Created by Pendelton Ward (Adventure Time) & Duncan Trussell, The Midnight Gospel brings viewers the life of a pink humanoid protagonist named Clancy (voiced by Duncan Trussell). Clancy hosts a spacecast where he uploads interviews from the experiences he has while visiting alternate planet dimensions. Clown Worlds, Zombie Worlds, Space Cat Pirate Worlds: everything is on the table when traveling through The Midnight Gospel’s Multiverse.
To give an example of the multilayered experience that is TMG, the first episode is set to Duncan’s podcast recording interview with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Trussell and Pinsky hold a lively conversation about the nature of drugs/pharmaceuticals, discussing if drugs are actually “bad” for us humans.
“I hate this idea that there are “good” drugs and “bad” drugs. There is no such thing as a good drug or a bad drug. There’s this chemical that is neither good or bad, it just exists…then it’s the relationship the humans have with the substance that is the issue.” – Dr. Drew Pinsky
What made this deep conversation so psychedelic however, is that the show’s animation is giving viewers an entirely different structured story. The animated visual story we see on the screen is somewhat divorced from the topics of the podcast conversation. Dr. Drew Pinsky’s avatar in this episode is a tiny person who is president of the United States trying to fend off a zombie apocalypse. Clancy is virtually transported to this alternate world via his trans-dimensional simulator. Clancy interviews the president about the nature of drug use while the two fight off zombie attacks.
We had the chance to interview one of the storyboard artists of The Midnight Gospel, Sean Glaze (@lordspew). Glaze is a veteran cartoonist known for his trippy and wacky illustrations. We discussed The Midnight Gospel, psychedelics, artwork, and the future of the animation industry.
How did you become involved in The Midnight Gospel?
It’s a weird one. My first ever job in LA was at this place called Fox ADHD and they made cartoons. I made cartoons with them, like Lucas brothers moving company and Stone Quacker, which sounds like it would be a stoner show. They made ax-cop and they made Major Lazer and it was Fox’s version of adult swim a little bit, but one of the producers I had on that show, is the producer on TMG. It was a combination of him knowing me and Pendleton Ward seeing I did one particularly crazy sort of trippy, one-shot moving background, sort of storyboard sequence that my manager sent over to Pendleton.
It seemed like he just wanted to work with some new people. There were some Adventure Time artists that came on and this was an exciting opportunity for us. We’ve all been a fan of his work for a long time, and I like podcasts and I’m a part of this generation of animators. There’s a lot of podcasts being animated and put up as shorts on YouTube. It’s an interesting trend and I think that this show does it in an absolutely crazy way. So that’s been interesting for sure.
Were you familiar with Duncan Trussell’s podcast beforehand?
I had seen some stand-up stuff he had done. I just knew that he was like a wild, trippy, high-ass dude that liked hallucinating and had crazy stories. I knew that he had a funny voice. I could imagine his voice as a cartoon character for sure. At the time, Trussell was pretty new in the world of animation, so, whereas a lot of people might be nervous to meet him, I feel like he was nervous to interact with us. To figure out how to interact with us in a way that wasn’t stepping on anyone’s toes and vice versa. Figuring out how to do it was a very collaborative show. There was a lot of pitching – pitching jokes and storyline points and a lot of things that you might not normally get on, say a scripted PrimeTime show or something.
What were some of the episodes that really stuck out to you during storyboarding?
I started boarding episodes one, two, five, and eight. I had a good range from really funny and lighthearted to really somber and serious and emotional. Episode eight makes a lot of people cry and I’ve never worked on anything that makes someone cry. I think that sometimes thinking about mortality and death, especially to somebody who is high and in an open – vulnerable sort of state, sometimes that can be risky business.
Sometimes people want to dive that deeps and some people might be worried about things like, “Oh, it’s going to shift me into a negative state or I’ll get paranoid.”
I think that there’s something that this podcast or The Midnight Gospel does and it lets you talk about these really serious, mind-altering, crazy things: mortality, life, religion, whatever. Yet it does it in this light, comforting way that’s relaxed and you’re seeing huge things happen and you’re seeing violent things happen. But violent things never seem too bad because everything is like always exploding all the time. Overall, the conversation is really optimistic and I think that the show did that really well.
