An In-Depth Discussion With ‘Fairy Tales’ Creator JJ Villard

Adult Swim on Cartoon Network has recently taken a dip into the deep end of horror-centric, irreverent animated entertainment with JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales, and I love it. The series began on May 10th, with new episodes entertaining folks every Sunday night. 

JJ has taken the time-honored Brothers Grimm stories and thrown them into a meat grinder, sprinkled in far out fiascoes, subliminal messages, and blood, and then added the voices of some of the most iconic names in genre entertainment, like The Exorcist’s Linda Blair, Hellraiser’s Doug Bradley and Ashley Laurence, Leprechaun’s Warwick Davis, The Thing’s Keith David, and Tales From the Crypt’s John Kassir, plus many more. JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales are pure, unabashed, animated mayhem, and I implore you to check this series out if you’re a fan of cartoons and horror. 

I recently got to speak with JJ, and it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve ever had the pleasure to partake in. His excitement and his energy was infectious, even through the phone. We chatted about geeking out over meeting heroes, crafting his demented Fairy Tales, and his dream to create A Nightmare On Elm Street animated series with the legend himself, Robert Englund. 

Scene from JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales

PopHorror: I appreciate the time you’re taking to talk to me today, man. 

JJ Villard: Hell yeah! Hell fucking yeah. The cartoon’s coming out. A lot of hard work went into that cartoon.

PopHorror: Well, I loved it. But I wanted to tell you that I love animated series. I watch them all the time. I fall asleep to The Simpsons every night. But my girlfriend fucking hates animated shows. I was sitting and watching your cartoon the other day, and I was cracking up, I was having a good time. And my girlfriend stopped in the middle of the living room, sat her ass down, and started watching them with me. She was like, “What the fuck is this?” I wanted to let you know that you made someone who doesn’t even like that, stop what they were doing, sit down and watch it.

JJ Villard: That’s hilarious! That was part of the whole thing with the look, that we really wanted to make it charming and inviting, and she fell for it!

JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales on Adult Swim

PopHorror: What cartoons did you watch growing up? What artists do you admire?

JJ Villard: It changes a lot. I work in skateboards a lot, and every year, I realize I have a new favorite skater. And it’s kind of the same with cartoons. Throughout my life, I have been loving new cartoons all the time. One of my favorite cartoons out right now is this new show on Cartoon Network, and I’m not plugging them, I’m just being sincere. It’s called Apple & Onion, and it’s this kid’s show. It’s fucking great, and I’m like, “Wow!” I didn’t think that this time in my life I would love a kid’s show, but I do. It’s changed. South Park, fucking Beavis and Butt-Head, Ren & Stimpy at one point. It just always changed. There was one a couple years ago called One-Punch Man, and it was from Japan, and it was just a hilarious look on anime. It always changes.

PopHorror: I feel what you said about digging a kid’s shows, because right now, being furloughed from work, I’m watching my friend’s kiddos. I’m normally never around kids, but watching some of their shows, they have some good stuff. 

JJ Villard: I have a niece, and every other month, her favorite cartoon changes. When I babysit her, I learn so much about Disney Junior shows, and Nickelodeon Jr. I got sucked into Peppa Pig. I stole some artistic designs, just some of what they did in Peppa Pig, for Fairy Tales with no outlines in the characters, and just the simplicity and the clarity in the story. I totally ripped Peppa Pig for that.

One of the subliminal messages found in JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales

PopHorror: That’s beautiful! I love your Instagram. I love your doodles and sketches that you do. They’re my daily inspirational quotes. Do you find sketching and drawing therapeutic for you?

JJ Villard: It really is. And honestly, I start feeling strange when I don’t do it. Like Charles Bukowski said, “If I don’t write for a week, his whole body starts fucking up.” He would pay someone to write. I feel the same way. And lately, with all that’s going on with Fairy Tales and all the PR, and then I’m also working on other freelance, and I’m working on a new show at Netflix… I barely have the time to sketch in my sketchbook, and I’m starting to feel the repercussions. It’s serious PTSD. It really is. I’ve got to get into it again, and as soon as I have the time, I just want to dive into it.

PopHorror: That’s good that you’re busy, but I also hope that you find time to do what you truly enjoy. 

JJ Villard: It’s like Karl Lagerfeld said before he passed away: “People say, why don’t I have a vacation?” Chanel was his vacation. I feel it’s the same for me. Animation, like drawing, how lucky am I?

The reason why I was late… I live in Silver Lake Los Angeles, and I found that the Burbank CVS has a lot more supplies than the CVS in Silver Lake, so I drive all the way to Burbank to go to the CVS there, and I score double padded toilet paper! My favorite toilet paper today. I was so excited. So I took the long way home, which is through the streets rather than the freeway. That was my old drive from when I used to work at DreamWorks. And I was just thinking about how unhappy I used to be working at DreamWorks, and how much more fulfilled I feel now working on my own shit.

