Dead End: Paranormal Park is a fabulously queer cartoon that was cancelled too soon. So, on the one year anniversary of the former Netflix series’ premiere, Dead End creator Hamish Steele (he/they) took fans down memory lane.
On June 16, 2022, Dead End: Paranormal Park premiered on Netflix. Created by Steele, a London-based animation director, comic book artist, and writer, Dead End told the story of gay, trans, Jewish teen Barney (Zach Barack). Desperately seeking understanding and independence, Barney takes an interview at an amusement park called Phoenix Parks created by Dolly Parton-esque entertainer Pauline Phoenix (Miss Coco Peru). His dog, Pugsley (Alex Brightman), tags along, and both Barney and his pet best friend encounter bisexual, autistic, Pakistani-American teen Norma (Kody Kavitha) who’s a Pauline Phoenix super fan seeking a job at the amusement park as well. When both teens snag a job at Phoenix Parks, together with Pugsley and a 1000-year old demon named Courtney (Emily Osment), they realize that their duties assigned are going to entail much more than amusement park maintenance and revolve more around fighting off the paranormal.
Beyond having a fabulous story, Dead End, like many animated shows, provided nuanced narratives of individuals from different marginalized backgrounds, while telling a fantastical story. The show provided strong LGBTQ+, neurodivergent, physical disability, religious, Black, and Brown representation on-screen and even highlighted high-profile voice talent, such as Pose’s Michaela Jaé Rodriguez and Angelica Ross, and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump. Sadly, on January 13, 2023 Steele announced that the series had been canceled after season two aired.
While Dead End fans are still reeling from its cancellation, Steele celebrated the anniversary of the show’s premiere with a behind-the-scenes Twitter thread – giving insight into the show’s creation process. Here’s what he had to share.
“I’ve always felt our goal with this show is that it has representation in it, but also is kind of queer in its bones.”
So no real “pitch” ever existed for Dead End, as Netflix were aware of the original Youtube short and the books. That was enough to go off to begin development, so this became more of an early bible. Initial character designs were by @DrewGreenDraws with interpretation by me. pic.twitter.com/hZH3zrQjW2— hamish steele! (@hamishsteele) June 16, 2023
Steele discussed how there wasn’t a real pitch process for Dead End, as the show had plenty of source material to work with. Dead End originally started off as a YouTube short in 2014 on Cartoon Hangover, followed by a set of books called the DeadEndia trilogy – with the last book still in the works. Artist Drew Green provided the initial character designs.
The only early note we got from Netflix was to make the characters younger (in the books they’re in their early 20s). But regarding the representation, it was there from the start, which was a unique experience for me, having been more used to trying to sneak that stuff in. pic.twitter.com/0rjYDGlH6m— hamish steele! (@hamishsteele) June 16, 2023
Again, Dead End did a great job including characters from a variety of identities, something Steele stated was there from the start. One difference from the original source material is that the characters are in their early 20s in the YouTube short and the graphic novels. For the Netflix series, the main characters are teenagers.
Books vs. TV Show
Some aspects of the pitch were a lot closer to the books. Fingers was in it from the start, much closer to his book version. He’s even in a lot of early drafts of Eps 1 and 2. But one thing I’d always wanted to do, was make Pauline and the park itself a bigger presence. pic.twitter.com/PPMb72LlSC— hamish steele! (@hamishsteele) June 16, 2023
According to Steele, the pitch for the series was a lot closer to the graphic novels. However, certain elements of different characters were updated prior to the show’s debut. The character Fingers, for example, was supposed to be in the first and second episodes of season one. Additionally, superstar Pauline Phoenix and her amusement was expected to play a larger role in the show than in the YouTube short and graphic novels.
Our initial location designs were by @zacharyxbinks ! I always wanted to make the world purple, pink, neon… though perhaps we went overboard with the original Dead End design… but there’s still something I love about this gaudy version. pic.twitter.com/Y6LJOvAffe— hamish steele! (@hamishsteele) June 16, 2023
Speaking of amusement parks, Dead End’s premiere spot, Phoenix Parks, and the rest of the show’s world had its initial designs created by comic author and illustrator Zachary Sterling. Steele mentioned that he wanted everything to be in shades of pink, purple, and neon, a queer trinity that won’t steer you wrong.
We also made an animation test! We had almost no budget and the tiniest crew, but we were experimenting to see if frame by frame was the way to go. We eventually had to use puppets but there’s tons of nice stuff from our leads @jharrisanim and @EscapeComplex here. (Voices by me!) pic.twitter.com/YO6g9ySGuQ— hamish steele! (@hamishsteele) June 16, 2023
Lastly, Steele provided fans with a video of the original animation test. Steele voiced the characters of Barney, Pugsley, Norma, and Courtney in the animation test video. With a barely there budget, Steele, along with animators Blanca Martínez de Rituerto and Jonathan Harris, created the initial magic that would become Dead End. While the series was canceled, Steele’s show, YouTube short, and graphic novels have left a positive impression on LGBTQ+ viewers.
“I’m really excited that people like us are going to be able to see our work and see themselves in that.”