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William Joyce Interview: When Things Go Missing, Mischievous Creatures May Be to Blame!

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Image attributed to William Joyce

William Joyce

Think about how many socks and remotes you lose every day or how many times you yawn at the most inopportune times! Some of life’s most perplexing questions can now be answered in author, filmmaker, illustrator William Joyce’s book The Mischievians (released October 22, 2013). Find out about the Homework Eater, Lintbellian, Sock Stalker, the Yawn Mower and many more!

Joyce’s projects have been produced by nearly every major film studio including Disney, 20th Century Fox and DreamWorks Animation. His feature films and television shows include the films Robots and Meet the Robinsons and the TV series Rolie Polie Olie for which he won three Emmy awards. Joyce has written over 50 children’s books, and his Shreveport, Louisiana studio (Moonbot), produced an Oscar winning animated short film, The Fantastic Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about these little guys for years, and I finally got enough of them together to make a book (laughs). In keeping with the kind of frisky nature of the book, I decided to have those two kids start the book with their note that says, ‘Things were disappearing in our house – every day. Like, a lot! The scissors, the car keys! The TV remote!!! One sock. HOMEWORK that we have actually DONE!!! Our parents think it’s us!!! PLEASE, if you get this message, HELP US!!’ to totally get rid of the usual title page and all that stuff and go to the body of the book itself. So you’re entering this idea, this world, in a fun, magical, silly way. You can tell the note has been wrinkled, and there’s a little green hand reaching over and stealing one letter.”

The versatile filmmaker is the executive producer of the animated feature, Rise of the Guardians, released in theaters last November and based on Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood book series. Additionally, he is the writer, producer of Epic (released this past summer). Moonbot has recently created a short called The Scarecrow with an accompanying game app for Mexican food chain Chipotle, with a chilling tale to tell about the state of food production.

Joyce and wife Elizabeth live in Shreveport, Louisiana and have a son, Jackson Edward Joyce.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hey Bill, The Mischievians is a very cool book!

William Joyce: Oh thank you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me a little about the creation process.

William Joyce: Well, I’ve been thinking about these little guys for years, and I finally got enough of them together to make a book (laughs). In keeping with the kind of frisky nature of the book, I decided to have those two kids start the book with their note that says, “Things were disappearing in our house – every day. Like, a lot! The scissors, the car keys! The TV remote!!! One sock. HOMEWORK that we have actually DONE!!! Our parents think it’s us!!! PLEASE, if you get this message, HELP US!!” to totally get rid of the usual title page and all that stuff and go to the body of the book itself. So you’re entering this idea, this world, in a fun, magical, silly way. You can tell the note has been wrinkled, and there’s a little green hand reaching over and stealing one letter.

The cover of the book looks like an old textbook. I was thinking of the textbooks I had when I was a kid. Many were made in the 40s, and they just kept recycling them for years and years. It’s in the heavy like library binding cloth they used for textbooks back then. The hand written note was written with a sharpie, and there’s a hand stealing the “e” out of “every.” You turn the page, and there’s still no title page, nothing that lets you know this is a book by a publisher. Anyway, the little green hand keeps appearing, the note floats away on a balloon, the ground opens up, and the kids drop in on this guy with this book in front of him.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who in the world is Dr. Maximilian Zooper?

William Joyce: He comes from the very first book I ever wrote and illustrated called George Shrinks. In the middle of that book, George receives a box in the mail, and in that box is his Zooper airplane. He assembles it and goes flying around in the little toy airplane he got from the Zooper Toy Company.

I haven’t used that name in a really long time, so when I was trying to figure out who this professor was who had been studying these Mischievians who take all these things that are in your house, I needed to give him a name. I thought back to the Zooper Toy Company from 1985 (still in print, thanks very much). So you see this guy’s name is Dr. Zooper, and he’s gotten the kids’ message on the desk in front of him. On the desk in front of him is a blue book, and if you look closely, it’s the same cover as the actual book you are holding.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You know, I did notice that (laughs).

William Joyce: So then we have a title page, but it’s not for the actual book you are holding (laughs). It’s to the book that you’re now going to be reading from now on. If you notice, it doesn’t say Simon & Schuster because this is Dr. Zooper’s in house study guide … Dr. Maximilian Fortisque Robinson Zooper.

His first two names, Maximilian Fortisque come from Daphne du Maurier’s book called Rebecca, and the hero of that book is Maximilian Fortisque de Winter. I’ve always liked that name, so I gave Dr. Zooper part of that, and he’s a cousin of the Robinsons from Meet the Robinsons. Back to the book. We’re in this textbook that Zooper has compiled, and it’s a question/answer thing. Again, this is modeled after old textbooks I grew up with. These are all actual illuminations put together by Dr. Zooper’s staff (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I see (laughs). Dr. Zooper’s staff is very talented!

William Joyce: Well, they just observe (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I definitely learned some things from the book.

William Joyce: I would hope so.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And I want to know if certain Mischievians are responsible for two or three different annoyances. For example, can the Remote Toters also swipe keys and sunglasses?

William Joyce: Well, no. There are separate Mischievians for those that will be in a future volume. The guy who takes the car keys is the Key Keeper. But that’s all the room we had for this volume. As Zooper says, “That’s all we had time for today.” We hope to keep doing these books.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’ve had lots of experience with the Sock guy.

