We all dream when we’re young. Some of us dream bigger than others. The man who designed X-MEN: The Animated Series and directed its course for its crucial first season had the nerve, as an adolescent comic-book fan, to write to Stan Lee and ask him how to get into the comics business. I can only imagine how earnest and sincere Will Meugniot’s original letter was. You can see Marvel’s thoughtful response below. The vision Will had for himself was a crucial element in our show’s success. Twenty-six years after that letter, Will cared enough about a comic-book to fight every needed fight — and there were a lot of them — to keep X-MEN:TAS on track . I’m sure teen-aged Will had no idea that he would one day find himself responsible for much of the creative direction of what would become, by some measures, the most successful comic-book-based series in television history, animated or live-action. But sometimes it pays to dream big.
The book is NEARLY DONE! Our publisher will get the manuscript from me in a couple of weeks, editing will begin, and we plan to have it out this summer. Please let me know what you think of Will Meugniot’s first mock-up of a design for the cover (below). I’m sure it will evolve. One last favor: I have a chapter called “Testimonials,” where fans write, in about a page or so (no set length), about what watching X-MEN:TAS meant to them. There is still room for a few more in the book, but I will need them quickly. (You can send them as document files to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d really appreciate it.) When the book comes out, it will be available on Amazon and at bookstores. But it you buy it from the publisher directly (Jacobsbrownmediagroup.com), or from my table at a Con, you will be sure to get an autographed copy. Also, I am assured that the publisher’s website will be set up to accept pre-sale orders (not sure when yet) before the actual date of publication.
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.
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.
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.
There is an endless fascination of “who would beat who” in the immense, ever-expanding world of superheroes. I can’t imagine a more classic (and over-used) comic-book cover than the pairing of one beloved character or team against another. It’s also a no-brainer for 2-D or 3-D-Fighter video games: combat is their essence. Feature movies have tried “A vs. B” with mixed success (Alien vs. Predator, The Avengers: Civil War). It doesn’t even need to make any sense — it just sets up a challenge, a deeply human competition complete with a satifying mix of spectacle. It compels us: we gotta know who wins. I was reminded of this yesterday when I saw the announcement of the most recent Capcom-vs.-Marvel game, “Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite,” specially featuring characters from X-Men and Street Fighter (see below). This spoke to me since I and producer Will Muegniot and my wife Julia and writer Michael Edens were part of the core creative teams on both of these animated series, nearly back-to-back. Their worlds were so different that it never would have occurred to any of us to pit one set of characters against the other. But that didn’t stop a more imaginative Capcom from creating a 20-year run of incredibly successful games. Powers and fighting were an essential part of our stories on X-MEN:TAS and even more so on Streetfighter:TAS. But the human side of the characters was even more important to us. We could tell a good story with very little fighting, but we couldn’t tell a lasting story without the humanity.
Thanks again! It took a couple of months for our Twitter site (@xmentas) to get to 1000 followers on August 3rd. Then it took another 44 days to get to 2000 on September 16th. Now it is the 28th of October, it’s 42 days later, and we just hit 3000! Rogue is so excited she’s stomping a dinosaur (courtesy of X-MEN:TAS producer/designer Will Meugniot). If you haven’t yet, please join us as Twitter followers. We who contribute to the website appreciate your keeping in touch and staying part of our X-MEN:TAS family. We will do everything we can to keep updating xmentas.com and responding to your tweets on Twitter.
Today, I am told, is Hugh Jackman’s birthday. When his next movie soon comes out — said to be his last as X-MEN character Wolverine — he will have been in our heads as that seminal character for 17 years. It’s hard to overstate how important casting can be to a timeless character. There are plenty of talented people that are dead wrong for their roles. We take for granted that great characters are meant to be, just as they are. But so much goes into the creation of a character that moves us — story, design, voice, attitude, dialogue, look, fellow cast members, budget, cultural climate — that the norm is a missed opportunity. Not this time.
So, happy birthday, Hugh. Len Wein (see middle below) created Wolverine’s essence in 1974. Cal Dodd (see beside Len) brought us Wolverine’s voice in 1992. Then Hugh Jackman (near below) finished the job in the year 2000 by bringing us Wolverine’s living incarnation. As we celebrate a special Wolverine Wednesday with X-MEN:TAS designer Will Meugniot’s recent sketch, we thank these three and the hundreds of others who have contributed to making this character important to us.
