1st Ever Cast Reunion in New Braunfels, Texas!
We are pleased to announce that we will be at the San Diego Comic Con next week. We will be at two panels. First is SPOTLIGHT ON LARRY HOUSTON on Thursday morning at 11:00am in room 5AB. I will be moderating this tribute to the animation artist who directed 65 of the X-MEN:TAS episodes and has art credits on 79 animated series! After the panel Larry will be signing autographs at the Featured Guest area for an hour. Then from 1:15 to 2:45 Thursday Julia and I will join him at his table (HH16) where we will have personally-signed books (PREVIOUSLY ON X-MEN), script pages, and Larry’s X-MEN model sheets. Then on Sunday, at 3:00pm in room 7AB, we three will share the stage with writer LEN UHLEY in X-MEN:TAS CELEBRATES 25 YEARS. After the panel we will join Larry at his table for an hour (4:00 – 5:00 at HH16) and, if there are any left, have books, script pages, and model sheets for signing. Finally, please join us to celebrate the life of X-MEN legend and friend Len Wein, Thursday evening at 8:30 at room 4.
(From top left, clockwise: LARRY HOUSTON, US, LEN WEIN, OUR BOOK, LEN UHLEY)
What a collection of TV Animation memories in one photo! Our Imdb pages (not perfect, but close) claim that we five writer/artist/producers have 2,224 produced credits among us (with some overlap). When I started at Hanna-Barbera in 1985, Alan Burnett had the office next door. In 1987, Tad Stones hired me at Disney TV Animation, then hired Julia in 1988, to write for Rescue Rangers. When I got a season of Beetlejuice to run for Fox (1990), just before X-Men:TAS, I hired Marty for his first TV writing job. These people have left their mark. Alan, who once ran mega-hit Smurfs for H-B, has been THE man at Warner Brothers animation for an incredible 25 years, writing for many of the animated TV series and animated DVD movies (Batman, etc.) produced there while overseeing every one of them. Those of us in the know understand that stars like Paul Dini and Bruce Timm worked, gratefully, for the house that Alan built and has only recently retired from. Similarly, Tad Stones was THE creative force during the long period known as The Disney Afternoon (mid ’80s – mid ’90s). Julia and I know, since we were there for three years learning from him. Marty has run more recent major series like Transformers and Guardians of the Galaxy, keeping action-adventure cartoons thriving during the last decade. And to top it off, we all get to hang out and reminisce, meeting at this Con at our Previously on X-Men signing desk. It just goes to show that it pays to work, over a long career, with nice, talented people.
Marty Isenberg, Alan Burnett, Julia Lewald, Eric Lewald, and (kneeling) Tad Stones
We’re back! It’s been a while. We’ve been getting the word out about the book. WonderCon in Anaheim was nice enough to ask Julia and me to set up an X-MEN:TAS panel this past weekend. They didn’t happen to mention that the hall would seat 1700 people! Well, we found out that there is great love for the show: our panel was standing-room-only. Producer-Director LARRY HOUSTON and writers LEN UHLEY and BOB SKIR joined us. Afterward, there was three straight hours of book-signing at our table. We’re not sure what other cons we can manage to attend (a load of 100 books weighs 210 lbs, so flying places may be tough). But we’ll try. We’re set at MomoCon in Atlanta in late May. Writing can be solitary work, so meeting people who appreciate your efforts can be gratifying.
Left to right: niece Rev Wiederspahn, Julia, X-MEN:TAS writer Len Uhley, and me.
On January 9, 1993, 25 years ago this month, X-MEN:The Animated Series officially premiered on the Fox Network (after a few sneak screenings the previous fall). This January we start what we hope will be a satisfying year travelling to Cons and other events to celebrate the experience and the recent publishing of our book. We’ll be in Pasadena, CA, at their Con this month (Jan 28) and in Knoxville, Tennessee next month (Feb 15), at an event sponsored by the University. Later Con trips are set for Anaheim, CA, (late March), San Jose, CA, (April), Atlanta, GA (May) Denver (June), Toronto (summer), with more to come later in the year (like Grand Rapids, MI, in November). Below is our first shot at a 6′ x 3′ Con banner for our table. Please come by and say hello if we are in your area. Wish us luck.
Yes, that is Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, accepting his author-signed copy of PREVIOUSLY ON X-MEN from Wolverine (Cal Dodd, far left) and Jubilee (Alyson Court front, center) today. I am told he loves the show. And since the entire cast is Canadian, we felt is was appropriate that the self-proclaimed “comics geek” leader of that great country got the very first copy printed. We hope he enjoys reading it during his copious spare time — and that he recovers from shaking Wolverine’s hand (see below).
“Any time, Pretty Boy!”
Many of you have been asking when the book will be available for sale. We are within HOURS of the publisher activating their on-line store to take your orders. Here’s what you do: Go to jacobsbrownmediagroup.com. On their home page, simply tap on SHOP to go to their store. All of their books currently for sale are there. Simply tap on a title and buy. Currently, “Previously on X-Men” is in their COMING SOON section. When they make it available for sale (late today or early tomorrow), it will be shifted to the SHOP section. Once the books arrive (late this week), I will need some time to sign a bunch (all books bought through Jacobs Brown will be signed), and, I guess unless you choose faster shipping, “book rate” shipping will take about a week. So, if you need to be one of the first, check their site every couple of hours. We will be.
We tell stories for a living. A major challenge when writing television stories is the question, “Does it travel well?” To our bosses, who are risking the millions needed to make a show, this means: Will the series stories and characters have appeal for audiences all over the world (and therefore generate enough income), or will they be appreciated only within our culture? Many things don’t travel well. Comedy is said to be toughest, especially the type built on word play or that makes fun of local events or people. Physical humor seems to travel: Charlie Chaplin was the world’s first global movie star. But there’s not a lot of slapstick in X-MEN:TAS.
