Charleroi native Craig McCracken made his mark in television animation with superheroes ("The Powerpuff Girls") and oddball characters ("Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends") on Cartoon Network.
Now Mr. McCracken, who moved to California at age 7, is embarking on a new series with a science-fiction backdrop, and it's his first show for the Walt Disney Co.
"Wander Over Yonder" (9 p.m. Friday, Disney Channel) follows an eternally optimistic intergalactic traveler, Wander (voice of Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock"), who rides atop his loyal, blue-skinned best buddy, Sylvia (April Winchell, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse"), a horse who is as prone to fighting as Wander is averse to it.
Mr. McCracken said the series was inspired when he drew Wander in his sketch book.
"I liked the idea of a nomadic, wandering, do-gooder guy," he said. Then he met Mr. McBrayer, a fan of Mr. McCracken's "Foster's Home." "I put my drawing and Jack's voice together and this character developed and I wanted to make a cartoon about it."
Wander and Sylvia travel the universe saving the day when the evil Lord Hater and his army of Watchdog minions show up to wreak havoc.
Mr. McCracken, now 42, a self-described "Star Wars" kid who grew up in the 1970s, said the sci-fi backdrop gives him freedom to take Wander and crew anywhere.
"It allows us to be as creative as we want to be," he said. "Wander can meet anybody and go anywhere."
If Wander is the free spirit, Sylvia is the character designed to help get Wander back on track.
"The other reason we made Sylvia so tough is I wanted Wander to be nonviolent, not hurting anyone with no malicious intent," he said, "but because they're being chased by Hater and the Watchdogs, we gave [the aggression] to Sylvia."
Mr. McCracken doesn't get back to Western Pennsylvania very often because of work obligations, but he has a brother, Dale, in Charleroi as well as aunts, uncles and cousins who still live in the area.
Growing up, he never really dreamed of working for Disney as some animators do because at the time Disney's animation was primarily fairy tales and fantasy.
"I wanted to make funny stuff," he said. "When I went to Cal Arts, I worried the only job I would be able to get working in animation was animating deer running in perspective, which isn't what I wanted to do."
But now that Disney Channel has moved into comedy with "Phineas & Ferb" and "Gravity Falls," Mr. McCracken is happy to work in Mickey Mouse's house.
"The simple fact that the Disney brand name is on there, it comes with a level of quality in the work that you feel obligated to try to live up to," he said. "And in TV animation they're looking at a more creator-driven model. It's fun to be in on the ground floor of Disney doing that."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.