behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

GREAT VOICES: “OUR APOCALYPSE”

X-MEN characters exist in the books and the animated shows and the live-action movies.  In the books, their voices exist in our imaginations.  In the various animated series and the movies, the characters live concretely in the voices of their actors.  Everyone hears them the same.  The current live-action movie guest-stars one of my favorite X-MEN characters: Apocalypse.  The actor portraying him is among the great performers of our time, Oscar Isaac.  He does a fine job.  Yet, for me, and for millions of fans around the world, “our” Apocalypse will always possess the uncannily resonant voice of the late John Colicos.  One of my great regrets while making X-MEN:TAS was never having a chance to meet John.  This was not only because he contributed so much to our show.  I was stunned to discover that he was my single favorite Star Trek villain, KOR (“koor”), the first Klingon commander ever portrayed.  John’s performance as Kor was first broadcast 49 years ago.  I’ve enjoyed it many times since, but it burned into my memory in one viewing.  He promised to turn Mr. Spock’s mind into a “ve-ge-ta-ble,” and I never pronounced the word the same way again.  On our series, he was the single most larger-than-life villain we had.  John made Apocalypse’s ancient soul believable.  He made a horrifically powerful villain vulnerable as he pondered the Sisyphean of his existence.  He made us feel for him. (Oscar Isaac was quoted as saying he “Went to the cartoons for a deeper take on the character.”)  So when we leave the theater after enjoying the craft of X-MEN: APOCALYPSE,  let’s remember the man who made the character immortal.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

STORM IS EXCITED — WE’RE UP TO 2000 TWITTER FOLLOWERS!

Thanks yet again.  We really didn’t know how to do this.  We slapped together @xmentas and this website a couple of months ago, and now they both have lives of their own.  Two days ago was by far the most-viewed blog post.  It’s great to have momentum.  We will never take it for granted.  Below is another of series producer/designer Will Meugniot’s recent sketches of a member of our X-MEN:TAS team.  Storm was not the simplest character to write for.  How do you make someone “regal,” “damaged,” and likable all at the same time?  I think our best stories about Ororo had to do with her struggle to contain her volatile, roiling emotions — a challenge never faced for a moment by Wolverine.  If you think about it, successful royal families have long had to serve their countries first, their personal feelings a distant second.  It also makes for fun animation opportunities when a master of the weather “loses it.”  In any case, today Storm is free to let loose as wildly as she likes.  She’s hoping we soon see 3,000.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

WRITING FOR CARTOONS

We’re not in it for the glamour.  Writing animation in Hollywood is not the road to fame and fortune.  We don’t have a lot of street cred.  It’s odd — since half (most?) of the movie hits in the past 30 years (Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, Universal, etc.) have either been animated or associated with animated TV series based on comic books (X-Men, Avengers, Batman, etc.).  Billions of happy viewers, all that money keeping the fading mainstream business going, and we “just write cartoons.”  Even people that love our work aren’t always sure what we do (“Do you write the stories for the animators?”).  It’s like that famous quote in the classic 1950s movie Sunset Boulevard: “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture.  They think the actors make it up as they go along.”  Thankfully, we love doing it.  Have  a look at the first page of our X-MEN:TAS pilot script, Mark Edens’ “Night of the Sentinels – Part One.”  It all starts with the words.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

NEPOTISM: A LITTLE GUILTY

Hollywood is famous for nepotism ruining projects: “I have this nephew that would be GREAT in your movie…” In the case of animated character names and drawn images, however, I never saw the harm in using friends and family in our work.  It’s fun.  It’s a little gift you can give to people you care for.  Below are three examples taken from our Fox Kids shows in the mid-90s.  You’ll recognize the first two as being from X-MEN:TAS‘s “Beauty and the Beast.”  Hank feels harsh prejudice when helping a young blind woman regain her sight.  Her name is Carly Ann Crocker, and she and Beast care for each other in a world that won’t accept them.  Hank’s heartbroken colleague (next picture) is Doctor Alec Bohlson.  Alec wants to help his friend, but he can’t.  Well, Carly Ann Crocker is the name of the daughter of a close friend of mine, multiple-Emmy-winning animation writer Carter Crocker.  And Alec Bohlson is my younger son.  Finally, in the pilot episode of creator Ben Edlund’s incomparable THE TICK, sidekick Arthur is fired by his boss, in effect my brother-in-law, “Mr. Wiederspahn.”  I had the honor of lending a hand during the writing of the series pilot episode, and I took the opportunity to immortalize Russ Wiederspahn as a short-sighted senior accountant.  I never put myself in anything, but I am indebted to my friend John Semper for naming a guest villain “Lewald” in Spider-Man:TAS.  I guess we all look out for each other.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

