It was a long time ago in a suburb not too far from New York that the seeds were planted for “Robot Chicken,” at a then-modest startup magazine about comicbooks called Wizard.
Debuting in 1991, Wizard became a must-read with fans who devoured it not just for the tidbits about the latest collectible comics, but also for the smart-ass fanboy humor that permeated its pages.
“We were a bunch of wise-asses,” says “Robot Chicken” co-head writer and exec producer Doug Goldstein, who helped launch Wizard from the bedroom of its publisher, Gareb Shamus. “When we had a toy that looked weird, we’d give him a weird word balloon saying, ‘I like pie!’ and just really having fun.”
The humor was a hit with normally serious young comicbook fans, many of whom felt they were alone in their deep love of comics, cartoons and “Star Wars.”
“When I was growing up, all of these things were very counterculture,” says “Robot Chicken” co-creator Seth Green, himself a lifelong geek. “While Batman was popular, it was something that either kids wore or nerds wore.”
Wizard’s success lead to a spinoff called ToyFare magazine, which was nominally about collectible toys.
“What people wanted out of a toy magazine was big pictures of toys, so all of the words that went along with them were pretty inconsequential,” says Tom Root, co-head writer and exec producer on “Robot Chicken.” That allowed the mag to take the humor to a new level, with its most popular feature being short comicbook stories told with photos of action figures and called “Twisted ToyFare Theater.”
Matthew Senreich was editor of ToyFare when he requested an interview with Green after hearing he was fan. “(My publicist) said it was ToyFare,” Green says, “and I said ‘I absolutely want to do that interview! Can I get a subscription?’?”
The interview was the start of a friendship between Green and Senreich that led to Green asking Senreich to help him make a stop-motion short film with action figures for an upcoming appearance on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.” Word of the short reached Sony Digital, which commissioned a dozen four-minute shorts for its short-lived Screenblast.com.
Barely seen when it debuted online in 2001, the series constituted a pilot that was shopped around until Mike Lazzo and Keith Crofford at Adult Swim put it on the air in early 2005.
The rise of nerd culture with the dominance of Comic-Con has made the creators of “Robot Chicken” look prescient. But in reality, they remain at heart geeks through and through.
Nothing illustrates that more than their collective pride in getting the approval of George Lucas to make a trio of “Star Wars”-focused parodies and screen it for him at Skywalker Ranch.
“Getting to watch George Lucas laugh at our special that he had let us make because he liked what we did, that’s been the highlight of this experience,” says Root. “That was a pretty special moment.”
“It makes us look like we planned it, but it’s just the stuff that we like and it happened to become in vogue during the time we were making a celebration of it,” says Green.
A beak into the future | Team reps rapid rise of nerd processors | Fandom fodder for film-flam | Initial production hurdles were nothing to cluck at