From the dawning of 2000 AD – when Adobe Systems first pulled Flash from the Software Stone – British animators Joel Veitch and David Shute have crafted absurd and iconic web comedy for their site, Rather Good. They are bricklayers of our Modern Age of Memes; but beyond builders, they are Wizards of the Web, gracing our desktops with such magic as the Spongmonkeys and Punk Kittens Play ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’ by the White Stripes, memes that thrived even in the dark ether of the pre-YouTube web. Frederator is honored to have aided in their maturity into long-form content, heralded by the release of their GO! Cartoon, “Kid Arthur,” which comes in at a whopping 5 minutes and 40 seconds long. Joel, David and I sat about a round table to discuss out-of-control saxophonists, dial-up modems, and wizard cats of great Magick.
So how did you each find your way into animation?
JV: We were both already in animation when we met, weren’t we David?
DS: I was fairly newly graduated at the time. I studied animation at Uni – Southampton University – and was doing adverts for a while before I met Joel.
JV: I started off more on the web comedy side, and drifted into animation when I began learning Flash in the early 2000s. I soon realized that my heart lay with that more than anything else. I made a couple of things that did alright and it became possible to do it for a living… so yeah, I kind of fell into animation by accident, but loved it once I’d discovered it.
How did you guys meet?
JV: I had an office, which I was sharing with some people, who were making a video which was never released. It was… all copies were ordered destroyed.(they start laughin’)
They were doing it for a client! Which turned out to be just so… completely insane.
DS: It was a stop motion cartoon, and the idea was to parody something, but it was…. they gave… no I won’t say it, I won’t –
(Joel is cracking up)
They gave us the brief to be as offensive as possible with it. So me and another animator, we just went to town, made it. It was monstrous. It never got released, and that’s a very good thing.
JV: I saw it through production and it blew my mind. Of course it never saw the light of day. But I was so completely overwhelmed by what I had witnessed being made that I asked David to come team up with me, and we’ve been a brothership ever since.
What did you guys first work on together?
JV: I still do a bit, but at the time I was doing a lot of comedy music. So we made a load of animated videos for the songs. For our own projects, that was kind of the bread and butter of what we collaborated on.
What did the comedy music entail?
JV: Well the not-full-band stuff we did as Rather Good; often just guitar and singing. But I’m also the singer of a 7 piece ska band called 7 Seconds Of Love, and we did live gigs, which was a lot of fun. We still gig, if the events are big enough—but it’s tougher now that some bandmates have moved from London.
Any legendary comedy music gig stories?
JV: If I had to choose one… it’d be the time Chaynsaw climbed the lighting rig.
We all have band names: I’m Stallion Explosion, The Bearslayer is bassist, Chaynsaw is the saxophonist, and so on. One night we were playing at quite a big venue in London; large stage, gallery seating, and there was a huge lighting rig that went all the way to the ceiling.
During the song “Ninja”, Chaynsaw flipped out. He took a running jump and flew over the barriers and into the crowd, disappearing in a pile of flailing bodies. He ran through the crowd to the back and began climbing up the scaffolding of the lighting rig like some kind of crazed sax-wielding gibbon.
Up and up all the way to the gods, as the crowd went crazy and we wondered whether we were about to witness his death. When he reached the gods, he climbed over onto the balcony and sprinted out of sight.
The crowd was going wild. They thought the stunt was part of the show but we had no idea what he was playing at. The song approached Chaynsaw’s solo, with no sign of him. I assumed he had run off into the night, probably bellowing “CHAYNSAAAAAW!” and wielding his saxophone.
However, just at the exact moment his solo began, he came barrelling out from backstage at full speed, skidded to a halt at the front of the stage and blasted out a storming solo. The crowd went crazy: they thought it was the best bit of showmanship they’d ever seen. But it was a fluke. He’d just run headlong through random passages and stairwells backstage until he’d burst out on to the stage at the exact right moment.
It was a triumph. Nobody need ever know that it was a suicidally dangerous lunatic episode. My lips are sealed.
Yes, clearly. So Rather Good’s animations pre-date YouTube?
JV: Oh, pre-YouTube, yeah. You couldn’t really do video in those days because you didn’t have the bandwidth to do it, which was why Flash was so popular. You had to keep projects down to a couple of GBs, very small files. Everyone was on dial-up modems.
