Marcy Bones tells a strange, heartfelt tale in animated series “The Other Town”

Writing and reporting by H.L. Comeriato

Photos and illustrations created by Marcy Bones & H.L. Comeriato

At the iron gates of Brahamsville Cemetery, Spike McCaulkey brandishes a squirt gun.

The gun — like everything else in the town of White Hill — is slightly unusual.

In fact, Spike says the gun is more like a key than a weapon — a way to open doors and passages between realities by harnessing the energy of emotion.

Tonight is Mischief Night, the night before Halloween. And Spike’s ghost-hunting grandma, Carol-Anne, has sent her on a mission to free a distraught ghost from a painful past. 

To do that, Spike will have to cross over into the Other Town — a mirrored, ethereal place that exists within the town of White Hill itself.

“The Other Town is a world overlaid onto ours, the ‘backstage’ to our reality,” reads an early descriptions of the series. “It’s a world inhabited by spirits, demons and even ghosts of the past!”

Spike aims the gun and pulls the trigger, opening a tear between worlds where matter and emotion collide.

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In a single day, Spike grapples with an unrequited crush, frees the ghost, fashions a last minute costume for the annual Pumpkin Mash Halloween dance, fends off a clique of high school bullies and defeats a dark, shape-shifting entity in the attic of a church.

Marcy “Bones” Jones, who was born and raised in Akron, has been developing “The Other Town” since she was in college. Today, she lives in Burbank, California, where she’s worked on several major productions as a TV animator and storyboard artist.

Currently, Bones is working on the third season of Hulu’s animated series “Solar Opposites,” an adult comedy about a family of extraterrestrials forced to live in middle America. 

More than 2,000 miles away, “The Other Town” ties her back to her Akron roots.

“It’s a show about teenagers. It’s a show about humanity, and it’s a show about Akron,” Bones says. “And I hope those three things will be interesting enough for people to want to watch it.”

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what this means, but I’ll make it something.’

Bones, 26, developed “The Other Town” with help from co-creator and fellow Akronite Colin Daugherty.

“The setting is just a fictional Akron,” Bones says. “There’s a rubber corporation that’s a big part of the plot. It’s our world, just a little bit different.”

Nearing graduation from the Savannah College of Art and Design, Bones saw classmates getting internships with major TV networks. After learning that some internship programs require artists to pitch an animated series, she figured she’d better have an idea in mind.

In 2016, she sketched Spike for the first time. 

Beneath the image, she scrawled ‘The Other Town.’ “I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know what this means, but I’ll make it something.’

Bones initially didn’t feel prepared to enter the industry, and she moved to Los Angeles with no prospects. After a challenging year, she flew back to Akron to stay with close friends and regroup — all the while, developing “The Other Town” in whatever ways she could.

In 2019, Cartoon Network selected Bones as one of six artists to participate in their inaugural Storyboard Artist Training Program. She was selected from over 2,000 applicants, according to a January 2019 press release.

Bones moved back to California to attend the program, where she met other animators, learned about expectations within the industry and honed her craft as an artist and a storyteller. Afterward, she landed a job writing for “Close Enough,” an adult comedy also produced by Cartoon Network.

After years of focusing on intricate world-building, Bones says working on “The Other Town” has redirected her focus to more complex character development.

As her life changed, so did Bones’s vision for “The Other Town.”

“I thought I’d take suburban supernatural horror and make that into an interesting thing and do some world-building with that,” Bones says. “But giving it more autobiographical elements has really helped me write better characters — characters who I care about and who I feel like are people.”

“I keep going back to places that I’ve been before.”

When Bones came out as transgender in 2016, emotions and experiences from her own teenhood surfaced, spurring autobiographical elements that appear throughout the series.

“When I was a teenager, I was going through a lot of bad stuff at home and at school,” Bones says. “I felt like I was going through bad stuff, and everyone I knew was going through really bad stuff, and most of the adults in our lives weren’t really paying attention or weren’t really taking it seriously.”

