NYCC 2019: Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal hits like a Stone Age hammer


Since it was revealed, Primal has been a source of gleeful anticipation for me, a child raised on Powerpuff Girls, Samurai Jack and Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars mini-series. The man’s direction and vision have been definitive in my own developing tastes, as well as a doorway to some of the influences and inspirations on those works. Naturally I was thrilled to see Jack return for its Adult Swim-hosted fifth season, where things were a bit grimmer and grimier, violence all the more intense. Tartakovsky’s magnum opus aged and matured with its audience and the increased intensity of animation, bolstered and unbound by Adult Swim’s… adult demographic. 

You thought Samurai Jack‘s fifth season was Tartakovsky: Unchained, get a load of Primal.

You can stream the soon-to-air (midnight, October 7th on Adult Swim) mini-series’ debut episode now to see what all the fuss is about. Lucky attendees at this year’s New York Comic Con were treated to a Q&A with Tartakovsky following a screening of the first episode, with the animator peeling back some layers of what makes Primal tick.

The seed for the ten-episode series was said to date back some eight years, when Tartakovsky was working on some storyboards and sketches for fun. A cave child and a dinosaur were about as far as he got, shelving the idea. Following the tremendous success of the Samurai Jack revival at Adult Swim, Tartakovsky and his team’s work on the “visual sequences” of that fifth season; the visceral action and impactful, speechless scenes of emotion, fueled his vision for his follow-up project. The silent nature of cavemen and a prehistoric setting made sense as a platform for gutsy, dialogue-minimal storytelling, and Primal was an easy greenlight.

The debut episode speaks for itself, so I’d implore the curious to give it a watch. Following his career for most of my life, I already feel confident in saying Primal is going to go down as some of his best work. It really does feel as if this is a distillation of the best of Samurai Jack‘s storytelling, the necessity for a simpler story allowing for a greater focus on living in Primal‘s blood-wrenching moment.

Initially Tartakovsky said he tried a “Tezuka style,” referring to legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka, best known as the creator of Astro Boy. That being similar to his previous series Symbionic Titan (an eager fan prodding Tartakovsky for details on a potential revival of the cancelled series, he mentioned “ten amazing scripts” for Titan, though that a revival was “not a plan”), the team looked to push in slightly different directions for the aesthetic, going for a more painterly approach.

Our lead caveman, credited as “Spear,” also underwent some variations, with early designs leaning further into a pre-Neolithic, neanderthal look. Tartakovsky mentioned the line between having Spear appear “goofy” and dramatic was a fine one, with the final design falling somewhere between us modern homo-sapiens and our not-so-distant cousins. 

A truly gorgeous work of bloody (though not gratuitous or silly) action and dramatic character development, Primal looks to be a massive treat for animation fans, and pure nirvana for Tartakovsky loyalists. It premieres with five episodes every day, starting October 7th, with the remaining episodes to debut at an as-yet-undisclosed time.