Thanks to the popularity of animated comedies like The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Rick and Morty, Bob’s Burgers, adult-oriented primetime toons have been just as successful with audiences as the typically kid-friendly shows that ruled Saturday morning TV for decades.

Beyond those hit series, plus the edgier product on Cartoon Network’s overnight programming block Adult Swim and streamers like Netflix, low-budget yet high quality indie cartoon webisodes offer an opportunity for tomorrow’s Seth Macfarlanes and Matt Groenings a platform to prove their talents on their own terms. One of those new stars is filmmaker and stand-up comedian Mike Devore, writer/creator of an animated sitcom that melds his self-taught visual design skills with his equally strong narrative acumen: Max And Friends.

Painstakingly drawn on Adobe Animate software and voiced by several of Devore’s fellow comic colleagues, Max and Friends (streaming its first five of six episodes on YouTube, link below), follows the unpredictable adventures of an average guy (Max, played by Peter Arsenault) who’s at the lowest point in his life. His beloved parents have passed away, he’s alone with no companionship, and he’s about to lose his family’s cherished home to foreclosure.

Who can Max possibly turn to for support during his biggest crisis? Enter three offbeat, often irritating yet constantly loyal dogs: the obese and frequently coarse Beagle/Corgi mix Milo (Thomas Nichols), the always apprehensive Daisy (voiced by Arijana Ramic), and the gloomy Russian ex-pat/Siberian Husky Dimitri (voiced by Nikita Oster).


The canine and human characters of MAX AND FRIENDS. L-R: Milo (voiced by Thomas Nichols), Daisy (voiced by Arijana Ramic), Max (voiced by Peter Arsenault), Dimitri (voiced by Nikita Oster) and Rebecca (voiced by Samantha Rund).

Max also finds a new human friend in Rebecca (Samantha Rund), whom he and his trio of canines meet while walking around their neighborhood. Milo, Daisy, Dimitri and Samantha all help to make Max’s world interesting – and possibly, happier – as he deals with every challenge that his life puts before him.

When the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic halted sizable public gatherings around the world, Devore’s stand-up career was also put on pause. During the early part of the shelter-in-place lockdown imposed earlier this year, Devore – who found his working time inexplicably unoccupied by the lockdown – shifted his focus from performing to creating when he started developing Max and Friends.

Max and Friends was created out of necessity,” recalls Devore, who also co-wrote and co-produced the series with fellow Cal State Northridge screenwriting student Marty Lang. “When COVID struck, everything shut down (including me being able to do standup) and I felt I needed to do something creatively. Originally the plan was to help a friend develop his comic strip into an animated cartoon, however he backed out at the last minute. With this creative energy built up, I just decided to take it in another direction and create something for myself.”

Devore’s personal experiences with his own equally rotund dog Milo (who also shares his name with the fictional taco-loving/exercise-averse pet in his series) were just as big of a creative inspiration for Max and Friends as the other adult cartoon shows it shares its humorous traits with. “Before I came up with the cartoon, I just knew I wanted to create something that involved him. Originally the project was going to be called ‘Max and Milo,’ but as I started to think about the world itself, I decided to incorporate more characters.”

The similarities between the real Milo and his animated counterpart are numerous. They’re both fat,” notes Devore. “In all seriousness, I adopted Milo last year when I moved to Seattle and he weighed 50 pounds (he’s supposed to be 20). As the weight loss journey began, I got to see bits of Milo’s personality come out – like his stubbornness to go on walks, his desire to eat all the time, and just being a couch potato.”

MaxAndFriendsStill2Max and Friends other canine characters have equally interesting roots. “The character (of) Daisy is actually based on a combination of two of my dogs from the past,” Devore says.

“In a previous relationship, I had a lab mix named Daisy and a nervous border collie/beagle mix named Roxy. I combined those two animals together to create that character. For Dimitri, his character is based on the actor (Oster) himself. For the most part, that’s how he performs so I just heightened it a little bit. Other than that, everything else is pretty much straight forward.”

As for Max and Friends’ deceptively simplistic visual look, the process of putting it together is tougher than one would imagine. For Devore, who worked exclusively with PowerPoint to organize presentations during several deployments in the U.S. Navy, his downtime experiments with the program’s animated elements were amusing.

