Q: Where did the idea for The Life & Times of Juniper Lee come from?
A: The truth is that my wife Pam and I went out and decided to come up with what would be the funniest show for us to do. Forgetting where it would appear or who would watch it, we thought, ďWhat would we really love to make?Ē I love everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Hellboy. I love magic and monsters and superhero stories. So we started putting that all together to create The Life & Times of Juniper Lee.
My wife wanted to have an Asian protagonist because there are so few of them on television. Pam wanted the character to be like her and her sisters, just a normal American girl. Her culture is Chinese, but that is not only who she is. She grew up as a typical American kid, and that is the direction we went with Juniper Lee. Her culture is just one part of who she is.
Q: What are other similarities between your wife and Juniper?
A: Juniper looks a lot like Pam. Pam has colored streaks in her hair, and thatís where Juniper gets hers. Pam says Juniper looks like Pam on the outside, but is all Judd on the inside. Juniper is more snarky and rude to her elders than Pam could ever be. Pam is tough, funny and sarcastic and all of that is also in Juniper Lee.
Q: What is Juniper Leeís role in the show? What is her central conflict?
A: In Juneís world, in Orchid Bay, there is a world of humanity and a world of magic. Magic is all around but you canít see it. Monsters and creatures and magic are invisible to everybody, with the exception of a chosen few, called the Te Xuan Ze. Juniper Lee is one of the chosen few and her job is to maintain the harmony between the world of humanity and the world of magic. She makes sure that monsters donít mess with humans and humans donít mess with monsters. She wears a little bracelet that is like a beeper, alerting her when something is wrong. But part of Juniperís character is that she is a reluctant hero. She actually would rather be a regular kid who just goes to school and hangs out with friends.
Q: Who else from Juniper Leeís family can see the world of magic?
A: This has been the job of one member in her family for generations. The Te Xuan Ze before June was her grandmother, Ah-Mah. But now itís Juniperís responsibility. Her little brother Ray Ray can also see monsters and magic, so he comes along with June. He loves the action and adventure. And Monroe is the obligatory talking dog who, as it turns out, is hundreds of years old and has been doing this for centuries. He has been the official sidekick of all the Te Xuan Ze for generations.
Q: Why is your protagonist female? Is there a girl power theme or is she just a great character?
A: The idea of it being a boy character never occurred to me. For her to be a reluctant hero she had to be a girl. The show doesnít work if Juniper is embracing this role 100%. For me, it seemed like a boy would just be way too into being the superhero. And there is something so cool about a character that can be so cute and so strong. She can leap from buildings, throw a car and punch out a monster that weighs three tons, but she is still very girly. She has really long hair, likes to look cute and has crushes on boys. I wanted to do a show where a girl can be a great protagonist, like Buffy or Xena. They can be beautiful and still be enormously tough.
Q: How did the show end up on Cartoon Network?
A: When I was graduating from college, I had a development deal for Nuts and Bolts, my comic strip from college. Eventually, the book got in the hands of [former Cartoon Network development executive] Linda Simensky, who was at another network at the time, and she wanted to develop it as a show. We spent the rest of the year developing it, but didnít go to pilot on it. I was working on the show and interviewing with MTV for The Real World all at the same time. But Linda and I hit it off; she became a mentor to me, and I continued to send her ideas.
I actually developed Juniper Lee for another network but got cold feet because they wanted it to be an educational show. It seemed to me that we were taking the guts out of the show. Luckily, they ended up passing. So I sent the whole package immediately to Linda, and she called me a month later and over an hour and half into the conversation, she casually told me that Cartoon Network wanted to option the show!
Q: How did you go about putting together your all-star cast and crew on the show?
A: It is smart to surround yourself with people who are smarter and more talented that you are, and that is basically what I have done. As far as the cast, we just threw the net open and got really really lucky. We have Carlos Alazraqui, Kath Soucie and Candi Milo, who are huge heavy-hitters in the world of voice talent and are three of our regulars. We have Amy Hill, who has done the voice of every Asian grandmother on the planet, but with Ah-Mah she gets to do a really funny and smart spin. And we have Lara Jill Miller, the child actress and star from Gimme A Break! doing the voice of Juniper Lee. Juniper Lee is tough and beats up monsters, so I wanted someone who could be tough, but still really sweet and fun. We have this really amazing cast that can do anything. They are a complete encyclopedia of voices.
