behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


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.

end CGI models

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


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


Every lead X-MEN:TAS character was important to the storytelling.  Different fans have different favorites.  We couldn’t have crafted the 59 stories we did without all of them.  But if push came to shove (not something you would be encouraged to do around this guy), one character emerged as the heart and soul of the team: Wolverine.  Logan was such a compelling character (thanks, Len Wein) that we had to fight the urge to overuse him.  People forget that he was nearly 100 years old when we told our stories, that he had lived through two world wars and “seen it all.”  He either cared too damn much, or he’d find himself, like Ben Johnson in The Last Picture Show, “just tired of putting up” with things.  He was world-weary and a hopeful romantic at the same time.  He must have had a dozen doomed loves over the years, probably sure in each case that “this was the one!”  He just felt things so deeply that watching him we had to feel it as well.  With all that said, I think that our team was the perfect set-up for his character to flourish.  He wasn’t the team founder — that was Xavier.  He wasn’t the field leader — that was Scott.  Despite his anger and frustration, he respected their authority and his place in the team.  But if he needed to bust loose and leave for a week, he could.  That’s something Charles Xavier or Scott or Jean would never do.  It’s like making him a sergeant in the army instead of a general.  That’s where he belongs.  I think that may be why it has been tough to make him “the lead” in follow-up movies and TV series.  It’s not a natural place for Logan to be Logan.  He’s at his greatest when he overcomes personal demons for the X-Men, or a lover or a friend, not alone.  We all know he can always “Go where I wanna go!” as he famously proclaimed as he stormed off in an early story.  The fact that he stays, for the X-Men, is what makes him great.  Below is a recent sketch by X-MEN:TAS designer Will Meugniot which conveys for me some of the pain and regret felt by this memorable hero.


X-Men Show


How did we decide on the nine lead X-Men charcters out of the dozens available to us for the animated series?  They made themselves necessary.  Every one of them mattered.  The team’s ideals resided most powerfully in Professor Xavier.  Their mutant sense of isolation was given life by Rogue.  Storm embodied their majesty.  Beast personified their thoughtful side, their kindness.  Scott was dutiful above all, Jubilee curious.  Gambit charmed us, and Wolverine seethed with the fury and frustration of the unjustly oppressed.  Finally, holding them all together, was Jean.  We and the powers that be hadn’t planned it this way — the team grew into what it had to be.  There were many chances to change it.  Nightcrawler?  Colossus?  Cable?  Iceman?  Archangel?  We even planned to have four of them leave after episode 65 (“Beyond Good and Evil”), originally the “final” episode (we were asked to do eleven more at the last minute).  It wouldn’t have been the same.  This was our team — they had a balance and chemistry that allowed us to write the stories the way we wanted.  Below is a recent casual sketch of the X-MEN:TAS team of nine by the man who designed our series, Will Meugniot.  It’s fun and simple, but it reminds me of why we chose them — or they chose us.


behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


Working for nearly a year before the official premiere in January, 1993, we really didn’t know if X-MEN:TAS would survive.  Animation takes a long time.  Many at Marvel doubted us.  You couldn’t blame them — Hollywood had never succeeded with the X-Men (see article below for a brief pre-TAS history) or really with any other Marvel property.  Most in the TV business doubted us: Where were the jokes and the cuddly characters?  That’s one reason it was so satisfying when the show came out, and not only did tens of millions of viewers enjoy it, critics from both the comics world and television embraced us.  TV Guide gave us an “A.”  In Daily Variety, the “bible of the industry,” celebrated TV critic Brian Lowry praised us.  In the possibly even tougher world of comic books, we were accepted as no other adapted Marvel property had been before.  Wizard Magazine published the following article, tightly sourced and focused by Andy Mangels, in an issue that celebrated 30 years of X-Men comics with the acknowledgement that we, Hollywood, had finally got it right.

wizard article

Wizard - X-Men cartoon 2 (1)