I think that the producers and Duncan did a really good job of making the show overall positive, making it about learning and about thinking and internally reflecting. Even if you’re not high watching it, I think watching it is like a trip. It’s guiding your mind. I’m sure that if you watch it high it’s even more so.
Were you familiar with the research and studies on psychedelics? Have psychedelics inspired you and your artwork to help you unleash creativity?
I’ve always been really proud of being comfortable and open and loose about things. Especially where I let my mind -in the things that I draw – take me, and take the audience. I’ve been very proud of being able to go to places where most sober people wouldn’t. I actually don’t smoke or drink. I’m straight edge.
I think it’s beautiful that I’m able to make something that can be enjoyed by so many people that are enjoying recreational drugs. I wasn’t super familiar with the studies, but I’m not surprised by them. I don’t really have a problem with drugs or anything. I’ve seen them work wonders for the happiness of people and the peace of mind of people and the functioning day today.
Art has always sort of been my drug. I mean, it’s been my thing, pushing myself to make my mind think in different ways. It’s hard to explain. But I try and I’m glad that so many people like it. When I was in high school, people used to come up to me and ask me for weed all the time because I’m a metal guy and I have a beard and long hair, it looks like it’s smoking. But I personally don’t partake in anything.
What was the build-up like with Duncan and the release of the show?
Duncan is so funny. The producers gave me a storyboard basically for a full day in the life of Clancy. Just Clancy puttering around his apartment. They had me storyboard something like 50 loops and then transitions to string them apart so that they could loop. Animation of Clancy sitting at his desk, drinking his cup of coffee, looking at the computer screen, and then he’d get up and he’d go get some food and then he’d go play video games and then he would go sleep. I had a bunch of sleep loops and it was just people watching Clancy hang out in his apartment.
I was designed the video game Clancy was playing. I say this just to let you know the level that Trussell puts into everything in the show. I don’t know how much of the symbols that you’ve recognized but Duncan told me to make a video game of octopus sheriff, which the octopus sheriff is the avatar that Clancy selects to go into the meditation world where he goes to learn how to meditate. And Duncan says, “do you know why it’s an octopus?”. “No.” I thought.
So I asked Duncan, how should the game function work? Questions like, does the octopus shoot? Duncan started explaining to me how the octopus sheriff has eight legs and it’s one leg for each pillar of the yogic praying principle. “If there are any villains,” Duncan said, “I want the villains to represent the antithesis of each of those gates or pillars.”
Thus there would be a villain to represent when you break concentration, like the ant, the anti-concentration.
So much symbolism and I was like, “Oh, I was just, I just wanted to know whether the octopus should shoot bubbles out of his gun. That’s super extra detail – but that’s how it would be random moments working on the show.
The octopus game is just one example. There’s a lot of things that seem random in the series that are not random at all. There’s a part in episode five where Clancy is tumbling off a cliff and there’s a strawberry and he picks the strawberry and eats it.
Duncan had read about that. I guess it’s talking about appreciating life when you have it at the present moment and like finding the good, it’s something there, there are all these like various bits of symbolism. There’s a character that’s based on the symbol of the fountain of youth, I guess, their fountain of creation. To be honest, I don’t understand all of it, but I do find it really fascinating how in-depth it all is. Trussell has tried to merge these surreal alternate reality worlds with things that he cares about and knows about and reads about.
Duncan likes tucking symbolism in subtly here. There’s a lot of things that to most people it would seem as if it’s randomly thrown in by some animator but actually, so much of it is thought about a great deal.
We spent a lot of time thinking about in episode five there’s a heart that the character uses to turn back time. I believe it’s supposed to represent becoming one with yourself and one with everything. Initially, we were talking about, “Oh, does that heart have this classic Buddhist chant, like really low in the audio mix? And does he bring that back because he was playing music to the rose in the garden and that is brought into the audio of the music of the rose as this classic Buddhist chant….?
There’s all this great stuff in every episode I’m excited for! I guess the conspiracies there is stuff about people trying to dissect why everything is.
