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An Interview With Mike Salcedo, Creator of 'The Stockholms'

Explosm Entertainment, the people behind the popular webcomic turned animated series Cyanide and Happiness have teamed up with Octopie Animation to produce the new webseries The Stockholms.  The series follows a bank robber caught up in a hostage situation that goes on for month, and has come to form a kind of 'family' with his hostages.

It doesn't sound like a very funny situation (the title is an allusion to Stockholm syndrome)-  which is typical of the kind of dark humour that Cyanide and Happiness trades in. The series also uses C&H's character design style, with the same simple stick-man look to the characters. But despite the darkness behind the basic set-up, it's actually a lot less bleak than its older sibling.  Ingeniously, it plays out like a classic sitcom, drawing on that formula to create something unexpected. It lacks the more nihilistic or extreme humour from other Explosm productions (at least in the two episodes currently available) having a lighter, more absurd and playful approach instead. It's very funny indeed, and you may enjoy it even if their previous work has gone a bit too far for you.

The Stockholms comes from Mike Salcedo, a writer and director on The Cyanide and Happiness Show, and creator of the webcomic Bigfoot Justice.  As the new series hit YouTube, AFA spoke to Mike about The Stockholms, his career so far,  his influences and the future of the series!

AFA: How did you get involved in animation?

Mike Salcedo: I always drew and made comics growing up. The first time I attempted animation, I was 14 and saw this Newgrounds animator, Knox (Robert Benfer) making these really funny but simple claymations, featuring blue blobby characters. It seemed so accessible, I decided I wanted to do exactly that. I made a bunch of knock-off Knox claymations for a while, and when I was 17, I got my first Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet. From then on, I was onto 2D animation for good.

What was your relationship with animation like before you started creating it yourself? Were you a lifelong fan or did you come to it another way?

I always loved cartoons, which I guess all kids do. I’d watch Aladdin over and over again and (my mom tells me) I would lay out props to reenact animated movies as they played out on the screen. There was never a doubt in my mind that becoming an animator was the absolute end goal. Nothing else was even an option (it also helps that it was the only thing I happened to be good at).

How did you come to work with the Explosm guys? Were you a fan of the webcomic before you came to collaborate with them?

I was aware of the webcomic through social media, but I didn’t really read them consistently. I was a huge fan of when they started making animated shorts for Newgrounds and YouTube. One of the first shorts I saw was “Waiting for the Bus”, which is still probably my favorite.

In 2013, I was looking for summer campus job on the University of Texas at Dallas career website. I was really surprised to see there was a job posting from Cyanide & Happiness among these “library” and “lab tech” postings (turns out Rob [DenBleyker]  of C&H was a UTD alum). I applied immediately, sent in an animatic test and I’ve been working here for 7 years.

And how did the collaboration with Octopie happen?

I believe we were just approached for a collaboration. Because Octopie comes from an animation background as well, they were very knowledgeable about the process and were great partners. I would love to work with them again.

The Stockholms
is a really original concept! How did this project come to be?

Thanks! All the ideas I have that are too weird to be Cyanide & Happiness shorts get funnelled into my webcomic, Bigfoot Justice. I had an idea for a comic about a hostage situation that just never ends. I really liked thinking that scenario out. Does the negotiator bring them groceries? It didn’t really have a “last panel punchline”, so I just held onto it until we ended up needing a show pitch idea.

What would you say were the chief influences on the show- either in the animation or humour? I thought the backgrounds had a definite UPA vibe to them, and the title cards are wonderful!

UPA is exactly right! Those backgrounds were done by the ridiculously talented Denise Magdale, who managed to achieve that look in Adobe Animate. Denise and I are big fans of Powerpuff Girls, which was directly reminiscent of that 50s aesthetic.

Chance Kubesh painted ten beautiful title cards, which I really feel brought all the episodes together and made them feel really professional.

 There’s some great original music in the series- including the hilarious theme song and the Chris Pine song. Who do we have to thank for that?

Steve Lehmann, our longtime composer and Canadian dad performed the outstanding music. When I told him I was thinking of a Randy Newman theme and score, I was really happy to hear Randy was also one of his favourite composers.

I’m glad you liked Chris P! That was a parody of “Kiss Me” from She’s All That (1999). The lyrics were written by Connor Murphy and myself, the music was composed by Steve Lehmann, and those great vocals were Camryn Barry.

The show works really well in the short format, but can you ever see The Stockholms working in longer form? For example with longer episodes, or even an extended special or movie?

Strangely enough, the deal was originally for the episodes to be even shorter, at one and a half minutes. When that got doubled to three, it felt like the perfect length. The whole series ends up feeling longer than it is, just because everything moves so quickly. It started as a challenge cutting down scripts, but I think the limitations made the writing stronger, and made the absurdity funnier because it zips by so quickly.

I think slightly longer episodes could work. I feel like the sweet spot would be sub-10 minutes. It’d allow us to have ‘A’ and ‘B’ plots, which there are never time for in its current form.

I feel like there is a goofy movie in the concept somewhere. Now that I know these characters so well, I’d love to see more of them, even in something like an extended special.

What can we look forward to from The Stockholms in future?

One of the other writers (Connor Murphy) and I accidentally figured out Stockholms seasons two and three over a couple late-night conversations. They’re so funny and build off the existing story so well that I’m dying to make those happen! Fingers crossed!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers? Feel free to plug away!

Watch The Stockholms now on Octopie’s YouTube Channel! If you like that, check out my webcomic, Bigfoot Justice!

Stay tuned to Octopie for more episodes of The Stockholms. You can follow Mike on Twitter, Instagram and support him on Patreon.  Find more from Explosm here.

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