X-Men Show

DVDs: APOCALYPSE, X-MEN:TAS

Today is an X-MEN fan day.  The feature movie X-MEN: Apocalypse will be joining our DVD libraries.  Of course we buy them all.  I spent four years living with these characters, so I have to keep track of them as they try new things.  This is a day to celebrate the villain Apocalypse, only recently created in the books (1986, Simonson, Guice, Harras), but who seems a timeless presence.  We loved writing for him because of the world-class voice we got (the late John Colicos) and because we so enjoyed giving depth, doubt, and introspection to a larger-than-life creature who was originally conceived as the incarnation of ruthlessness and destruction.  The character Apocalypse has experienced 5000 years of humanity. What a vantage point to ponder the nature of existence!  There will be arguments about the movie version of the character versus our X-MEN:TAS version.  They are different art forms.  There is room for both.  Before you slip your new disc into the blue-ray player today, however, we thought you might enjoy a fabulous YouTube video that a fan (maninthemask) threw together using highlights of our Apocalypse from the show.

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behind-the-scenes, Uncategorized

CONNECTING OUR STORIES TO THE MARVEL BOOKS

X-MEN:TAS has a complex relationship with the many series of X-MEN comic books that we respectfully mined as source material.  Many fans have made lists of the connections they see, where adaptions may have been made from book to screen.  Some are easy: the “Phoenix” sagas and “Days of Future Past” were direct, intentional, adaptations of well-known comics stories.  Few others were.  I had no agenda in adapting or not adapting stories from the books.  Some of the TV writers knew and loved the books; others didn’t know them at all.  There was only one rule for choosing which stories got made: which would play the best in series TV animation.  The result was that only a handful of stories, like “Days,” originated with a writer saying: “We gotta do the —– book!”  Far more often a writer would have a character or idea from a book, or of his or her own, and we built an original TV story from there, using names and places and characters from the books to suit our stories.  Or in today’s case — the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil” — an original story was “tied in” to the Marvel Universe, late in the process, by the cameo appearance at the end by an established comics character.  Writer Mark Edens created a new character, BENDER, a Robin-Williams-like, Lear-foolish jester, to hold the time-bending story together.   Super-fan producer Larry Houston came up with the tag at the end, where Bender morphs into Immortus, an appropriately larger-than life Marvel character.  Fans might imagine that Mark and I were trying to tell an Immortus story from the beginning.  We weren’t.  But Larry’s insertion of Immortus  was a perfect example of X-MEN:TAS bringing the Marvel Universe into our stories in every way we could.

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IMMORTUS

the book

CHARACTER DESIGN MATTERS

Animation writer-producers depend on the talent of the series’ designers.  We can structure the stories, name the characters, and write their dialogue.  We can pick the actors, direct their voices, and add evocative music and sound effects.  We can push the studio to animate smoothly and edit seamlessly.  We can get 99 out of 100 elements right, but if our series’ character designs are off, none of it matters.  Think about “miscasting” movies, or even just screwing up the costumes a little.  It takes you right out of the movie.  You leave saying: “I would have loved that movie about the Los Angeles Lakers, but I found Danny DeVito as Kobe distracting.”  Below are a couple of mashups that confirm this.  The Simpsons is as great an animated series as will ever be invented.  So much of the spirit of the series is evident simply in Matt Groening’s designs.  While imagining our X-MEN:TAS characters drawn like Simpsons characters or those from American Dad (both below), is harmless (and clever) fun, it reminded me how much TV and movies demand that you believe their images.  Theater can get away with cheesy costumes and 60-year-olds playing young lovers — and books don’t have this worry — but people really watch what we produce as well as listen to it, so if the images don’t feel right, nothing does.  Still, Barney as Beast is pretty funny.

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

FAN FRIDAYS: MORE ON THE BOOK

I was going to do a “Fan Fridays” blog on X-MEN:TAS swag today, but I got caught up in working on the book.  Sorry — swag next Friday.  But since I have a rough intro done for the “Making of… ” book, I thought I’d share it instead (along with a recent New Yorker cartoon that illustrates my state of mind).