Wizard - X-Men cartoon 3


behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


The single most important creative decision we made was killing Morph in the opening two-part story.  Mark Edens and I insisted that we show the audience that what the X-Men do isn’t a game — it has consequences.  Larry Houston and Will Meugniot backed us up.  The only problem was, you just can’t do that on Saturday morning kids shows.  Luckily, Fox Exec Sidney Iwanter lived to make kids shows more real.  He was on board.  Now the tough part.  No TV network censor (Broadcast Standards & Practices department) had ever allowed such a thing.  Luckily for us, we had as our censor an enlightened, comics-loving, story-respecting executive named Avery Cobern.  My first notes from her were what we expected: you can’t do that!  But, as would prove to be the case for four years, she listened.  I meant it when I said the killing was all about the X-Men’s grief, not some fun at seeing Morph die.  We had it happen off-screen.  We experienced it through the eyes of Morph’s friends.  Many cried.  Wolverine punched somebody (another no-no).  But a shared loss brought them together.

The most important moment for me was Wolverine driving off to be alone in his grief.  As Mark and I originally wrote it (see script page and storyboard page below), a story act ended with Wolverine quietly alone, his head lowered.  scr 2, end act 1

scr 2, Wolv alone

Someone — Larry and/or Will — suggested one more image and a line from Wolverine.  They put it in a draft of the storyboard.  As you can see by my red marking below, I didn’t like it as well that way.  As I remember it, we compromised: We would animate and record the final image.  If it didn’t work, we’d end on the quiet shot.  Well, it was just my luck that Cal Dodd, who voiced Wolverine, nailed the quiet, emotional last lines: “I’ll avenge you, Morph.  I swear it.”  So, a combination of director’s eye and actor’s voice won that one (It didn’t happen that often.).  I’m still not sure which I prefer.

I'll Avenge You board

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


The two sides of the X-MEN:TAS creative team hadn’t met before the initial meeting on February 17, 1992.  Mark Edens and I, leading the writing staff, hadn’t met Will Meugniot and Larry Houston, leading the art and production side.  If we didn’t see the series the same way, it would be a long, frustrating, unproductive year.  Fox Executives Margaret Loesch and Sidney Iwanter chose to throw us together.  The two-part pilot story (“Night of the Sentinels”), which introduced the X-Men’s world (Will’s idea),  would be the test.  It is easy to talk like you see eye-to-eye on a project, but until something gets written and drawn, you don’t know.  As Mark and I and his brother Michael sped through setting up the first 13 half-hour stories, Mark wrote a quick 14-page outline of episodes one & two, the most crucial story we were to write over four years.  We spoke with Will and Larry (and Bob Harras at Marvel), trying to learn the X-Men as we wrote.  But we really didn’t know how our writing would go over with X-Men experts.  As we expected, Will gave us X-Men newcomers a lot of notes on those 14 pages.  The good news was that most of them were positive and encouraging, even excited.  We wanted to see the same series made.  This would prove crucial when, for seven months, many voices wanted us to change the show.  But the team hung together.  Sidney and Margaret had picked right.Will notes

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


So who wrote the 76 X-MEN:TAS stories and turned them into 40-page scripts and why?  Margaret Loesch ordered the series.  She and Sidney Iwanter hired me to be in charge of the writing.  I hired the Tennessee mafia.  That’s what friends and colleagues called me and Mark and Michael Edens (and others).  We had been friends since we programmed movies together at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville in the mid-70s.  We stood up for each other at each other’s weddings.  When I, in 1985, got my first writing assignment in Hollywood (along with equally prolific and multi-talented animation writer, another UTK alumnus, John Loy), the first calls I made were to Mark and Michael, telling them that they should get ready to work.  Over a thousand produced credits later, somehow we’re still friends.  So when I was told to build/develop X-MEN:TAS  and get the first 13 stories ready (oh, take a week if you need to), I of course turned to Mark and Michael.  We all knew heroic storytelling: in college, we had bonded over Homer, Classic Westerns, and Star Trek.  But we didn’t know the X-Men books.  We learned fast, relying on mega-fans Will Meugniot (producer/designer), Larry Houston (producer/director), Bob Harras (Marvel editor-in-chief), and Bob Skir (writer) for canon details and wisdom.  Though Mark and Michael have writing credit on 20 of the X-MEN:TAS scripts, they had a hand in far more — the majority of the series.  Mark, for instance, helped lay out the first 26 stories with me and helped adapt the five-part “Phoenix Saga” from the excellent but not-TV-friendly books (see document cover below) and what was supposed to be the grand finale ( the four-part “Beyond Good and Evil”).  If they hadn’t had another series to run and write (Exo-Squad), they would have done more.  People in tough jobs tend to hire those they know and trust.  I knew and trusted Mark and Michael Edens.

Mark and Michael 2011

Phoenix prem cover

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


The first image of the first episode of X-MEN:TAS was of an unnamed mutant on a rampage.  Please see the first two panels of Will Meugniot and Larry Houston’s storyboard below.  Mark Edens and I chose this initial action for many reasons.  First, it established how scary mutants can be to the rest of humanity, a challenge that Charles Xavier and his “good mutant” X-Men would spend 76 episodes trying to overcome.  Next, since the “mutant violence” is being watched as TV news footage by Jubilee’s parents, the audience has a living, roaring example of why they are upset that their foster daughter has been revealed to be a mutant — the spark to the entire story.  In addition, we were able to, in a few seconds, set up a favorite recurring mutant antagonist (Sabretooth), who would prove to be our number one star Wolverine’s favorite adversary.   After a few seconds of Sabretooth’s carnage, no one doubted why Sentinel robots might be sent out to “control” mutants.  Our 13 half-hour first season was established.

First panels

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


Everybody who cares about X-MEN:TAS has a favorite character.  For me, it was a toss-up between Beast and Professor X.  I guess being put in charge of a project, I was drawn to authority figures.  For most fans it was rebellious Wolverine (thanks, Len Wein).  For many it was sexy, powerful Rogue.  But for Will Meugniot, the guy who designed the series (choosing to make animation-friendly versions of the characters, closest in look to the originals of the great Jim Lee), it was Jean Grey.  Why?  To Marvel at the time Jean was an after-thought.  We writers soon discovered what a key she was to storytelling — she was the quiet center that held the team together.  But she sure didn’t have the coolest look or power or name.  And that’s why Will loved her.  She wasn’t “Fantastica!” or “Megamistress!”  She was just Jean Grey.  Please enjoy some early Jean “Head Pose Roughs” that Will sketched for himself as he designed the characters in early 1992, and a later glamour pose that he drew just because he wanted to.288_Jean_Gray_head_ruffs


behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show


In the eleven months of work it took to get to the official premier of X-MEN:TAS shown on Fox TV in January, 1993, there were dozens of opportunities for the project to go in a wrong direction.  99% of TV projects find a way to fail.  Will Meugniot and Larry Houston wouldn’t let us fail.  Both of them had loved comics and the X-Men since their childhoods in the 1960s.  Both had worked on years of TV projects, some good, some bad.  This time TV would get it right!  I didn’t know and love the X-Men the way that they did (not yet).  I just wanted to tell good stories.   Many people wanted a very different show (younger, goofier), and they weren’t shy about pressing us to change it.  But Will and Larry knew what an X-Men animated series needed to be.  Others supported us at critical times, but if it weren’t for Larry (Producer/Director) and Will (Producer/Designer), the X-MEN:TAS that we know today wouldn’t exist.  Here is a photo of the two of them, working in Korea in 1991, just months before we were thrown together to make the show.  I was the third person hired to do the series.  Will and Larry were number one and two — something for which I am still thankful.

Larry and Will in Korea 1991

Larry Houston left, Will Meugniot right

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


There was great debate over the design of the characters for the series.  Dozens of artists had drawn the X-Men over their 25 years of publication.  What would our X-Men look like?  The needs of animation, given our limited time and budget, dictated a certain simplicity of line.  But the modern, sophisticated look (looking closer to that of artist Jim Lee than many of the others available) was created and championed by Will Meugniot and Larry Houston, two fans who had been disappointed in previous renditions of the characters.  Many fights later, their vision prevailed.  Here is an early pass at JEAN GREY by senior designer on the program, Rick Hoberg.  Enjoy.

Jean Grey