We are scheduled to participate in three panels at Comic Fest this weekend with X-MEN:TAS director-producer Larry Houston. It will be our third appearance there, and we wanted to give you a sense of why we continue to go back. While WonderCon last month was exciting in its size and scope (70,000 people, 1700 at our X-MEN:TAS panel), Comic Fest is low-key. It’s like visiting a favorite small town instead of a big city. While the biggest Cons have expanded into every corner of popular culture, Comic Fest remains comics-focused. The people are very comics-knowledgeable. We meet friends from way back. (Scott Shaw, who designed the Fest poster below was my office-mate at Hanna-Barbera in 1986.) The location is like a vacation spot, not a trade show. And the founders go back to the beginning of the Con movement, so they choose guests wisely. So join us if you can — we’ll have a signing table and stacks of books. See you there.
Wednesday night, at the New Moon restaurant in Montrose, California, twenty of the people who worked on X-Men:TAS came together to celebrate the publication of “Previously on X-Men” 25 years after the series premiered. Great fun was had by all. Below are 15 of us. Back Row, left-to-right: Bob Skir (writer), Scott Thomas (producer), Julia Lewald (writer), Stephanie Graziano (Graz Entertainment), Dave McDermott (writer), Margaret Loesch (Fox Children’s Network), Larry Houston (Producer/Director), Me, Marty Isenberg (writer), Jim Graziano (Graz Entertainment). Front row: Len Uhley (writer), Dean Stefan (writer), Avery Cobern (Fox Children’s Network), Steve Melching (writer), Brooks Wachtel (writer). All are interviewed in the book.
It has begun. Our celebration of the 25th anniversary of X-MEN:TAS kicks off in nine days at COMICFEST in San Diego. Mike Towry and his crew have been nice enough to set up FIVE panels that in some way honor our series. Julia and I and Producer/Director Larry Houston (see photo) plan to attend ALL of the panels. The specific guests and topics follow.
SATURDAY, FEB. 18
11:00am: “X-Men, Lies, and Videotape” — writers Dave McDermott & Steve Melching
2:00pm: “X-MEN:TAS – Creative Round Table” — ALL OF US
3:00pm: “X-Men Mock Trial on Human Rights” — Legal Geeks & Some of Us
SUNDAY, FEB. 19
10:00am: “Nightcrawler” — writer Len Uhley
3:00pm: “Days of Future Past” — writer Julia Lewald
To quote Joe E. Brown from the movie Some Like it Hot: “Well, nobody’s perfect.” We had a tight schedule and a tighter budget on X-MEN:TAS. Some big animated series (at Disney, Warners, etc.) have the time and money to try all sorts of stories, develop them to script, see which ones everybody likes, then toss the ones they don’t. We didn’t have that luxury. The one-line ideas that were chosen were going to get made — we on the writing staff just had to make sure the 40-page scripts all came out well. Well, 76 out of 77 did. The one exception was a hard-edged episode set in rural Russia called “Bring Me Charles Xavier.” Many note-givers raised concerns early, at the premise and outline stages, like they are supposed to. But I liked the story and bull-headedly pushed it and the writer through to a couple of versions of the script — only to be told that no, many of my colleagues still didn’t like the story. So, after many weeks of trying, it was gone. I appologized to the writer, got him paid, and faced one of the heaviest repsonsibilities that the showrunner has in our corner of the business. Production needed a 40-page script to keep their schedule, so I wrote a completely new one over the weekend. Below are the would-be adversaries and the cast page from the abandoned script. Too bad : looks like it could have been fun.
The first season of X-MEN:TAS we got away with something rarely seen in American animated television: we showed a continuing story set over 13 episodes. For us to be allowed to do this was a tough fight since every business interest invovled worried that delays unique to animation could make us miss our planned air dates. In the end they were right, and our connected storytelling cost them a lot of money. They made much more when the series became a hit, of course, but the damage had been done: no more connected stories. Occasional multi-parters might be okay (we pushed that hard), but episodes must STAND ALONE. Well, we cheated. We gave the network a two-part episode, then nine “stand alone” episodes, then a two-parter. The trick was that the final two-parter resolved a problem (Xavier and Magneto kidnaped together) that we had set up in the opening story, and the nine episodes in-between all “touched base” with the kidnaped characters. So to our audience, it felt like a continuing story. This continuing background “B story” seemed to knit it all together. I’m not sure what would have happened if the middle episodes had been shown out-of-order. Our theory was that they would still make sense that way. Perhaps we one day will make an experiment — starting with eps. 14/15 (“Till Death Do Us Part”), then mixing up episodes 16-24 at random, then concluding with the planned season finale of 25/26 (“Reunion”). Or maybe some fans could make a weekend of it and let us know the results. In any case, apologies to our network for bending the rules. But we like the results.
The production of X-MEN:TAS had to be patched-together to be able to happen. With sister series BATMAN:TAS, it was just: “Hey big studio Warner Brothers — you wanna do a Batman series? You do? Done.” Nothing so simple for X-Men. The TV network (Fox) wanted an animated X-Men even more than Batman. But they needed to find someone to take the risk and responsibility to produce it. Saban stepped forward — they knew how to market and package TV series, but they didn’t have a big production staff. Graz Entertainment was set up by veteran producers and crew to handle most of the art, design, and production supervision. A studio in Korea (AKOM) was chosen to do the hands-on animation work. Marvel Comics didn’t know TV production, but it was their property, so they were on-board as a partner. All this made for a VERY busy Christmas crew jacket handed out to many of us (see below) in 1993. I also believe, sadly, that the existence of this thrown-together partnership was the major reason that the series just kind of petered out. Warners (which owns DC comics) will always renew a Batman series in some form: they have a 100% interest in them. But Marvel and Fox and Saban and all the other X-Men partners that made our show happen ended up drifting on to other interests. Budgets dropped, episode orders dwindled, and we all found ourselves going our separate ways. Oh, well… still got the jackets.
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 email@example.com. We will publish a variety of them, short or long, in the book.