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HOW’S YOUR BOOK COMING ALONG?

I’m over half done, thanks for asking.  Hoping for a July release. I have a rough intro:

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testimonials, Uncategorized, X-Men Show

OUR BOOK NEEDS TESTIMONIALS

Thanks for the reaction to the announcement of our X-MEN:TAS book, due out next year.  Ten times the usual number of people checked out this site over the past 24 hours.  Well, if you’re looking forward to the book, please know that you can BE PART OF IT.  There is going to be a chapter made up of testimonials.  We’ve published two already on this blog — memories of what watching X-MEN:TAS has meant to you.  Some people gained courage from the mutants’ struggles.  Some gratified viewers became animators or cartoonists or philosophy majors (Beast fans).  Others simply felt a connection to a group of characters that they had experienced nowhere else in their lives.  A number of authors have mentioned being inspired by the storytelling (humbling praise indeed).  Attached is a quote from the biography of Stephanie Meyer, the author of the much-loved “Twilight” series of books.  Artists and craftsmen hope their work can reach people.  Animation writers and artists tend to work alone or with a couple of friends and rarely do we experience that “connection,” with those who are affected by our efforts, that all creative workers strive for.  So, if X-MEN:TAS has meant something to you, please write us about it at xmentas92@gmail.com.  We will publish a variety of them, short or long, in the book.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

X-MEN: TAS — THE BOOK!!

Yes, there’s going to be a book!  We’ve resisted for two decades telling the story of how X-MEN:TAS struggled to get made and survive on the air.  The 25th Anniversary of our premiere on Fox Kids Television is coming soon (October 31, 2017), and it’s time to get it done.  Thanks to the continuing interest of fans everywhere, when we proposed a “Making of…” book about X-MEN:TAS we received a number of offers from interested publishers.  So I checked them out to see which one might do the best job helping us tell the X-MEN:TAS history.  Julia and I often make references to our fan-obsession with the original Star Trek series (1966-68), now referred to as Star Trek: TOS.  Well, the most impressive behind-the-scenes Trek history I could find was the recent 2000-page trilogy (no kidding) “These Are the Voyages” (see Volume One below) by Marc Cushman.  (And no, you aren’t getting 2000 pages from me — the man is a detail maniac.)  The publishing company is called Jacobs/Brown, and I liked them immediately because they get the joy and magic of popular culture, they’re great folks, and they’re local (to us, anyway).   So if getting a paragraph a day on this blog has been frustrating, your wait is almost over.  Well, about year away (there’s a lot to write).  I’ve already interviewed 30 cast members, artists, and crew, and have just a handful left to go.  You won’t be surprised to discover that for many of them, X-MEN:TAS was the highlight of their long careers.  They loved doing it as much as you loved watching it.  We’ll keep you updated as the book progresses.  Best, ERIC.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

