KidScreen checks in with top kid creatives about the keys to clicking with kids
California-based kid cartoon creator David Feiss is best known for his Cartoon Network shows Cow and Chicken and I.M. Weasel. He’s planning to expose millions more kids and teens to his kid-friendly madness through an Inspector Beaver webisode series launching on MondoMedia.com this month, as well as Fred Flower and Uncle Italian Moose, an animated series about a teenage flower, his human bank executive mother and an exchange student moose from Italy. Feiss is currently working on a Fred Flower pilot for Warner Bros.
How did your first major series, Cow and Chicken, come to be?
Cow and Chicken started as a bedtime story I told my daughter, who was six at the time. One evening, I was just too tired to even turn on the light to read a book, so I just kind of made up a story on the fly about this cow and chicken. She liked it so much that the next morning I drew it out like a children’s book. By coincidence, a couple of weeks later, I heard that Cartoon Network was looking for new projects. So I pitched my idea and they went for it.
Why a cow and a chicken?
They’re funny animals, I mean a cow is funny and a chicken’s funny. So when I adapted it, I figured that making them brother and sister would make it more goofy, because that’s impossible. And giving them human parents-again, that’s just silly.
As you developed the show further, where did you turn for material?
The actual Cow and Chicken characters are based on my two kids. My son is four years older than my daughter, so Chicken is based on him, with that teenage boy cockiness (no pun intended). And then Cow is the younger, sweeter little sister who wants to be his pal, but because of the age difference-and the fact that they’re a boy and a girl-it’s not really easy. But deep down, they care about each other.
So that’s where the personalities came from, what about the look of the characters?
I just tried to make them look as silly as possible. Cow is an odd character, with the udder and that big nose. I tried to make her as unappealing as I possibly could, while still making her sweet and totally unaware of her hugeness and ugliness.
What about that udder? Where did that come from?
Well cows have udders. She doesn’t want to hide it, she’s like a little kid who’s unashamed of her nakedness. She’s actually quite proud of it. Plus it keeps the family in milk. Chicken is totally disgusted by it, but he’ll still have milk on his cereal.
When you’re writing, does it just come, or do you ever get blocked?
Sometimes I get blocked, but Cow and Chicken and I.M. Weasel were pretty easy. I just came up with lots and lots of ideas. Some were based on incidents I experienced when I was a kid, others were experiences other people had, or just observations, or even things that my kids suggested.
Well, there was the time in the car when my son says: ‘I got a major wedgie.’ And I thought, that sounds like a military type. So I named The Red Guy (the Cow & Chicken antagonist in every episode) ‘Major Wedgie’ and developed this whole backstory about why he was such a mean, bitter guy. It started because he was in the military and he had a wedgie all the time. He became The Red Guy by losing those pants, and hey, no more wedgie. That’s why he runs around naked all the time now.
You said that some of the episodes were based on stuff that happened to you when you were a kid. Can you give me an example?
Yeah, there was an episode called The Cow with Four Eyes. Cow gets glasses, and somehow Chicken perceives her as being smart because she’s got glasses. When I was a kid, I thought the same thing: You look smart if you have glasses. I desperately wanted to have glasses, so I faked my eye exam. I remember actually fooling the doctor and saying I couldn’t see the letters correctly. I got these big, thick glasses and I thought I was really cool-although I couldn’t see. Cow does the same thing. She fakes her eye examination.
It seems like your concepts are very character-driven.
Yes. I can’t come up with new ideas that aren’t character-driven. The characters seem to suggest their own dialogue and situations: They really start to come alive. It’s easier to write when the characters are strong.
How do you know when a concept is not working out?
Because ideas are hard to come up with. I mean I can create a bunch of different characters and then create an environment, and then suddenly, the ideas are just not coming to me. And I talk to some other people and ideas aren’t coming to them, and then I know it’s doomed.
What projects are you working on now?
Well, there’s Inspector Beaver. That started out just as a funny title-almost a little nasty, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s about a beaver who has no talent; he can’t sing, he’s not a very good actor, but he wants to be one of the great cartoon actors. He lives in a little trailer in front of `dam’ Hollywood. He has a roommate named Lance Pierce, Male Nurse, but Inspector Beaver’s not gay. He has a real human Dad who’s a Canadian Mountie named Rear Admiral Beaver. He actually married many different animals-including a whale and a brine shrimp-but Inspector Beaver’s mom just happened to be the first. It’s going to be animated by Fun Bag Animation.
How was that project born?
I got a call from an acquaintance at Mondo Media saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing shows here, why don’t you come over and pitch something?’ So on my drive over, I just thought I’d pitch this Inspector Beaver idea. They basically just greenlit it from that title and the pitch about the character who never made it-Hollywood’s full of people like that.