BY NOW MANY OF YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT THE RELAUNCH OF AMERICAN GREETINGS’ ICONIC GROSS OUT TOYLINE, MADBALLS. WHILE THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH FOR SERIES ONE OCCURRED EARLIER THIS WEEK, THERE’S STILL PLENTY OF MADNESS LEFT TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2017. TO FIND OUT exactly what’s on the horizon, we
cornered caught up with Carlos Villagra, Head of Illustration/New IP at American Greetings Entertainment, for an EXCLUSIVE interview just for Strange Kids Club readers.
THANKS FOR JOINING US, CARLOS. YOU’RE CURRENTLY THE CREATIVE DIRECTOR OF VISUAL DEVELOPMENT AT AMERICAN GREETINGS ENTERTAINMENT. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR ROLE A BIT?
CARLOS VILLAGRA: My pleasure, I love the Strange Kids Club and hopefully after this I’ll be a full member! In my role as Creative Director of American Greetings Entertainment, I lead and oversee visuals for most of our new IP concepts including this new re-launch for MADBALLS. I’m very hands on, and even as Creative Director I am very much on the board. I still design and concept a ton myself.
That being said, our team is incredible and I’m lucky that I get to work with such talented people. We have many cool things in the works, so keep a look out for even more fun stuff from us.
ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM OHIO?
CV: I’m originally from Miami, FL. I’ve always been a full-fledged big city boy. Cleveland was a big shock to me, but I love working at American Greetings. I would trade palm trees for Madballs anytime! Overall, Ohio has grown on me quite a bit. However, I will never get used to driving in snow.
YOU GRADUATED FROM THE RINGLING COLLEGE OF ART IN 2006. HOW DID YOUR TIME THERE PREPARE YOU FOR A CAREER IN ART?
CV: I think one of the biggest areas Ringling helped me with was learning to talk about my art, as well as other people’s art. We had a lot of critiques in school. I was surprised at how that prepared me to instantly contribute in art reviews at AG, being able to give constructive suggestions and ideas is so crucial in our industry.
WHAT’S ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS/SKILLS YOU’VE LEARNED SINCE THEN?
CV: A very important lesson has been learning to balance the business side of art with the creative side. And when I say art, I mean commercial art meant to be consumed by the masses. You can achieve a balance, though it’s tricky, of being happy with what you are producing while making sure that it meets the business side that allows it to be a commercial success.
A [specific] skill I’ve learned, while not directly art related (but crucial to the art process) has been communication. I sucked at communicating when I first started in the business. A lot of people intimidated me so I chose to retreat to my art. It wasn’t until I came out of my shell a bit that I started moving forward in my career. Pitching concepts and ideas, and doing it clearly enough that you convince someone else your idea is good, is the best feeling in the world.
AFTER RINGLING YOU WENT TO WORK FOR AG WHERE YOU’VE BEEN SINCE 2006. WHAT ARE SOME OFTHE PROJECTS YOU’VE WORKED ON? ANY PERSONAL HIGHLIGHTS/FAVORITES?
CV: I’ve worked on a lot of really cool projects with varying levels of success. I worked on a brand called Pretty Freakin’ Scary that had a line of books and a product line at Wal-Mart. I’ve worked on shows like Sushi Pack and Twisted Whiskers, as well as early development for Packages From Planet X.
I would say, before Madballs my favorite project I’ve worked on was one that I pitched myself along with my then co-worker Saxton Moore. It’s all I loved about my childhood—He-Man, G.I. Joe and Ninja Turtles—combined [and] it can still go somewhere, so I can’t say exactly what it is…but, it’s awesome! Pure 80’s boys action with a bang. It had great momentum, but was derailed by the networks being locked into certain properties with little room for new boys action shows. I did spend 2-3 years of my life working on it and I could never regret that. How many people can work and get paid to develop their own ideas? It was a dream!
LET’S TALK MADBALLS FOR A MOMENT. YOU WORKED ON THE RELAUNCH…ARE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR THE NEW LOOK?
CV: You could say I’m the creative force behind the brand. We have an amazing team of illustrators and designers that are molding and shaping the brand as we speak. Patu Phan is my character design partner in crime. Both she and I developed the new look. Our design team is mostly responsible for the packaging (along with Just Play) and website look, as well as the style guide which we are currently working on and finalizing. Additionally let me just say how awesome the Just Play team is to work with as a partner and how blown away we all are by the passion and hard work they have put into this brand as well. Their sculpts and paint work on the product still blows my mind!
