Since taking over Hulu, M.O.D.O.K. has impressed casual and dedicated Marvel fans alike with it’s blend of heavy topics and absurdist comedy. The series boasts an impressive cast of characters, some reaching into the deepest corners of Marvel lore, with the the titular M.O.D.O.K. voiced by Patton Oswalt. No stranger to voice acting, Oswalt’s take on the larger-than-life villain is joined by Iron Man (Jon Hamm), Wonder Man (Nathan Fillion), and original characters for M.O.D.O.K.’s family such as his wife Jodie (Aimee Garcia), his son Lou (Ben Schwartz), and daughter Melissa (Melissa Fumero).
Jordan Blum, best known for his producing and writing role on American Dad!, brings extra life to M.O.D.O.K.‘s stop motion animation with scripts that never feel too heavy-handed despite the subject matter. Having access to the Marvel library was a dream come true for Blum, but as series creator, he couldn’t be distracted from his specific vision. And as Blum himself tells us, thanks to Hulu, there weren’t that many creative restrictions behind the scenes. Not too surprising as this is one of the very few Marvel programs to find life outside of the MCU.
M.O.D.O.K. is right up the alley for those “seeking a break from the interconnected Marvel universe“, hungry for something more out of the ordinary. Through all the references and gags, the driving force behind this latest Marvel series gives us a peak into his creative proccess, be it peculiar story decisions, the meticulously crafted animation, and some of his own ideas for the future.
What was the decision making process in introducing larger Marvel characters such as Iron Man and Wonder Man?
Jordan Blum: Obviously, when you open up the Marvel toy box, you really want to play with every character, but we tried to be disciplined and only use the ones that really made sense for the story. For Iron Man, he’s always been M.O.D.O.K.’s main adversary, and we wanted to showcase how far M.O.D.O.K. had fallen, especially with his relationship to Tony who barely even recognizes him as a threat. It’s something he finds incredibly insulting because M.O.D.O.K. considers himself the greatest supervillain of all time, even though he’s got those insecurities that haunt him. Iron Man felt like a great way to take the temperature on how far M.O.D.O.K. had fallen throughout the season.
When we were casting that role, obviously the character had just died in the movies, so we had to figure out who would be a great Iron Man, and we kept coming back to Jon Hamm, who is not only one of the most phenomenal actors but also a comedian who could capture the snark well. For us, it was insane that he even agreed to it and it made us so excited that he was our Iron Man. And for Wonder Man, we were telling the story of the divorce for M.O.D.O.K. and his wife, and we wanted her to possibly start dating. The person that would drive M.O.D.O.K. the most insane would be the Avenger/actor/model, who Wonder Man is in the comics.
That’s what I’ve loved about him in the comics and I had remembered James Gunn casting Nathan Fillion as the character for Guardians of the Galaxy, though I think he was just a background gag. We thought it was perfect and that we had to get Nathan to play our Wonder Man, and thankfully, he said yes. We actually later asked James Gunn if it was cool, and he gave us his blessing and it all worked out.
Were there any characters or larger concepts you wanted to introduce that were shut down?
Jordan Blum: Funnily enough, it wasn’t larger concepts, it was smaller stuff that we were shocked about, like using Iron Man. We had a whole episode set in the “Bar With No Name”, and a bunch of D-listers we wanted to use like Stilt-Man, who was going to be the bartender. There were a few other characters like Turner D. Century, you would have to dig deep in the Marvel catalog to even find these guys. They shut that down for whatever reason, but that was it. Everything else was fair game. When they told us we could use Iron Man, we were blown away. It was funny that the only time we got our wrists slapped was when we tried to use super obscure characters. Maybe in the future, they’ll free up.
What was the process of creating M.O.D.O.K.s family and their dynamic for the series?
Jordan Blum: We knew we wanted to tell a story about losing your family, figuring out how you relate to them and fixing those broken relationships. So we had to figure out who would challenge M.O.D.O.K. the most. With Jodie, we loved the idea that she supported him over the years while he tried to take over the world and building AIM, and now suddenly her career is skyrocketing while his is tanking. We thought that would be a really cool story, so we started to build out her character – figuring out what kind of a person would marry a supervillain, and exploring that informed who she was.
