INTERVIEW with JON COLTON BARRY
31 OCTOBER 2016
Jon Colton Barry is an animation writer for shows such as The Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb and now works on the Cartoon Network’s “Be Cool, Scooby-Doo”. With over 100 half hour episodes to his name, Barry is a fascinating and humorous person to explore.
I set up a Q and A to ask him some questions I wanted to know about his life, his work, his dreams, and his aspirations.
Q and A
Leo: So how did you start becoming an animation writer and who motivated you?
Jon: I had been a professional creative person in a variety of mediums since grade school, including commercial art, cartooning, screenwriting, songwriting, story editing and script consulting. I had been honing my voice writing comedy for the stage for a few years and Dan Povenmire, whom I’d known for years, saw one of my shows (“Play Things”) and liked it. He’d just sold “Phineas” to Disney and he offered me a job on his new show. I never intended to get into animation, but, fortunately, my experience as a comedy writer, artist and songwriter all came in handy on a show like “Phineas & Ferb,” so it was a good fit.
Leo: What was the experience of writing for Phineas and Ferb like? Phineas and Ferb is one of my favorite animated television programs because of the creative storylines and humor.
Jon: “Phineas” was a dream job and so much fun to work on. We had fun making it and I’m sure that’s why people have fun watching it. Dan and Swampy really allowed all the creative crew to bring their own voice and vision to the show and that mix of different approaches sort of melded together into the meta-voice of “Phineas & Ferb.” It certainly helped that it was a hit show as that gave us even more freedom to take creative risks and Disney quickly saw they could trust us to get on with it and make the show we wanted to make. They key to the success of “Phineas” was that we never talked down to the audience and only tried to please ourselves. If it made us laugh, it went in.
Leo: AND WHAT IS WITH THE MAGICAL BATHING SUIT THAT LIVES IN THE HIMALAYAS??!!!
Jon: Ah, Klimpaloon. That’s a perfect example of why “Phineas” was such a great show to work on. I was working late with director Rob Hughes on the “Summer Belongs To You” special and we needed a reason why Phineas would crash his plane without it really being a mistake or his fault. I suggested that Phineas needed to quickly turn the plane to avoid hitting something and I quickly drew a picture of Klimpaloon, exactly as he looks in the special, and showed Rob and said, “This is what Phineas was avoiding: Klimpaloon, the Magical, Old-Timey Bathing Suit that lives in the Himalayas who only says ‘Nyah Nyah Nyah!” Rob nodded in agreement - I mean, he didn’t even blink, like this was the most natural solution to a problem he’d ever encountered. We put Klimpaloon into the scene, spoke no more about it and moved onto the next problem.
Leo: And the floating baby head?
Jon: The Floating Baby Head was board artist/writer Mike Diederich’s creation. I think he first appeared in “One Good Scare Outta Do It” during the haunted house sequence and, like so many organic running gags that developed over the series, made many other cameos in other episodes. Mike was my partner on several episodes and his stuff always killed me. He comes at things from odd angles and is also one of the best illustrators in the business. Every panel is a work of art.
Leo: Do you have a favorite episode of any show you have written and why?
Jon: I guess I like the “Phineas” Christmas special I did with Piero Piluso, directed by Zac Moncrief. We really challenged ourselves to come up with an original, new “classic” Christmas story that could only be told in the Phineas world with the Phineas characters, had a unique message and could be to a new generation what Charlie Brown Christmas or Grinch was to my generation - a tradition you watch every year. I like to think we got pretty close to reaching that goal. I also think the “Across The Second Dimension” movie came out great and should have been a theatrical feature.
Leo: Do you like Star Wars? I do.
Jon: Are you talking about the Phineas cross-over special or Star Wars, in general? I wasn’t a part of the “Phineas” special, but I thought they did a great job. As for “Star Wars,” itself, yes, of course, the original trilogy was like a religion to my generation. The less said about the second trilogy, the better, but, hopefully, Disney is in the process of getting things back on track.
Leo: What is your advice for people who want to pursue the career you have?
Jon: Date the sister of Dan Povenmire’s wife. If that doesn’t work, I would say the most useful thing, specifically for my career, has been developing a wide skill-set. Writing, music, art - trying to work in different creative mediums and seeing how they feed off one another is a constant source of inspiration. I’d also say it’s important to find, develop and nurture your own original creative voice, so when people contact you about projects, what they want is for you to be you and write like you - bring YOUR style and point-of-view to the material.
Leo: How hard do you have to work?
Jon: Very hard - but it’s fun work. There can be workplace situations or strange politics that make things less fun, but, ideally, what I do - what WE do - is the same thing as getting down on the floor when you’re six and playing with action figures. It’s PLAYING - but you should always play hard.
Leo: What’s a typical day for you?
Jon: Nietzsche once said, “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” So, I usually wake up around 6 or 7 and then do that.