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By Gwen St. Clair

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Olan Rogers introduced the animated series “Final Space” in 2018. It’s a comedy-drama centered on an astronaut working off a prison sentence who bonds with an alien named Mooncake. Together they embark on a space adventure to unlock the mystery of where the universe ends. The response was so encouraging it graduated from TBS to the more popular Adult Swim for the second season.

“Final Space” developed a sort of cult following. Beloved by fans around the world the show was acclaimed with the likes of the insanely famous “Rick and Morty.” This was a hit.

But in September 2021, Rogers tweeted the third season would be the last. Not even a year later, in July 2022, he took to social media to announce that “Final Space” might disappear. Forever.

“You could wake up,” Rogers said on his Instagram, getting a tad choked up, “and it could be gone.”

 

How could this happen? How could a show just disappear? After its final season on Adult Swim, the series was housed on HBO Max in America and Netflix internationally. But on June 30, 2022, HBO Max dropped Final Space, and in 2023 Netflix International will drop it too.

So “Final Space” can no longer be discovered in the states. Its fans can’t dive into old episodes. A new audience won’t discover its influence or its innovation. It can’t even be purchased in its entirety. It’s just … gone.

And since it’s an animated show, that seems to be fine.

HBO Max removed 25 animated shows and movies, in August 2022. The next month, Netflix fired 30 animation employees. Netflix has also been canceling animated shows including a few that were already in production.

It’s getting more difficult to see why people would want to join the animation industry. As an aspiring animator myself I’ve questioned my own career choice. It once felt so desirable, so profitable and so productive. Now the allure is gone.

For years, corporate studios kept a ceiling on the potential of animation. Studios have a history of erasing queer storylines and not funding experimental projects, prioritizing profits over storytelling and progressing animation as a medium,

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For years, corporate studios kept a ceiling on the potential of animation.

These studios have a history of erasing queer storylines and not funding experimental projects, prioritizing profits over progressing animation as a medium.

But the industry’s constraints are producing a silver lining: independent animation. In fact, it’s a force that may help the animation endure.

Recently, many indie studios have been gaining traction. Fueled by Patreon and Indie Go-Go campaigns, many studios have been empowered to produce content outside the suffocating constraints of big corporations. While much less lucrative, the indie studios give animators one thing corporations don’t: freedom.

The industry’s failings left artists with nothing to do but rebuild. The result could be something much better than what has ever existed for this audience and its artists.

Mistreating animators is nothing new.

In 1941, Disney animators went on strike to protest how little they were paid and the lack of screen credits they received for their work. They protested outside the studio for weeks. As animation’s golden child, Disney did a lot to keep this from tarnishing their reputation. Their solution to the strike was to print a letter in Variety that described the supposed “Communist agitation, leadership and activities” behind the strike.

According to author Nathalia Holt, in the following deal, Disney laid off the majority of studio employees in exchange for doubling the salary of full-time employees who remained. Additionally, the studio agreed to take “a more equitable approach to screen credits,” wrote Holt.

In 2021, animators took to the internet with #NewDeal4Animation to fight for better pay for industry employees. The campaign cited the success of animated streaming shows as a reason that animators deserved fair compensation.

 

At the same time, #PayAnimationWriters, another popular rallying cry, hoped to bridge the gap of “41 to 52 cents on the dollar per week” that animation writers make “compared to live-action writers,” according to the Animation Guild (TAG).

On May 26, 2022, an agreement was made between TAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. After what TAG called “some of the most focused and member-led negotiations in the Guild’s history.” According to TAG they were able to negotiate “retroactive wage increases, significant gains for animation writers” and more.

This negotiation was historic for animation, but there are still a lot of ways that corporations are taking advantage of animators.

Netflix, for a time, was viewed as one of the best streaming services for animators. They have a history of making groundbreaking animated content like “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” “Klaus” and “Wendell and Wild.”

In March 2022, after “The Cuphead Show”  announced news of a second season,“ storyboard artist for the show, Nick Lauer, tweeted in response.

“Nothing was ‘renewed.‘ All the episodes were made as one season and Netflix is dropping them in batches,” Lauer tweeted.

According to Lauer, Netflix is ordering episodes in bulk and splitting them up into seasons, allowing them to pay workers less. This comes as bad news to animators because their salaries usually increase when shows are renewed for more seasons.

“Animation—and by extension content and storytelling in general—are really great mediums to visually convey very hard-to-verbalize things,” said Sarah Ligatich, Assistant Editor of “Wendell  and Wild” in regards to trans representation in the film.

Queer stories are being written. In March 2022, Pixar employees wrote a letter in response to Disney’s financial backing of the controversial Don’t Say Gay Bill. “(We’ve) witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters...shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” Pixar employees wrote. They continued, “(Disney) cuts nearly every moment of overtly gay affection...”

There is no shortage of queer stories proposed in animation. There is no lack of audience for queer animation. There are only shamelessly risk averse corporations refusing to bring these stories to life.

“The main consequence of this, in my opinion, is that it causes creativity to be very ‘cookie cutter’ and very repetitive,” said “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” story artist Spyros Tsiounis.

Independent Studios are fighting for animation. In June 2022, Studio Heartbreak began working on their new animated story, “The Lovers.” A sapphic love story about a “seafood chef and a mermaid, set in the Philippines.” “The Lovers,” is precisely the kind of thing big studios don’t fund.

The problem is Studio Heartbreak depends on Patreon, a service that lets people pay for exclusive access to their favorite artists’ behind-the scenes content. Patreon is not a significant income source, meaning everyone working for the studio is likely doing so pro bono.

This leaves animation artists with a choice: money or passion.

If they choose money, they will be faced with a barely livable wage, corporate oversight on stories and the constant threat of layoffs or their show being locked in a vault.

If they choose passion, they’re forced to be starving artists and must work a day job to live. But they will have the freedom of artistic expression.

That was animation’s original promise: a storytelling medium without limit.

As of November 2022 there has been no progress on the #RenewFinalSpace front. Rogers laments to his fans, “Your memory of Final Space will be the only proof it ever existed.”

However, Rogers has promised fans “I will never stop fighting for Final Space. If it takes years, then so be it!”

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