“Mission Hill” Co-Creator Bill Oakley Celebrates Series 25th Anniversary with San Diego Comic-Con Show

In 1999, the television landscape was a very different place. By today’s standards, it was practically the wild west, birthing television series as diverse as The Sopranos to Law & Order: Special Victims UnitFamily GuyThe West WingAngelSpongeBob SquarePants, Farscape, and many other series still beloved today.

But even for its time, Mission Hill was unique. The adult animated sitcom from Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein was originally created for the WB, but unaired episodes were burned off two years later on Adult Swim. It always had something of a cult following, thanks in part to its subject matter (the series followed brothers Andy and Kevin French who did not get along but were forced to move in together), style (which used elements reminiscent of 1930s cartoons), and bold storytelling (it won a GLAAD award for its portrayal of a positive gay relationship).

Now, for its 25th anniversary, Mission Hill and its creators are embarking on a nationwide tour, which includes a stop at San Diego Comic-Con.

“We did a show in Portland (where I live) about 18 months ago, just for fun, and it was a big success,” explains Oakley of the decision to take the show on the road, literally. “Other theaters around the country heard about it and started contacting us to see if we could do the show in their cities. Then, Jeremy Wein, of ThisMyShow Presents, took over the job of booking the events and we discovered even more cities had pretty big collections of Mission Hill fans so things just took off from there.”

Fans will be treated to new, never-before-seen high definition restoration of fan favorite episodes, as well as a chance to meet the creators behind the series.

“It’s awesome to be celebrating the 25th anniversary with the fans because, honestly, we never knew so many existed!” Oakley joked.

Mission Hill was always going to find an audience though, in part because it was created to service an under-represented audience at the time. While working on The Simpsons, Oakley and Weinstein noticed something — that there wasn’t a single character between the ages of 12 to 34 on the series (“except for Otto, who isn’t that fun to write for”).

“We decided to create an animated show, using the grammar of The Simpsons that was mostly about people in that neglected age range, in an urban setting. The vision for the show was that it would be the story of two brothers, both at formative ages, and us following their respective journeys for (hopefully) 10 or more seasons. Sadly, we only got to do one,” Oakley said.

For the visual style of the series, designer Lauren MacMullan pulled from several sources of inspiration, including the work of the legendary Harvey Kurtzman, the early films of Kevin Smith (specifically Clerks and Chasing Amy), as well as the indie comics of the 1990’s like Peter Bagge’s Buddy Bradley series, Joe Matt’s Peepshow, Daniel Clowes’ Eightball, and Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve.

Although it was cancelled after two episodes, the show found its audience through repeat viewings.

“I think the show would have been best as a cable show in the mid 2000’s which is actually what it ended up becoming when “Adult Swim” picked it up, and that’s where most of the fans initially saw it because the network ran the same 13 episodes over and over for years because it was cheap,” Oakley said. “There are different reasons fans still like the show. For some, it’s a throwback to their youth and more innocent pre-9/11 days. For others, it’s a fun time capsule of the 90’s. For others, it’s that they admired Gus and Wally because they had never seen a gay couple depicted like that on TV. Most of the humor still works because, although the world of the show is 1999, the stories are about timeless things like high school, dating, relationships, and so forth.”

One of the most groundbreaking stories told was that of Gus and Wally, two middle-aged adults, who shared a same-sex kiss on broadcast television. That moment went on to earn the series a GLAAD award.

“We’ve been told (although I can’t verify it) that their kiss was the first gay kiss ever broadcast on television,” Oakley said. “The primary way it was ahead of its time though, is that it was written for a specific niche audience which broadcast TV did not attract at that time but later became a viable way to launch a series. The two million viewers per episode we had back then would be a pretty good TV audience to have today!”

Fans at the San Diego Comic-Con show on Thursday, July 25 will be treated to three fully-restored episodes of the series, shown in theatrical quality 4k, with the original soundtrack restored. Attendees at the event will also get a chance to hear behind-the-scenes anecdotes from cast and creators, get their burning questions answered, and learn what would have happened to the characters had the series continued.

There will also be a trivia contest where one lucky fan can win an original hand-painted animation cel from the show.

“Comic-Con is a gigantic assemblage of comic art and animation fans, all together in one place once a year, and it seems like we’d be remiss if we did NOT have our 25th Anniversary show here. I know it will be memorable for us and, hopefully, for them,” Oakley said.

Tickets are available for $25-$30 for General Admission, with VIP packages also available (which include priority seating, as well as a meet and greet with co-creators Oakley and Weinstein during which you’ll be allowed one photo on a personal device and one item to be signed).

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