In fact, adds Devore, one of those cartoons involved an unauthorized re-enactment of the famous 2011 Seal Team Six raid that killed notorious 9/11 terrorist Osama bin Laden. “Me and my buddy spent a couple (of) shifts creating the re-enactment and it ended up being one of the funniest things we produced.”

Their commanding officers, though, were not amused by their clandestine recreation of one of America’s greatest moments. “…We did get in trouble for doing this on watch when we should’ve been paying attention to our jobs. Hey – that’s where your tax money goes, people! We tried to save the file; however, our mistake was making it on a classified machine. I don’t think the file exists anymore, unfortunately.”

From that experience, the next phases of Devore’s life – stand-up comedy and animation – would begin. After starting his stand-up career while still at sea, the soon-to-be civilian found an irresistible post-Navy opportunity awaiting him on the mainland when he took part in a comedians’ workshop hosted by Comedy Central. Interacting with the network’s producers, Devore and other undiscovered funny people learned that having the skill to make audiences laugh goes hand-in-hand with the need to build audiences through hilarious short-form videos.

Max's Beagle/Corgi mix Milo (Thomas Nichols) possesses a rather coarse vocabulary and an even bigger appetite for tacos.

Max’s Beagle/Corgi mix Milo (Thomas Nichols) possesses a rather coarse vocabulary and an even bigger appetite for tacos.

“The biggest takeaway from that workshop was that not only were Comedy Central looking for talent, they were also looking for content creators,” Devore comments. “They told us that they constantly browse social media apps looking for the next thing.”

Devore committed himself to producing and releasing animated skits of his own, but he found that the process involved in making such content was more complicated than he thought.

“I always wanted to create an animated show, but I didn’t know how to draw nor did I know anything about animation. I’ll be honest; most of it was garbage when I started. However, I knew that I had to start somewhere so that didn’t deter me from stopping.”

Devore’s first animated project, titled Death By PowerPoint, combined his comedic perspective with his visual sensibilities. Although its creator notes that it’s rougher looking than the work he’s followed up with, he also sees it as an important milestone in his efforts to mix the verbal substance of humor with the style of cartoon animation. “If you actually look at it, it’s more of a storyboard than animation, but I still was proud of what I was able to make out of nothing.”

Making Death By PowerPoint, and that secret PowerPoint re-enactment animation he did while in the Navy, also taught Devore to devote more time to perfecting his talents in the fields of animation and comedy. “The biggest takeaway from creating these cartoons was just building the foundation of the process. The first couple of years of doing standup isn’t to be funny, but to build your foundation. I transferred that mindset over into animation and used that as my focal point to overcome the negativity of people’s opinions about my work.”

Once Devore befriended Lang during their time attending Cal State Northridge’s screenwriting program in 2018, the pair would team up frequently on their post-college creative undertakings. “We stayed in touch after school; Mike worked as a (production assistant) on a short film I location-managed, and was a grip on a short I directed.”

Comedian, animator and filmmaker Mike Devore (co-writer/co-creator of MAX AND FRIENDS).

Comedian, animator and filmmaker Mike Devore (co-writer/co-creator of MAX AND FRIENDS).

As Devore became more confident in his talents while feeling un-discouraged by his critics, he continued to share his early endeavors with audiences. One of those viewers was Lang, who instantly understood that he was seeing a new talent – and future collaborator – blossom before his eyes. “I got to see his Death By Powerpoint episodes, and they were so, so funny,” recalls Lang.

As impressed as Lang was with Death By PowerPoint, he was even more amazed by Devore’s work on Max and Friends. “When I saw the first two episodes of Max And Friends, I could see that he had really grown as a storyteller,” Lang comments, adding that Devore’s focus on animation also contributed to his decision to partner with Devore on the series.

“I’m really interested in working in animation, since it’s safer than live action production right now, so I asked him if I could join him as an executive producer. It’s been so much fun working with him, I’ve been learning so much, and I think we make a really good team.”

As Devore began pre-production on Max and Friends, his artistic foundations would soon be on solid ground. “When I decided to create Max and Friends, I applied everything that I learned from both aspects to build a much stronger foundation to this project. I learned from my mistakes and made sure I didn’t make them again. Now, fortunately, these cartoons are created on unclassified machines.”

