X-Men Show

“WHAT’S IN A NAME?” A GREAT ONE LEAVES US TODAY

Names matter.  For Romeo and Juliet, their surnames meant they were screwed.  For those of us on X-MEN:TAS who were trying to adapt a massive universe of preexisting characters, it was a challenge.  How do you feature a character whose name grates on you or seems inappropriate?  Some characters just sound wrong to your ear.  It could be that you grew up knowing three idiots all named Fred.  It could be a favorite movie character whose name you never wanted to sully (“Start the ball, Tector…”).  Marvel comics creators were world-class at coming up with evocative names for their seemingly endless universe of characters, but “Strong Guy?”  (Head writer Mark Edens hated that one.)  I had an aversion to a character we never used because, to my ear, it just sounded goofy.  It was the dragon Fin Fang Foom (see below).  The fierce creature you see here would look great in animation.  But I couldn’t imagine our characters saying his name out loud with a straight face.  Oh, well, there were plenty of others.  Which brings me around to a name almost as goofy as the fictional “Foom,” but which was absolutely real.  Today, King Bhumibol of Thailand died (see lower image).  He had been king for SEVENTY YEARS.  My late father used to tell my sister Karen and me bedtime stories 50 years ago, some of which starred a mysterious character from the Orient named “King Bhumibol.”  To our young ears, the name sounded like “BOOMY-BALL,” and its sound delighted us.  We both assumed he had made such a fantastical name up; later, as adults, we discovered to our surprise that our strangely-named, legendary king was very real.  But that wasn’t the point.  In the fairy tales our dad told us, in his gentle voice, the name sounded right.  King Boomy-ball fit.  Today, as His Majesty passes, I thank him for that.dragon-8-28-16

FIN FANG FOOM

==============================

KING BHUMIBOL (aka Boomy-Ball)

boomy-ball

X-Men Show

APOCALYPSE: Needing to Stage Him as Larger Than Life

Staging a character — whether within a camera frame or on a storyboard panel, can be the difference between success and failure.  We just screened the recent feature X-MEN: APOCALYPSE.  There was all sorts of cool stuff in this movie (way too much — a bit of a “kitchen sink” problem).  One of the few things that I felt was mishandled had to do with the title character.  Oscar Isaac is a great actor.  His lines weren’t bad, and his interpretation had weight and intensity.  His costume worked (not a small thing with a “living god”), and he had majestic, scary powers.  Why, then, wasn’t I overwhelmed by him as I was by the Apocalypse in X-MEN:TAS?  True, John Colicos’s voice was awe-inspiring — but there are many ways to sound formidable, and Oscar Isaac’s was fine. It was something more subtle: it was where the character was placed and how and why he moved.  The Apocalypse in X-MEN:TAS was massive, immobile.  His opponents “crashed against him” (see just below).  In the movie, the filmmakers sometimes worked to keep Apocalypse larger-than-life, but often they neglected to, as in the scene below, where 5’9″ Oscar Isaac (the man can’t help his height) looks like adolescent Storm’s playmate.  If Apocalypse is larger-than-life, he can’t be smaller than Michael Fassbender.  Also, there are scenes where Apocalypse walks over and interacts with people (including a fist-fight with skinny, 5’7″ James McAvoy).  Our Apocalypse didn’t walk over to interact with anyone — they came to him.  I doubt we were even aware of this as we wrote him and posed him and drew him.  It was just his nature.  And in that subtle lack of physical deference (posing, movement) to the character’s stature, the movie lost something for me.

apoc2

o-isaac

apoc-still

 

 

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

GOD IN A SATURDAY MORNING ACTION-ADVENTURE CARTOON

I’d never seen it — focusing on the question of God’s existence in a Saturday morning cartoon.  But I couldn’t help but ask if we could try.  The story for “Nightcrawler” came about in the usual way.  I looked through a list of the major X-MEN characters that we had yet to introduce.  Kurt Wagner, true to character, lept out at me.  Here was a mutant superhero whose major defining trait was that he was a devout Christian!  Exploring that would lead to a unique TAS story.  The challenge was that TV networks live or die by keeping their advertisers and viewers happy.  Parents are particularly sensitive to what is being shown to their children, and religion is the most sensitive topic of all.  The usual kids-TV rule is to not mention of it and to show no images of it, period.  Luckily, my Fox Kids Network supervisor, Sidney Iwanter, is a born troublemaker.  Sid insisted we do it.  So we sent the idea — complete with images of the guest lead character looking like a devil with a tail — to our Broadcast Standards censor, Avery Cobern.  It took her a week or two to get over the shock, but gradually, in her courageous wisdom, she came around to letting us show her that we could do a sensitive job.  We specifically hired a writer who was interested in exploring issues of faith, our old friend Len Uhley, to do the script.  Of course then we pushed it.  Not only did we show Nightcrawler  to be a devout Christian, we introduced him as someone confronting our series star, Wolverine, who had lost his faith.  We set the story in a monastery, which we burn down.  We show Gambit proclaim he’s an unrepentant unbeliever.  Yet in the end, Kurt Wagner’s words resonate with our world-weary star, Logan, and the final images are of an astonished, conflicted Rogue watching Wolverine kneeling in church.  Faith and Saturday Morning superheroes: never before and never again…

nightcrawler-biblewolvie-church

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.

apoc3

 

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.

