The Explosive Joy of "Black Dynamite"
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the funniest people in America today are animators – and this guy’s THE animator name to know.
By OZY Editors, with reporting by Josephine Basch
When we imagine Carl Jones at night, we swear he slaps on tights, a dark mask, and maybe brings along a red light sabre while he runs around town just f-ing sh*t up.
OK, probably not, but the guy loves to be an antihero. And of course he does: He’s an upcoming titan in the entertainment industry and he’s hungry to prove himself.
But Jones is nobody’s insider.Six feet tall, with an understated demeanor, Jones, a former salesman and a self-taught artist from North Carolina, was one of the brains behind The Boondocks, the edgy animated show the New York Times called “a jolt of shock therapy” and “all about race, an African-American version of Doonesbury.” Now, nearly three years after leaving The Boondocks, he’s heading into the second season of his new gig, Black Dynamite: The Animated Series. Launching for its second season this spring, it’s not the black version of Doonesbury, South Park or anything else. (And for those who missed The Boondocks, you don’t want to make the same mistake with Black Dynamite.)
This self-described comic book geek pioneered much of a TV show that helped black America thunder aggressively into mainstream America — and all in the explodingly important medium of animation. On his agenda: making sure “black entertainment” reaches a wider audience, says Jones, instead of being restrained by its label.
Sure, Jones does plenty about race — and about black men: in particular, black men who aren’t afraid to be balls-out. That’s important, he says, because we often “castrate them to make them more likable.” But the focus of Jones’ work isn’t race. It’s the quest of the antihero.
In his work, Jones has played the sidekick to Aaron McGruder, the creator of The Boondocks, whom he ran into on a lark shortly after moving to Los Angeles. A self-taught animator, Jones used to drill himself on drawing after he came home from work late at night. When he caught a glimpse of McGruder on Melrose, he ran down the street after him. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Boondocks crew.
The Boondocks grew in popularity around the same time as “mainstream” shows like South Park, Family Guy and The Simpsons — landing it in the same category as a wave of sharp animated movies that placed edge and grit into normally lovable animated characters. But Jones — like Seth MacFarlane, Trey Parker and Aaron McGruder — isn’t just playing the piss-you-off game (though they like that part). He’s more into the antihero game.
And Jones’ protagonist in Black Dynamite is “as antihero as you can get … an ass-kicking vigilante with a pimp swagger that runs an orphanage-slash-whorehouse,” he told Bubbleblabber. ”He had to be 100 percent pure testosterone, male bravado and ego.”
Which, of course, recalls the bravado, ego and anger-inducing moments that Jones helped make possible on The Boondocks and which successfully pissed off Al Sharpton and Tyler Perry. Some of it wasn’t easy to stomach: Sharpton’s reaction came after the controversial “Return of the King” episode, in which Martin Luther King Jr. emerges from a coma and reacts to his current popularity — even dropping the N-word (which Jones says blacks shouldn’t be afraid of).
And though The Boondocks and its main character, Huey Freeman, didn’t always play nice, it pleased 2.25 million viewers at last count, and got nods from the NAACP and the Peabody Awards.
“The fun comes in when you [call] people’s beliefs, opinions and ethics as it relates to the world we live in to question,” says Jones. On Black Dynamite, this brought about “Just Beat It or Jackson Five Across Yo’ Eyes,” in which a young Michael Jackson was painted as an alien trying to take over the world. (The episode is “the funniest 20 minutes of television in the last five or six years,” says Jerry L. Barrow, a senior editor at UrbanDaily.com.) In the same spirit, Jones has publicly suggested replacing the N-word with the word “pancake.”
But Jones is no angry black man. The work of an antihero, after all, is a subtler art. Being loud rarely does the trick. Instead, it’s about making a big controversy, and then stepping back to watch everyone else play with the mess you’ve made.
- OZY Editors, with reporting by Josephine Basch, OZY Author Contact OZY Editors, with reporting by Josephine Basch