Although it’s a lot more difficult of a journey, and a path to get your own cartoon, I was just so miserable working at DreamWorks. It’s all part of the path of life to realize that you’re working at one of the top studios working on Shrek 3, Shrek 4, their billion dollar franchise, and I was just miserable. I was ordering large Domino’s pizzas every night, and it was just sad. It was so depressing eating Domino’s at night, and working on Shrek. It was the worst time in my career.

PopHorror: Small victories on the toilet paper! I’m happy for you, my friend. But your ride home, that kind of tugs on my heartstrings that you said that because I was going to ask you… I know that you put your time in on that shit, like Shrek 3, Trolls, Monster vs Aliens, right? And I know that you do a lot of freelance work, too. Now, you’ve won a fucking Emmy for King Star King and Fairy Tales is about to fuck people up. Do you have any words of wisdom for those that are passionate for animation, and have a dream of making a career out of it?

JJ Villard: Honestly, it’s so cliche, but you really… Oh, man. You have to have thick skin, and just prepare yourself for a lot of, “No’s,” and a lot of rejection. When you’re pitching shows, you’ve got to find which studio you fit with, and which network you fit with. Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, then Amazon, then Netflix. They’re all different. They’re all looking for their own flavor and taste.

The great thing right now is, for all you aspiring animators and cartoonists, right now it’s like the fucking Gold Rush. So many new platforms where you can pitch, and a lot of these places don’t have a voice yet. Like Netflix does not have their South Park. It does not have their Beavis and Butt-Head, their Ren & Stimpy. It doesn’t have its voice yet. Amazon doesn’t, either. They’re waiting for their mega-hit. Cartoon Network has had many mega-hits, and that’s why it’s continuing through the times. Warner Brothers has been through it time and time again with all their hits. So, right now is a great time to pitch. I’m saying that, and I’m fucking myself over because young people have a lot of vitality and a lot of energy, and they’re going to have the next big show.

Villard with his Emmy.

PopHorror: Speaking of Fairy Tales, I was blown away. I couldn’t stop laughing, but at the same time I was just like, “Man, that’s so fucking wrong. And so gross!” It’s pure animated mayhem, and you have definite notes of horror. I think I even remember hearing some music from The Shining in the first episode, and in the second episode, I believe I heard something from A Clockwork Orange. Did you always want to have this ode to the genre in your series?

JJ Villard: With Fairy Tales, you have an idea with what your music wants to be in the beginning or early stages. The whole conveyor belt of animation is, first you do the designs, then you do the storyboard. Storyboard goes to animatic, and the from animatic, it goes to animation. When you get to the animatic stage, that’s when you’re forced to really think about what music you want. And I always thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny with a charming look and fucking dark music?” Like, what the hell am I watching?

I’m putting in The Shining music, which I totally thought Stanley Kubrick created that music himself. It’s actually from the 1400s, believe it or not. There are these monks in God knows where… so anything over 100 years old is public domain. That’s a big education thing for all your listeners. Just remember that. Anything Beethoven, Mozart, all that classical music? You can use it as much as you want as long as it’s 100 years old.

So, what you heard from A Clockwork Orange is also 100 years old. I just have a composer who I work with, a one-man team, and he’s able to do a full orchestra, which is fucking crazy how amazing technology is these days. You just build instrument after instrument and this guy must have a million hands, playing the sax while he’s playing the violin while he’s playing the harp and God knows what else. Also, I saw the movies, Sicario and Mandy, and I love their scores, and I’m like, who did this? It’s this guy named Jóhann Jóhannsson. This motherfucker was so good. I was like, “I’ve got to hire him.” How funny would that be if he did a cartoon? I go and look him up, and he just passed away in his 40s of a cocaine overdose.

PopHorror: Bummer.

JJ Villard: Are you fucking kidding me?! I know! And this guy was about to just blow up! He was the mentor to the girl who did the score to Joker. When she won the Oscar, and she gave him a shout out. Wow! It’s amazing. That guy must have just had a really dark mind, and if you look for him, there’s barely any interviews, and they’re hard to find. If you look at his IMDb, he had a ton of things in production. He was just a genius, and so many people have ripped him off since Sicario and Mandy.

PopHorror: Man, that’s fucking sad. Although you didn’t get to meet Johannsson, express your admiration for his talent or hire him, you did have some legendary names in horror lending their voices to Fairy Tales. Did you aim to have those talents on board the whole time?

JJ Villard: Not at all. The story is really depressing, but it’s also kind of funny as well. In 2017, had just finished a pilot called Trap Universe and it did not get picked up for a series. That was two, two and half years of hard work that went into a pilot that did not get picked up as a series. So you go to bed and you’re crying in the shower. Why, why? And then you’ve got to realize… you need celebrities as voices. I was all about staying true to cartoons and having voice actors and giving them the work and all that, but I’m sorry, man. I like sushi. So I was just straight up, what can I do? I’m going to start hiring celebrities.

What celebrities are going to make me want to get up and work? Like I said, the horror genre is my favorite genre. What’s my favorite movie? The Exorcist. Linda Blair is alive and kicking. I’m going to hit up Linda Blair. So, Cartoon Network got all of their people together and contacted Linda Blair’s rep, and she called me, and she interviewed me for the job that I was offering her.