100-58_01immortus

IMMORTUS

behind-the-scenes, X-Men Show

BEAST, HANK, OR DR. HENRY MCCOY?

Names.  How do you remember important characters that have multiple names?  Is it Logan or Wolverine?  Magnus, Magneto, or Erik Lehnsherr?  Since I had to decide what people called each other in the approximately 20,000 lines of dialogue in X-MEN:TAS, it became important.  Like most writers, I tried to fit the name to the circumstance and the speaker.  I had  Magento always refer to his old friend as “Charles.”  Calling him “Professor Xavier” or even “Professor” as others might would sound silly.  (Only Wolverine occasionally called him “Chuck.”)  A fellow professional might refer to Beast as “Dr. McCoy,” but the X-Men never did.  (I tried not to use this formal name without “Henry” in it because of the Star Trek Doctor McCoy.  If anyone cares, yes, our Dr. McCoy came first.)  “Beast” or “Hank” or even “Hank McCoy” could be equally friendly and informal.  This seems simple, straightforward logic, but late in the first season I discovered I had a problem.  Stan Lee hated using various names for characters.  If in a quiet moment I wanted Professor X to call his life-long friend “Magnus,” Stan objected.  Magneto was always “Magneto,” Wolverine was never “Logan.”  He seemed to believe that superhero names needed to be reinforced, that audiences would get confused if variation were allowed.  Despite all of Stan’s awe-inspiring accomplishments, I found this attitude limiting.  I wasn’t required to follow his suggestions, but I wanted to where I could.  Luckily he only gave us notes for the first dozen episodes.  From then on we were free to use the name most appropriate for the situation.

612056-1x-men-animated-series-season-2-10-beauty-and-the-beast

The character in the top picture is clearly “Beast.” He is “Hank” or “Dr. McCoy” in the lower one.  Nowhere did we call him “The Beast” as he was sometimes in the comics.

X-Men Show

1992 SIBLING RIVALRY

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.

xmen-2-batmen

untitled

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.

voyages-cover

lost-jacobs-brown

Uncategorized

BEST INTENTIONS

Your first thought when watching (or writing) a televised cartoon is rarely: “What would the government think of this story?”  That’s good.  Countries where governments completely control the content of the media are sad, miserable, oppressive places, cultures where, at the extreme, you can get fired or even shot for what you write or say.  The Spain of the Inquisition, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao’s China — these were not places to question authority and consequently, not hotbeds of creativity.  So the idea that there have been people pushing to control the content of American television, especially kids’ TV, since the medium’s inception has always been a concern.  Today few young people remember how restricted television programming once was.  On the biggest hit show in the world (“I Love Lucy”), the lead actress, who has married and having a baby, couldn’t sit on a bed with her husband or say the word “pregnant” out loud.  Warner Brother’s gloriously anarchic theatrical cartoons from the 1930s through the mid-’50s were, when screened in the 1970s, censored for violence (sorry Elmer Fudd).  Censoring Bugs Bunny…  The height of this frenzy for “pro-social control” of children’s media was reached in the mid-’90s during our run at X-MEN:TAS.  The “Children’s TV Act” cast a pall over future programming.  Much of what we were “allowed” to create in the following years had to be “educational.”  Our most important notes started to come not from creative colleagues but from child psychologists.  Luckily for those of us who like to create or enjoy quality animated television, the explosion of cable TV channels (looser rules) and the internet (loosest rules) broke through the artificial constraints of the well-intentioned protectors of our young people.  Nowadays you can animate nearly anything you can imagine and find a place for it.  Be grateful.  This is not the norm in the history of artist expression but a rare exception.  Government is important; life without it can be anxious and deadly.  But government is never good at directing artistic creation; though it will never cease trying, it really should.

lowry-article-1994

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.

the-wild-bunch-movie-poster-1969-1020144170

X-Men Show

FUN FOR THE ARTISTS

Writing for animation is different from, say, poetry (or blogging) because you’re writing for artists.  Graphic artists and actors and sound designers and editors bring what you write to life.  Like composers, animation writers must consider interpreters and performers when they commit a thought to paper.  Creative people like to have fun.  So whenever we considered a story for X-MEN:TAS, one of the first questions we asked was: “Is this good for animation?”  Some stories aren’t.  There’s no reason to animate Twelve Angry Men with its dozen jurors standing around arguing for two hours.  The Phoenix Saga, on the other hand, is bigger than life and visual.  So we felt confident that episode #45 (“Love in Vain”) would be popular with our artists and actors.  Alien life forms were inhabiting and transforming our characters.  Instead of just drawing and voicing Rogue, Larry Houston and Lenore Zann got to re-imagine her as she transformed into an alien creature.  Below are a couple of Larry’s drawings of Rogue — one standard, one half-transformed.  Challenging your colleagues is always a good idea.

100-56_01

100-56_02

 

 

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.

first-page-ep1