CLOSE
Disney Publishing
Disney Publishing

Q&A: Alex Hirsch and Rob Renzetti on Gravity Falls Fandom

Disney Publishing
Disney Publishing

Though the animated series and cult hit Gravity Falls wrapped in February after just two seasons, the show's devoted following is more dedicated than ever. Thousands of people joined in creator Alex Hirsch's Cipher Hunt over the summer, completing an international scavenger hunt that culminated in the discovery of a statue of the show's supervillain. And those same fans made Journal 3, a real-life manifestation of a key book in the series, a New York Times bestseller in a matter of days.

We talked to Hirsch and Rob Renzetti, co-authors of Journal 3, about the book, the show, the scavenger hunt—and where they get all of their fabulously weird ideas.

Journal 3 is packed with hidden info and ciphers to unravel—so much, in fact, that there’s no way fans have found it all yet. Can you give a hint to something no one appears to have discovered?

Alex Hirsch: The internet never ceases to impress me. For all the talk about how the upcoming generation has a short attention span, the moment you give these kids a riddle they drop everything and suddenly work together in perfect harmony like a military-level SWAT team to crack the code. It’s incredible. That being said, sometimes fans are often so focused on code-cracking they miss what’s in plain sight—the actual text of the journal! There are connections in there that even the savviest fans still have yet to notice.

Journal 3 reveals new details about most of the major characters, like Ford's Smash Mouth tattoo and the fact that Soos glues on his chin hair. How much of that existed as character development during the series, and how much backstory did you create just for the Journal?

Rob Renzetti: Alex could probably give you a more encyclopedic answer to this question. I think a lot of Stan’s backstory was something that he had in his back pocket during the whole run of the series. Other smaller things were definitely invented for the book. The chin hair bit was something I came up with as a throwaway joke that I thought said a lot about Soos. 

AH: I've had the backstories for many of these characters in my head for a long time. Especially Ford and Bill, and how Bill played to Ford's ego and almost destroyed the world in the process. Of course we still improvise and invent new things along the way. That’s the fun of writing—finding chances to surprise yourself. Ford's tattoo was a surprise to me, too—courtesy of our awesome illustrator Andy Gonsalves.

Courtesy Disney Publishing

One of the fun things about the Journal is that we get to dive deeper into some of the episodes. For example, Ford chronicles a few of the other dimensions he experienced while he was in the portal. What inspired those? In particular, the "M" dimension stood out to me as something that must have a story behind it.

AH: While writing season two, we wanted to send our characters through the portal into the multiverse but never found a way to quite make it work with our storyline. There were tons of drawings and jokes we came up with during our brainstorms—including the annoyingly pointless M dimension. We loved the idea of someone as scientific and rational as Ford having to fight his way out of what was essentially a Sesame Street segment teaching you about the letter M. It would drive him insane.

RR: The M Dimension came out of an unused story where Mabel went through the Portal and the Pines needed to go search for her. We were brainstorming ideas for alternate dimensions and the M Dimension was the most delightfully silly thing we could imagine.

Much has been made over how much creative control you were able to retain even though Disney’s Standards and Practices is presumably pickier than most. Was there anything you really had to fight for? Did you lose any of those battles?

AH: One day I'd love to release a coffee table book of all the crazy notes I got from Disney Channel's S&P and legal department. To give you a sense of what I was up against, one time I was told, "Make sure the target that Wendy throws a dart at doesn't resemble the target from the store Target." To which I had to reply: "The target isn't the target from Target. The target is a target."

Welcome to my hell.

Was anything vetoed from the Journal?

RR: I don’t remember any idea that we came up with being vetoed or changed. Disney Publishing is particularly awesome that way.

AH: Disney Publishing has been incredible. They didn't give me a single note on this journal. They understood the tone of the show, believed in my vision, and more importantly, trusted the intelligence of our audience. Working with them has been a dream come true. I wish the gatekeepers in kids TV were as savvy and in tune with the audience as those in Publishing.

Courtesy Disney Publishing

The Cipher Hunt was such a fun, interactive way to keep fans involved. Where did you get the idea?