INFLUENCES

Writers have influences.  TV animation writers are no different.  A number of X-MEN:TAS stories had precursors, dramatic stories or moments or moods that stuck with us and informed our choices for X-MEN storytelling mood and meaning.  I have mentioned that Mark and Michael Edens and I shared a love for Classical Mythology.  People knew how to write heroes back then, in all their flawed glory.  Decisions had consequences, and the more powerful the character, the more humbling the results.  Gods and heroes had emotions, fine and petty, and their actions changed the world.  Movies have provided our era’s mythology, and there were a few whose influence showed up in X-MEN:TAS.  The easiest “homage” to spot is in the two-part “One Man’s Worth.”  In it, we discover a future world condemned to misery for the lack of one person’s influence.  That was the core idea in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the post-World-War-Two classic (1947) that is often wrongly remembered as an upbeat Christmas movie.  To the contrary, Jimmy Stewart is on the brink of suicide (see image below), believing his life has been worthless.  Then, after seeming to have given up, he is offered the opportunity to see what the world would have been like without him: a miserable, hopeless hell.  While our structure was different (we showed the hell first), the point was the same: If one man, Charles Xavier, was removed from the equation of life, civilization would crumble.  He is “worth” that much.  Similarly, we took the heart-breaking idea of a blind person regaining her sight at the possible cost of losing her affection for her savior from Chaplain’s “City Lights” (1931).  In our story, “Beauty and the Beast,” the problem is mutancy, not class.  But the personal stakes are the same.  Finally there is the fan-noticed “almost cursing” of Wolverine.  Of course we couldn’t have a character curse in a kids’ show.  But Wolverine is a world-weary, crusty old bastard who doesn’t suffer fools at all.  In a contemporary movie or book, he would curse like a sailor.  We had to improvise.  Luckily, we were all fans of classic Western movies, from the ’40s through the ’60s, where hardened men fought and died without an “F***” allowed.  So, fans of Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch” (1969) will notice Wolverine’s references to “egg-sucking gutter trash” and smile.  To further quote that movie — and our own Cyclops in X-MEN:TAS episode 13 —  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

FAN FRIDAYS: ARTISTS AT PLAY

It wasn’t all work and no play for the excellent designers and storyboard artists that drew X-MEN:TAS.  They would sneak in fun bits when they could.  In what was SUPPOSED to be our big series finale — the four-episode epic “Beyond Good and Evil” (apologies to Nietzsche) — Larry Houston and Frank Squillace needed more incidental characters designed than usual (more about how this story was radically changed later).  So there were two “artists” created for the story, and, in another scene, two members of a “Human Assault Force.”  These pairs of characters look suspiciously like Larry and Frank — just in better shape.  I’ve heard dozens of tales of animation artists that delight themselves in slipping in certain images (Barney Rubble, a hint of a butt crack, etc.) into chaotic scenes when they could.  Why not?  If I could draw I would.  Nothing brings more joy to work that taking mischievous pleasure in the doing of it.

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X-Men Show

STRANGE DOCTORS, GODS, & ALIENS: THE MARVEL UNIVERSE

When we all signed on to do X-MEN:TAS in February, 1992, new colleagues Larry Houston and Will Meugniot introduced me to “The Marvel Universe.”  At first I believed it simply meant “the Marvel family of characters and locations,” which it definitely does.  But I soon discovered that this “universe” included, well, the universe.  Just mastering the X-MEN characters was challenge enough.  Soon I was made aware that many of the Marvel books overlapped so extensively, like an intricate weaving, that our series might in fact stretch out beyond our galaxy (Scott’s dad and Xavier’s lasting love were both soon revealed to live “in outer space”).  Marvel was not pushing this overlap to us (as they do now with cross-marketing of titles).  This was all the doing of the fans within our production ranks, led by Larry.  In fact Marvel often wouldn’t allow us to use most characters “outside” the X-MEN books.  But Larry persevered.  Here are three of his beloved “Easter Eggs” from episode #42, part of the Dark Phoenix Saga.  Since Phoenix was threatening life on a planetary scale, it made sense to show a series of concerned characters from around our world and beyond. Advertisements for Dr. Strange’s first big movie have just come out, and they made me think of this storyboard page Larry recently sent me.  As with Deadpool before him, Dr. Strange got early exposure in our series thanks to fan Larry’s attention to detail.

