Growing up in Holdrege, Neb., led to college newspaper comic strips, which eventually brought Ryan Quincy to work as animation director on the TV series “South Park” for more than a decade.
Now Quincy is bringing things back to his hometown with his own animated series, “Out There,” which follows animal-faced teens hanging out in a Holdrege-like small town.
“Out There” premieres Friday on IFC (Cox Cable Channel 281) at 9:30 p.m. CST. Two full episodes will follow the channel's popular sketch show “Portlandia.”
The first few episodes feature the characters' plans to escape their small town, an adolescent quest and an attempt to change a nerdy nickname. Main characters Chad and Chris — and Chad's little brother Jay — deal with all kinds of small-town high school stuff, from hanging out at the Gulp N Go to meeting girls (or trying to, anyway).
"OUT THERE' TEASER CLIP
Quincy, 40, attended Nebraska Wesleyan University and then transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He broke into animation working with “South Park” for years before creating “Out There.”
The show features the voice work of some recognizable names, including Fred Armisen (“Saturday Night Live,” “Portlandia”), John DiMaggio (“Futurama,” “Adventure Time”) and Megan Mullally (“Children's Hospital,” “Will & Grace”), as well as Quincy's voice in the lead role.
With the show set to debut, we spoke to Quincy by phone about “Out There,” Holdrege and creating his cartoon.
Question: So, you're from Nebraska?
Answer: I lived in Nebraska for most of my life. There were four years where my dad went to optometry school in Chicago, but since I was five years old, I lived in Holdrege. I moved to L.A. when I was 24.
Q. How did you get into animation?
A: I didn't only flounder through college, but I didn't pinpoint what I wanted to do. I liked to draw cartoons and make movies, and I liked to find classes that would have that type of stuff. I tried to take TV production classes and did editorial (cartoons) and comic strips for the paper. Animation was the thing that was appealing. After I graduated from UNK, I lived in Lincoln for a year. I hit rock bottom there, you know? (laughs) I wasn't going to do what I wanted to do there.
Q. So, “Out There” is based on growing up in Holdrege?
A: Yeah. We never come out and say this is Nebraska or this is Holdrege, but a lot of it is inspired by that.
Q. Is the Gulp N Go convenience store where the characters hang out based on a real place?
A: It's based on a 7-Eleven that came to Holdrege. Holdrege is less than 6,000 people, so when 7-Eleven opened up, it was like Disneyland came to town. They had the Slurpees and an amazing arcade. A lot of that stuff is mined from my adolescence. A bunch of the seeds of all 10 of the stories come from something from my childhood. Passing out in sex ed class, that happened to me. The parents are loosely based on my parents — the dad is an optometrist and the mom is piano teacher and organist, which my mom is. The Jay character in “Out There” is sort of a cobbled together fusion of both of my younger brothers.
Q. So the awkward teenage stuff that Chad goes through is based on you? Were you kind of a nerd or outcast?
A: I've always been very shy and very introverted. My school had about 90 people. It was small. I played basketball and I didn't really fall into one of those niches or cliques. I feel like I was pretty friendly with everyone. But looking back, I definitely was scared to death with that time of my life, especially as a freshman. You can't drive. You don't have any money. You wander around and you just feel stuck.
Q. Where did the animalistic designs for the characters come from?
A: They have that button nose, and some of them have those cat muzzles. That was born from my character design style over the years. I was heavily influenced by Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry and those types of illustrators. I could draw humans, but it seemed more interesting to do these types of characters. I feel like you can empathize more than if these stories were told with human characters.
Q. Will you do more than the 10 episodes?
A: We're hoping to find out. We're hoping after the third or fourth episode we'll get news that we are picked up for a second season. Or else I gotta find another job. (laughs)
Q. You have quite a cast. How did you get everyone?
A: The whole cast is amazing. Still, when I think about it, I'm floored by the people we got. Casting is hard. It's a grueling process trying to figure out who these characters are. Megan Mullally was one of the first choices for the mom. She was the first one to sign on, and that was a huge goose to the project. That really boosted everything. The voices on this show, they're character voices but they're not super cartoony or super broad. It's a different type of voice acting.
Chris, Chad (voiced by Quincy) and Jay appear in "Out There."
Q. How did you end up doing Chad, the main character?
A: I did three shorts for 20th Century Fox in 2009 that were “Out There” shorts. Out of necessity it was very garage style — get your friends to help out and do all the voices. I did the voice of Chad. It's pretty much just my voice. I don't change it at all. When it came time to start talking about casting, they said, “The only voice we want to carry over from the shorts is Chad's.” “What!?” That was new territory for me.
Q. You worked on “South Park” for a long time. How did you work with them?
A: I moved out here (Los Angeles) in '98. By total coincidence, I moved right next door to the animation director and producer of “South Park,” Eric Stough. “South Park” had just started up. I thought, “Maybe I can get a job there,” but they were fully staffed at the time. I kept them on my radar. I did the rounds doing animation tests for “The Simpsons” or “King of the Hill.” I landed a job on “Mad TV.” They would do animated interstitials (shorts) and things. And I got a job doing that. They did a parody of “South Park” meets Charlie Brown, and we did it the way “South Park” used to, with construction paper. I had that on my reel, and I saw that the “South Park” movie was starting up and was looking for animators. That was '99. I was with “South Park” almost 14 years, so I spent a big chunk of my life working with them.
Q. It must feel good to finally produce your own series.
A: Yeah, absolutely. That's the dream. That's what I wanted to come out here and do. It just took 16 years to get there. It's worth it. It's fun to see these characters come to life. It's great to see all these characters that I've been drawing for years and years — they live.
Q. Will your friends from Holdrege see anything they recognize when the show debuts?
A: There's some little Easter eggs of things here and there. A lot of the characters are not based directly on teachers and other people, but it's a nice amalgamation of all of them. It's all done lovingly. It's a tribute to that time in my life. Adolescence: t's humiliating and horrifying, but hilarious.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1557, email@example.com; twitter.com/owhmusicguy