Somehow, X-MEN:TAS “traveled” spectacularly. People from every corner of every continent seem to have found a way to enjoy it. I have had many such people tell me that they learned English watching it in their home country. This success is humbling and gratifying, but I’m not sure I understand how it happened. How did we connect in ways that few other series did? Heroism? Personal dramas? Fun powers? The creation of a caring family for society’s misfits?
However it happened, today, 25 years later, we all benefit from this globally shared experience. Most recently, it meant I was able to meet a nice businesswoman from Japan (Yui Kanan) for whom Jubilee was special (see below). With luck, our series will “age” as well as it has traveled, and more generations will continue to enjoy it.
A thousand influences went into the making of X-MEN:TAS. On this, the hundredth anniversary of Robert Mitchum’s birth, I thought I’d celebrate one of them.
I don’t know what models writer Len Wein had in his head when, in 1974, he first built the personality of a short, tough Canadian mutant. Our show’s voice actor Cal Dodd says he looked at our reference suggestions of Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen, and Ward Bond and focused on the strength and authority of Bond, with a bit of the loner spirit of McQueen. For me, it was always the fourth name we put on the character sheet: Bob Mitchum. When I was editing Logan’s dialogue in those 76 episodes, it was more Bob Mitchum I was hearing in my head (along with Cal) than anybody — a little angrier, more energetic, certainly connected to the comics, but Mitchum-like none-the-less. Once we got the cast set, I was thrilled to be writing for Cal Dodd; for the first few months, as X-MEN:TAS was coming to life, I was writing for Bob Mitchum.
Mitchum was everything we wanted Logan to be: intense, brooding, angry, heroic, romantic, but above all, tough. He was beyond tough: in Cape Fear (1962), he played one of the scariest villains in movie history, calmly, just staring, just talking, just smiling. You sensed he could hurt you. Yet something in him made for great romantic-lead heroes as well, like Jeff Bailey in Out of the Past (1947). Finally, I often mention to people that on our show I envisioned Logan as “world-weary” (as he was in the movie Logan). Well, no actor in history did world-weary better than Mitchum. Watch him struggling in The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), and your heart breaks. Finally, there was that voice: deep as a black pool. When we sent in the voice suggestions to the auditioning actors, when Eastwood and McQueen were listed, I added “but deeper.” I never had to add that with Mitchum.
This is a simple visualization of what many of you have written to us about: the fact that connections to beloved popular culture can last a lifetime. My two sons grew up sharing X-MEN:TAS with us. The same batch of X-Men hats I bought the family in 1994 still fits them 23 years later. In fact, they wore them to this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. Assuming the boys have children, the hats — and the characters they celebrate — will almost certainly be a continuing legacy. There are worse things to leave your grandchildren.
The phenomenon continues. The newest Spider-Man movie (Spider-Man: Homecoming) is not only attracting huge crowds, the critics love it. Superheroes are a full-blown, worldwide, movie-and-TV genre, like Westerns were for 70 years. It was not always so.
There were always genres: gangster movies, musicals, war movies, TV detective shows. From the early 1900s to the early 1970s, thousands of Western stories flooded our movie theaters and then our living rooms. Little kids wore cowboy hats and flashed plastic six-shooters (I did). Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy had better name recognition than NFL quarterbacks or our president. Then Westerns “died.” The stories are still told, but infrequently: three stories a year, not three stories a day.
As an article in this month’s Film Comment points out, there had been smaller-scale attempts at bits of superhero storytelling, in newspaper comic strips, early fantastical films, in cheezy 1940s movie serials, and of course in mainstream comic books since the 1930s. But the superhero TV/movie genre didn’t truly start until the 1990s. Before that there were once-a-decade TV series (’50s Superman, ’60s Batman, Hulk, etc.), none really starting a firestorm of imitators. There were a handful of successful superhero movies per decade (a Superman, then a Batman, etc.). But they weren’t central to pop culture the way the movies are now. Think about it: There were more successful superhero TV shows this year than in the 50 years of television from 1940 to 1990.
Then Fox Kids Network, under the leadership of Margaret Loesch and Sidney Iwanter, changed popular culture. I know, because I was there. While writing the book about the making of X-MEN:TAS (out this fall!) I was struck at the before-and-after of audio-visual superhero storytelling. Before Fox greenlighted Batman:TAS and X-MEN:TAS and Spider-Man:TAS and The Tick, Hollywood never thought seriously about superhero stories. The sporadic Saturday morning efforts were throwaways that most comics fans hated. Then there was 1990s Fox Kids TV.
Suddenly adults were watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. Kids were dressing as Wolverine on Halloween. But most importantly, Hollywood could see how superheroes could be the focus of ambitious adult movies and television series. The floodgates opened, and the popular culture of a new millennium was forever changed. For those, like the Film Comment writer, who are ambivalent or unsure about this development, I say that heroism is heroism, however costumed. And, if you look back at Westerns, almost all of the great ones came out during the last 30 years of their genre’s run after 40 years of practice. Which may mean that the best superhero movies and TV are yet to come. Exciting thought.
Fox Kids Network cartoons change popular culture: Just ask these guys.
A year ago at this time we had just started our @xmentas Twitter feed, and we were trying to get this site up and running. So yesterday’s passing of the 7000 mark in Twitter followers was gratifying. In four months (October 31st) we will reach the 25th anniversary of the sneak-preview premiere, the first public showing of the first episode of X-MEN:TAS. By then our book about the making of the show (Previously on X-Men — over 500 pages) will be out, and the celebrations can seriously begin. Until then let’s just join Rogue and Gambit in moment of thanks for our getting this far.