For those who have never heard of the show, what is Pubertina about?

Pubertina is about an eleven-year-old girl who is the only girl in her 5th grade class going through puberty, appropriately named “Pubertina.”  Her best friend is a pre-pubescent girl named Debs, who acts as Pubertina’s self-appointed adviser as Pubertina experiences menstruation, zits, getting little boobies (“nubbies”) and crushing-out on boys.  I incorporate my own songwriting into the show (I collaborate with my composer and friend, Paul Fraser) to highlight Pubertina’s changing emotions and keep it fresh and fun.

How did the concept of the show come about?

The concept for the character Pubertina came to me in 2009 when I started the Experimental Animation MFA program at the California Institute of the Arts.  I initially envisioned her as a Godzilla-equivalent of a teenage girl, way more grotesque-looking than she is now, where she went around pulling boys out of their bedroom windows and stuffing them into her pockets.  I arrived at a more introverted character who looked like an awkward elongated squeeze toy fit into a pink shirt and jeans.

I started instinctually writing her song on piano, and that, combined with hand-drawn visuals of Pubertina saying goodbye to childhood, became my first-year-short film, Pubertina (2010), which played (and I think still plays) in Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival.  Hiring a Titmouse animator, Joshua Herron, to animate the web show, meant that we could continue to do hand-drawn animation for the series, but in a much more timely fashion and at a better quality.

How were you approached by Shut Up Cartoons?

Carolyn Bates, who is a producer on the web series, attended a CalArts animation showcase in which my original Pubertina short played.  She contacted me in November of 2011 to see if I’d be interested in developing it into an animated web series for Alloy Digital and SMOSH’s new channel, Shut Up! Cartoons, that launched on YouTube last month.  Being an animated show creator was, and still is, my dream job.  Carolyn and the rest of SMOSH took a chance on me and Pubertina, and I’m very happy and thankful to have been given this rare opportunity to envision my own show.

I feel the show breaks new grounds, featuring a vulnerable teen girl as a main character and giving a somewhat visceral look into the female experience.  The show has been very polarizing; while many people (mostly young-teenage boys) hate it with a passion, countless teenage girls love  it to death and are hardcore fans, even to the point of calling themselves “Puberlievers,” creating fan art, and tattooing the symbol for Pubertina, a bleeding heart, with marker pens on their hands and wrists.  On Twitter, Pubertina has just over 3,000 followers.  I am so unbelievably proud to have created a character that resonates with girls (and some guys) to such a profound degree.

What was the casting process like for the voices?

Initially I wanted someone like comedian/actress Maria Bamford to play Pubertina, but I gave up  for budget and other reasons, and started doing Pubertina’s voice myself.  I brought on a very talented and hilarious friend, Midge Lipschitz, to play Pubes’ best friend Debs, and other friends MJ Sandhe (Andrew), and Nico Colaleo (various) to play other characters.  My biggest requirement when casting a comedy show is that the actors are naturally funny people.  I like to experiment a lot with improvisation based on my pre-written scripts, and you need genuinely funny people to make that kind of thing work.

What are some of your inspirations in creating an animated series and growing up what were
some of your favorite shows, animated or otherwise?

As one could probably guess, puberty made a big impression on me.  I got my period early-ish, at eleven like Pubertina, and really felt like this awkward giant among children at my elementary school.  I also had a terrible time saying goodbye to my childhood.  This is a very personal series for me, and I think that’s one of the many reasons it makes lots of young people uncomfortable.  Most of the stories in the Pubertina series are based, in one way or another, on my own experiences.  I guess viewers can guess which things actually happened to me.  Certain episodes even feature real characters and people from my life!

I value personal, individual voices. When creators try too hard for accessibility, I think their voices tends to be lost.  Alloy Digital and SMOSH have given me almost total creative freedom in making my show, which I wholly applaud them for.  I think they have the right attitude towards their creators.

The greatest influences on the show are mostly related to the things that have most influenced my sense of humor.  My favorite film in high school was the dark comedy Harold and Maude.  The show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and John Waters’ and Wes Anderson’s films infused me with a sense of camp, the absurd and deadpan humor.  My two favorite cartoon shows are Home Movies and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, and if you watch them, I’m sure you’d be able to identify their influences on Pubertina. I’m also into literature (reading) quite a bit, and most recently comedy; as in comedians.  My current favorites are Sarah Silverman and Louie CK.

Do you have plans for other animated series and what else are you working on?

Now that I know for sure being a show creator is my dream job, I would love to create and run another animated show!  If the planets are all aligned and what not, it’s what I hope to be doing next.  It combines everything I love: storytelling, conceptualizing show ideas, developing characters, writing music, directing animation and overseeing art design.

If that doesn’t work out, I’d love to work in story (writing/storyboarding) for TV animation, and continue working on my own personal short films.  I have at least one film that’s all boarded out–voices and everything recorded–just waiting patiently to be animated.

I’m planning to create an original music album with my Pubertina composer/producer Paul this summer, and also might start taking stand-up and sketch comedy classes to exercise my funny bone.

What are some of your favorite shows that are on Shut Up Cartoons?

Considering I’ve only seen two of the eighteen Shut Up! Cartoons so far, I don’t have any favorites just yet.  I think Do’s and Don’ts is clever for its satire and show structure, and I like Zombies vs. Ninjas for the stop-motion craft and Michael Granberry’s rich imagination.  It’s also well-written.

John Schwarz

John is the Chief Editor and Founder of Bubbleblabber.com. While at first a part-time project, Bubbleblabber quickly grew into a full-fledged operation and officially became a company in 2014. When John isn't running a business full-time, he likes to go to concerts and also spends time with his dog, Mitsy.

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