In 2004, edgy artists Dave Cooper and Johnny Ryan — known individually for their adult-themed graphic novels and underground comics with titles like “Suckle” and “Angry Youth Comix” — combined their unique talents to draw cartoons for Nickelodeon Magazine for a decidedly younger audience. Now, a little more than 10 years later, one of those comics has morphed into Nickelodeon’s newest animated series, “Pig Goat Banana Cricket.”
The show loosely weaves together four stories focusing on each of the titular characters — pickle-loving Pig, aspiring songwriter Goat, gruff ne’er-do-well Banana and brainiac inventor Cricket — as they navigate their richly populated world in Boopelite City, where anything can happen. Really, anything.
The Nickelodeon Magazine comic that loosely inspired the new show was “Cupcakes of Time,” and it featured a banana, a pig, a robot, a toilet and a time machine maneuver gone awry.
And that’s what first caught Nickelodeon’s attention. “Johnny and Dave did a lot of comics for Nick Magazine, so they were talent that we had our eye on,” says Russell Hicks, Nick’s president of content development and production. “They were always on our radar.”
Cooper and Ryan’s independent work on more adult comics didn’t deter Nick’s interest, according Hicks, who says the two artists wanted to do something that their own children would enjoy. “They are both highly respected and highly renowned comics artists, but they wanted to do something for their kids,” he says. “And they are really good a policing themselves. I think they push boundaries in a good way and a very imaginative way.”
After the long development process, which saw Cricket evolve from first a robot, then a mantis, to, ultimately, a cricket, they now have produced 26 jam-packed episodes. Coming up with four separate, interlocking storylines for that many episodes sounds like it could be a chore.
“That’s one of the reasons I like working with Johnny,” says Cooper. “He seems to have an endless well of ideas and they just keep coming.” Something that will serve them well if the show is picked up for a second season.
“We try to start with some of the most basic story ideas and try to see what kind of completely outrageous place we can take it,” says Ryan.
Adds Cooper: “Absurd characters seem to inspire the story. Johnny will come up with little doodles and stories will spread from that.”
Having done comics helps them get a lot of material into a small amount of space. “When I would do my comics, I would feel I had to cram as many jokes into the panel as I possibly could,” explains Ryan. “And I think I brought a little bit of that sensibility over here to the animation.”
Hicks thinks the zany episodes will resonate with Nick’s youthful audience. “I think they’re really funny,” he says. “And I think kids will find it really adorable.”
Though they’ve individually worked on animated projects in the past, neither Cooper nor Ryan have what they call “real” animation experience, so the transition from paper to screen has been eye-opening. “In each step of the process, we’re learning what works and what doesn’t,” Ryan says. “One of the biggest challenges is coming from working alone to working with a large production team waiting for you to tell them what to do. It can be kind of jarring.”
Now that they’ve got 26 episodes in the can, they feel a bit more confident. Says Cooper: “I think we’ve finally hit our stride. I feel like we kind of know what we’re doing now.”
Hicks has complete confidence in the duo. They have a knack for storytelling, he says, referencing a short that was done during development. “If you watch that short, the storytelling is very different from anything else we’ve ever done, or, I think, any other cartoon has ever done,” he says. “You have four stories going all at one time separately. Johnny and Dave have done a great job of orchestrating that and pulling it together.”