Saturday morning cartoons are the cornerstone of any young person’s weekend. I distinctly remember waking up way too early so I could watch Pokemon, even when I’d already seen every episode. Ditto re-runs of Rugrats and Doug. They were fun to look at, had wit and charm, and, quite simply, made me feel happy. I guess that was my brain turning to mush, right mom and dad?
Those kinetic cartoons were admittedly a little lacking in representation, though. Sure, it didn’t bother me at the time. And hey, the fact that Spongebob and Patrick are a little bit gay didn’t even cross my 8-year-old mind. But that doesn’t mean we can’t expect a little more out of our ‘toons. When I think about it now, I realize that not seeing myself—someone gay, Jewish, and rather flamboyant—didn’t bother me at the time because I had the support I needed elsewhere, from parents, friends, and relatives. Not everyone does, though.
Enter Robert-Carnilius, creator and character designer of McTucky Fried High, a new bi-monthly animated web series that is, in my humble opinion, fabulous. The series follows the food-students at a fictional food-high school dealing with the very real issues of their social world: being gay, identifying as gender queer, having body image issues, and generally not having their shit together. All in all, the sort of programming that many kids, teens, and young adults could benefit from on a highly personal level.
I sat down with Robert—whose previous filmmaking efforts have garnered him positions as a 2014 Student Academy Award finalist and one of NewCity’s Film 50—to talk about McTucky and the unique cartoon vision he’s presenting.
Bent: What gave you the idea to create a cartoon tackling subjects like gender identity and body image issues?
Robert: All my previous films deal with social issues and they were all experimental and/or dramas. People liked them, but it always seemed like audiences were more fond of comedy, so I knew I wanted something that was funny with a positive message. McTucky Fried High came to me one day in class. While I was doing an assignment, I was thinking about fitting in. As humans, we try so hard to fit in and be things we’re not, and I thought how funny would it be if a healthy food was trying to be a junk food? From that, the characters jumped out of my head and on to the page. They each had their own quirks and personalities. They were funny humanoid food cartoon characters, but they still had wants, needs, and issues human teens face. Gender Identity and body image issues are also issues that I struggled with as a teen, so the stories were coming from a genuine place.
Bent: Were you inspired by any other animators/cartoons?
Robert: At every stage of production I kept Joe Murray’s book Creating Animated Cartoons with Character on hand. It was my bible during production and it was great because I loved his show Rocko’s Modern Life growing up! As odd as it may sound, my main inspirations for the style and tone of McTucky Fried High were for were Drawn Together, South Park, Spongebob Squarepants, and The Boondocks. Additionally, I grew up on Disney films and early 90’s Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network cartoons which all inspired me to draw and tell my own stories and characters from a young age.
Bent: Who do you think the audience for these cartoons are?
Robert: Given that the setting is high school, I think LGBTQ teens and young adults will really enjoy the series, especially because of the lack of representation in mainstream cartoons. I also think cartoon lovers will enjoy it. To my surprise though, I’ve had a lot of straight people who’ve enjoyed the character designs and stories, so maybe there’s a broader audience out there who like whimsical characters and social issues infused with comedy.
Bent: Why did you decide to use food products as the characters? Also, which came first: the foodie characters, or the name of their school?
Robert: Surprisingly, the name came first. I was in class doing an assignment in which I had to create and name a club/collection of drawings. I named my club after a very popular American food chain of fried chicken—later to be renamed to ease any legal headaches. After naming the club, though, is when the characters started to develop. There are a host of other characters who won’t make it into the first five episodes, but will hopefully come later!
Bent: What do you want audiences to take away from your work?
Robert: I hope that with McTucky Fried High audiences are able to see each issue from coming out to gender identity in a new light! I think people are more receptive to comedy and animation which make the issues easy to digest, but impactful. I also hope that in addition to LGBTQ teens and young adults enjoying the show, parents, teachers, and leaders will be able to find a way into these conversations and be part of the solution towards inclusivity.
The first episode of McTucky Fried High premiered on Monday, January 26, and you can watch it below. I sincerely urge you to catch up with Angela Baby Carrot, Henry Fry, Miss Curdle the Milk Carton, and others! Subscribe to the YouTube channel and check out www.mctuckyfriedhigh.com for more updates!