(Rather Good’s highly educational vid about the history of the world wide web)
Wild. Was your goal to just have fun, or did you have an online audience in mind while making things?
JV: Historically they’ve been a way to entertain ourselves, at least primarily. On the basis that if you’re making something fun, that you enjoy making, then it’s more likely to be interesting and enjoyable out in the world. If you over-analyze it, you end up with something that doesn’t work very well; that’s how bad comedy gets written.
So what was it like, helping to build meme culture from the ground up… rewarding?
JV: Ha, yeah… it’s a fascinating and evolving world, isn’t it? And it’s changing so much and so fast it’s just… it’s almost difficult to put into words, the sheer magnitude of it.
DS: You couldn’t really imagine this ecosystem now, 20 years ago. It would sound insane.
JV: I mean, it wasn’t that long ago that the big hit was a mini track with a bunch of animated gifs of hamsters.
DS: A 4 second loop of a CGI baby dancing…
JV: God, and do you remember the crazy frog?
DS: Oh God… yeah.
JV: (laughing) It’s come a long way, and that’s a good thing. And it’s not just a technological thing is it, there’s really important stuff about the way that it’s opened up… I used to say “democratization of creativity,” which is a slightly overblown way of just saying it’s much easier for people to get stuff out in the world than it used to be. There was a system of gatekeepers in place that was very difficult to get past, until a little before YouTube. That system is bypassed now, it doesn’t really have the power anymore to dictate what makes it onto TV and hence into the popular consciousness. That’s now distributed out into the world. Which is good, although there’s a new dictator now, isn’t there? The algorithms. But that’s a different sort of thing.
(“We Like the Moon,” an ancient and powerful Rather Good meme. So revered that Quiznos used it to sell subs, in a commercial that you may, like me, vaguely remember as a fever dream from your adolescence)
Our strange new reality. Have you guys done much in the traditional kids space in the UK, with CBBC or CITV or others?
JV: We haven’t done much of anything in kids—most of what we’ve done for telly has been in the adult realm. One of our motivations for “Kid Arthur” and some other projects is getting to focus on character and narrative. Because for a long, long time, we’ve done short form – proper short form, often a minute or less long – and that’s fun, but you don’t get the opportunity to really develop character and story in those. It’s just gags.
DS: That’s what’s been so fun about “Kid Arthur”: being able to actually build characters with a relationship between them, and have the space to explore that and the outer world.
So how did you guys come up with “Kid Arthur”?
JV: We’ve both always loved the Arthurian legends, fantasy worlds, Tolkien’s writing. It’s been a big part of our… cultural space, if you know what I mean? It feels like it’s been more ‘everywhere’ than ever in the last couple of years, since The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and Game of Thrones and everything – everybody’s all about swords and dragons these days, which is fun. We’d talk about King Arthur and he’d pop up in conversation a lot, and we thought it’d be hilarious to put him and Mordred as kids in a modern day school.
So is the rest of Arthur and Mordred’s world totally normal, and no one notices that these kids are summoning dragons and crazy shiz?
DS: Absolutely, they’re clueless.
JV: It’s too out there for people to process.
DS: I think they’re aware on some dim level, but their minds are totally unable to process or comprehend it.
(Poor, sweet, unknowing ‘Miss’)
When did you guys decide to pitch to Frederator, and what stage of development was “Kid Arthur” in?
DS: It was still pretty early on when we pitched it.
JV: I met Carrie Miller in London a while ago now, at an animation event. And we talked about how we ought to pitch something to you guys. So we’d been thinking about what we could do with Frederator specifically, and “Kid Arthur” felt like the right fit.
Who do you each relate to the most between Mordred or Arthur?
DS: That’s pretty obvious isn’t it? I’m definitely Arthur.
(note: David voices Arthur. Meanwhile, Joel is cracking up)
JV: But this is the thing though isn’t it, part of the joy of the character, is that Arthur, he’s a kind of all-conquering heroic warrior, but he’s got Dave’s personality here, you know? He’s kinda like “Sighhhh… oh God. He’s trying to destroy me again, isn’t he”.
JV: And I very much relate to Mordred. (Joel voices Mordred)
Oh gosh, really? How so?
