It was recently announced that Rocky & Bullwinkle were returning to comics, written by author-filmmaker-comedian Todd Livingston. Scoop recently talked to Livingston about writing the series, working in film, his other comics projects, and being a part of the comedy trio, Open Season.
Scoop: It was recently shared that you’re leading the comic series, Rocky & Bullwinkle for American Mythology. Were you a fan of the TV show growing up?
Todd Livingston (TL): Do flounder send fan mail? OMG! I am a huge fan of the TV series. I bought the DVD box set as soon as it was released. When I learned that American Mythology was relaunching the comic, I lobbied hard to be the writer. I was at my in-laws in Texas over Christmas and we watched a bunch of episodes together, then I sat down and plotted out the first story arc in a few hours, as well as scripted a support story for the issue. Those character voices are so deeply internalized with me; the story came together as easy as pulling a bear out of a top hat.
Scoop: Is it nostalgic to be writing for characters you grew up watching?
TL: It’s not nostalgic, but it is comforting, like being with old friends again after a long time. But not friends who owe you money or bring up that time in high school when you finally got the nerve to ask out the girl you had a crush on and she laughed at you because you wore a Bullwinkle t-shirt. Well, how do you like me now, Laura Dillon? Huh?!? How do you like me now?!?
But seriously, every moment I spent writing the comic felt like a Saturday morning. In all honesty, though, I’m a freelance writer who works from home, so pretty much every day feels like Saturday anyway.
Scoop: In addition to work in comedy, you’ve had success in horror. Is there any chance we’ll see a dark side in this series?
TL: Oh, yes. In an upcoming story called “Breaking Badanov,” Bullwinkle & Rocky become serial killers who make crystal meth while being hunted by creatures from another dimension. Truthfully, I’m not going to deviate from the essence of the TV series, so the stories won’t be any darker than that was. I am really enjoying writing comedy books. I am, first and foremost, a comedy writer.
Scoop: Can you give us teasers for upcoming stories in Rocky & Bullwinkle?
TL: Editor willing, the Halloween issue that I’m currently working on involves our heroes having to spend the night in a haunted house along with Boris and Natasha. The issue will also feature an Aesop and Son and a Dudley Do-Right story since there is a Fractured Fairy Tale and a Peabody’s Improbable History in issue 1. I don’t have anything beyond that because I’m lazy.
Scoop: The show was satirical and had some self-referential humor. Will we see that in the comic?
TL: If I succeed, when you finish reading the comic you will feel like you just watched the show. Hopefully you will also feel like ordering my other books. And my movie. And some hot wings for me. With a side of ranch and blue cheese, please.
Scoop: You got your start in comedy touring with the trio, Open Season. What was it like sharing the stage with comedians like with Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, and Chris Rock at the beginning of your career?
TL: It was pretty magical. Both Adam and Chris were just starting out, like us – Jerry was already established and appearing on The Tonight Show. Adam and me shared the same agent, so we did college gigs together as well as weekends at the Comic Strip in NYC. Adam was fearless on stage. He’s one of the funniest stand-ups I’ve worked with, and certainly one of the dirtiest. Probably second only to [Bob] Saget. Both are amazing. Those were really marvelous times. I have a lot of stories that probably shouldn’t be in print.
Scoop: Was it difficult transitioning from touring as a comedian, to portraying roles on a more dramatic show like Unsolved Mysteries?
TL: You didn’t think my Unsolved Mysteries appearance was funny? This interview is over.
I think there is a lot of evidence that comedians make great dramatic actors: Robin Williams, Eddie Izzard, Greg Kinnear, me. See…lots of evidence. A comedian has to be in touch with the dramatic in order to twist it to make it funny. Just like a clown takes a normal balloon and twists it into a hilarious poodle or softshell crab.
Scoop: You also had a role in Umberto Lenzi’s cult horror Hitcher in the Dark. Did working on a film led by someone like Lenzi inspire you to explore filmmaking? Did this film inspire your apparent love for the horror genre?
TL: At the time, I didn’t know who Lenzi was. I was a fan of the classic Universal and Hammer horror films, which were introduced to me by my local horror host show Dr. Madblood’s Movie. I hadn’t yet developed my affection for Eurotrash. Now I think it’s pretty cool that I was directed by Lenzi and that I got to hang out in a trailer with Josie Bisset for a few days. I wouldn’t say that I am a devoted fan of horror. I’ve realized that I’m more drawn to spooky and fantasy. The art direction resonates with me. There aren’t a lot of modern horror films that I like – and I identify the modern era as beginning in the mid-1970s. But I credit Monty Python and the Holy Grail with being my inspiration to pursue a career devoid of health insurance and a steady paycheck. I saw it when I was in the sixth grade and it had a profound impact.