WERE THERE ANY SPECIFIC GUIDELINES THAT YOU HAD TO ADHERE TO WHEN DEVELOPING THE NEW BRAND?
CV: There were no defined guidelines that we HAD to adhere to. We did have goals, however. We knew we wanted to focus on the new generation of kids, and in turn come up with designs that honored the past while focusing on the future. I’m really happy where we landed with the new look. It surrenders a bit of the gross for more comedy, and it compromises some detail for something more clean and colorful. I love that they still feel like Madballs, and hopefully it’s a good evolution of the brand that does it justice. The fans will ultimately decide if it is successful or not, as it should be.
THE “X” MARK IN THE EYES IS AN INTERESTING DESIGN CHOICE. TYPICALLY IT REPRESENTS DEATH OR DIZZINESS. CAN YOU REVEAL HOW THAT BECAME A PART OF THE NEW VISUAL DIRECTION?
CV: We knew we wanted something that would be proprietary and new to the brand, something you could point to and say, hey that’s a bit different. Throughout our development, we tried a million things. Some cool, some not so cool, and the ‘X’ was something we kept coming back to. I like the challenge of taking something that has a stigma to it and trying to turn it on its head. In my honest opinion, even with the ‘X’, these characters feel very much alive and hopefully that will truly shine in the cartoons we have coming out very very soon.
HOW MANY CHARACTERS ARE BEING PLANNED FOR RELEASE AS PART OF THIS FIRST WAVE AND, OF THOSE, WHO’S YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER FROM LINEUP?
CV: There are 12 characters and a chaser in the first wave, which has changed many times based on demand from the retailers.
…man, it’s a tough choice to pick between all of my babies, but if I had to pick one (and I reserve the right to change my mind!) it’s Dust Brain…no, Skull Face…no, Slobulus…oh, I give up!
WELL PLAYED, SIR. WELL PLAYED. SO, THE PRESS RELEASE FROM LAST YEAR MENTIONED “PLAYSETS” AND “ACCESSORIES” AS BEING PART OF THE RELAUNCH…DOES THIS MEAN WE COULD SEE THE RETURN OF THE MAD ROLLERCYCLE OR MADBALL LAUNCHER?
CV: I want to say yes…but right now I have to keep this a mystery! Again, I think this is one that will be decided by the fans young and old. What I can say is that we have BIG plans for this line.
IT ALSO MENTIONED A SERIES OF ANIMATED SHORTS…WILL THESE BE ANYTHING LIKE THE ORIGINAL CARTOONS, GROSS JOKES OR ESCAPE FROM ORB?
CV: Not quote. These will be a mix of live-action footage and flash animation. I am really proud of the cartoons and can’t wait to show them to the world! If you like farts and snot and puke and burps then you won’t be disappointed!
MADBALLS HAS SEEN QUITE A RESURGENCE IN THE PAST YEAR. WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT THESE CRUDE, RUDE DUDES THAT APPEAL TO FANS SO MUCH?
CV: There is something so different and simple and primal about gross faces on a ball. I love the 80’s because of that, it was a wonderful age where we didn’t question everything to death and we just accepted weirdness for the fun that it was. People had a blast creating the original Madballs, and I think it showed in the product and designs. We are lucky to get a chance to carry that torch.
WILL THERE BE ANY TIE-IN TO MONDO’S OFFICIALLY LICENSED “MONDOBALLS” OR ROAR! COMICS’ NEW SERIES?
CV: There’s definitely no tie-in to Mondoballs. ROAR! comics has done a great job and I hope we keep working together. Stay tuned.
A FREAK ACCIDENT TRANSFORMS YOU INTO A MADBALL…WHAT WOULD YOUR NICKNAME BE?
CV: Something like INSOMNI-ARRGH because eventually all the lack of sleep will catch up to me. I might have to draw this up! *laughs*
OKAY, LAST QUESTION…WHAT’S THE STRANGEST THING YOU REMEMBER DOING AS A KID?
CV: When I was around 5, I remember playing dead on the floor so I could get attention from my family and see if they would be bummed that I was dead. They weren’t. Is that strange???