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

THE FOX KIDS NETWORK

There was nothing random about the fact that X-MEN:TAS was successful on the Fox Kids Network (or “Fox Children’s Network,” or FCN).  First, no one else would program it.  Margaret Loesch tried pitching it for nearly ten years — sorry lady, no way.  CBS, NBC, and ABC were 99% of the television market, and if they didn’t want you, tough.  I remember “pitching” shows to the three networks in the late 1980s.  You had three chances, period.  There was a week in early February when they all decided what would be shown in the fall.  If you didn’t make a sale, it was wait until next year.  Then this upstart, half-network called Fox Television got thrown together.  They were risk-takers enough to hire Margaret, who was brave enough to hire Sidney Iwanter, and the golden age of animated TV was born.  First they grabbed Beetlejuice from ABC and made it more intense.  Then they added Batman: TAS and X-MEN:TAS and The Tick and Spider-Man and the rest of kids’ television didn’t know what hit them.  In those days the network’s decisions were everything.  If the executives didn’t like or get your show, it didn’t happen.  If they bought it and then didn’t get what about it would make it great, it wasn’t allowed to be great.  They had absolute creative control; it was “their money.”  I have seen more potentially good television hobbled or destroyed by a lack of executive understanding than any single factor.  There are oceans of creative production talent out here.  But business people who know how to navigate the terrifying waters of our demanding industry and that have a clue about the creative side are rare.  X-MEN:TAS simply wouldn’t have worked for other executives at other networks at another time.  We all did our part, but FCN, through Margaret and Sidney and others, made it possible.  (Below see pages from the quarterly “Fox Kids Club” magazine that they sent out to make younger fans feel part of it all.)

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behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

SHAPESHIFTERS

Mystique.  Morph.  Shapeshifters are fun in TV and movies.  They’re kind of static in comics and nearly useless in print books, where there is no visual shape to shift.  But in animated television they are irresistible.  The X-Men character of Mystique has had an involved history in the comic books: She was everywhere, personally connected in some way to Rogue and Nightcrawler and Jean and most of the mutants who came to form our cast.  In X-MEN:TAS, we used her even more.  Transformations are fun, and action storytelling loves the misdirection of letting you see one character do something, then later revealing that it was someone else.  Morph was different.  He was new, introduced specifically to be fun and funny and loved by all, especially Wolverine, so that when he was killed in our very first story he could be grieved for by our entire X-Men team.  His transformations were playful, not deceitful.  Well, then after our first season, our audience spoke: bring back Morph!  So back he came, now PTSD-damaged by his near-death experience.  Luckily we had versatile actors to voice characters who had to take so many guises.  Jennifer Dale (Mystique) and Ron Rubin (Morph) were not thought of as the “core cast,” but there were a surprising number of episodes that featured one or the other as a crucial, central character.

MYSTIQUE                                        JENNIFER DALE

 

MORPH                                                RON RUBIN

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

X-MEN:TAS ROMANCES

Who would have thought that a “boys action” superhero series played on Saturday mornings would be full of romance?  Yet it was.  Everyone knows that Scott and Jean were engaged to be married — and that Wolverine had to struggle with his feelings for her.  Wolverine was old enough (95) and sufficiently romantic that he had former lovers littered across the globe.  Professor X and Dr. Moira McTaggart had cared deeply for one another, and surely Gambit felt some true affection underneath his non-stop flirting.  Beast fell for a blind girl whose sight he restored.  And Rogue yearned for a man’s touch that forever eluded her.   Even Jubliee had a short flirtation (Longshot).  Saturday morning cartoons aren’t supposed to showcase adult love and heartbreak.  Few ever have or ever will.  But we insisted that X-MEN:TAS was peopled with intense adults who would have these feelings.  And much to the surprise of the endless experts who constantly told us and still tell us to make shows “age appropriate,” our audience loved these moments.  Five-year-olds may not know what adult love and yearning entail, but they understand personal attachment and caring and the drama inherent in threats to both.  There was some basis for the Scott-Jean-Wolverine love triangle in the books (though X-MEN:TAS writer Bob Skir takes some credit for highlighting it — let the debate begin).  But I’m pretty sure the Wolverine/Storm kiss in our time-travel story “One Man’s Worth” is our original.  Time travelers tell future Wolverine and Storm that they must go back in time to change the world.  But this would mean that they wouldn’t have each other.  Wolverine says screw it — he’s not going to give up their love, even to save the whole world.  To paraphrase Casablanca: “Yes, he loves her that much.”  But Storm is more clear-headed: they must do their duty.  She gives Logan a heart-felt kiss, and the adventure to save the planet begins.

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