PopHorror: That sounds like Linda! We love her. 

Linda Blair.

JJ Villard: Diva is an understatement, and legend is an understatement. She deserved it, so I let her interview me. And I was so fucking nervous, and she straight up said, “There’s thousands of voice actors out there, Why do you want me?” I said, “Linda, you’re my favorite actor of all time. To work with you would be more than a dream. Your film is timeless, and it would just be this incredible thing.” She said, “You made me cry right there. I can tell you’re telling the truth. I’ll see you next week.” And I was like, “Yeah!”

PopHorror: I love that!

JJ Villard: It was fucking crazy. This is where I fucked up, though, because I was so nervous and geeking out when she came in, and I didn’t have my feet on the floor. I really wasn’t the best director I could be. I was like, “This is Linda Blair. How can I direct?” I’m a fucking cartoonist. I’m a nobody. I felt like Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now when he’s talking about Colonel Kurtz. I didn’t know what to say. I was really nervous. I fucked up the first one. But she did an incredible job. She’s a natural. She doesn’t even know how she does it. She told me, “I don’t know how I do it.” And I’m like, “I don’t know how you do it. You just tap in with these characters. It’s fucking crazy.”

The very next day, Robert Englund was coming in, and I sat in bed and was like, “Okay, JJ. You can’t do this.” I did everything that I could do to be calm that day. I woke up extra early, I had sex with my wife the night before, I worked out all morning. I fucking had bananas, I did some meditation like, “Freddy Krueger, I am ready!” He came in, and it was awesome. And then I was like, “Okay. That’s it. You can’t geek out. These people are legends but stay professional. Number one rule: do not ask about their past. That will distract from the plan at hand.” And it worked out. Then we had Linda Blair back, and the second time around was better. They were all amazing.

Robert Englund as Freddy Krueger

PopHorror: I’ve been dying to ask you this question, because I do follow you on social media. And I adore you man. If you weren’t knocking out multiple animated series, and if you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be doing in life?

JJ Villard: Goddamn, that is a good question. You are the first person to ask me. Jesus. I was a lifeguard for about two weeks, and then I got fired because they said I was too distracted by looking at all the people on the beach. So, I guess that wouldn’t have happened. Fuck. I’ve never thought about this. I was a waiter for years. I worked at Benihana, B-Bop’s Burgers, fucking BJ’s Bar and Grill, Kenny Roger’s Roasters…

PopHorror: Man, you worked them all. 

JJ Villard: Yeah, I worked them all. The restaurant business is fun. It is just non-stop. But damn, I have no idea. I would just fucking jump off the Hollywood sign and kill myself, I think. I would be another lost soul in Hollywood, I think, if I didn’t do cartoons. I don’t know. 

PopHorror: It’s cool. If you don’t have an answer, that may be because what you’re doing right now is the only thing you could do. I’m so happy for you, and I’m really excited for your success.

JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales

JJ Villard: Thanks! When I was five years old, I would say that hands down, I just wanted to be an archaeologist. I don’t know why. But that’s not the case anymore. But really, I’m not sure. Maybe a serial killer? No. I don’t know.

PopHorror: I’ll throw another fun question your way. You got to collaborate with a lot of really rad people so far, especially on Fairy Tales. If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

JJ Villard: Oh, my gosh. It would have been really good to meet Tobe Hooper. Texas Chain Saw… I just can’t believe he passed away. But then I found out he was seriously into drugs. I had no idea. He seemed like such a normal, calm dude, but those are the ones you’ve got to be careful of. The quiet guys. Yeah, Tobe would have been top of the list. And then, there have been so many, with this show, that I’ve collaborated with already that was awesome.

PopHorror: That’s such a helluva list of people that hopped on board for Fairy Tales.

JJ Villard: This is one thing. Robert Englund just announced a month ago or so that he really wants to do a Nightmare on Elm Street cartoon. By far, he’s the most prolific actor representing my cartoon. I’m so thankful for that. Robert, if you’re listening… I would fucking destroy that cartoon! I would work my ass off to make that such a good cartoon because it’s genius of him to think of that idea, and his voice is still… he can do it. He’s got so much vitality. He says he’s surfing, he’s in the ocean a lot. He’s working out and stuff, so he’s got the energy. But I really, really would love to make a Nightmare on Elm Street cartoon.

PopHorror: I give two thumbs up on that! I’d green light that if it were up to me.

JJ Villard: Whatever style you do, I don’t see it going wrong. If you want it to look like Metalocalypse or even Steven Universe, whatever style you do, I don’t think you could really go wrong with Nightmare on Elm Street. Just as long as it’s rated R, and in every episode, we get down and dirty, right into the nightmares.

PopHorror: I’ve got one last question for you, JJ. You already said The Exorcist, but if you could name your top three horror flicks, what would they be?

JJ Villard: Exorcist number one, Texas Chain Saw Massacre number two, and then Basket Case number three.

We want to thank JJ again for chatting with us. If you love horror and animation, don’t hesitate to check out JJ Villard’s Fairy Tales featured on Adult Swim on Cartoon Network!

About Danni Winn

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