Scoop: The supernatural comedy you co-wrote, produced, and directed - So, You've Downloaded a Demon - received high praise from fans. What was your reaction to the reception it got?
TL: I was touched and humbled by the crowds of supremely smart people with sophisticated taste in entertainment. You know, it’s terrifying when you create something, struggle to complete it and then show it first to all of your friends, then a room full of strangers. It’s like having a first date with the hottest girl you know, only there are 1,000 of them. The first three screenings: Hollywood, then at Cannes, and finally at DragonCon in Atlanta, the crowd responded just as I hoped. Explosions of laughter and applause – and that’s before the movie even started. All three screenings were great, but DragonCon was the best because that was the audience the movie was made for. To see its demographic respond to it positively was fulfillment that I can’t accurately describe – and I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be able to use words good. It was definitely one of the happiest nights of my life, right behind that time I caught all the green lights on Wilshire Boulevard between Santa Monica and Koreatown.
Scoop: As far as film work goes, you’re currently working on the project Omega Models. What can you tell me about this?
TL: It’s a comedy/sci-fi series we’re developing about a trio of sequestered reality show contestants on a modeling competition series who emerge to find themselves among the few survivors of a zombie apocalypse, which makes it harder for them to determine which girl is the winner. They’re not just models – they’re the last models on earth! The pilot stars Xenia Seeberg, Clare Grant, Mikaela Hoover, and Carlee Baker. Think of it like a funny Walking Dead only with supermodels.
Scoop: This is also your second film/TV project with Nicholas Capetanakis (So You’ve Downloaded a Demon being the first), are you excited to be teaming up again?
TL: Yes, I am because Nick does most of the work. And by “most” I kind of mean “all.” Actually, I haven’t really stopped working with Nick. After touring with him for 15 years in Open Season, we wrote two screenplays, one was produced – the other optioned but ultimately didn’t go farther. Then we wrote and produced So You’ve Downloaded A Demon and after that created and wrote the daily America Jr strip for years. During that time, we also created and wrote the comic miniseries The ODD Squad, which was illustrated by Brendon and Brian Fraim and colored by Matt Webb. Then when the AJ run ended, we immediately started working on Starring Sonya Devereaux with the same team!
Scoop: You’ve written several comics for Image over the years. The graphic novel, The Black Forest, even won the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards for Best Horror Comic of 2004, with The Black Forest 2 taking home the award again in 2005. What was that experience like?
TL: I loved it as much as vegans love telling people they’re vegan! I’m genuinely delighted that fans of Universal horror embraced what we did with the Black Forest series. Being a fan of the classic monsters myself, it was particularly validating to win the Rondos. It was also thrilling when our main characters were added to the Wold Newton Universe. That’s special.
Scoop: Your comic series The Wicked West brings together old time-y western themes with vampires. How did you come up with idea for such a combination?
TL: Vampires and the Old West go together like pimento and cheese. Or M’s and M’s. Or anything you can put on a cat to make it miserable. Bob Tinnell, Neil Vokes, and I were at a monster convention in like 2001 and we were noodling around with the idea of doing a comic together. This was before Bob and I wrote The Black Forest. And the idea that struck us was The Wicked West. I recall it was pretty much Bob’s concept. I may have added something like “Hey we’ll need to name the characters” or “it’s going to have to have a horse in it” or some such. But we ended up doing Black Forest first, and when it performed well for Image, we took The Wicked West to them to be our follow up.
Scoop: Several of your comic credits include partnerships with Robert Tinnell, what is the creative process like between the two of you?
TL: He does all the work and I offer him encouragement and occasionally praise, often while drinking a glass of wine and watching Gilmore Girls reruns.
Scoop: Since your credits also include work on The Living and the Dead and Chopper Zombie, is it safe to assume horror is your genre of choice?
TL: You would think, wouldn’t you? But it’s not. I prefer tragic romance/Shenmo/animation. As I mentioned earlier, I’m really enjoying writing comedies right now and am getting a lot of satisfaction from my Starring Sonya Devereaux series, also published by American Mythology. Our third issue, Starring Sonya Devereaux: Debutant Desperado is currently solicited in this month’s PREVIEWS. Page 273 – hint, hint. Sonya is a spinoff character from America Jr. She’s Hollywood’s 306th best actress, a lower tier scream queen, and each issue features one of the micro-budget movies she’s in. Beginning with the new issue, which is a western, we’ve incorporated some of our real life actor friends like Meredith Salenger and Scott Whyte to “appear” in roles in the fictitious movie with Sonya. It’s a bizarre, meta clash of reality and fiction and for me, writing it is fun and challenging, like trying to put your pants on after riding a Tilt-A-Whirl. Speaking of being pantsless, you should follow Sonya Devereaux on Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content not in the books!