“But I Can’t Do Anything Else.” Besides serving as the title to his upcoming collection of sketches and ideas, that simple phrase serves as a sort of mantra to creator Rob Schrab. No matter the hurdles, the rejections and even the difficulties of the creative lifestyle, the writer, artist and director sticks with it — and encourages others to do so as well — because, as the title alludes, he simply can’t do anything else.
Whether as the writer and artist of the Image Comics series “Scud: The Disposable Assassin,” the co-creator and co-writer of the CGI film “Monster House” or one of the brains behind the Comedy Central television series “The Sarah Silverman Program,” Schrab has already made quite a mark on the entertainment world through his various creative projects. However, not every idea makes it to the metaphorical finish line. With every example of success comes a multitude of failures, rejections and turn aways. But for Schrab, none of that could ever stop the creativity from happening. From things like mummy cowboys to brain-eating robots to Herbacide the Nuclear Power Plant, the upcoming “But I Can’t Do Anything Else” collects the various images and designs Schrab came up with over the past 10 years.
Schrb took a break from navigating the wacky rivers of creativity and spoke with CBR News about the upcoming tome, the importance of following through with your ideas and why it isn’t so bad to look at your chosen path in life and realize you can’t do anything else.
CBR News: Your book’s title, “But I Can’t Do Anything Else” — how did you come up with the idea for this, which basically collects all your ideas from the past 10 years?
Rob Schrab: Well, I’m always trying to be a glass is half full person, even though I find I can be very crabby and grumpy sometimes as I go through the business and see how it’s not the fairest place in the world. A lot of people relate to that, when I say, “But I can’t do anything else.” But for a guy who can’t do anything else, I’ve done a lot. I’m pretty proud of the stuff that I’ve been attached to. And even my greatest misses are not that bad either. You’ll have something like “Heat Vision and Jack,” which is a pilot that I did in 1998, and it didn’t get aired, but it’s all over the Internet and has a fanbase. I like that I can’t do anything else. It started off as something like, “Let’s take all these rejected ideas and share them with people,” but with the opening that I wrote [to the book], I tried really hard to go, “It’s important to try and stay positive and keep making stuff” and to try and encourage other people to make stuff, too.
Like you just pointed out about staying positive about it all, if you look at “Heat Vision and Jack,” even though it didn’t get picked up, you still had that experience of making a pilot with Owen Wilson and Jack Black.
Yeah! Exactly. Not a lot of people get to do that in their lives, and I’m very lucky. You have to remind yourself of that, and you have to remind yourself that the grass is always going to be greener. Just sit back and go, “I really love what I do.” Just be really positive and happy about it. And don’t stop! That’s the biggest thing. The only time you fail is when you stop — when you give up. Any writer and artist knows, once you finish a project, it’s the hardest thing in the world to start the next one. It’s crippling and such a frightening thing. But as soon as you take one step and you get into it, it’s pretty magical. Not to sound corny, but it can be a really magical job. It’s not even a job. Again, I’m very lucky to be working, and it’s not even work, it’s playing all the time. [Laughs]
You look at this book, and it’s exactly like you just pointed out. It’s that first step. It’s taking those ideas you have and putting them down on paper. Getting it out of your head and make it real. Draw and sketch and put onto paper what’s in your imagination.
Exactly. We have a finite time before we’re dead. There’re so many ideas in my head right now, there’s going to be a point where I’m going to be gone and these ideas are not going to be able to get out there. So I wanted to share. I wanted to at least have some kind of bound collection of all these ideas out there. At least for people to take a look at and see that they exist. Until they are drawn on a piece of paper or written in a screenplay or script or any place, they kind of don’t exist. I think that the drawings and the illustrations make it even more real. So, when Dan Harmon and I would be working on an idea, he would be on the keyboard and I would be with my sketchbook. “I think the bad guy would look something like this,” or, “The monster would look something like that,” and he would look at the drawing and we’d talk about it and he would use that to describe it in the script. It just made it a lot more three-dimensional. It made it exist. Then you go through the steps in this crazy business, and it’s like, “Oh. That two years of my life isn’t going to amount to anything. I have this sketchbook full of ideas and no one gets to see them.” And that’s the whole point of the book.
You know, it’s funny — this is stuff that you’ve sketched out and worked on and pitched for ten years. But at the same time, you look at something like “Monster House,” where it actually took ten years before it got off the ground.
Right! We did that in 1998. That was the very first screenplay that we wrote. It was our graduation into the business. It was our first script, we were really green, we really didn’t know what we were doing, we were figuring it out along the way, but we had a lot of passion. I was drawing tons of stuff and I was showing what I thought it would look like. It was that iconography that I think kept it in the back of the minds of producers. Originally, “Monster House” was written to be made into a live-action movie. I was supposed to be our “Goonies” meets “Poltergeist” kind of movie. When that house gets up and starts walking around at the end, we didn’t have the ability to make that look good, yet. When the Mo-Cap technology came out, they said, “Maybe we should do it this way with this new tool.” It all fell into place and worked out great.
The advancement of technology certainly helps make a lot of things possible, and it seems many of your ideas have these crazy, cool sci-fi element to it. Maybe, given enough time, we’ll have a “Scud” film with actual disposable assassins.
