Ben Jones

The Paper Rad founder has a new show on the Cartoon Network. And yes, it's nuts.

Ben Jones
A founding member of art collective Paper Rad, Ben Jones restlessly and effortlessly skips across disciplines. Besides exhibiting sculptures, paintings and drawings at galleries internationally, Jones has designed giant blimps, sneakers and board shorts; animated music videos for M.I.A and Beck; staged performances with homemade costumes; produced a plethora of zines, comics and art books; all while tinkering on the website-as-art, paperrad.org, which also hosts a much beloved series of his computer-animated cartoons. Jones has defined an aesthetic both handmade and mass-produced, combining cartoon characters, high-energy techno music, meta-graffiti, fantasy worlds and sublime color fields. His influence has suffused the visual landscape: you can spot the BJ style everywhere these days.

Since last year, Jones has been working at a television studio in Burbank, actualizing a long-held ambition to create an after-school cartoon show starring his signature characters, Problem Solverz premieres in April on Cartoon Network.

BenJonesArt.jpg
SAMMY HARKHAM: Was it always a goal to turn your more lo-fi animation work into a kids' show for a major television studio?

BEN JONES: I took it seriously enough to think that it should be on TV, or it could be, but the most important thing was just believing in myself, doing a very deliberate project.

SH:
What's the learning curve transitioning to a show like this?

BJ: It's like free-falling straight down 20,000 feet at night with a parachute and a SWAT team with little bat wings.

SH:
Those older Paper Rad animations were done in a home studio in Providence, with a very small crew of artists who were basically your friends. How does the creative process change when you enter into a Burbank TV studio and involve thousands of people?

BJ: I'm taking the project as seriously now as I did then. It doesn't feel any different to
me, which is crazy. I was pretending that Paper Rad was a real company, and now I'm pretending that this real company is Paper Rad. That's a good answer. I was playing but I was working, and now I'm working but I'm playing.

SH:
Did you conceive of your characters as television personalities; for example, your weird, impatient brown monster, Alfe?

BJ: Yes, totally. I was doing crazy sci-fi stuff in college, so I obviously thought of Alf. My intention wasn't trying to do something post-modern: I wasn't even trying to make a joke. I wanted to make something sincere, something new, but also knew that nothing new can be made. I knew that a good character should be robust enough to have a bunch of people working on him. I've got notes from studio executives about everything else in the show being like, "eh," but  they think Alfe is awesome.
 
SH:
How did the collaborative aspects of working on a large-scale art show, like 2009's "The New Dark Age" at Deitch Projects, prepare you for something of this scale?

BJ: I have always been interested in pushing my skills and tools way past their limits. "The New Dark Age" and all my art-making were always situations where I was experimenting and trying to do something much bigger and better than my means. It's a bad idea, but a good way to learn. I am learning a lot still.

SH:
How did moving to Los Angeles from Providence affect the work?

BJ: I couldn't have done a mainstream show like this without coming to L.A., and I wanted to do a show like this. This is what I wanted for Alfe.

SH:
Visually the show doesn't look like anything else. It's pretty radical looking.

BJ: I think when network executives see it, they are smart people and are like, "Fuck, I'm not going to fuck with that, that's the real deal." Say what you want, you can hate it, but yeah, this is the real deal. I've been doing this one for 20 fucking years.

SH:
What experiences or ideas have informed the show?

BJ: These are things that I love from the '80s: rap, punk, skaters, graffiti, break-dancing, cops, video games, bikini babes, Eddie Murphy -- just kidding. The only thing I think that influenced me was nature and caves -- just kidding. Look, there is nothing cool or interesting about my influences or me. One of the animators on the show told me that everyone has a big fur character, but that I lucked out by making mine have a big dent in the top of his head. And I did this most likely because I knew about the band Slint when I was nine years old.
 
SH:
It all goes back to the well of when you were a child.

BJ: You only have one childhood to be ruined and traumatized by.
 
SH:
Cartoon Network also does the Andrew W.K. kids' show, Destroy Build Destroy. It's a fucked-up network.

BJ: Having now lived in L.A. for a little bit, I know you can't do anything at Disney or Nickelodeon that's anything like what Cartoon Network does. Think of a network that would want to work with Paper Rad. That's insane. There are barely any galleries that'd want to. At times I think that every noise performance, costume or drum solo was just me working towards an opportunity to do this TV show.
     
Sammy Harkham is a cartoonist and editor based in Los Angeles. He draws the comic
series
Crickets and edits the anthology Kramers Ergot.

Family Bookstore Takes Us to L.A.

Your Comment

Posted at 4:44 on Feb 05, 2012

Wartman

There is no background in Ben Jones' work. It's all foreground.