Executive Producer of Black Dynamite
You might not know Carl Jones by name, but you’ve definitely seen his work. The prolific artist and illustrator, 42, has enjoyed a successful career as a producer of The Boondocks, a co-creator of Freaknik the Musical, and as the Executive Producer of Black Dynamite, which just ended its two-season run on Cartoon Network with the television movie "The Wizard of Watts". Fusion caught up Jones to discuss influences on his work - everything from Richard Pryor to the 2009 anime film Redline - and the future of adult-focused animation.
“I’ve always wanted to create art that spoke to the human condition, that entertained people to make them laugh. It’s literally like giving the person medicine - it can be bitter, it can be sweet.”
“I’ve been drawing since I was five years old. When my dad came home from work, he would bring me a giant stack of paper - so I would try to impress him by drawing through the whole stack of paper. It became our thing.”
“I was a big Hanna-Barbera fan - Flintstones, Jetsons, Herculoids, He-Man, and a big Warner Brothers fan - Wile E Coyote and Road Runner were my two favorite characters."
“I never completely understood capitalism, even though I took advanced government and economics classes in high school. I never knew how capitalism could be used to empower groups of people. Understanding world banking, and who prints money, and how they determine the value of money along with people who It opened my eyes to how religion, politics, militarism, and capitalism were all intertwined. It allowed me to see what happened in America socially and economically. The book covers so much information it’s hard to summarize. I think it affected black people most specifically - there are a lot of unseen hands that contributed to these situations. I don’t think all of the writing is true or exact, there’s a good amount of propaganda in that material too. You can infuse a little propaganda and you have a powerful drug that people choose to partake in."
"Bicentennial Nigger was one of my favorites. Just about everything Pryor has done is hilarious. He does this bit about going to Africa and realizing there were no niggers there. He saw all these black people and no niggers. He was on stage, and he took the opportunity to give people a reality that he experienced that wasn’t really a joke. It’s rare that any comic would get on stage and open their lives up the way Richard did - his life, his heart, his marriage problems, freebasing - so he took the opportunity to give people something he was enlightened by that wasn’t a joke and I found that to be really powerful. Sometimes satire is very sour - it doesn’t always have to silly or funny. And that was one of the things that stood out the most to me. It definitely influenced me in the way I saw comedy."
“When I first saw The Mack, I was a kid - I wasn’t supposed to be watching it. (Laughs.) I was maybe 8 or 9 when I first saw it. Even watching it at a young age, what I saw was this guy who was really really cool and somewhat like a hero. As a child, I wasn't paying so much attention to the drugs and prostitution - what stood out to me was this strong alpha male. He dressed real fly, he always had this bad ass music when he stepped on the scene. He had charisma, he was smooth - that’s what appealed to me. When I got older, I watched it over - not for any specific reason or inspiration, but more to understand the feeling. The language and how things happen. As Black Dynamite started to evolve, I realized most of our audience doesn’t give a shit about blaxploitation - they identify with the characters. The tone of the show is what’s more important. I focused more on the characters and comedy and less on the 70s aesthetic.”
"The Flintstones was one of the first cartoons that had me turned out. (Laughs.) The Flintstones wasn’t written for kids, the content was really mature. It was wasn’t really written for kids. The cartoons there were pretty adult - they had mobsters and gangsters with guns. I loved The Flintstones - and The Jetsons. Even though there were no black people in the future or prehistoric times, I could relate to the shows."
"I love Moebius because of the sheer craftsmanship. One, he’s just a really really good draftsman. Some of the stuff he draws is like literally coming from another planet. I remember seeing these drawings he would do with these alien, Native American-looking shamans in the middle of the desert, with crystals turning into lightbeams...just really dope conceptual pieces. The way he translated these ideas into comics and art pieces is brilliant. There is a very specific style to French animation - you know it when you look at it. I don’t know exactly why it appeals to me. There’s a certain approach to shape and character and the way characters move that appeal. I would go looking for French animation and French comics on the internet, because the artwork is so dope."
“I’m not an anime head really. A lot of it looks the same to me. So when you do see a Japanese director jump outside the box it speaks to me. Takeshi Koike would bend and stretch his characters, break character, use weird perspectives. And the heavy use of black shadows which distinguishes it from other anime. It’s just amazing storytelling. His work stands out.”
