Incredible Indie Animated Lackadaisy Pilot Deserves The Hazbin Hotel A24 Treatment

(Welcome to Animation Celebration, a recurring feature where we explore the limitless possibilities of animation as a medium. In this edition: "Lackadaisy.")

Since its inception, the Animation Celebration column has been a way to showcase animated feature films across a multitude of genres, specifically with projects that utilize the medium for adult audiences. Animation offers limitless possibilities for creators choosing to work within the medium and advancements in technology have increased the accessibility for independent animators to create and distribute their own work without needing the backing of a big studio. One of those examples is the ridiculously impressive pilot for "Lackadaisy," which has already amassed over 5 million views since it was uploaded to YouTube on March 29, 2023.

The pilot was directed and produced by Fable Siegel and is based on Tracy J. Butler's award-winning webcomic of the same name. "Lackadaisy" is a prohibition-era crime series featuring anthropomorphic cats. Set in St. Louis, Missouri in 1927, the story centers on the employees of the Lackadaisy speakeasy, which once upon a time was the hottest underground nightclub in the city. Sadly, after the mysterious death of its owner, the speakeasy has been struggling. Rumrunners Rocky (Michael Kovach), Ivy (Lisa Reimold), and Freckle (Belsheber Rusape) do their best to keep the booze flowing but are caught in the crosshairs of rival gangster Mordecai (SungWon Cho) and his henchmen Nicodeme (Malcolm Ray) and Serafine (Benni Latham).

Despite the gorgeous and eye-catching character designs, "Lackadaisy" is assuredly not a show for children, but has laid the groundwork to be the next big thing in adult animation.

Humble, impressive beginnings

The "Lackadaisy" webcomic was first launched in 2006 and became an instant hit. In 2007, the comic won every award it was nominated for at the Web Cartoonists' Choice Awards, winning five more in 2008, and later nabbing an Eisner Award nomination (it's like the Oscars for comics) in 2011 for "Best Digital Comic." The comic strip was originally presented typically in a sepia tone, allowing the Walt Disney and Don Bluth-inspired artistry to have a bit of an edgy, old-timey feel. The shadow work in these comics is unbelievable, adding depth and character to the cartoony characters, and establishing an elegance to capture the roarin' '20s glamour.

As time went on, Butler began introducing full color into her work, with each panel of the comic looking like something that could (and should) be framed in a gallery. Luckily, as "Lackadaisy" is an independently released webcomic, all of the original run comics are still available online, so if you've not yet fallen in love with this world of gangster cats and bootlegging felines, there's plenty of time to catch up. Butler has even created character cards and biographies of all the characters in addition to the jaw-droppingly stunning illustrations. I try not to throw around the expression "every frame a painting," but if there's a series that deserves the acclaim, it's "Lackadaisy."

The community "Lackadaisy" spent over a decade fostering is what led to the release of the pilot, as Butler and the team at Iron Circus Comics raised a whopping $330,256 on Kickstarter with much of the funding coming from longtime fans. Originally looking to produce a 10-minute short, the overwhelming support allowed the team to craft a full, 27-minute pilot, and by god was it worth every last red cent.

Boardwalk Empire but Midwest animated cats

The animation and aesthetic design are impressive, to be sure, but Siegel, Butler, and their team should also be commended for how well "Lackadaisy" captures the prohibition-era setting. The sound design is impossible to describe, but know that there is a reason the opening title card recommends watching with headphones, completely aware that most people are going to be tuning in from a mobile device. The sound borders on becoming an immersive experience, where the flying bullets make you feel as if you're on the receiving end of Bonnie & Clyde's final moments. There's a tense scene in a quarry that looks like something straight out of a noir film, and the fact it looks as beautiful as it does is a testament to the immensely talented designers who worked on this.

If it weren't for the fact the characters were cats, the characters, dialogue, music, and plot points feel like they were plucked straight out of "Boardwalk Empire." Similarly to the prestige HBO series, I found myself immediately enamored with each and every character, but if I'm honest with myself, my heart definitely lies with Mitzi May (Ashe Wagner), the widowed owner of the Lackadaisy speakeasy who feels like a cross between Mae West and Patricia Arquette's "Boardwalk Empire" character, Sally Wheet.

As the minutes passed by, I found myself mourning the lack of a new episode next week, because the "Lackadaisy" pilot is so strong, my mind had already tricked itself into thinking I was watching the debut of a new show. Somewhere around the chase scene with Rocky, Ivy, and Freckle, I realized that I was totally hooked and well on my way to becoming the "Futurama" Fry meme, screaming "SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!" if it meant there would be more "Lackadaisy" to come.

Who will be the wise studio to sign on?

A few months back, I talked about the viral success of "Hazbin Hotel," another independent animated project that made the leap into the studio system. Vivienne Medrano's sensational pilot was mostly funded by Patreon supporters, but gained a rabid fanbase with such vigor, it inspired A24 to get on board and produce the first season of the show, which is due out this summer. After watching "Lackadaisy," I firmly believe that either A24 needs to extend the same offer to Siegel and Butler, or another studio needs to be smart enough to move fast and sign on. Adult animation is in a golden era, and a show like "Lackadaisy" is fresh, exciting, and will stand out among the well-seasoned sitcom staples.

But at the same time, "Lackadaisy" has proven that it doesn't necessarily need a big-name studio to be successful. It certainly would help, as the pilot took about three years to release (pandemic-related, of course), but quite frankly, studios would be foolish to pass this up. "Lackadaisy" truly looks and feels like nothing else in the adult animated sphere, and considering the pilot has raked in millions of views in just a week, the data studios oh so desperately crave is already there.

There's no telling what the future will bring for "Lackadaisy," but as is the case with anything in the animated medium, the limits are only dictated by our own imaginations. You can check out the pilot episode for "Lackadaisy" below.