AH: I spent 90 percent of my childhood playing SNES and N64, and my favorite games were the ones packed with secrets. I remember spending one summer being utterly obsessed with trying to get the legendary unreachable "Ice Key" from Banjo-Kazooie. What was so brilliant about that item was that it was literally impossible to get and just was there to torture players. Or so people thought. Until years later, someone discovered a code that let you find it. I remember thinking that if I ever had a chance, I wanted to create something that gave fans the same feeling. A last mystery after the game is over. Something so hard to find it reaches legendary status. Launching the hunt and watching the fans team up all over the world to find the clues was one of the most fun things I've ever done.

Do Mabel and Dipper's names have any special significance?

AH: I imagine that [their] parents see themselves as slightly counter-culture and chose purposefully archaic names just so their kids would stand out among the 12 Chrises and 14 Jessicas in Dipper and Mabel's preschool.

You’ve talked a lot about the real-life inspirations for many of the main characters, but I haven’t seen much about where McGucket came from. I thought it was interesting that Journal 3 showed that not only was he once a genius, he was actually the voice of reason before he got fed up with Ford.

RR: McGucket started as a throwaway joke character in "Gobblewonker" and just grew and grew in importance as the series went on. It just made sense to us that a character with such scientific and technological skill would be tied to the creation and the creator of the Portal.

AH: McGucket originally started out as just a wacky stereotypical hillbilly and a chance for me to scream into the microphone. (He was originally called Old Man McGuffin, which is a literary trope meaning something unimportant that sets a plot in motion.) But when our writers got deeper into the story we discovered that there was an exciting opportunity to connect him to our characters’ pasts and destinies. I'm very glad we did—giving Ford a friend humanizes him, as well as deepening the tragedy when they part ways.

Courtesy Disney Publishing

What's next for you both?

AH: Right now I'm developing a few different projects for a few different places, but it’s too early to comment on any of them. Like Grunkle Stan, I like to stay a man of mystery until the right moment to fleece rubes emerges once more.

RR: I’m serving as executive producer on a new show for Disney TV called Country Club created by the very talented Houghton brothers. It’s about a country family’s oversized adventures in the Big City.

Finally, a question from Lydia, my superfan 6-year-old: "Where do you come up with all of the weirdness?"

AH: I didn't come up with the weirdness. I was born in it. Molded by it.

RR: There is an unlimited supply of weirdness in the weird world around you and inside your weird self. Lots of people try to ignore it and lots of people try to stamp it out. But the best people allow themselves the freedom to be weird. Be the best, weird person you can be.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Lists
10 Things You Might Not Know About Wine
iStock
iStock

by Tilar J. Mazzeo

Between the vine and the liquor store, plenty of secrets are submerged in your favorite bottle of vino. Here, the author of Back Lane Wineries of Sonoma spills some of the best.

1. DIGITAL EYES ARE EVERYWHERE IN VINEYARDS.

Certain premium estates in Bordeaux and Napa are beginning to look a little more like an army base—or an Amazon.com warehouse. They’re using drones, optical scanners, and heat-sensing satellites to keep a digital eye on things. Some airborne drones collect data that helps winemakers decide on the optimal time to harvest and evaluate where they can use less fertilizer. Others rove through the vineyard rows, where they may soon be able to take over pruning. Of course, these are major investments. At $68,000 a pop, the Scancopter 450 is about twice as costly as a 1941 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon!

2. THERE ARE ALSO LOTS OF COW SKULLS.

They’re not everywhere, but biodynamic farming techniques are on the rise among vintners who don’t want to rely on chemicals, and this is one trick they’ve been known to use to combat plant diseases and improve soil PH. It’s called Preparation No. 505, and it involves taking a cow’s skull (or a sheep’s or a goat’s), stuffing it with finely ground oak chips, and burying it in a wet spot for a season or two before adding it to the vineyard compost.

3. FEROCIOUS FOLIAGE IS A VINTNER’S FRIEND.

The mustard flowers blooming between vineyard rows aren’t just for romance. Glucosinolates in plants like radishes and mustard give them their spicy bite, and through the wonders of organic chemistry, those glucosinolates also double as powerful pesticides. Winemakers use them to combat nematodes—tiny worms that can destroy grape crops.

4. WHAT A CANARY IS TO A COAL MINE, ROSES ARE TO A VINEYARD.

Vintners plant roses among their vines because they get sick before anything else in the field. If there’s mildew in the air, it will infect the roses first and give a winemaker a heads-up that it’s time to spray.

