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Carson Mell's animated series on the life and times of Echo Johnson

by James Thorne
on 29 October 2012
"Echo Johnson is a 42-year-old widely respected but uncertified tattoo artist of mixed race who has willfully cast off the burden of being at all ambitious."

"Your TV doesn't love you, but I do, I do," serenades Echo Johnson, the transient hero of Carson Mell's animated series "Tarantula." In an eight part run of three-minute segments, Johnson delivers hilarious and absurdist monologues that follow tangents from party crashing and amateur tattooing to dancing salads and dumpster diving. In the past, Mell has made the rounds with short fiction appearing in McSweeney's and several short films that became Official Selections of The Sundance Film Festival. "Tarantula," little more than a side project that was posted on Mell's Tumblr, is a hilarious glimpse into the life of a well-intentioned outsider.

Curious about the origins of the series and the man behind the animation, we spoke with Mell to hear more.

Where did the concept for the series come from?

I'd had the idea of doing something about a transient hotel for years, but I don't really get inspired by ideas until the characters come to life in my head. And I didn't have a transient for the hotel for the longest time. Then one day this spring I was driving back home to Phoenix by myself, dehydrated and hungover and getting over a serious case of heartbreak, when I just started talking in Echo's voice and making up his whole biography and figuring out his life philosophy and recording it all into my phone. He's a much more mellow guy than myself, so talking and acting like him is almost therapeutic.

Who is Echo Johnson?

Echo Johnson is a 42-year-old widely respected but uncertified tattoo artist of mixed race who has willfully cast off the burden of being at all ambitious. That said, he still has to make enough of a living to pay rent, eat and afford three beers a night and the occasional massage.

Did any of these vignettes actually happen? Where does the inspiration come from?

Everything in Season A of Tarantula is fictional. That said, I do use real life as a jumping off point now and then. Like in episode A-2, when Echo follows the woman into a party, I'll crash parties sometimes if I'm feeling lonely and there's nothing going on. And I've also tried really hard to incorporate lots of things that I love from real life into the show. Like the little trapeze artist in Echo's favorite belt buckle is from this strange, mechanized box that my dad bought in a subway in New York in the '60s. But mostly when I'm writing I try to do it without any conscious understanding of what I'm doing, so it's hard to say where the inspiration comes from. I do think that surrounding myself with things and people I love is one surefire way to keep myself inspired.

Watch the rest of the series on Carson Mell's Tumblr.

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