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Dave Willis is not exactly a household name, but his shows certainly are. As a writer, producer, and animator for Cartoon Network's genre-defining, late-night programming block, Adult Swim, Willis has been responsible for some of the biggest animated programs in the last 10 years.
In 2000, he and fellow writer/producer Matt Maiellaro created the hit animated series and film Aqua Teen Hunger Force, infiltrating the brains of millions of cartoon-watching adults with practical joke playing space aliens, rapping spiders, and a rag-tag band of talking fast food items. But even before Aqua Teen terrorized television sets (and Boston street corners, as in the 2007 advertising incident that had police believing the city was under terrorist attack), Willis was busy changing the face of animation as a writer and producer on the legendary series Space Ghost Coast to Coast.
After thoroughly dominating the Jersey Shore with ATHF, Willis set his sights on the rural South with the surreal comedy, Squidbillies, now in its fourth season. This weekend, Willis will be appearing at the Hilton Miami Downtown as part of the Anime Supercon, a three-day festival featuring comics, anime, games, round table discussions, live bands, and all the fun-filled nerdiness you can wave a gunsword at.
New Times caught up with Willis and asked him about the convention, his role in animation history, and the future of his beloved shows.
New Times: Are you looking forward to the Convention?
Dave Willis: Yeah! I don't do a whole lot of these. We do a local one in Atlanta occasionally and Comicon in San Diego, but aside from that I haven't really done many of them.
So what made you want to sign up for the Super Con then?
Truthfully, Disney World.
Are you actually going to make a pit stop?
Yes! I'm bringing my kids, and they're just now at that age where they can enjoy [Disney]. Plus Dana Snyder [the voice of Master Shake in Aqua Teen Hunger Force] comes to this con every year, and he has a great time and speaks very highly of the guys that run it. So I figured it would be fun.
That's awesome. So how come you don't do other conventions that much? Is it because you're so busy?
I think that, partially, plus I have a family, and my weekends and free time are pretty precious. But it's always fun to meet new fans and get validated on what you do. Making cartoons, so much of that time is spent in a dark room, moving things a frame at a time. So you never really get a feel for whether people watch your show or really care about it. So this is one of those rare opportunities for me where you can see people that are into it and hear what they have to say.
Plus, since fans don't see your face on the show you have the added benefit of not being recognized.
That's a plus I would say. [Laughs] Not that I don't want to be seen but... maybe once a month someone in town [Atlanta] will recognize me. And that works out pretty good because it usually turns into a free appetizer or, like, a break on parking.
So you're going to be here over Halloween weekend, is that exciting for you to be with all the cosplayers? Does your family dress up?
Well, I'm flying in the morning after Halloween because I didn't want to miss trick or treating. But yeah, the kids are gonna be a butterfly and Batman. I didn't have the heart to tell them how clichéd that was (laughs).
Did you try to get them to dress up as characters from your shows?
I haven't gone that far in self-promotion yet. And I don't want to come down too hard on them for making conservative choices. But we have fun. One year my wife and I dressed as David Bowie and China Girl, and that was pretty cool.
I don't know if your kids watch your shows or not, because they're rather adult, but do they understand what you do?
(Laughs) There's mostly confusion. They just know I go away from the house and I come back with money. And sometimes clothing. On a very rare occasion, Meatwad might be up on a billboard in town and they'll shout "Meatwad!" It makes me wonder if we missed our calling by not making [Aqua Teen] a kid show.
When you do go to these conventions, does interacting with your fans help you learn anything about your shows? Are you amazed at the depth in which people are into it?
Hmm, so what time, exactly, will you be heading to Orlando?
(Laughs) Honestly, it's cool. It's great to hear people watch the shows over and over again. So much of TV is furniture -- it's forgettable or something you just sort of turn on. It's nice for people to actually care about it so much they want to see someone talk or meet them or want to watch the shows over again. You have to want it to be that way to some degree with TiVo. I know I've become such a picky viewer now.