Remembering “Jac Mac & Rad Boy, Go!”: Wes Archer’s influential 80s animated short

By on April 18, 2015

One of the more popular animated short films that aired during Night Flight’s 80s heyday was Wes Archer’s cult fave Jac Mac & Rad Boy, Go!, a wonderfully frenetic cartoon about two party-bound teens who inadvertently destroy a city on their way to hell, which Archer admits he may have also been inspired by his own wayward youth in Houston, Texas.

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Archer also claims his characters were inspired by by a comic strip called Skank, Arms & Bud by John Holstrom & J.D. King (it appeared in the comic Weirdo, issue #3, the first credit for future editor Peter Bagge).

Jac Mac & Rad Boy, Go! would, in turn, have its own profound influence on yet another Texan animator’s 1992 short film, Frog Baseball, which originally aired on Liquid Television before executives at MTV asked its creator, Mike Judge, to turn its two party-hard protagonists into a manic animated TV series that you might have heard of, called Beavis and Butt-head.

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Jack Mac & Rad Boy, Go! was the third year project the Film Graphics/Experimental Animation program at Cal Arts, initially inked out in 1983, and then, a year later, color was added for its first public exhibition, before it aired on Night Flight in 1985.

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It was later included in the Outrageous Animation movie in 1988, and licensed for use in Back to the Future Part 2 in 1989, and finally leased to Liquid Television in 1992.

Wes Archer — born November 26, 1961 — has enjoyed an incredible career in TV animation. He spent a few years working on the Savage Steve Holland movie One Crazy Summer, before joining two other animators, David Silverman and Bill Kopp (that’s Kopp, by the way, who voices “Rad Boy”; Archer himself voiced Jac Mac), at a tiny, obscure animation studio Klasky/Csupo, where they elaborated on Matt Groening’s rough black-and-white sketches for the first season episodes of The Simpsons, starting with the earliest ones that aired on The Tracey Ullman Show, a variety TV show on Fox. Executive Producer James L. Brooks had wanted Groening’s animated cartoon as a kind of bumper, between the acts on Ullman’s show. At the time, animation had not been seen during prime-time for more than a generation, not since The Flintstones.

Silverman and Archer developed an efficient use of movement that added snap and also made the animation more cost efficient by limiting the number of in-betweens required in the timing of the animation. In particular, their decision to use a palette of only two hundred colors (the average cartoon employs more than one thousand) brought The Simpsons a highly distinctive look that has become as much its signature as Homer’s bleated “D’ohs!” (It was actually colorist Gyorgyi Peluce who decided to make them yellow).

Archer, Silverman and Kopp would create a minute and a half each week, jumping on the next as the one they’d finished was being colored and then shot the following week, followed by another week of post-production, sound mixing and color timing. They were animating a new episode each week, and each one was produced on a four week schedule.

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Archer and the other Klasky/Csupo animators were instrumental in the fight with the Fox network to keep the show unpolished, to the extent that it was actually negotiated into their contract that network execs were not allowed to interfere with the show’s content. Here’s a drawing of Maggie Simpson, after she’s been given a pacifier to suck on that her siblings Bart and Lisa have dipped in hot sauce — you see the same kind of frenetic energy here that was initially seen in Jac Mac & Rad Boy:

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Archer subsequently directed a number of The Simpsons episodes (many of which had John Swartzwelder is an episode writer) before becoming supervising director at King of the Hill, another Mike Judge animated TV series.

Archer’s name, incidentally, appears in an episode titled “Death and Texas” in season 3 of King of the Hill, in which Peggy is tricked into smuggling cocaine to an inmate on death row. The inmate was named Wesley Martin Archer, a combination of both Wes’ and his brother and co-worker, Martin Archer.

A few years later, Archer moved on from King of the Hill, working as an Animation Director at Icebox.com, before he became a director on Matt Groening’s Futurama series, but he eventually returned to King of the Hill, where he continued to supervise the episodic direction of the series until the show’s final season, when he became a consulting director. He later moved on to Starz Media, on a series called Eloise: The Animated Series, before he joined Mike Judge’s The Goode Family as supervising director. Since then, he’s been working on a number of different shows (Bob’s Burgers, Murder Police, a pilot for Comedy Central, and Rick & Morty for Adult Swim).

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Brian O’Connell

    In addition, Jac Mac and Rad Boy Go was used for the Wall of TVs in Back To The Future II.