Carl Jones is one of the loudest voices in animation. After a chance encounter on a Los Angeles street, the writer/producer/actor was tapped by The Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder to help executive produce the Adult Swim adaptation of the political comic strip that skewered everyone from George W. Bush to BET. After three widely successful seasons, McGruder and Jones stepped back from The Boondocks to the dismay of many fans. The fourth and final season aired this past summer, and was produced without their involvement.
"I watched a couple of the episodes... a lot of things weren't working," Jones says over the phone last month while addressing the final season, declining to go into specifics regarding his and McGruder's exclusion from production. "Most people think 'The Man' shut us down, but that's not actually the case. You get a lot of passionate people together, and emotions are gonna raise high. Producing animation is not easy. It's like forcing a triangle into a circle." Still, he acknowledges the mixed reaction that the final season received from fans: "I share the same sentiment with the viewers that were critical. I understand why they felt let down."
Despite these creative roadblocks, Jones has persevered: in 2012, he re-emerged with Black Dynamite, a spastic, slapstick cartoon spinning off from the 2009 Blaxploitation-spoofing film of the same name. "They're always encouraging creatives to take liberties that, traditionally, you wouldn't be able to," Jones says of his latest go-round working under Adult Swim's umbrella. "Once they believe in you, they give you a lot of room." Visually, Jones drew inspiration from Japanese animator Takashi Koike's cinematic approach in the 2009 film Redline. "He uses heavy black shadows throughout the film, which I thought it would lend itself well to the world we were creating. [Black Dynamite] is a dark comedy with real stakes. People die."
This past weekend, Adult Swim aired his hour-long Black Dynamite musical "The Wizard of Watts," which featured guest appearances from Erykah Badu and Tyler, the Creator. "We used unconventional talent to deliver what we needed," Jones elaborates on casting left-field voice talent in a field typically dependent on animation-industry types. "When you do it right, it really resonates as something unique and special." Read on for FADER's Q&A with Jones on his thoughts on the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, dealing with anxiety, and the troubles of working with overseas animation studios.
It could be argued that the archetype Black Dynamite focuses on is the origin of the super-powerful, "invincible" black male stereotype, which has repeatedly come up in recent cases of police shooting black males. What's happening in this country—with Garner and Ferguson—has nothing to do with seeing black people as superheroes. it has a lot to do with not having empathy for black men. The reason why we don't have empathy is social engineering and negative media propaganda. The cop in Ferguson said he saw this kid as a "demon," so now you can't be big and black. In the court system, you can use fear as a reason for you to kill somebody—just because you feared him, regardless of what contributed to that fear, you have every reason to pull out your gun and shoot him. It's important to me that Black Dynamite is seen as a human being. Being an alpha male doesn't equate to not being a human.
Have you clashed with Adult Swim while working on Black Dynamite? We recently did a Diff'rent Strokes parody episode, and the opening sequence showed career day at an orphans' school. The orphans don't have any parents, so they brought one of the whores who was talking about her job very openly to the kids. The problem was we had this in the script [we submitted to Adult Swim], and for some reason it didn't get flagged, so when they saw it they were like, "You know you can't have this happening in front of kids." I understood it from a business standpoint—you've got to sell products—but I'm never very conscious of where the line is, and I try to not think about it when we're writing.
You employ Korean animation studios to assist in producing Black Dynamite, and you used overseas animators for The Boondocks, too. Does your creative direction ever get lost in translation? Absolutely. We use overseas animators because traditional animators that work in Hollywood don't understand the show's aesthetic, but the biggest problem when working with overseas studios is that none of this shit translates into their culture. [While working on The Boondocks], the animators were always asking why Huey didn't smile—it was a golden rule that Huey never smiles—and we'd get all these storyboards back with Huey smiling all over the place. They said to us, "We don't understand why he shouldn't smile," so we tried to think of one word that would sum up why he didn't smile. We said "Malcolm X," and they went "Ooh."
You're in a unique position—you have a platform for your artistic voice, but as a public figure, you're fairly press-shy. Do you strive to maintain anonymity? Yes and no. I'm more comfortable behind the camera. I have a lot of things I want to say, and there's a part of me that wants to do more on-camera stuff—but I have really bad anxiety. It's funny because someone asked me, "You have these anxieties, but you [played] Tubesteak standing on the corner doing all this stuff." When I'm in character, the anxiety goes away—but if I'm speaking for myself, I get nervous. I have to work on my stage fright.