They’re also created on Adobe Animate software, which has given Devore a more sophisticated yet nonetheless arduous means of animating each episode of Max And Friends. Of course, getting each of Devore’s scripts for those episodes to be spoken by actors in tandem with the show’s animation is only part of the extensive journey Max And Friends takes from the first germination of an idea to its final streamed form.

“This is such a tedious process since I’m doing almost everything myself. From start to finish, the process takes about 3 weeks. We start off with the script. From the beginning I always told myself, no matter how the cartoon looks, the script has to be good; no exceptions. I’ll write a draft, (then) send it to Marty and (fellow comedian) Adam (Tiller) for their review. They’ll send it back and we keep doing that until it is finalized.”

Once animation is completed and vocal performances are captured, the most difficult phase of Max And Friends‘ production comes in the editing room. “After the scenes are drawn up and the audio is cleaned up, I’ll start importing the audio files one at a time and do the lip-syncing,” Devore replies. “I truly hate this part. This is the most tedious part of the entire process. It’s at this point where I’m really burned out and I question everything that I’m doing. After I fight through that wall, I get to export all the files and edit the first cut of the episode.”

Despite all the trial and error that comes during Max And Friends’ animation process, and despite all the frustration occasionally experienced by Devore during its post-production, the effort spent on making each episode of the series leads to the final product that viewers eventually see and hear when they watch Max and his canine companions in action. It’s all made possible because of the guidance Lang has given to Devore throughout the making of Max and Friends.

MAX AND FRIENDS co-producer/co-writer Marty Lang.

MAX AND FRIENDS co-producer/co-writer Marty Lang.

Says Devore:God, Marty is a life saver. As a fairly new TV/film/web series creator, he’s mentored me through the entire process. He helped me map out the story arc from episodes 3-6 and I couldn’t have done that without him. He provides deep insights to how each episode can be better. Sometimes it’s (his) notes that make me go ‘damn it! I don’t want to go back into the animation software to redo something’, but I know it’s only to make it a better product in the end. Ultimately I feel we balance each other out, (and) the things that I struggle with (are) the things he’s comfortable with. He’s a great mentor and friend.”

While Devore and Lang feel that Max and Friends‘ mostly-PG rated humor is in the same class as shows like Bob’s Burgers (minus the F-word being uttered in Max‘s first episode), they also say it could easily be right at home among the more suggestive animated series on Adult Swim, HBO Max or TZGZ (a weekly adult cartoon block on SyFy). Yet, there’s much that sets Max and Friends apart from its peers.

I feel that the characters themselves are unique and different. Even though it’s a comedy, I don’t try to force the funny,” says Devore. “That’s something I learned from doing standup. I feel the best jokes come from honesty, authenticity, and vulnerability. As I continue to develop these characters, I feel that those aspects that I just described will help make the cartoon itself unique and different regardless of what situation we put them in.”

“I think the fact that we’re a serialized web series makes us a little different. Animated shows are often episodic, which is a great format, but I think having an overarching story separates us a little bit,” Lang responds. “You can see these dogs grow through their experience, and confront their imperfections. To me, that’s great drama. Thankfully, Mike knows how to make that funny.”

MaxAndFriendsStill5As Max and Friends readies its sixth episode for release, Devore and Lang already want to take their series from the training grounds of indie web series to the big leagues of half-hour comedy for mainstream TV.

“Marty and I have plans to develop the pilot (into a TV series) as well as (to) submit this into festivals next year,” Devore replies. “I hope it (Max and Friends) catches someone’s attention. I would love for people to just watch it and give it a chance. I hope people get a good laugh over this cartoon and they connect to at least one of the characters.”

“I hope that the show finds an audience with people who love animated comedies, and people who love their pets,” adds Lang. “I think they’d both find the show is really enjoyable, and that it really gets a love of animals. Like Mike said, we’re planning on making a half hour version of the show – I look at the HBO show Animals as a type of show we could emulate. The first season of that show was made independently, and then bought by HBO once completed. We feel like we could put a season of TV together of similar storytelling quality and humor.”

NOTE: Lang says that Max and Friends is in the process of being closed-captioned.

Watch Max and Friends on YouTube:

Check out Devore’s live animation sessions on Twitch: