behind-the-scenes, the book, Uncategorized, X-Men Show

X-MEN at SAN DIEGO!

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)

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Uhley_Len.jpeg   PREVIOUSLY-ON-X-MEN_FinalFron_HiRest.jpg   LEN Wein - C.M. Valada.jpg

behind-the-scenes

A Sad Day

In the nearly 15 months since we started this site, there has not been a sadder day.  Our dear friend Len Wein has died.

In the 55-year history of the X-Men, there is no more important name than Len Wein.  Without Len, there might not have been an X-MEN:TAS.  In 1975, he was entrusted with re-inventing a long-dormant, unsuccessful book.  Thinking ahead, he created a Canadian mutant named Wolverine for a Hulk comic on the hunch that Logan might fit in the new X-Men book.  Pretty good hunch.  He created an African mistress of the elements.  He created a haunted blue demon with an angel’s faith.

Len was a comics world superstar.  When I screwed up the courage to give him notes on his X-MEN:TAS scripts, set within a world he help build, he was always as gracious (and inventive) as he was professional.  In our weird business, Len was among the nicest people I ever met.  His long, thoughtful interview in our upcoming book was an amazing gift.

Julia and I will miss Len terribly.  Our hearts go out to his wife Christine.

ERIC

Len Wein 90s.jpg     EPILOGUE - 5 -Wolv MASK.jpg

behind-the-scenes, the book, X-Men Show

Finding More Artists: Keith Tucker

As the X-MEN:TAS book races to its thrill-packed conclusion (late June?), I find that I am discovering more people who made major contributions (artists, voice actors) but with whom I never had a chance to work directly.  Storyboard artist Keith Tucker has worked on possibly more series with me than any other artist: X-MEN:TAS, Exosquad, Streefighter, Iron Man, some Disney shows  —  all the way back to the long-forgotten Sky Commanders at Hanna-Barbera.  We writers and artists so often work separately, that a memory of Keith stands out in my mind.  Sky Commanders was the first series on which I supervised the writing (along with fellow Tennesseean John Loy).  I distinctly remember getting a call from Keith, who I’d never met, about an action scene: he had ideas for expanding and complicating the choreography and wanted to run them by me. They sounded great.  At H-B at the time the pressure was on the creative staff to rush through production.  Here was a storyboard artist asking to take an extra few hours to make a scene I had signed off on more exciting.  I remember seeing the board and seeing how good it looked.  I wondered how often we would have to time push the stories like this.  So it’s no surprise that Larry Houston used Keith a lot on X-MEN.  The odder thing is that, while working for 4 years on the stories, I never knew who all of the artists were.  Thanks to the book, I’m finding out.

Keith Tucker.jpg

behind-the-scenes, music, the book, Uncategorized

GETTING THE OPENING RIGHT

People love the opening titles of X-MEN:TAS.  I even have a short chapter in the upcoming book about their creation.  In the short time given Larry Houston and Will Meugniot (a few days?) to create the now-memorable opening sequence, Larry’s first storyboard pass was exciting, but it just wasn’t quite right.  It, perhaps influenced by Stan Lee’s attempt at coming up with a titles narration, was far more focused on the plight of mutants as hunted creatures than on the X-Men as a team.  The opening “Wanted Poster” image below was followed by police helicopter.

ORIG Opening - first panel.jpg

Margaret Loesch wisely decided that we needed to focus more on our X-Men characters, so Will helped Larry re-focus the opening titles on our characters (many of whom were newer and less familiar to Stan).  The first half of the 75-second sequence now became an exuberant introduction to the family of characters that we would be living with for five years, complete with their names in bold print.  It worked.  With the new images bonded with driving music, viewers felt the spirit of the series at the beginning of every episode.  Between Larry, Will, and Margaret, they found the heart of X-MEN:TAS.

behind-the-scenes, the book

We’re Back: It Started with “Pryde”

Happy New Year!  2017 is the 25th anniversary of the premiere preview of X-MEN:TAS (10/31/92).  It’s going to be quite a year.  In February we’re going to be at San Diego Comic Fest with three other X-MEN:TAS writers and Series Producer Larry Houston.  If you can, swing by and say hello.  We’re going to have 4 or 5 panels about the series on Saturday and Sunday.  We should also have more news about THE BOOK — our history of the series.  Publishing is currently set for this summer, so we’re going to be incredibly busy trying to finish it up.  As a fun remembrance, I thought I’d put up a storyboard page from 1989’s “Pryde of the X-MEN” (courtesy of X-MEN:TAS leader Will Meugniot).  So many of the people that got our series on the air and made it as good as it was worked on this one-off attempt at getting the X-Men right for TV.  It didn’t succeed, but without it, we very well might not have had the opportunity to do our version of X-MEN:TAS.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

COLOSSUS vs OMEGA RED — The Episode that Never Was

To quote Joe E. Brown from the movie Some Like it Hot: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”  We had a tight schedule and a tighter budget on X-MEN:TAS.  Some big animated series (at Disney, Warners, etc.) have the time and money to try all sorts of stories, develop them to script, see which ones everybody likes, then toss the ones they don’t.  We didn’t have that luxury.  The one-line ideas that were chosen were going to get made — we on the writing staff just had to make sure the 40-page scripts all came out well.  Well, 76 out of 77 did.  The one exception was a hard-edged episode set in rural Russia called “Bring Me Charles Xavier.”  Many note-givers raised concerns early, at the premise and outline stages, like they are supposed to.  But I liked the story and bull-headedly pushed it and the writer through to a couple of versions of the script — only to be told that no, many of my colleagues still didn’t like the story.   So, after many weeks of trying, it was gone.  I appologized to the writer, got him paid, and faced one of the heaviest repsonsibilities that the showrunner has in our corner of the business.  Production needed a 40-page script to keep their schedule, so I wrote a completely new one over the weekend.  Below are the would-be adversaries and the cast page from the abandoned script.  Too bad : looks like it could have been fun.

bring-me

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

THANKSGIVING THOUGHTS: THUNDERBIRD, The X-Man We Tried to Use but Couldn’t

When Mark Edens wrote the pilot script for me for X-MEN:TAS, there was an X-Man in it that never ended up apprearing on screen as an X-Man.  It was the Native American John Proudstar, known as Thunderbird.  When the X-Men books were re-started in 1975 (after their suspension in 1970), Len Wein and Dave Cockrum were given the job of coming up with a new team that was far more diverse and international.  Fans got a German (Nightcrawler), a Russian (Colossus), a Canadian (Wolverine) and a Native American.  In writing stories, they soon learned that they had a problem.  To quote Cockrum: “We created Thunderbird as an obnoxious loudmouth, and we already had an obnoxious loudmouth in Wolverine.  So one of us decided to kill him off.”  Which is why we X-Men newbies (Mark, me, Micahel Edens) decided to use Thunderbird as the character we were going to kill off in our opening story (we were trying to stay true to the spirit of the books).  Atop our todo list during the first week was: “Kill off Thunderbird.”  Well, somebody somewhere noticed that the only X-Man that we were planning to kill was Native American.  Sorry: we don’t care if they killed him in the comics, we can’t do it on Saturday morning TV.  Fine.  So I dug around and found another character who had died, sacrificing himself for the X-Men: Changeling.  Only we couldn’t use the name (long story).  So the lone sacrificial X-Man became “Morph.”  The rest is history.  By the way, to show you how much Thunderbird was in everyone’s mind early on, take a look at an image from the opening credits, on the “opponents” side.  There is John Proudstar, next to Juggernaut, angry as ever.

thunderbird

title-opponents

 

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WE CHEATED: Making Connections in the Savage Land

The first season of X-MEN:TAS we got away with something rarely seen in American animated television: we showed a continuing story set over 13 episodes.  For us to be allowed to do this was a tough fight since every business interest invovled worried that delays unique to animation could make us miss our planned air dates.  In the end they were right, and our connected storytelling cost them a lot of money.  They made much more when the series became a hit, of course, but the damage had been done: no more connected stories.  Occasional multi-parters might be okay (we pushed that hard), but episodes must STAND ALONE.  Well, we cheated.  We gave the network a two-part episode, then nine “stand alone” episodes, then a two-parter.  The trick was that the final two-parter resolved a problem (Xavier and Magneto kidnaped together) that we had set up in the opening story, and the nine episodes in-between all “touched base” with the kidnaped characters.  So to our audience, it felt like a continuing story.  This continuing background “B story” seemed to knit it all together.  I’m not sure what would have happened if the middle episodes had been shown out-of-order.  Our theory was that they would still make sense that way.  Perhaps we one day will make an experiment — starting with eps. 14/15 (“Till Death Do Us Part”), then mixing up episodes 16-24 at random, then concluding with the planned season finale of 25/26 (“Reunion”).  Or maybe some fans could make a weekend of it and let us know the results.  In any case, apologies to our network for bending the rules.  But we like the results.

savage-1savage-prof-and-mag

behind-the-scenes, the book, X-Men Show

THE NEW TEAM THAT NEVER WAS: The Book Will Tell the Story

When I mentioned yesterday how we had written out four team members from X-MEN:TAS and written in four new ones in what was to have been the series finale, I thought it would be just a fun note to fans.  Then last night Julia told me: “People are guessing on Twitter.  You have to tell!”  Okay, fine.  I was going to just wait and let folks read the retelling of the 10-page, 4-episode discarded premise in our “Making of X-MEN:TAS” book next year.  But she’s right: I brought it up, I need to answer the question right away.  First, who was to go.  Jean and Scott, who we’d tried to marry off and get pregnant as early as episode 14 were now married and leaving to start a family.  Makes sense.  Xavier was leaving, in this case to take on a new set of much younger mutants (the at-the-time new “Generation X”).  This is kind of like Vince Lombardi winning a couple of Super Bowls and deciding to go back to coaching highschool football, but there you are.  Finally Storm decided that she too had other responsibilities.  Bam.  After an 88-minute, time-torturing, mega-villain-filled story, the X-Men are four folks short.  Well, in our original story, we made Psylocke  a major player, and she ended up asking to stay around (fitting in with some of the recent books).  Same with Archangel.  The two larger surprises were Bishop and Shard.  The hard-fighting brother and sister from the future had become stranded in the present time (1996?).  Since they too had proven themselves, the X-Men welcomed them.  So there you have it — four out, four in.  I have no idea how the delicate balance of our core team would have been affected.  Making the new team work as well would have been a huge challenge.  I’d like to think that if asked we could have risen to it.

BISHOP                                                 SHARD

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

Change the Team?!

There’s a little known fact: we were going to change the X-MEN:TAS team.  We had written the script where four members left and four new ones came on.  It seems hard to imagine now.  One of the strengths of the series is that we had found an excellent balance of diverse characters.  How would we write stories without four of our team, mixing in four new-comers?  The trick is that we were not planning to.  Fox Network had decided to end the series at 65 episodes with a big story that concluded with four members leaving and four, who had proved themselves within the story, replacing them.  The big four-part story was “Beyond Good and Evil,” and we had finished the four scripts — story laid out by Mark Edens and Michael Edens — with heartfelt farewells included.  Then word came down that Fox didn’t want to end the series after all.  They wanted another season (season five).  Oops.  Now I had to go back into “B. G. & E.” and take out all of the story bits that lead to four characters leaving and four new ones stepping in.  Not pleasant.  What was a really well-constructed 88-minute story now needed to be patched together to be something different.  Fast.  Oh, well.  Below are our original ten X-Men (including Morph), plus some guest stars.  See if you can guess which four of our ten was set to leave and who would have replaced them.  Two of the replacements are among those shown below.

x-team-plus

WHO LEFT AND WHO REPLACED THEM?

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

HEROIC SACRIFICE

Sacrifice is central to being a hero, super or otherwise.  Sadly, much of Hollywood has given up on this.  All endings, it seems, must be happy.  In classic storytelling, the great heroes died or at least suffered great loss.  In X-MEN:TAS we had our team face personal sacrifice whenever we could.  The first story climaxed with Morph sacrificing his life for his closest friend, Wolverine (see below).  In the much later “One Man’s Worth,” Storm and Wolverine sacrifice their undying love to save someone they have never met in this timeline (Charles Xavier).  One of the greatest moments in the history of sacrifice in storytelling was the final shot of the movie “The Searchers” (1956).   John Wayne’s character has just given five years of his life, struggling, searching for and rescuing his niece.  He brings her back and heals the pioneer family that had lost her.  One by one the happy family go inside the house, leaving the heroic uncle standing alone in the doorway.  The words “Ride away…” are sung on the sound track.  John Wayne looks into the house for a moment, seeing something he can never quite be part of, then walks off alone.  He did what he had to do; he sacrificed.  When I meet people who loved X-MEN:TAS, nearly every one says: “You had me when you killed Morph.”  This show, they decided, was different.  Mark Edens and I, who made this initial choice, just took it for granted that personal sacrifice was at the center of what it means to be a hero.  I guess we’re just old-fashioned.

morph-pushworld-for-our-love

searchers

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

ALTERNATE TIMELINES: MORE FUN FOR THE ARTISTS

Think about it.  You work on a series for five years — even one as fun as X-MEN:TAS — and drawing the same look for the same characters could get old.  So imagine the fun when word comes down from the writers that we’re doing time-travel or an “alternate timeline” episode, either of which requiring new looks for the characters.  Below are a couple of alternative designs for Rogue and Scott.  Below those are a couple of images from one of my favorite epsisodes, “One Man’s Worth.”  The first, a modern-day, idyllic moment bewteen Storm and Wolverine (having a picnic!) suddenly switches to an alternative timeline (created by evil time-travellers) where they are fighting for their lives in dystopic, miserable world.  Alt-Storm is designed so much tougher, so punk, that you know her life is diferent just by looking at her.  After months of drawing “normal” Storm, it must have been fun to be asked to re-imagine her.  The distinctive looks sure worked for us in the story.

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