As far as the crew, we were lucky enough to get Frank Squillace, who spent five years doing the Jackie Chan Adventures. Alan Bodner, who was the art director on The Iron Giant, which some people view as the most beautiful animated film ever made, is producing a look rarely seen on television for the show. And Mike Kunkel, who is such a talented artist, doing character designs and backgrounds. We have sort of gone back to a classic animation style Ė bright palettes and representational characters that look like something between classic Disney and Warner Bros. old school stuff. Plus, we have a rocking score done by Stewart Copeland, composer and former drummer of The Police.
Q: What were some of your influences growing up and do they influence the show?
A: The cartoons I love were split right down the middle between superhero shows, Superfriends and Spiderman, to classic Warner Bros. cartoons, most of the Chuck Jones stuff like Bugs Bunny, Road Runner and Pepe LePew. You can see a lot of Chuck Jones in the show. The Life & Times of Juniper Lee is also like a superhero show. It is loaded with action. All the physical humor comes through in the characters. They are really expressive, funny and sarcastic and can pull off these amazing butt-kicking fights. It is a real true comedic adventure show, rather than an action with some jokes or a comedy show with physical humor trying to come across as action. Ours is both.
Q: Tell us more about the look of the show.
A: The fictional town of Orchid Bay is basically San Francisco. San Francisco is a very European city with all these beautiful houses and different and specific architecture that I really wanted to replicate in Orchid Bay. We have cable cars, painted lady houses, gigantic hills and parks, blimps and old architecture. The city itself is practically another character, which is what we wanted. We wanted it to have its own environment and own feel. Right from the beginning, Alan Bodner, Frank Squillace and I sat down and created a map of what the city would look like. It is very specific and gives the show a spine and a sense of place. That being said, when Juniper does her magic, she enters different worlds. From the underworld to the land of sleep to wherever the adventure might take her, the look and feel always changes.
Q: How did you get into animation from your comics background?
A: Growing up, all I wanted to do was comic strips like Doonesbury or Bloom County. I made comics for years and got a nationally syndicated comic strip called Frumpy the Clown. But always, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, ďI canít wait for the strip to become big enough to do the animation special.Ē
I always wanted to bring the characters to life and do a show. From doing comic strips, I fell in love with doing long-form storytelling like comic books, ranging from the blue, dirty humor I do in my independent comics like The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius to the mainstream comics with Batman and Green Arrow. But with The Life & Times of Juniper Lee, the characters get to move, talk, yell and jump around. When you are doing comics, you kind of wish you could animate it all. You get to be the director and producer of the pages with comic books, but with animation, the characters get to come to life. It is so much fun.
Q: How did your background in comics inform your storytelling for Juniper Lee?
A: With comics, when writing your scripts and drawing your stories, you do the whole thing, soup-to-nuts. You are simultaneously putting the words in the characterís mouth, placing them in the environments, designing what they look like and then executing the acting. When doing a show and coming up with the characters, I know exactly how they move and act and what they are wearing, and what they are holding. It is all there. But I have many brilliant people around me who help with everything.
Q: Comic books are usually read by boys. What is it like to write for a younger, more gender- balanced audience with The Life & Times of Juniper Lee?
A: It is true that comics generally have an older male audience, but I have actually never written my comics that way. Iím equally loved and hated because I have taken an alternative view of what comics should be. In general, my comics have a lot of humor, even the most serious ones. I am writing Batman right now and there are a lot of jokes. Batman is not telling the jokes, but the other characters do. This has always been my style. But this is a comedy show and we are here to make jokes. Then we add a ton of great action. More than anything, I love really good action with great jokes.
Source: Cartoon Network Pressroom (Now defunct)