IT’S AN HONOR TO BE NOMINATED

They came close.  The nice folks at Screen Junkies (see PR photo below, then with us at their party at Comic-Con) were the first people to give our website a shoutout.  They took the time to talk with us back on the 31st of May when we were just starting our Twitter feed and building this site.  When we spoke with them for an hour, they seemed to know as much about X-MEN:TAS as we did, maybe more.  They made us feel welcome, and the hour flew by.  It seemed like we could have had fun talking for four hours more.  It was clear that they love X-Men: The Animated Series.  Well, tonight their outstanding HONEST TRAILERS series was up for an Emmy award.  We helped nominate it and voted for it.  Sadly, it didn’t win.  But people need to understand how hard it is just to get a nomination.  It means you had to have produced one of the five best of your kind of program that year in either all of television or, in their case, the entire web.  Not too shabby.  The fact that they should have won does not diminish their accomplishment.  This will surely be their first nomination of many.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

US

A couple of you have asked to know more about the two of us that are maintaining this blog and the Twitter feed at @xmentas (yes, please follow us there).  Well, Julia mostly handles the tweeting and I mostly handle the blogging.  She came to Hollywood from Wisconsin via Texas, and I came here from Minnesota through Tennessee.  We are both grateful to have been able to raise a family by writing for television.  Below please see a couple of collages crafted by our niece Rev that display some of the series we have worked on over the years.  Many are the same (it’s nice to be able to take work together while being married), but some we did on our own.  The number and variety give you an indication of how we were each able to get by out here in this demanding business: be ready to work on whatever comes your way.  The one thing we can agree on is that X-MEN:TAS was the single greatest opportunity in both of our careers.  Thanks for making it last.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

BEST INTENTIONS

Even with the best of intentions, you can get in trouble.  Some of you may remember that at the end of each episode during the first season, there was a primitive, spinning, 3-D, CGI (computer-generated-image) model of each of our lead characters that ran alongside the credits.  Each of our eight leads was featured, turning 360 degrees, along with a brief description of his or her powers printed beneath the model.  This was Will Meugniot’s idea.  He understood that 80% of our audience had never heard of the X-Men before.  Having a reminder of who was who in the team and what their powers were was a service to the audience.  It was also time-consuming and EXPENSIVE at a time when CGI was in its infancy.  Well, no good deed goes unpunished.  When the shows came out in January, 1993, a cry went up that these  3-D figures of our X-MEN:TAS team looked like built-in toy advertisements.  Much to Will’s disappointment, we had to discontinue showing them.  Every successful show has merchandising — either before or after the fact.  The “product placement” rules are silly.  A show is good or bad.  What it may end up helping to sell is immaterial.  We got away with breaking a lot of rules on X-MEN:TAS.  Here’s one we couldn’t get past.

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

THANKS FOR WATCHING

We who work in television get graded every week.  If you viewers don’t watch our show, we get fired.  Almost all TV series fail,most very quickly.  It’s a weird career, but you get used to it.  The main numbers that the business uses to grade us are “ratings” (the percentage out of 100% of all possible US households that are watching us,  over 1,000,000 households per point) and “share” (the percentage of total households watching TV — half are off doing something else — that are watching us).  Below are this week’s prime-time ratings and shares in 2016.  It’s summer, and there are hundreds of choices these days, but The Big Bang Theory was pleased to be the top comedy with a 4.9/9 rating/share.  Then look farther below at the cover of industry bible Daily Variety’s annual animation special edition, which showed how X-MEN:TAS was doing only five weeks into it’s initial run in early 1993.  Not only were we getting over 10-point ratings, but nearly half of the households watching TV those mornings were watching us.  We had been working just under a year to produce the show.  Most doubted it would work.  Only the first 13 episodes had been budgeted.  Viewer reaction like this allowed us to continue for 66 more.  Thanks for watching.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

