Inside the Brain of Adventure Time Creator Pendleton Ward

Cartoon Network's Adventure Time is just as likely to be on in a toddler's living room as it is a college dorm room. The Emmy-nominated series' goofy characters, vibrant colors, bottomless imagination, and whip-smart humor make the show fun for all ages and states of sobriety. I chatted on the phone with the show's creator, Pendleton Ward, about the program.

What were you like as a kid?

Nerd. I would call myself a big nerd. As a child I played Diablo online and lots of games, I was a pretty awkward person. I would sit by myself in the treehouse in the school's playground and draw robots. I'd try and figure out how robots work by drawing them and then just hope cute girls would come up, look at my drawings, and think I was cool.

Adventure Time is a top-rated series among boys 2-11, but I'm a full-fledged adult and I love it. Who do you make the show for, and what do you think of the wide age range that's taken to it?

At different times I'm making it for different ages. Certain jokes will make certain age ranges laugh more than others. Really, we're just making it for us, for the storyboard artists on the show who write all the dialogue for the show. They just make it cool for them, to make them laugh. Every once in a while when I look at a joke I'll consider whether or not it would make the young version of me laugh or the older version of me laugh. I make sure there's a good range of jokes for everyone. I think about jokes that would make my mom laugh, jokes with puns. I make it for everybody, I guess.

What jokes make you laugh now?

When I was a kid, there was this one Simpsons joke I remember, and Bart said his dad was a half-monkey half-man creature (Editor's note: Kwyjibo!), and just that had me in stitches, rolling on the ground laughing my ass off. But as an adult, I would look at that and "Ehh." Funny words and imagery would make the young me laugh, but the older me only laughs at really specific things. Like after something awkward happens and two characters share a look of understanding, it's not the awkward moment that makes me laugh, it's the look of understanding in any given situation that makes me laugh. There are certain expressions that hold so many emotions. If you can draw a look that's embarrassment but also stern, that usually makes me laugh. Those sort of complex emotions all happening at the same time, that cracks me up. It's really specific. I'm a humor snob now, because I analyze it so much. I go back and forth between figuring stuff out in the simplest ways and then over-complicating things.

Are Finn and Jake more than just a boy and his dog? Did you base the characters on anything or anyone?

No. I just drew them. I thought they were fun-looking and cool. In general I try not to have anything represent anything. I try to make it surface level. I try not to make art, I just want to make stuff that's funny and entertaining. Not that it's not artful, the show is incredibly artful, but my intentions are always to make something that's funny, fun to watch, and makes kids laugh.

Is there a bible for Ooo? Do you have the world mapped out?

As far as how the world is mapped out, there is a big map that [background artist] Dan James, also known as Ghostshrimp, drew. He set the style of the world and created this enormous map, which we haven't fully explored yet. But it's not entirely accurate, we can always create new places in the world for them to visit. The D&D; and nerd part of me wants that set-in-stone map that we can explore, which I think is cool—to create it and explore it. But in television we have all these deadlines to create stories and places to visit, so we always have to break those rules. Sometimes we just need a certain area and we just create it on the spot.

There's a strong video game influence behind Adventure Time—how does that shape the show?

I love games, if anything this is based on D&D; more than any video game. There are some episodes coming up that we're finishing up where they go into Vimo, their computer. It's going to be CG and it's gonna look like [the '80s arcade game] BattleZone, with green grids, vectors, and everything. It's going to look like Virtua Fighter mixed with BattleZone. I'm a big gamer, and that comes up in the show. But if anything, the logic of the world and the way the characters think is more based on D&D.;

Most cartoons have a hero arc, with a moral learned at the end. I've noticed that Adventure Time doesn't always teach lessons; sometimes you don't learn anything at all.

There's no mandate from the network to teach moral lessons. And I don't really want to, I want to write stupid stuff. Sometimes there are morals, but they're stupid. Like that episode with Lady Rainicorn, where Finn and her become friends (and Jake gets jealous), at the very end Finn's like, "Let's always be stupid forever!" There was a moral coming, which was "Let's not be idiots, let's always be buds." But we like to turn the moral on its head and write something stupid instead.

That's my favorite episode.

Thanks. Emmy-nominated. I did all the voices of the translator box.

I am so envious of your job.

There's a lot of fun perks, and there's also a lot of stress. I have a new patch of white on my beard. It's a streak of white that is brand new, and it's because of this TV show.

Adventure Time airs Mondays on Cartoon Network at 8pm/7pm Central.


Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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May 12, 2014
Check out this girls COMA THEORY explanation! It's awesome! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCsX2cWuO1Y
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Jul 10, 2011
Adventure time makes me feel like a kid for hours after i watch it, and it does a great job of allowing me to not be ashamed by that
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Feb 09, 2011
@TudorRose Why would you waste your time whinging about a show you\'ve probably seen next to none of? Nobody here\'s talking **** on you for watching overwrought soap operas. How sad.
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Feb 07, 2011
Adenture Time is a piece of crap. Who draws it 6 year olds?
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Feb 06, 2011
@dmt2002 Says the person who likes Robot Chicken?
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Feb 06, 2011
Adventure Time is great.

In my opinion, Regular Show is better though. xD
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Feb 04, 2011
I think Pendleton Ward is a genius. Bring on more Adventure Time. To those who dislike, well to each his own, for the rest of us, we're having a grand old time, sorry you have to miss out.
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Feb 04, 2011
You sure the creator of Adventure Time has a brain, what with the show being so much crap and all?
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