It made it so she wasn’t just the plastic cartoon wife who just rolls her eyes at the antics of her husband. She’s done. She’s fed up. There’s no reason to tolerate that kind of behavior, so she leaves him in the pilot, and we found that to be an interesting place to start her story. Same thing with Melissa, we thought it would be interesting to make a character that not only looks like M.O.D.O.K. but was also a more capable version of him, who had conquered her high school. Everyone wants to date her or be her, and no one comments on the fact that she’s a giant floating head. M.O.D.O.K. never quite recognizes that in her, and deep down even though she resents her father, she wants his approval, and we thought that would be just really cool.
For Lou, we wanted the most opposite version of M.O.D.O.K., which is this weirdo that marches to the beat of his own drum. He has this utter self-confidence that M.O.D.O.K. never had, because M.O.D.O.K. is very much in his own head and very self-conscious. He can’t relate to his son because he actually likes who he is, and he’s trying to protect him from all the taunting and suffering M.O.D.O.K. experienced over the years. But Lou doesn’t need that, and them having to figure that out was really interesting.
Each stop motion sequence feels meticulously crafted with various references and smaller details that make everything more satisfying to watch, can you run us through the process of creating one stop motion sequence?
Jordan Blum: The craftsmanship is unbelievable. It starts with puppet design, where they build every single one along with multiple versions of them because we have multiple stages shooting at a time, meaning we have 30 M.O.D.O.K.s, that also involves the fabrication of the costumes. Every AIM costume is sown and cut – it’s like shooting live-action, essentially. Same thing goes for the sets, every prop is built and everything is assembled, then it’s all lit and shot, and a lot of the time we use a motion-controlled rig to get that handheld feeling, which is built into the cinematography. You map all of this out, and the director goes through it with the animators. As I said, it’s very much like live-action but only one frame at a time. And again, I’m blown away. I wish I knew more about the process, I only come in and check with the sets then watch the footage, but it felt like magic to me.
With the Marvel universe, you practically have an endless pool of material and references, was there a point where you needed to hold yourself back to try to tie everything together?
Jordan Blum: It’s fun that we have our easter eggs, we have our characters and backdrops for certain moments, but we tried to carve out our own section of the Marvel Universe and add villains and unique characters. When GRUMBL takes over AIM for example, it becomes a very different company with the stuff that they’re producing. We loved the idea of the world feeling lived-in, and introducing stuff in Episode 3 that could come back much later. We started to build our own world in the Marvel Universe but never forgetting where it’s set.
What was your biggest inspiration behind making the project?
Jordan Blum: It has to go back to Jack Kirby and his designs for M.O.D.O.K. Kirby’s storytelling was so dynamic and felt like it was jumping off the page, and stop motion really adds to that in visualizing his art style. I think he was a huge presence, he and Stan Lee in creating this character. It’s funny, you know, even in the writer’s room, we would rarely even mention other comedy shows. Mad Men kept coming up though and that became an influence on the show, maybe because it’s set in a workplace environment. I have no idea why, but Mad Men was a touchstone for us (laughs).
What was your personal favorite episode to work on, be it story-wise or the stop motion process?
Jordan Blum: I have two favorites! I love the second episode because I loved the challenge of telling you that M.O.D.O.K. and Jodie are married, and showing you why that is. Being able to tell a super complicated time travel story right out of the gate would have to be grounded by this relationship that you’re hopefully rooting for by the end. That was a story I had in my head for a long time that I was excited to tell.
The other episode that stood out to me was the eighth episode, the “Murder World” episode, and having to do family therapy set in this twisted carnival and battle dome hybrid where our characters have to destroy robot versions of each other, but really they’re working through their issues of the season. This is exactly what this kind of show is, I think, where it’s the most relatable story told through the most absurd lens.
If you are able to do a second season, do you already have any plans envisioned and characters you would like to tackle?
Jordan Blum: Absolutely. We definitely have a plan because season one ends on a huge cliffhanger and we have a structure in place for where we pick up and where we wanna go in season two. As far as characters go, I’m the biggest X-Men fan in the world, so I would love to do a story where M.O.D.O.K. messes with Lou’s DNA so he can pass as a mutant and send him to Xavier’s to go to school there and play with all those characters. That’s absolutely a dream one to do. Now that we can play with all those characters, I’m greedy, and I want all the X-Men.