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Mutant Animation: The X-Men's Television Series
Written by Suzanne Gaffney

(Originally published in The New York Times)


SUZANNE GAFFNEY: Okay, Bob. How about we start with the basics. How long will the animated series run and who's going to be working on the series?

BOB HARRAS: The show will run for the 1992/1993 broadcast season, and hopefully will be picked up again for 1993/1994. Saban Entertainment is the animation studio in charge of getting the show made and, through Graz Entertainment, is responsible for the scripts and storyboards. Pre and post production will be done in the U.S. and Canada, and the animation (the drawing of the cells) will be done in Japan and Korea at a studio named AKOM.

SG: And it airs in September...

BH: The tentative date is September 12, 1992 which is the opening of the 1992/1993 FOX broadcast season.

SG: Now, you're acting as an editor on this project?

BH: Right. It's my job to review all plots, scripts, voices, and characters models, as well as insure that the show is consistent with the overall tone and direction of the X-MEN comics.

SG: And Joe Calamari, Marvel's Executive Vice President is --

BH: Joe is like "mission control" for Marvel. He makes sure that my comments, Stan Lee's comments, and FOX Broadcasting's comments are all given to Saban. He tries to work out any conflicts that arise as quickly as possible so that production isn't delayed. Joe is also involved with the business affairs people at FOX and SABAN so he knows what each of our respective obligations are, which keeps us from going off on tangents.

SG: Anyone else from Marvel, or elsewhere, involved in this project?

BH: Yes -- Stan Lee is very involved on behalf of Marvel and Sidney Iwanter on behalf of FOX. I normally discuss my thoughts with Stan and Sidney, and then Stan picks up the project with the storyboards. Since Stan and Sidney are in California, they can meet with Will Meugniot, the supervising producer, and SABAN easier than I.

SG: Putting it together...?

BH: Okay, putting it together. First, Joe and Stan sold the idea to FOX to do a show. Then Marvel picked SABAN to produce the show for FOX. After that, a "bible" and 13 episode story overview were prepared which Tom DeFalco, Marvel's Editor in Chief, and I went over for approval of the 13 different story arcs. From these arcs, we get plots for each episode which we then talk over with Eric Lewald, the story editor out in L.A., and he incorporates our notes into his work. Scripts, storyboards, models, voices, etc. follow from these plots.

SG: Backing up a little bit in the order of how things came about for the series...you flew to California to pick the characters -- which characters, Bob?

BH: I flew to California for a one day meeting with the representatives of SABAN and FOX. We wanted to get the most up-to-date characters, so I was pushing for characters like Gambit and Jubilee -- characters like Bishop, who they haven't heard of in LA.

On the whole, everyone in the series is someone who appeared in the books. Magneto's going to be in there. Sunfire, The Blob as well. I'd say they've taken 99.9% from the books.

SG: Cool.

BH: People like Wolverine and Cyclops were natural choices. Rogue was very popular, Professor X...Some characters that are imporant to the X-Men -- they felt they would be put on a back burner, which was surprising. Jean Grey, the Beast, and Archangel -- those characters won't appear in every episode. They just wanted to get as many X-Men out there on the show as possible, and doing that meant some had to go to a 'b' team type situation.

SG: Who's the team leader, Bob?

BH: Who's the leader, Suzanne? Um, it's Storm -- no, I'm sorry, -- Cyclops is the leader. There's an episode dealing with Storm's coming of age as a leader.

SG: About the timeline for the project, like when it got started --

BH: The project started in December 1991 and I heard about it in January and flew out at the end of January.

SG: Did they show you examples of their style of animation?

BH: No, what I saw out in L.A. were possibilities -- film clips of different ways of taking this project but I didn't see anything specifically related to the X-Men show. We saw computer graphics they were thinking of using, backgroung techniques, etc.

SG: Okay, then you're back at the office. How closely tied is the TV series to the comic series?

BH: Margaret Loesch is the head of the FOX Children's Network and she wants this to be very mucuh like the comic book. She knows the comics are very successful and she wants to duplicate that as much as possible on TV. Of course, in translating there's going to be some differences, but their goal is to maintain a close connection with the books -- that's why they're using someone like Bishop, because he's very big in the books -- that's why they want to put Cable in. Cable's actually going to appear in two episodes.

SG: Would you say, for the series, that they have adapted different sagas, like the Dark Phoenix Saga -- that they've taken "chunks" from X-Men continuity --

BH: What they've done for the first few episodes is taken a whole overview of the X-Men and tried to convey it to the viewers who have never heard of the X-Men. (phone rings). Scott, (Lobdell, who's in the offce reading over some script notations Bob has made on the script for the next X-MEN issue) you want to get that?

SG: Sure, Bob. (laughter)

BH: The introduction of Bishop is very similar to what we've done in our books. There is an introduction to the Morlocks and Callisto which is very, very similiar to what was done in the (UNCANNY) X-MEN when they were introduced way back when. Other sequences have been adapted. Like Muir Island -- the way it appears on TV will be different from the island we see in the books, but only slightly so.

SG: Any crossovers? We've got Cable, so far. How about Spider-Man?

BH: No, no. Cable is the only character right now who doesn't appear in the X-MEN book, per se, who will be in the series.

SG: Okay. You've got some of the stories down now. Next came the approving of the character sketches, right?

BH: Right. GRAZ Entertainment sent in sketches for the show. These sketches are usually done on a simpler level than we do here for the comic books, and we make sure that they followed the basic concept of our characters. There were things like Jean Grey's hair which, for some reason, they wanted to change for the series, so we got about 6 or 7 different hairstyles for Jean and I had to pick, and Stan had to pick, and other people had to pick what style was best.

SG: People have asked about the Wolverine costume.

BH: The Wolverine costume will be the new "old" costume -- the costume he's currently been seen in, the blue and yellow one. They want to keep the TV show current with the books. That's why I went out to LA. They didn't want the series to show up on TV and have the fans says, "This isn't how the book is -- these characters don't appear in the book." They didn't want to put Kitty Pryde in because Kitty Pryde hasn't been in the X-Men for 5 years.

SG: Okay. What about the characters' voices?

BH: We received many audition tapes, and had to pick the voices which best fit the characters. We have had conference calls involving 6 or 8 people -- the casting people in Canada, the LA people, everyone putting in their two cents on which voices they liked, and we've come up with a consensus on eight or ten of the voices, so far.

I'd say the hardest voices to pick were Wolverine's, Storm's, and Professor X's. The easiest were probably Gambit's, Cyclops's, Magneto's, and the Beast's.

SG: And how about the theme song? Same basic process?

BH: Theme song -- okay -- we've gotten several -- I think 16 or so theme songs ranging from heavy metal to commercial TV jingles and we've finally picked one. Sidney Iwanter, from FOX, thought this show should be skewed (as they say in TV terms) to older viewers. He wanted younger kids to understand it, but he didn't want to be condescending. He didn't want it to be a typical Saturday morning TV show theme, so that's why the music is very important.

SG: Are there going to be any lyrics beyond X-Men, X-Men, X-Men...(laughter)

BH: As far as I know, no lyrics. That could change.

SG: There are no writers from the comic books working on the TV series, right?

BH: Wrong -- both Larry Houston and Will Meugniot used to write for Marvel. And the other writers seem to be familiar with the stories. (Enter Wolverine writer Larry Hama) Hello, Larry!

SG: Is there continuity between the episodes?

BH: Yes -- all thirteen episodes are linked. The Beast gets captured by the U.S. government because of a situation in the first episode and his trial -- his whole arrest -- becomes a theme for the entire series which wraps up in the 13th episode, so there is a flow from week to week, which is, again, what they're trying to do -- maintain that comic book feel as closely as possible.

SG: Any particular storylines that you liked a lot?

BH: What I liked a lot was the introducion of Callisto because it came right from the books. They did a good job with that. Oh, they're all fun and exciting. Larry, say something.

LARRY HAMA: Is this public radio, NPR? (laughter)

SG: Will you get to see a finished product before it airs?

BH: I hope so. I want another trip to LA. (laughter)

SG: Will you not forget to take your faithful assitant along? (more laughter) Will it be publicly previewed before it airs?

BH: I would think, if they get it in time. Maybe show clips of the show at the San Diego Comic Con this summer. Seems like that would be something they wouldn't want to miss out on.

SG: On to the future...about the Marvel comic book adaptation...

BH: We'll be adapting the 13 episodes in a separate comic book series that will not, of course, be official Marvel continuity. We've got the scripts and we have an arist assigned whose name I don't know. Ralph Macchio will be doing the scripts -- Andrew Wildman -- Scott Lobdell, famous writer of the X-Men who knows everything, just informed me of the artist's name.

SG: Great. Well, I think that about wraps it up. Thanks, Bob.

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