"Samurai Jack" is coming back after a long time away. The series ran for 52 episodes over four seasons between 2001 and 2004, but never reached a conclusion. Now, creator Genndy Tartakovsky is getting the chance to bring it back later this year to Adult Swim's Toonami programming block.
The show tells the story of a handsome, stoic samurai who is thrown into the future and tries to get back home. He fails of course, but along the way fights many enemies and makes many friends. The character left an imprint — Tartakovsky says that, no matter where he goes, he's never been able to escape "Samurai Jack."
"I think we kind of built a mythology, and people really loved it. They respected it. And I think the art of it all really inspired people," Tartakovsky told us last week at Comic-Con.
He started to realize that there could be an audience out there for the finale that Jack never got.
"People make me draw Samurai Jack. As soon as I started to go into movie theaters, and when I give my credit card, people would recognize my name, and they'd go, 'Oh, my god, 'Samurai Jack's' my favorite when I was a kid.' I realized it's still in the ether, it's still somewhat popular," Tartakovsky says.
This isn't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being forced to bring back Sherlock Holmes after killing him off — Tartakovsky says he loves this show like he's loved all his shows.
"I think all the shows that I've ever done are like babies, you know? You love them all, you let them grow up. Sometimes they move away to college and didn't talk to you anymore," Tartakovsky says.
There's also a piece of Tartakovsky in Jack.
"I've loved everything that we've done, and 'Samurai' especially. That show was from the 10-year-old in me, and the 30-year-old in me. And so it's everything that I've wanted to do in a TV show, and luckily Cartoon Network and Adult Swim is letting me do it," Tartakovsky says. "It's out of pure love, and respect."
Tartakovsky has had great success, with other iconic shows including "Dexter's Laboratory" and the original "Star Wars: Clone Wars." He also worked on the "Hotel Transylvania" movies. The key, he says: "sincerity."
"Don't try to make something just to sell it. I mean, if you have to, you have to — we all have to do... it's a job, it's a business. But when it really works, it always comes from the heart, you know? And I didn't do 'Samurai Jack' because I thought a martial arts thing is going to work, I did it because I've been dreaming and doing samurai stuff since I was 10, and it was in me, even though I'm not Japanese. So that's I think the number one rule, is just be sincere, and be honest. Because then it always comes out truthful," Tartakovsky says.
While Tartakovsky likes to think there's a soulful, soft-spoken, "Samurai Jack"-style Clint Eastwood warrior inside of himself, he says he's actually closer to annoying sister Dee Dee from "Dexter's Laboratory." But he still aspires to be like Jack.
"It was kind of the hero inside all of us that we wanted to do, and we wanted just to make it cool," Tartakovsky says.
He says that his style, particularly on "Samurai Jack," has a big spaghetti western influence.
"I remember sitting actually in Italy, watching a Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood movie, and not understanding it. You know, I was a little kid, but I was like, 'Wow, look at that.' You really felt it. And I think it's more about the storytelling — like I have a very specific style that I want to do — and make it special. And so you're watching it, and it's an experience, it's not just a TV show where you're just talking the whole time," Tartakovsky says.
He's created a distinct visual style, perhaps best embodied in "Samurai Jack." What made the series stand out was the design, especially its use of color and shape — think David Weidman's mid-century modern prints. Here's how he describes his approach and how it's meant to be enjoyed:
"Cinematic. I think it's theatrical, I think you want to just turn down the lights in the house, turn up the volume, turn off your phones, and just disappear into this world. And I think if you give it that kind of a chance, it'll be a whole different experience."
While he's had the chance to put a lot of gorgeous animation in front of our eyes, Tartakovsky still has his great white whales of projects that either never happened or didn't get the chance he thought they deserved.
"I mean, 'Sym-Bionic Titan' was tough to do just 20 — we had 10 more scripts that we wrote. That was hard," Tartakovsky says.
He also worked on a "Popeye" animated film that, even after test footage was released, was ultimately scrapped.
"The 'Popeye' thing that we did was amazing, and I think it had so much potential. But, you know, I don't dwell in the past. I kind of move on, and even though I'm resurrecting a show I did 15 years ago, it was the right timing. And yeah, you want to see everything to its fullest potential. And you never want to have regrets looking back, like, 'Oh, if only we had 10 more episodes, then it would have really been successful,'" Tartakovsky says.
Now that Jack is returning, Tartakovsky says he's excited to explore the idea that he's just been continuing his journey ever since he was last seen, with the new season taking place 50 years later.
"So now, what happens? How do you feel inside? And he's really lost. And I think that's kind of the key — that right away we come in on it, and we see the darkness of his soul. We see the issues that he's having, and now we just want to cheer for him to repair himself," Tartakovsky says.
Tartakovsky says he tries to avoid looking too much at what other people do so that he doesn't get overly influenced.
"It's hard to be original in this day and age, when there's so much at your fingertips. But actually, when I saw 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' I was like, wow, for a 70-year-old director to have something that fresh, and that to me felt like the best 'Samurai Jack' episode that we could ever possibly make. Because it was all action: little story, great characters, great visuals," Tartakovsky says.
So if you start seeing some "Fury Road" influence on the completely original Tartakovsky, now you know why. But maybe he'll save it for when he's 70. There's no official release date yet for "Samurai Jack's" return, but look for him to come swinging sometime before the end of the year.