“I could go to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m really hurting over these things going on,’ and they would be like, ‘You’ll be fine. You’ll grow up. It’s nothing.’ And that may be true,” Bones adds. “But what I want to hear is that what I’m going through matters.”

After three years of hormone replacement therapy (HRT), Bones feels more like herself than ever before and more connected to teenage experiences than other writers and artists her age.

“It’s funny to think that being on HRT, I’m basically hormonally a teenager again,” Bones says. “I’m going through some of the same things, where I’m freaking out about stuff in my life thinking, ‘What is going on with my brain?’ It’s funny to be trying to write a story about that perspective again.”

“It definitely influences my writing in that way,” she adds. “I keep going back to places that I’ve been before.”

The TV animation industry is changing

Over the last decade, independent animation has been on the rise. With the advent of media sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo, along with crowdfunding vehicles like Patreon and  GoFundMe, many artists and animators now have the ability to produce and distribute their own creative content.

Bones runs her own Patreon, where people can contribute monthly to the production of “The Other Town” and gain access to exclusive content as she develops the series. But production is still time-consuming and expensive, especially for an ambitious series like “The Other Town.” 

Right now, Bones plans to produce the pilot episode on her own, but she hopes to see a network pick up the series for further development.

“The dream is to find a network,” Bones says. “I have such a scope in mind that it would be hard to achieve on my own, but I’m trying. Usually the feedback I get is, ‘Oh, we love this idea. We think this idea is really cool. We love your passion for it, but we don’t think we can sell it right now because it’s too weird.’”

For Bones, the focus on teenage characters is what makes the series special. But for major networks, that focus seems to be part of the problem.

In Korea and Japan, Bones says major networks produce animated series for a much wider range of audiences. In the United States, storytelling geared toward different age groups and demographics hasn’t received as much attention from major networks. 

Often, TV animation is either geared toward children 11 and younger, or adults. “The Other Town,” Bones says, stands firmly in between — which makes it difficult to pitch and categorize.

“It’s a show that I feel like doesn’t really exist right now,” she says. “[I want to] show characters, especially teenage kids, going through everyday drama and everyday angst, but making that just as real and as important and as dangerous as the supernatural stuff that they go through.”

The show is written explicitly for a teen audience, but Bones doesn’t plan to shy away from important conversations.

“I need to have the freedom to have these characters actually grapple with real life,” she says. “I don’t want to defang anything. I don’t want to have to avoid using the word ‘die.’ I don’t want to have to avoid mentioning a character being on drugs.”

Bones also won’t compromise on plot points or conversations about gender or queerness.

“Obviously, everything I’m going to write is going to be super queer,” Bones says. “But I want people to realize that non-queer people can relate to queer narratives [too].”

Further, Bones hopes teens will find both comfort and power in seeing themselves reflected on screen, especially in the Rust Belt: “That’s what I want to write.”

A wondrous energy

Someplace deep in “The Other Town,” Spike aims her squirt gun at the rickety door of a cemetery chapel. She shoots — this time, opening a door back to the town of White Hill.

Later, when Spike finally arrives at the Pumpkin Mash Halloween dance, she’s the only person wearing a costume. She’s dressed as a ghost — a white, wrinkled sheet pulled over her head.

The other students dance and mingle, sporting expensive formal wear.

The Claras — a clique of too-cool bullies each conveniently named Clara — jump at the opportunity to embarrass Spike.

When her crush arrives as someone else’s date, she makes a trip to the bathroom, where a dark, supernatural figure seems to summon her away from the dance.

Squirt gun at the ready, Spike follows it.

In the basement of the Brahamsville Community Center, a handful of students huddle around the punch bowl.

Above the community center, in the high towers of the Brahamsville Cathedral, Spike fights off a dark, shape-shifting entity. 

Someplace beyond, the Other Town hums with an ancient, wondrous energy.

In her Burbank apartment, so does Bones.

H.L. Comeriato covers public health at The Devil Strip via Report for America. Reach them at HL@thedevilstrip.com.

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