Reginald Hudlin, fresh off of the late running Black Panel started a panel for BET’s entertainment intitiatives in animation and traditional programming. Featured on the panel were VP of animation Denys Cowan, Evan Burse, artist John Romita Jr, and Marvel West’s Cort Lane. The show will launch in February.
A sizzle reel was shown featuring new shows like “The Truth with Jeff Johnson” and “106 and Gospel,” as well as returning favorites like reality show “College Hill” and “Comic View,” the laudatory “BET Honors” and fashion minded “Rip the Runway.” Animated and genre programming included the previously announced series called “Hannibal” based on the historical personage who terrorized the Iberian peninsula from the back of an elephant. Also noted but not seen was the previously announced “Bufu” and new shows “Strange Fruit,” “Ain’t I A Woman,” “Kevina” and “I Ain’t No Joke.”
New “Hannibal” footage showed the youth as a warrior as well as footage from last year’s preview. “Black Panther” clips showed only a bit of running in a very Romita-esque style, a fight with Captain America, lots of panels from the versions as disparate as MacGregor, Priest and Hudlin, a Randy Bowen-esque statue, some voice recording and behind the scenes animating work as well as commentary from Hudlin and Cowan. Finally, a clip adapted directly from the first Hudlin issue was shown with an invading tribe destroyed by Wakandan defenses.
“We’re trying to do something that’s never been done before,” Hudlin said, “which is trying to bring a comic book to life. I’ve seen things adapted wishing it looked like the art of Jack Kirby or Jim Starlin … I’m dating myself with my references. You see the art of John Romita, Jr. He’s an incredibly talented artist, he’s an incredibly fast artist, and he’s an incredibly nice guy on top of all that. What you’ll be seeing in the series is the art of John Romita, Jr.” He noted that the “Who is the Black Panther” storyline will be extremely close to the first six issues of the current volume.
Cowan actually spearheaded this initiative to adapt the work without telling Hudlin, and when they presented it to Marvel, it was all systems go.
The panel was open for questions by 12:01. Romita asked where the animation was coming from, and Cowan noted it was Los Angeles house Titmouse, which does “Metalocalypse.” “We took them the comic book and it was really simple,” he said. ‘I told them we need to do this comic book exactly. JR’s work is so awesome, and there’s something about it that’s so cinematic. There’s a lot involved, they matched your style almost exactly. They turned it around.”
What kinds of weaknesses will T’Challa show in an animated fashion. “You reference Captain America, and I’m a huge fan,” Hudlin said. “He represents what’s best about the American people. I always saw the Black Panther the same way. He’s clearly had the same level of longevity. The key from a storytelling point is to see the three obstacles — man versus world, man versus nature, man versus himself. Just by being a moral man is a big conflict. What’s the right moral decision isn’t always clear. Because there’s such a deficit, there will always be a hightened criticism of Black characters. The only solution is to create a diversity and range of Black images in media.”
“I got chills watching it,” Romita said. “It made sense to me. It’s a great character, and when Reggie and I started on it, we both talked about it in the same way. It just followed that it had to be done this way.”
“We’re here because what’s great as one of you is that the world has recognized we’re a powerful group and we set friends,” Hudlin said. “I was here as a fan before I was here as a creator and an executive. There will be more publicity, there will be ads and posters. It starts with you, you guys say whether or not someting is fly.”
Asked about the BET attacks from “The Boondocks,” Hudlin said, “I knew Aaron when he was living in his mother’s basement. I helped him with the strip for five years. The reason you have ‘The Boondocks’ is me.” Hudlin didn’t address the “banned episodes” as he had nothing to do with their removal.
When will the animated slate be shown? “Programming is tricky,” Hudlin said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into the day and the time and the slots. I haven’t made all those decisions just yet. This is not a Saturday morning show. It will be a primetime series, probably airing at 10 o’clock.”
Cowan said they’re talking with Wild Brain, Film Roman, Mike Young Productions as well as more from Titmouse.
Hudlin suggested a “Hannibal” study guide “in a way to talk about ancient history in a way that would be useful to kids.”
Other genres? Hudlin said, “We want to do some family entertainment shows as well. We believe there isn’t enough product for children of color. There is a sci fi project we have in the works.”
Will Christopher Priest be involved? “The first eight are just adapting the storyline. Over the years, I’ve reached out to Priest to do TV work and he’s resisted. Years ago we almost collaborated on a Luke Cage movie, he was gonna write, I was gonna direct. If I have to drive to Colorado and throw him in the back of the trunk, I will figure it out.”
“I feel like I stand on the shoulders of giants,” Hudlin said of past works. “I especially loved Christopher Priest’s run. I said there’ s been a lot of great stuff. I’ve tried to incorporate my favorites from all those eras. I thought Priest’s idea of Panther joining the Avengers to be a spy was a great twist. As a fan, you go ‘why don’t they ever do so and so, that’s crazy?’ Now I get to do it. Like, why wouldn’t Black Panther and Storm hook up? He’s fly, she’s fly. I’ve got to thank Joe and Axel for the support on all the outrageous ideas I’ve come up with
Cort Lane said that Black Panther would be in the “Iron Man” series on Nicktoons mid series, and that the son of Storm and Black Panther is in “Next Avengers.”
Hudlin imagines Cage and Panther’s interaction as an Ice Cube/Denzel Washington buddy movie, and noted how much he loves to write them together.
“I’m not retired,” Cowan said of his artwork.
“We’ve worked together for twenty years, but we’ve never done a comic together,” Hudlin said. “We definitely will be doing a comic together this year.”
What is Cowan’s role in the cartoon? “Imposing my will,” he joked. “The best thing about working with talented people is letting them do their thing and get out of the way.”
“Don’t believe it,” Romita kidded. “The man’s an art director!” We came up at the same time in the industry. Having him working on it is doubling the art. He can tell those artists what’s missing, what’s there and what’s not there.”
“I know if they’re messing it up, and put the brakes on that,” Cowan said.
“It’s exciting for Marvel to see a fresh look,” Lane said.
“A lot of it we’re going to be adapting, but as appropriate I’m going to be making new story arcs,” Hudlin said. Talk has been done about an animated Wu-Tang Clan show, but nothing concrete has been announced.
“BET has expanded into the UK and we’re going into Africa this year,” Hudlin said. “The show will be broadcast internationally.”
Romita noted his father as his prime artistic inspiration, but also gave props to Kirby and John Buscema.
With that the panel ended.