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Craig of the Creek Q&A with Co-creators Matt Burnett and Ben Levin

The Co-Creators of the Cartoon Network show ,Craig of the Creek, shares with us their thoughts and inspirations on how it was made.

How would you describe Craig of the Creek to potential viewers in just one sentence?

Craig of the Creek is about three best friends, Craig, Kelsey and JP, who spend their afternoons in the suburban wilderness known as the Creek, a patch of woods where kids can play and explore a world of their own!

How did the idea for Craig of the Creek come about, and how did the two of you end up co-creating it?

We have been working together for over 10 years, and our first project was a web series called “Ronin Dojo Community College DX.” It was about three teenaged LARPers who were looking to escape their mundane world by dressing up in cardboard armor and carrying around foam swords and bonding over anime references. Which is similar to how we bonded.

One of the other things we have always bonded over are our memories of being kids on the East Coast (Ben in Maryland, Matt in South Jersey). We each grew up near a patch of woods that seemed like an endless, unexplored wilderness where we could go to escape from the rest of the world, but, in reality, were not exactly endless. You can actually stand on one side of Ben’s version of the Creek and see the street on the other side of it.

When we had a chance to pitch a show to Cartoon Network, we realized our old stomping grounds would be perfect for a younger, more idealistic version of the Ronin Dojo characters – the Creek would be a place for all kinds of kids to be free to celebrate who they are. Craig, Kelsey and JP evolved from there, created to inspire kids to adventure out and find a place in the world to make their own.

What are your own personal favorite childhood “creek memories” that you want to work into the show?

Matt: I remember when we figured out how to get from a friend’s house on the other side of the neighborhood to my house through my local woods. It was like discovering the Earth was round – we had unlocked a whole new method of travelling the neighborhood. We were so proud that we had found this shortcut between our houses that, when you consider we had to walk instead of riding our bikes, probably took 20 minutes longer than just sticking to the streets.

Ben: One that always sticks out is one of my expeditions into the sewers – which inspired the story in the pilot. I remember waddling into a storm drain with my friends, single file, with our feet on either side of the tunnel so we didn’t get our shoes wet. I was in the back of the line when someone in the front shouted that they saw a raccoon. Everyone about-faced and suddenly I was in the front, with everyone screaming for me to run. We made it out, and it became clear that there was no raccoon. But we all agreed the danger was real.

How much of Craig of the Creek is based in recognizable nostalgia versus giving Craig and his pals their own original mythology to play in?

We definitely pull from our own childhood as inspiration for the show, but we try to let that nostalgia only serve as jumping off point to create something new and weird. Being a kid is something everyone has to go through – we want to tap into those universal feelings and stories and elevate them through the animated world of the Creek into epic tales of kids building their own mythology.

How do you find the balance between playing up imaginative elements of the Craig of the Creek versus keeping things grounded and practical, so that the kids have real-world problems to overcome?

We want this show to make kids go “That’s just like me!” and “I wish that was me!” at the same time. The more grounded elements of the show, like Craig’s relationships with his family and his friends, that’s what we hope kids will relate to. The wild, heightened reality that the kids create for themselves in the Creek, that’s what we hope to kids to aspire to.

How has your experience working on Steven Universe helped in the process of the production of Craig of the Creek?

We were fortunate enough to be involved with Steven Universe from the beginning, so getting to be with Rebecca Sugar and see how she built that series was an amazing experience – it really helped us transition onto creating our own show.

Steven Universe taught us how emotional, character driven stories and silly cartoon comedy can co-exist in the span of 11 minutes. On Craig, we always try to center each story on some kind of emotional arc for one of our heroes. The jokes don’t matter as much if the audience doesn’t care about the person making them.

The experience also reminded us of how important it is for a child to be able to see someone like them on a TV screen. The diversity and representation that Steven Universe celebrates is something we are looking to continue on Craig of the Creek. The Creek is populated by all kinds of kids – we want everyone to be able to see themselves reflected in Craig’s world and adventures.

Tell us about the crew working on Craig of the Creek.

The many different roles we have to take on limits the time we can spend on each aspect of production, so putting together a talented crew of people to bring the show to life has been by far the most important part of our job. It was very important to us that we work with a diverse group of artists to bring their own perspective and voice to the show. It has been a joy to collaborate with them, and a relief to trust them to with building and growing the world of the Creek while we answer emails about making sure any kid on a bike or skateboard is wearing a helmet. Which is also very important to us.

What do you hope viewers get out of Craig of the Creek and what are you most excited for them to experience?

We hope that kids are inspired by Craig and his friends to continue exploring their world and discovering the ways they enjoy playing. It’s exciting to think of all the different versions of “the Creek” – a space that kids have carved out for themselves – that exist out there, and hopefully our audience will see themselves and the things they love to do reflected in Craig’s world and the many kids who populate it.

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