William Joyce: I think we all have. These are fairly universal.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. Two socks go in the dryer, and one comes out. I guess the Sock Stalker waits in the dryer area.

William Joyce: You’d be surprised at how many places they are. It’s not just a dryer thing. Once clothes are folded and put into the laundry basket, they can strike there. They can strike in the dirty clothes before they even get to the washer/dryer, or if the socks are on the floor, in a shoe or under the bed. They’re always on the prowl, on the hunt, so to speak. They can even get into the drawer itself and take the socks there.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, they are probably very small.

William Joyce: Small enough, and they’ve developed technology to make it pretty easy for them to get into a drawer.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I imagine some crafty kids have used the Homework Eater Mischievian as an excuse in school.

William Joyce: That’s what I’m hoping for, but they don’t have to use excuses! It’s true! Everyone does his or her homework!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): At what age can children actually comprehend this book?

William Joyce: I think 2 to 92 (laughs). I think a little kid will get most of these and grownups will certainly. I think everybody’s experienced the missing homework, and we’ve all had a booger dangling from our nose at some point. Even the littlest toddler has experienced a Lintbellian.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Absolutely (laughs). Will The Mischievians become a film?

William Joyce: That’s being worked on, so we will see. It’s a nutty business. It took 9 years for Epic to get made, 5 years for The Guardians to get made and 11 years for Meet the Robinsons to get made. The Mischievians have been tumbling around in development for a while now, and we’ll see what happens. Meanwhile, I’m doing the books are fast as I can.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you work on the short film The Scarecrow?

William Joyce: Of course. There are only 50 of us (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who gets credit for the idea and design?

William Joyce: It’s kind of hard to assign. Brandon (Oldenburg) and I met with Chipotle before we were nominated for the Academy Award. They had some ideas, and we had some ideas. I came up with the idea of the scarecrow himself. Originally, it was going to be a farmer. I got really into scarecrow idea. The first 6 months or so, Brandon and I worked on it together, and then I went off to work on some other stuff. But I guess you could say it was the team at Moonbot. That’s the way we tend to think of things anyway.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did Chipotle do the research on how food is prepared?

William Joyce: They gave us a lot of books just to let us get the sense of things. We knew we were doing a sort of parable. The ad has gotten so much viewership and notice. We’re at about 7 million views. What everyone was hoping was that it would start a conversation about the way food is processed and grown. But some of the big agriculture conglomerates have taken the short task for now being realistic.

I was like, “Fellows, it’s a scarecrow and mechanical crows.” We’re not saying this is how it’s actually done (laughs). But if you know where there are walking, talking scarecrows and mechanical crows that order people around, we’d love to see them (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Say, you guys at Moonbot Studios are not building a spaceship to Mars, are you?

William Joyce: What makes you think we aren’t? Why would you assume we weren’t?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Just curious (laughs). People are now buying one-way tickets to Mars.

William Joyce: We’d really prefer to have a two-way ticket. We’re having a pretty good time here (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you ever be interested in visiting Mars?

William Joyce: No. I could just go to the Grand Canyon. I think the moon would be awesome. But if there were Martians on Mars and all the cool movie stuff there, that would be awesome. They thought back in the 1920s that there were canals and vast civilizations on Mars. If there were, yeah, that would be awesome. But I think it’s just a rocky, dry place, and I can go to West Texas for that (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think the scientists are worried now because if someone went to Mars, they may contract a virus, bring it back to earth and kill millions of people.

William Joyce: But what if it’s something really cool, and everybody is really happy all the time? They could bring the “giggle” atom back or the “whimsy” germs (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Or something that could prevent the government on earth from shutting down (laughs).

William Joyce: Oh yeah. Now there’s some folks I think we should send to Mars (laughs). I think they are Martians. They’ve been sent here to destroy us (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Is it safe to call you a nerd, Bill?

William Joyce: No. It’s not safe at all. I’ll send the Mischievians after you (laughs). You should live in total fear of that.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you could have the ideal “five-in-one” gadget, what would it be?

William Joyce: It would be a thing that could serve me whatever food I want instantly, give me whatever movie I wanted to watch, give me whatever movie I wanted to make, give me a really good mattress with awesome sheets and pillows … and be a convertible.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your favorite authors?

William Joyce: Let’s see. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, P.G. Wodehouse, Robert Lawson (Rabbit Hill), Maurice Sendak, John Lahr (theater critic and son of the cowardly lion, Bert Lahr), Pauline Kael (former film critic for The New Yorker), the list just goes on and on and on.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s next for you?

William Joyce: I have another Guardians coming out in November called The Sandman and the War of Dreams. We have a Numberly short film coming out, and a Numberly book coming out. Then I have a book called A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack. At least that’s what it’s called today.

There is a Mischievians novel, and there are two Edgar Allan Poe short films. We’re working on a movie version of the Jewish folktale called The Golem. We have two games coming out. One is Diggs Nightcrawler which is a Sony Wonderbook PlayStation game and comes out in November. It is awesome, a film noir. The other is a retelling of the Mother Goose story. We have another game called The Lollipop Tree and The Eggs of Doom. I think that comes out in November too.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you’re really not that busy.

William Joyce: (laughs) I left out some stuff.

© 2013 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

 

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