Have you seen “The Social Network?” Well, here’s the thing. There’s going to be some nerd, somewhere, that gets dissed by a girl and he’s going to go, “You know something? I’m going to prove my self worth by making an artificial intelligence that’s as smart as a human being and I’m going to show her that I’m an awesome perfect dude.” He’s going to do it, and it’s going to go “Matrix” and that’s going to be the end of the human race. It’s going to be like that. And now I would love to write a story like that. [Laughs] Robots just keep coming back into my life. Maybe I’m just a hack, but I enjoy drawing them and I like just that graphic representation of a human being walking around in that world that just does not make sense. I think the first 15 pages [of the book] is filled with just robot stuff. There’s a lot of robot designs in there.
Looking at the images in the book, are there any that stick out in your mind as something you’d really want to get a chance to expand on one day, or does that really apply to every idea in this book?
Of course I love all of it. I think that in order to complete a drawing or screenplay you have to find a way to fall in love with it, because if you hate it, you’ll never finish it. So, in a way, I love everything that is in there. There are some I love more than others and there are some that I go, “I really got to come back to that someday.” As much as the Fantasy Western genre has such a bad taste in its mouth with “Jonah Hex,” — we’ll see with “Cowboys and Aliens” — Rot Gut, which was the mummy cowboy idea that I actually came up with before “Scud,” that was an idea that I was playing around with and Harmon and I developed it into a feature pitch. That was the one we were going, “This is the one that we’re putting the most thought into it, we have visual representation of it. People are going to really get into it.” It was the one we felt the most strongest about. We even pitched it to [Robert] Zemeckis when we met with him. We pitched him a bunch of ideas, but the big one was Rot Gut. But after Rot Gut, we were like, “And then we have this other idea called ‘Monster House,'” and he forgot about Rot Gut right away and just said, “Let’s talk about ‘Monster House.'”
And that is incredibly lucky, but we spent all of our time on Rot Gut and I drew tons and tons of drawings. I thought, “How can you turn this down? It’s really, really cool. We’ve got the beginning, middle and end figured out.” With “Monster House,” we just said, “Well, it’s a bunch of kids that fight a house that comes alive,” and he just lit up and they loved it. It was a five-minute pitch. Where Rot Gut was like 45 minutes. You never know what’s going to hit people. And that’s why you have to keep on making stuff. That’s why you have to get out there and keep doing that. It’s something that I lost sight of the last couple of years. I get tired of getting burned all the time. You put all your love and time and effort and passion into an idea, and then it doesn’t move forward. You think that you’ll play by the rules. “What do people want to see? Romantic comedies. Stay away from sci-fi. Stay away from horror.” But you’re not being true to yourself. You’re not going, “Would I pay for this? Would I leave the house to see this movie or buy this book?” If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t be doing it.
Do you see something like this book and comics in general as a medium as a way of getting something that didn’t work as a movie out to the public and to fans?
Absolutely. There’s a bunch of ideas right now that I’ve pitched before, and people say the same thing: “I don’t see it.” But when I start drawing, they go, “Oh. Okay. I get it.” So, I’m hoping that people respond to this book, and even if they don’t, I want to use it as way to get back into comics because it’s like the perfect medium to just get my stories out. And again, you come back to that unpleasant truth of, “We’re not going to be here forever.” I have all of these ideas and it would be nice for at least a few people — other than my girlfriend and close friends — to know about them and have an opinion about them. You always think, “I’ll come around to that” or “I’ll get to it one day.” This book is my way of saying to myself as a motivator, “Today is now. Do it! Get out there and start letting people see these ideas.” They’re not all going to hit, but at least you won’t go to your grave with a bunch of ideas in your head, a bunch of stories in your head, that people might not have a chance to enjoy.
You know, looking at something like this book, it’s a way to even get this ideas that didn’t work before out there now. Like, maybe now a studio sees Rot Gut and likes it and wants to move on it.
You never know. It’ll be interesting. I’m curious to see what happens when this book comes out, what people respond to. I have a problem with, when I’m with an idea, I’m focused on it 100 percent. I’m working on it. I’m thinking it. I’m living it, whether directing a TV show or a short or writing something or drawing something. I’m 100 perfect committed to it. But once it’s done, I have this terrible depression of, “Oh man. I need to get out there and do it again.” But which idea? I have a book full of ideas. Which one is the one I want to spend the time with? I waffle and I waffle and I waffle and then I wake up three months later and I think, “I could have finished at least one of these as a comic book!” So, I’m curious to see what the public thinks of this book. Maybe they go, “This book has cool robots and a couple of cool aliens,” but what’s that one thing? There’s nothing about the story, but there’s something about that character that makes them want to know more about it. I’m excited to hear the feedback from the fans. Or they could go, “This is a bunch of crap.” [Laughs]
From the sound of it, you’re constantly creating, constantly coming up with more stuff. Would you like to release more of ideas in a format like this or even go all out and make a comic out of one of the concepts in this book?
Yeah! I think that would be great. I’m always sketching or doing animatics or something. It would be great to do a follow up. “I Can’t Do Anything Else 2.” It would be great. Or it would be good to go, “But I Can’t Do Anything Else: Rot Gut” or “Blood Driven” or any one of those things as a trade paperback, 100-page book. “You know that book that Schrab put out with all those ideas? You know that one thing that was the coolest out of the all of them? Well, he’s putting it out in trade.” That would be a dream and a great thing to do. It’s kind of like in “Grindhouse,” how they had those trailers in the middle of the movie. That’s like what this is. Maybe there’s a “Machete” in there. [Laughs]
Do something on April 12 and pick up “But I Can’t Do Anything Else” at your local comic shop!