Yeah. I mean, sure that there is plenty of stuff that is just silly and crazy, but there’s a lot of stuff in there that Duncan weighs out.
Were you able to throw in any of your own Easter eggs that fans should keep an eye out for?
I don’t know about my own Easter eggs. I would say that there are certain things that I can claim some responsibility for because of the process that this show was made was unorthodox. They would give us podcast audio and then they would give us an outline that would strictly say: “the characters go to the white house, they are shooting zombies on the roof. They play pool and then zombies break into the place in the escape.”
And then we have to figure out like, “okay, but there’s five minutes of podcast audio to cover that.” Then we have to pitch. We would be pitching things that the characters were doing, we were pitching gags, we’re pitching lines, we’re pitching characters, we’re pitching all sorts of stuff….
So one example of that collaboration was in the pool scene. I storyboarded the pool scene in episode one where they’re playing pool. There’s a dog that the pool balls keep rolling under. Pendleton came up with the dog. When the zombies came in – I pitched, “what if Dr. Drew rode on the dog and all of the balls came out and tripped all the zombies. And then he’s riding on that dog for a while.”
Because that happened and we saw more of the dog. Penn I liked the dog. Then we all started talking about: “what can he take out of the simulator? Is it going to be a running gag where he takes something out of the simulator each time? And that’s how you have recurring characters.”
So okay, because of that, I guess collaboration, the dog became the main character in every episode and, and again Penn came up with the dog. I say this to demonstrate that show was so collaborative.
In episode five when Clancy is going into the Bardo loop, which is this sort of reincarnation loop, there is this animation of a little old guy playing the spoons. Originally they had me storyboarding all of these different ideas: “Oh, he gets his heart pulled out and it cuts to a drawing of somebody’s liver getting ripped out by an Eagle as they’re tied to a rock, or maybe bayoneted by another soldier.”
I was boarding all of these extremes. Drawing all these extreme reaction drawings to emotionally show how the character is. Then Trussell and the producers were like, “what if we just have one that’s like silly?”
So I boarded this sequence of this guy like doing a spoon solo all over his body. I came up with that character and it made them laugh enough that the character comes back later. It turns into other gags when they come out of the Bardo loop and they’re all playing the spoons.
It was those sorts of things that are my Easter eggs. I didn’t necessarily hurl my characters into the show hidden. It’s more so that I sincerely feel some ownership in the collaboration of some of the ideas and the characters.
Not to spoil anything – I’m not gonna give anything away right now, but for anybody reading this, in the last episode, in the mushroom scene when the mushrooms come up and sprout it’s a super beautiful scene.
I believe that I pitched the mushrooms coming up and it turned into the other artists down the road. They made them bioluminescent and made it so beautiful and it’s interesting to work on a show where the creator of the show or the creators of the show are so open to talking back and forth and relinquishing some control and letting it be.
Duncan was talking about how it was amazing to work on something that felt so collaborative because there’s a there’s a lot of animated shows that have one particular portion of the people working on the show or in pretty much ultimate control of everything. The Midnight Gospel was different – very collaborative.
But they keep the control. For this show, storyboard artists would pitch ideas. Then the writers would pitch ideas. Then they’d hand it off to designers and they’d tweak it. And then the animators were basically given these shots. Then Penn would say something, “Hey, you can animate the shot. He needs to walk from here to here. If you want to make him walk funny, do it. If you want to have him doing something crazy, do it.”
So the animators were doing animation that was super good because they were given this freedom to do what they wanted. Overall I think it made it grow so that there’s every little piece of what you’re watching, there are little things moving and there is – I think -there’s a lot of rewatching ability in it.
I think that you can go back and the first time you’re just listening to the podcast and the second time you’re really paying attention, everything going on and you’re trying to catch the symbolism and stuff like that.
It’s the kind of thing that the first time you could watch the show high and let it just take you on a journey and you’re just letting it take you where it wants. Then maybe ,the next time you watch it without being high and you’re like watching it and thinking, “Whoa, I didn’t notice that before.”
I love shows like that personally. Little things you make that make you want to go back and really watch the background characters really study the landscape. For sure, with The Midnight Gospel, there’s always fun little things going on.