DEADPOOL GETS HIS SCREEN DEBUT

This year’s Deadpool feature movie was a fun mega-hit.  Ryan Reynolds nailed it.  What few fans realize is that the character Deadpool got his first bits of screen time on our series in 1993 and 1994 in cameo appearances in episodes #4 (“Deadly Reunions”), #16 (“Whatever it Takes”), and #30 (“The Phoenix Saga: Part 2”).  Liefeld and Nicieza’s unique self-aware, dark-comic hero was created only months before we started working on X-MEN:TAS.  Obviously his first books made quite an impression on producer-director Larry Houston.  When, in episode #30, Charles Xavier was having hallucinations, one of the scariest had Wolverine being attacked in a subway train.  Enjoy a panel from Larry’s storyboard, inked by Mark Lewis.  X-MEN_OddsAndEnds_11

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

MY MUTANT INTERNET – 1992

Those of us entrusted with writing X-MEN:TAS stories only had a couple of weeks to figure out who and what the X-Men were and what they meant to each other and the world.  Our bosses wanted 13 half-hour stories sketched out right away.  There was no internet.  Friends lent me a few old books, but Marvel, edging toward bankruptcy, was 3000 miles away and didn’t have much of a staff to dig through old boxes to ferret out old books that might best reveal the new team’s characters.  There were few reprint collections.  Fans like Larry Houston, Will Meugniot, and Bob Skir helped with advice, but they had their own jobs to do.  Of all things, I found real help at an old-school gaming store, where I picked up a copy of an X-Men “Special Campaign Set.”  It had blueprints of the X-Mansion and the Blackbird and detailed histories of the characters.  This and a copy of Larry’s “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition” helped me quickly learn the complex and sometimes contradictory world of 25 years of X-Men storytelling.  Fans know this stuff.  They know the rules.  Mark and Michael and I couldn’t start building stories until we did as well.  Thanks to a table-top game and an encyclopedia, we learned fast.Roster Book Coverwhat are mutants

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

ANIMATED TV – REBORN IN THE 1990s

I grew up in the 1960s watching some excellent cartoons.  This was a bit of a cheat, since the best ones were originally very expensively made (in man-hours) for movie theaters.  The earliest Warners Bugs Bunnys and the Fleischer Popeyes and the Disney shorts from the 1930s through the MGM shorts of the ’50s (like Tom & Jerry) were produced to delight adult moviegoers.  Repeats from this golden age filled our Saturday mornings.  But making good animation is hard.  The staff at a major film studio could spend four months crafting the 22 minutes of material that TV would soon demand from an animated series every week.  Most of the made-for-TV series from the ’60s and ’70s and even the early ’80s are hard to watch now.  Miracle-man Jay Ward (Bullwinkle, etc.) managed by spending no time or money on the primitive animation while investing all his energy in the writing and voice acting (think Simpsons or South Park).  But when I started working in animation in 1985, things were only just starting to pick up.  Luckily for X-MEN:TAS, Margaret Loesch at Fox was far more ambitious than most people in the business.  She’d help produce some of the best series of the late ’80s, and when she came to Fox in 1990, she knew it would take a couple of years to get her schedule the way she wanted it.  See below what was available to her at first, then what she added: Beetlejuice, Batman:TAS, Eek The Cat, Dog City, and soon thereafter: X-MEN:TAS, The Tick, and Spider-Man.  For 25  years a lot of  new “children’s programming” had been uninspired.  Luckily for X-Men fans, the right person came along at the right time.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

ARTISTIC INSPIRATION: LARRY CONJURES UP AN ALIEN QUEEN

Many X-MEN:TAS characters were set in stone.  No fan wants to see a blond, willowy Wolverine.  Often the creation of guest characters allowed our artists more room to personalize their designs.  Late in the series run, in episode #45 (“Love in Vain” — thanks for the correction, Nathan), Larry Houston had the fun challenge of coming up with a look for a race of threatening aliens (“The Colony”) and their ferocious Queen.  For some reason, Hela, the Asgardian Goddess of Death from the Thor comics stuck in Larry’s mind as a starting point.  First drawn in the 1960s by the immortal Jack Kirby (below), Hela had recently been modernized by artist Bruce Timm (next below).  Larry gave the two images of Hela to artists Mark Lewis and Frank Brunner as inspiration for our rapacious alien “Colony Queen.”  You can see the final result — original, yet a respectful nod to the early work that had inspired Larry since his childhood.

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