This blog exists to celebrate an animated super-hero television series that we, with struggling humility and extreme prejudice, believe is among the best ever made; none better. Were there others that, in their way, were just as good? Batman:TAS must immediately be included in this discussion. This is particularly crucial in any cataloging of the merits and failings of X-MEN:TAS since we were in effect “siblings.” Both series were originally scheduled to premiere in September, 1992, on the Fox Kids Network. Both were ordered and developed by the same two executives: Fox Kids president Margaret Loesch and hands-on producer Sidney Iwanter. Both focused on popular comic book heroes. Many of the same craftsmen (Larry Houston, Will Meugniot, Len Wein) worked, back and forth, on both series. Hollywood is a small town, and animation is a smaller neighborhood in that town. So of course we were not only aware of one another, we were competitive. All that said, all I can conclude after 24 years is that we were different. Batman:TAS had big budgets and long, comfortable schedules that we, in our low-priced rush to production, would have killed for. We had an arguably more dramatic and flexible set-up (so many different interesting heroes, so many multi-part stories permitted). They had superior, stunning animation. We had slam-bang energy. In fact Sidney once described his two most successful series as “Cool jazz versus a garage band.” Amazing visuals versus compelling drama. Few people know that the constant to the various animated Batman‘s successes is one man — Alan Burnett — who is still there at Warners, assuring the continuing quality of the various TV series and DVD movies. By chance, Alan and I started out in the mid-’80s at the same place, “Hanna-Barbera III,” a tiny building across from the animation giant’s main offices. After 30 years, if I were given the responsibility of producing a block of animated programming, my friend Alan would be the first person I would hire. So it’s hard to think back to X-MEN vs. Batman as a contentious rivalry (though a blogger did, with the recent poll attached below). For us it was more a case of mutual respect.
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.
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.
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.
When running TV series, a tough job and major responsibility of the showrunner is “servicing the characters.” If you are plotting out 26 stories, where do you use each of the recurring characters — in our case eight of them — and what sorts of moments, scenes, and full stories do they get? Everybody cares about this. Fans care because they have favorites. Actors care because the more scenes and bigger/better stories they get, the more they get a chance to shine and the better odds they have to become fan favorites (to say nothing about the extra/bigger pay checks). In animation, artists care because they have favorites that they love to draw. Writers care because they have favorites that they love to write for (Beast, anyone?). TV executives care because series succeed or fail based on having a big enough audience falling in love with a show’s characters, having them want to “bring them into their living room” week after week. Showrunners have their own worries — how to tell consistent, strong stories that aren’t repetitive. Every story can’t be about Logan and Scott fighting over Jean. But we are not immune from everyone else’s interests. I planned on killing off Morph, but viewers loved him, so back he came. In the original Star Trek series there was a famous tension between William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. “Kirk” was hired on to be “the lead,” yet producers found that viewers were going crazy for “Spock.” Lines were counted and scenes adjusted. Luckily, we didn’t have those issues. It took so long from script-writing to air time that we wrote full seasons of stories long before anyone reacted. We were able to feature whoever we loved most and, with luck, everyone else would too. Anyway, this is a roundabout way of admitting that I feel guilty about not focusing on a few of the characters as much as others. I immediately “got” Wolverine and Scott and Rogue and Professor X. Despite the fact that Jubilee, as the kid, the wide-eyed newcomer, was crucial to the balance of our team, in looking back I believe that we didn’t come up with the depth of stories for her that we did for many others. I might have said the same about Jean Grey, but then the nine “Phoenix” episodes gave her something bigger to chew on. This all came to mind yesterday when wife Julia and I had the fan-geek pleasure of meeting Walter Koenig, Ensign Chekov from the original Star Trek cast (see photo). He will be forever thought of as a “role player” in that series. Almost never was he a principal in a storyline. In fact, just like Jubilee, he was added to the cast to appeal to the “younger fan base.” Unsurprisingly, Walter’s favorite Star Trek episode (and one of mine) was the “Western” episode, where his survival was front and center and he got shot. Do the roles create the stars, or do the stars create the roles? In the cases of Jubilee (see Will’s drawing below) and Pavel Chekov, all I can say is that both played a vital part.