5. VINTNERS EXPLOIT THE FOOD CHAIN.

A trio of wines
iStock

Small birds like blackbirds and starlings can clear out 20 percent of a crop in no time. But you know what eats little birds? Big birds. Falconry programs are on the rise in vineyards from California to New Zealand. Researchers have found that raptors eat a bird or two a day (along with a proportion of field mice and other critters) and cost only about as much to maintain as your average house cat.

6. THE BIG PROBLEMS IN TASTING ROOMS ARE VERY SMALL.

Winemakers are constantly seeking ways to manage the swarms of Drosophila melanogaster that routinely gather around the dump buckets in their swanky showrooms. You know these pests as fruit flies, and some vintners in California are exploring ways to use carnivorous plants to tackle the problem without pesticides. Butterworts, sundews, and pitcher plants all have sweet-sounding names, but the bugeating predators make for terrific fruit fly assassins, and you’ll see them decorating tasting rooms across wine country.

7. WINE NEEDS CLEANING.

Winemaking produces hard-to-remove sediments. Filters can catch most of the debris, but winemakers must add “fining agents” to remove any suspended solids that sneak by. Until it was banned in the 1990s, many European vintners used powdered ox blood to clean their wines. Today, they use diatomaceous earth (the fossilized remains of hard-shelled algae), Isinglass (a collagen made from fish swim bladders), and sometimes bentonite (volcanic clay). Irish moss and egg whites are also fine wine cleaners.

8. ATOMS HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS.

About 5 percent of the premium wine sold for cellaring doesn’t contain what the label promises. So how do top-shelf buyers avoid plunking down serious cash on a bottle of something bunk? Most elite wine brokerages, auction houses, and collectors use atomic dating to detect fraud. By measuring trace radioactive carbon in the wine, most bottles can be dated to within a year or two of the vintage.

9. FINE WINES GET MRIs.

Even with atomic dating, there are certain perils involved in buying a $20,000 bottle of wine. Leaving a case in the hot trunk of your car is enough to ruin it, so imagine what can happen over a couple of decades if a wine isn’t kept in the proper conditions. Back in 2002, a chemistry professor at University of California at Davis patented a technique that uses MRI technology to diagnose the condition of vintage wines. Not planning any $20,000 wine purchases? This is still good news for the consumer. This technique may soon be used at airport security, meaning you’ll be able to carry on your booze.

10. THERE’S A TRICK TO AGING YOUR WINE.

If you end up with a bottle of plonk, Chinese scientists have developed a handy solution. Zapping a young wine with electricity makes it taste like something you’ve cellar aged. Scientists aren’t quite sure how it happens yet, but it seems that running your wine for precisely three minutes through an electric field changes the esters, proteins, and aldehydes and can “age” a wine instantly.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
arrow
fun
New Book Highlights the World's Most Depressing Place Names

If you like a little ennui with your wanderlust, we've got a book for you.

As Hyperallergic reports, the popular Instagram account @sadtopographies recently got the coffee table book treatment with the beautiful and gloomy Triste Tropique, Topographies of Sadness. Since 2015, master of misery Damien Rudd has been compiling Google Maps screen shots of real-life locales like Melancholy Lane, Mistake Island, Hopeless Way, and Cape Disappointment on the social media platform. Scrolling through them will make you laugh and marvel at how these names even came to be.

Created in collaboration with French publisher Jean Boîte Éditions, Triste Tropique includes 89 locales accompanied by amusingly poetic captions (called "romances" by the publisher) from writer Cécile Coulon. "Anyway, does it even really exist?" she writes of Doubtful Island. Each place is printed to scale with its exact location provided. The title is a reference to another glum book: Tristes Tropiques by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss.

This isn't the first time @sadtopographies has been made into a book; last year's Sad Topographies: A Disenchanted Travellers' Guide delved further into the origins of depressing place names. "I have not been to, nor is it likely I will visit, any of the places in this book," Rudd wrote in that 2017 title, but perhaps you'll feel differently.

See the cover, featuring Disappointment Island, below. While you're at it, check out 14 of the most depressing place names in North America here.

Triste Tropique, Topographies of Sadness cover
Jean Boîte Éditions

[h/t Hyperallergic]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios