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Interview - Greg Johnson

Greg Johnson is a veteran of Marvel Animation. Having wrote for shows such as The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and X-Men: Evolution, The Marvel Animation Age caught up to chat with Mr. Johnson about his work on Spider-Man: The New Animated Series

How did you come to write for Spider-Man: The New Animated Series?

I'm fortunate to have a strong relationship with Marvel, and a lot of that is thanks to Rick Ungar, who was an executive at the company and an exec producer on most of their series. I started in animation working on Rick Ungar's "Biker Mice From Mars" series.

The development for Spider-Man for MTV was going through the usual growing pains a series experiences, with everyone trying to find the right tone and direction It was during this time that I was approached by Rick to take a look at what they'd done. Upon reading the first few scripts and outlines, it was obvious they were headed in a more mature direction. Rick asked if I could write a couple of scripts, but I only had time to handle one, since I was due back on X-Men: Evolution for the new season. I saw some designs that Audu had already done for the Lizard, and I loved what I saw. So I chose that one. There had already been work done on the story before I got involved, but nothing was gelling. So I brought a fresh eye to it, and basically started from scratch.

Most of your previous work (X-Men: Evolution, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk) was aimed towards the younger demographics, while Spider-Man was aimed towards the teen crowd. Did this give you more creative freedom?

Though we did have BS&P guidelines at MTV, they were nothing like what you experience on other networks. So yes, that freedom allowed me to chase down ideas that normally I didn't get a chance to.

Did you run into trouble from MTV since the episode is by far the series' darkest story (both metaphorically and literally!)? Conversely, did MTV actually ask you to make the episode darker?

I didn't really interact with the folks at MTV much. I dealt directly with Rick Ungar, and Grace over at Sony, and they were both very supportive of telling a darker story.

Were there any limitations in your choice of the Lizard, since he was an actual comic book villain and (more importantly) Dr. Conners having actually being mentioned in the first Spider-Man movie?

The goal was to tell good stories, and not be anchored too much by what the books had established. As far as connecting it to the Spider-Man movie, my main concern was that we weren't retelling the film's Green Goblin story. Dr. Conners experiments on himself and transforms into a dangerous villain - in this case a giant lizard. To me, we were getting into very familiar territory.

Whose idea was it to have the Lizard as more of a ‘dinosaur’ style villain, rather than the popular comic villain?

As I mentioned earlier, the designs were already underway for the Lizard. He had a great look, and I believe that credit goes to Audu, the producer. But I wanted this beast to be somewhat feral, like a raptor. It just made the action scenes so much more fun to write.

Where did you get the idea of presenting Dr. Conners as a less-than-sympathetic character than he is normally portrayed as?

Conners was a guy battling some intense personal demons. This kind of desperation would invariably seep into his social demeanor, so it made sense to me that he would carry this bag of rocks around with him.

Some sites online site that both Billy Conners and Kraven were in the earlier drafts of the scripts. Is this true?

Not in the drafts that I had done. But like I said, there was some initial story development before I got involved. When Morgan took over the show, he went through all the scripts himself and he may have considered putting them in. That's just a guess.

This is one of the few episodes that actually feels like it’s in the same continuity as the Spider-Man movie.

It was one of the earlier stories developed, and at that time, the continuity of the movie felt like a natural time and space for the characters to be in. But with so much development occurring 'on the fly' the direction of the story-telling shifted several times.

Were there any objections to the Lizard (apparently) dying?

None that I was aware of.

What did you think of the casting of Rob Zombie?

Very cool. A creative guy who brought a lot to the role.

Would you liked to have wrote more episodes of the show? If you did, which characters would you have liked to use?

It would have been fun to write more, but I was so busy I just couldn't handle another script.

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