JV: Well, he’s an extension of my own character to a certain extent. I’m not painting a very nice picture of myself there, am I? I mean, he’s not totally evil – he’d be gutted if he ever did destroy Arthur. That’s key to it, isn’t it?
DS: Oh yeah. He’d be bereft.
JV: Utterly bereft.
Have you guys been developing your ideas for a full series?
DS: We’ve talked about it quite a lot.
JV: There’s a whole expanded world that we couldn’t really fit into a 5 minute short, and more characters: Guinevere –
DS: Merlin –
JV: Merlin as a cat! He’s the most powerful wizard in the universe. But he’s also a cat, so he tends to use his awesome power to do stuff like magic up fish heads.
DS: He’s not a super intelligent cat, mind you, just a standard cat. With great magic.
JV: And there’s all the knights of the round table, the witches, the Lady of the Lake. There’s this pre-existing structure from legend of all of these quests, and it’s all just ripe to be transplanted into a little town, where it exists slightly below the surface, manifesting in, you know, neighborhood parks and ponds.
DS: We really love this idea that Arthur and Mordred’s battle is this ageless, epic struggle between good and evil. It’s been going on in some form or another for thousands of years, and will continue until the apocalypse. So the notion that there’s all these artifacts and characters from this enormous mythology in this modern town, largely unnoticed by everyone else—that’s exciting to us.
How has reading about Arthurian legend played a role in development?
DS: The great thing about Arthurian legend is that there are several classical texts, and they all contradict each other. Even the relationship between Arthur and Mordred shifts around quite a lot. So there’s so much within range that we can play with, and select whatever fits our world best.
JV: We realized early on, that with other historical characters – say Henry VIII – there’s a very firm history of who they were, a definite character that you can research. But with these guys… you know, whether or not there was a genuine historical figure who was the genesis of these tales, when you really drill into it, it’s mystic. There’s nothing definite in this history to grab hold to – or be beholden to. The variation is part of the fun of the idea.
How do you guys usually divvy up your work?
DS: We write collaboratively; we get together and bash out words. I take the lead on the art side, things like character designs and boards. Joel more on things like sound and foley, and general managing of projects, and you know, talking to people. I’m far more happy when I’m kind of locked away and not having to talk with anyone.
JV: He’s happy to not deal with actual humans.
Do you guys always pitch together, or David do you prefer to sit that out?
DS: We normally get together for that kind of thing. But Joel usually says about 20 words for my 1 word, which is fine with me.
JV: We’re pretty evenly split today aren’t we David?
DS: Yeah, not so bad.
What are your favorite cartoons?
JV: Battle of the Planets!
DS: Yeah, we like the 80s cartoons: Ulysses 31 I really loved as a kid. It was absurdly bleak. A guy and his son drifting through deep space, encountering depressing, frightening worlds… the whole thing was a bit hopeless. Which 8 year old me really enjoyed.
JV: There was a show called The Trap Door which was fantastic. Claymation show – I presume that it never aired in the states, which is a shame because it’s wonderful, truly wonderful. And Danger Mouse is a favorite, always great.
DS: There’s a couple more grown up things, like Venture Bros. –
JV: – Adventure Time!
DS: Of course, yeah.
JV: And there’s some proper adult animation being made at the moment which is lovely. We both love Archer. And Rick and Morty is obviously what it is, it’s incredible.
Any last thoughts to share with the Frederator audience?
JV: I’d just like to say how grateful we are to Frederator for helping us realize our vision for “Kid Arthur,” and exactly as we envisioned it. Working with a lot of studios can feel like you’re smashing through a brick wall with your face; and you come out of it with a product that isn’t really what you wanted to create in the first place. But “Kid Arthur” has been our baby, and we were paired with an incredible team of people to help us bring it to life. Just thinking about how much we learned from Larry (Huber, the director)… it’s incredible. It has been lovely working with Frederator.
DS: Throughout the whole process, it’s been really nice. That’s so rare.
JV: I wouldn’t even say rare, David! It’s unique. It’s absolutely unique. So we’re thankful.
Thanks for the great chat, Joel and David! I’ll be staying abreast of your Rather Good content – especially since I think a lot of it has been swimming around my subconscious mind for years. Excited to see what you guys do next!