Every time I hang out with my family we still talk about the Star Wars. We talk about it, and argue about it, and discuss it, every single time we're together. Also the post-apocalyptic genre in general, survival, mutation, retrofitting things. The kind of story where the hero finds out who they're supposed to be.
JC: Thank you two were a pleasure to talk to, where can people find your stuff on the internet?
Sara Ellis: The Adventure Time issue out August 20th. I'm @saraellis on Twitter. The Robot Cowboy Samurai webcomic, I also do a column on the RCS site called Settlers of Catandyland where I talk about things that are wonderful that I like. I'd really like to write Labyrinth comics, maybe Archaia will see it.
Sam Ellis: #RossRichie #Labyrinth.
Sara Ellis: #HireMe, I watched it 300 times one summer, #IMSad.
JC: There's nothing sad about that, it was when David Bowie was at his handsomest!
Sara Ellis: That was my awakening, I was both sacred of him and drawn to him. Is this love or fear!?
JC: Sam what can we expect upcoming from you?
Sam Ellis: I'm hyping up our YouTube channel and adding updates. We also do Rusty Old Gamer which where Grant and I do games analysis and we recently started putting up some great film reviews by John. We're also working on a Robot Cowboy Samurai RPG together, I've worked in games design before and we'd like to release mini-chapters to go along with the webcomic. I like helping with the education of aspiring cartoonists and get them to stop aspiring and start making so that's why I'm doing the YouTube sketches and adding commentary to show foundational skills and use the software if that's holding you back. I had a lot of people who helped me along the way so I want to help too. The reality of drawing is you get better the more you do it. You can find me on Twitter @ManofMissle.
Sara Ellis: We'll also be at Baltimore Comic Con September 5th to the 7th and after that we'll be at Wizard World Richmond September 12th through the 14th.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey who had a great time talking about David Bowie and Adventure Time. If they're two of your favorite things too contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis.