The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

The Sushi Friends: A Quest to Create a Cartoon

Written by: Gregory Abbey, Special to CC2K


It all started with Wasabi…

In the summer of 2003, my good friend Ward and I were just finishing off lunch at our favorite corner joint when suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, he muttered, “Hey, wouldn’t it be funny if there was a little superhero named Wasabi? Y’know, just this little clump of green mass wandering around, saving the universe?” Now my friend Ward has a PhD in History and currently teaches at NYU, as well being a public speaker/artist/overall eccentric, so this kind of rhetorical musing from him did not strike me in any way odd. In fact, in the moment, it inspired me. I’m an actor and at the time I was doing, among other things, voice-over work for cartoons at a company called 4Kids Entertainment. I voiced characters on a handful of shows including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And no, not the early 90’s version, the newer one that’s been running on Fox the last few years. I’m Raphael. The angry one. It was and is easily one of the coolest jobs I’ve ever had. I'm an amateur writer as well, so when Ward mentioned this idea to me, I pressed him. “There’s something there,” I said. “Lets toss it around”. In the moment, several things passed through my mind. I knew that if we were able to come up with some sort of presentation, I would at least be able to get it into a few peoples hands, my peeps at 4Kids of course, but also the director of TMNT, a woman named Sue Blu, who lived in Los Angeles and had directed and acted in animation for years. My fantasy continued. We’d pass it on to her, she’d pass on to her contacts and before you know it, we’d be making children around the world chuckle at our brilliantly entertaining kids’ cartoon all the while rolling in beds of dough from all the merchandise licensing. Now all we had to do was actually come up with the idea. And so it began… I prodded Ward over the next few months and he and I begin to flush out the concept. It would be called Sushi Friends, a band of crime fighting superheroes based on Sushi. Wasabi would be their leader. We came up with four other characters basically by sitting around reading a Japanese menu and seeing what cracked us up the most. We also looked at a lot of sushi images. “Can we make a hero out of that?” And whenever Ward would look at me like this was the most ridiculous thing he had ever pondered, I’d just say, “Listen man, the biggest kids’ show on TV is about a sponge that wears pants and lives in the sea.” That usually brought him back around. We eventually had a handful of characters and a basic treatment for the idea. Next, I approached the lead character designer for TMNT, a young kid named Adrian Barrios who turned out to be an incredible find. A fantastically brilliant artist, Ward and I took Adrian out to lunch and basically pitched him the idea (At a sushi restaurant no less).  He didn’t flinch nor laugh us away condescendingly (Adrian is short on verbiage, long on talent). Instead he took our brief bios and caveman sketches and came back with some incredible creations. From there, we culled together a pretty basic pitch book and sent it off to Sue Blu in Los Angeles who loved the idea, and in turn, passed it along to her agent. Although the agent wasn’t exactly sure what to make of it, she saw some promise and said that if she could get us some meetings, we could come to L.A. and try to pitch the show to some production companies and networks… So in the summer of 2004, that’s what Ward and I did. And to cut to the chase, we didn’t sell the show, but we did get to drive around Los Angeles in a convertible for a week, drink Arnold Palmers, enjoy the sun and pretend like we were someone. And we learned a lot. We ended up meeting with three networks and a couple of production companies. And by the end, our pitch was a well-oiled machine, a little One-Act play that rocked. “It’s a show about crime fighting Sushi! No, really!” Song and dance, song and dance. Everyone seemed to like the idea, no one threw us out of their office, but no was willing to actually say, “Hell yeah! Lets make it!” either. Now, this was probably for two reasons. Number one, Ward and I were just a couple of oddballs from New York who didn’t exactly have a tremendous amount of experience producing a cartoon. In fact, other than me doing a couple of wacky voices, we had none. Secondly, after I related our Los Angeles adventures to the head of 4Kids he told me, “It’s nearly impossible to get someone to say yes.”


Eddie Mame

Ward and I put Sushi Friends on the backburner for the next year as we both focused on other projects. The trials and tribulations of our little baby never got us too high or too low because the truth was, it didn’t exactly dominate our everyday existence. Last summer though, we started kicking it around again and hassling Adrian for more artwork. Both of those events took some time but we’re gearing up once again. From the feedback we got in Los Angeles, we made some changes to the concept and flushed things out. We also wrote a couple of episode scripts so people would have a more specific idea of what the show was and could be. We just completed a new and improved pitch book as well as a website and are sending it out to all our contacts again.  From the beginning, we discussed wanting to make a small piece of animation to accompany the pitch book, but that’s a costly and time-consuming endeavor that we never took on. We hope to get that accomplished this time around. Ward and I have always felt that if we just got Sushi Friends in front of the right person, we had a shot. And so we keep pushing. And pushing. In the meantime, we both continue to work on other projects as well as developing some new animation ideas. We won’t give up on our little sushi brethren though, and hope that some day soon, in a not too distant future, we’ll spend our days making their eccentric, wacky, fun-filled world come to life.Stay Tuned… {mos_sb_discuss:4}