“What stands out to me about Coonskin is the characters felt like real people. I appreciate animation that captures the essence of real people, and feels like they would say. even though it has some overtly racist tones to it...as an artist, I am able to look at it technically, and watch artists express themselves without worrying what people think of it. A lot of people are like “how are you watching Coonskin, it’s called Coonskin” - but I try to watch it from a non judgmental stance. It’s the same way I can watch Archie Bunker and appreciate the character but not what he says."
“I started getting into a bit of anime, like Speed Racer and Voltron.”
“I was born in the 70s - most of what I identify as art and music was fashioned at an early age by my parents and siblings. I was listening to Marvin Gaye and watching Good Times, and all of the cultural icons of the era were an influence for me. There was a newfound sense of pride that blanketed the entire black community. Just that alone, the art, the comedy, the entertainment - I can’t help but be influenced by it because so many great things came out in that time. It’s all a part of what I digested. The '70s was almost like a renaissance coming off of civil rights, there was a new sense of pride in black identity. The stories in blaxploitation films weren’t initially exploitative - they were creating alpha males and alpha females like Shaft or Foxy Brown. These are heroes. It seems contradictory - but the pimps and hoes parts were just a back drop - there was so much more. The films of that era were moving in a very progressive direction. “
"In the spirit of blaxploitation I wanted to do a parody or spoof of American white "masterpieces". When I was a kid, I saw The Wiz before I saw The Wizard of Oz, I was moved by it because I had never seen anything like it. The Wizard of Oz is one of the best stories in American history, one of the best-told stories in American culture. I saw The Wiz at home first. There were two major home-based events: The Wiz and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” (My mom only got cable so we could watch Michael Jackson, and then we got rid of it.) Those two moments were major. Everyone in the family and close relatives all sat together watching The Wiz.
I took it as a personal challenge - is there a way to adapt that story to our world and make it relevant to the Black Dynamite universe?"
"My favorite part of The Wiz is Michael Jackson’s performance as the Scarecrow. That was really powerful. At that time, Mike was at his peak - I just remember being such a huge fan...if that had been the whole movie, I’d have been happy. At the particular point in time, everyone was trying to be like Mike, wear Michael Jackson jackets, do something curly to your hair. (Laughs.) Even when I look back at it today, he was such a great performer - calling him a musician or an artist is an understatement. Every time he performed it was electrifying. The Wiz was amazing, but it was pretty PC. It was so watered down and censored. But our world isn’t like that - censorship is so weird to me. But it’s the world we live in. I don’t think there is anything the producers of The Wiz should have done differently. It worked for what it was. The way we view black content...people feel that the filmmakers/producers/writers have a strong obligation to represent the black audience well. I think we have to be able to embrace all of it. It’s different types of stories. The question I get all the time is “you have pimps and hoes...how do you feel about that?” Sometimes we need Bill Cosbys...but we also need Chris Rocks, and we need the Wayans brothers and the Tyler Perrys. We need all of them. All of them are storytellers and we’re speaking to what is honest for them. I embrace all of it and hope ultimately we can have an appreciation for all of it."
"When we came up with the idea to do the "Wizard of Watts" episode on Black Dynamite, it was two years ago. It was way before Ferguson or right now. People always ask if we are directly addressing what recently happened and what is being reported all over the news. We’re not addressing this specific incident - in my eyes, this has always been an epidemic in our communities. The story is not a police brutality story - it’s a story that deals with police brutality. It is the story of Black Dynamite and his friends who live in a world that is under siege, terrorizing the world of Oz-Watts. It’s very easy for the episode to be misconstrued - that we are using the opportunity to exploit recent tragedies for ratings. But this musical been in the works for years."
“I hope that adult animation continues to push boundaries. I hope to see some animated features where the stories don’t revolve around a bunch of animals. There is so much more room for adult stories to be told using this medium. It takes a while for the gatekeepers of Hollywood to come around. But if I’m not mistaken, Seth Rogen is doing an adult animated feature - hopefully if that does well, we will see more.”