The big news dropped this morning that Marvel Comics’ Japanese super-team Big Hero 6 will be the first Disney Animation Marvel feature film. The original incarnation of the team was introduced in 1998 in the pages of “Alpha Flight” #17 by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau, who created tech genius Hiro Takachiho and his best robot friend BayMax; Honey Lemon, the girl with the magical purse; and GoGo Tomago, the hothead girl with an awesome hi-tech battle suit. Along with teammates Sunfire and Silver Samurai, Big Hero 6 is Japan’s premiere super-team in the Marvel U.
While the team’s first appearance only lasted a single issue in “Alpha Flight,” (It was small enough that many incorrectly attribute their creation to “Sunfire & Big Hero 6” creative team Scott Lobdell and Gus Vasquez) the team quickly spun off into its own miniseries, most recently making an appearance in the pages of “Amazing Spider-Man” #685 during the “Ends of the Earth” storyline.
While Seagle and Rouleau only got to play with Big Hero 6 for a single issue of “Alpha Flight,” the news of one of their creations becoming a Disney feature is certainly exciting. No strangers to the world of animation as members of Man of Action, Seagle and Rouleau have been working with Marvel on both “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Avengers Assemble” on Disney XD. They’re also co-creators of wildly popular animated series “Ben 10,” “Generator Rex” and more — plus creator-owned comics through Image.
CBR News spoke with Seagle and Rouleau about the process of creating Big Hero 6, why it makes a good choice for Disney’s first Marvel animated feature film and whether they’d like to return to the characters to really have the chance to tell a standalone story.
CBR News: Guys, what drove you to create a group like Big Hero 6?
Steven T. Seagle: We were doing a pretty dark story arc with the Alpha Flight characters — lot of intrigue and conspiracy theory and stuff like that. Duncan and I were co-creating the book at the time and we would just meet and talk about what would be fun. We literally thought it would be great to just do the antithesis, which does seem like a super-happy, no-rules-apply super team. We wanted them to be Asian so we could tap into that pop culture idiom and play with all that stuff. We made them up purely out of this idea of fun and wish fulfillment. That’s how we came up with Hiro and his sidekick BayMax and built the team around them.
Duncan Rouleau: I think the only thing I would add to that is it just seemed like such a natural fit that the two huge cultures that were creating comic books — or were really known for comic books — were the American superheroes and the Japanese manga books. Marvel didn’t really have characters that represented that Japanese pop culture, that pure fun. It seemed like it was a hole that hadn’t been filled yet and we were the guys to do that.
These are definitely niche characters in the Marvel Universe. What do you think the advantage is of doing an animated feature on Big Hero 6 versus, say, Alpha Flight, which you also worked on and is comparatively well-known?
Seagle: The good news is that Big Hero 6 has just a handful of appearances ever in the Marvel Universe, so for new audiences, it’s great because you don’t need to know a lot about them to get into them. It’s also a pretty simple concept to grasp, so I think [director] Don Hall was pretty smart in picking something a little more obscure because it’s wide-open for a mass audience and they don’t need to feel like there’s a lot of baggage they don’t get jumping into that movie. I think that’s probably going to work really to their advantage.
Rouleau: Yeah, the characters themselves — although internally, they have their own motivators — they are characters that are iconic type of characters in an anime/manga series. It’s something that is brand new and that is easily identifiable the moment you see it, you have an opinion on them. I think the opinion in general is a really favorable one.
Seagle: We were definitely playing with the idea of mashing things up. These are not pure icons of Asian literature or culture so much as Duncan and I riffing on things we thought were really fun from that world that we could distill down into a Marvel superhero ethic. It is kind of a mash-up in a lot of ways.
During the time that you worked at Marvel and on “Alpha Flight,” comics were kind of shifting more towards an older audience. Big Hero 6 is already pretty kid-friendly, but how much work do you think Disney is going to have to do to help further adapt it for a feature film?
Seagle: Like all the stuff that Man of Action — which is our studio with Joe Kelly and Joe Casey — the vibe that we’re always trying to get, whether we’re creating “Ben 10” or making up new comic books, when we’re talking about general audience, we want something that kids will love and that adults will absolutely not mind watching. When I was a kid, “Johnny Quest” was kind of my touchpoint show. It had elements that were definitely for me as a kid, but it also was a really great spy adventure story, too. It had mystery elements that an older audience could get into. I definitely think that “Big Hero 6” has those layers about it, so I don’t think it’s going to be that hard to make something that kids will groove on that older audiences will also have something to sink their teeth into. Disney’s been great at that in animated features since as long as they’ve been a company. I don’t think it’ll be a problem.
Rouleau: Yeah, I completely agree. The whole aspect of superheroes is going to have an accessibility already that kids can identify with. I think something we as a company [strive for] are real characters — real characters with real motivations. When you have that, you have a level of engagement that is — and it might be cliche to say — but it’s for all audiences. It doesn’t necessarily have to be dark to be adult. It just has to make sense and it needs to be engaging.
Man of Action works with Marvel Animation on the “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated series on Disney XD. As a result of your relationship with Marvel, are there plans for you guys to be involved in what’s going on with “Big Hero 6?”
Seagle: You know, we’re so far removed from everything that we’ve talked about heading in and meeting with those guys for it, but this is a Disney Animation film and we’re currently helming both “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Avengers Assemble” for Marvel and Disney XD, and there’s only so many hours in the day. We also have the Man of Action company, which is creating constantly new characters, new creations, new concepts that we publish with a library through Image Comics. So, we’d love to go in and shoot the bull with them about Big Hero 6 any time they want us, but it’s definitely their project and we’re excited it’s happening.
This has obviously been a rumor since last year that Disney would be picking up Big Hero 6 for an animated feature, how do you feel about it finally being official?
Rouleau: It’s fantastic. Honestly, I don’t think we could be more proud. It was an idea that we believed in then, and it looks like it’s something that’s going to be exciting now. Yeah, we couldn’t be more proud.
Seagle: When we made it up, the Marvel Comics company was going through a tough time back then. We definitely did it just so we could have fun. There was a lot of pressure in the books at the time — I was doing “Uncanny X-Men,” we were doing “Alpha Flight” — just a lot of pressure and rough energy. I remember Duncan and me just saying, “It would be great to have a breath of fresh air and laugh about something.” That’s where Big Hero 6 came about, that sense of abandon. I think it’s so excellent that the core of it being just us having a great time, that’s really pulled it out and made it stand out to Don Hall, I think, in that sense. It’s so cool. We have “Ben 10” which is a giant global thing we’ve created as Man of Action and there’s this, which will be one of the very few Disney Animated movies and the first ever Marvel Disney animated movie. The fact that we’re involved in both of those things and so many more cool things just makes me super excited to be a Man of Action.
Obviously, you guys are super busy as part of Man of Action with comics and animation, but it was the two of you that created Big Hero 6. It’s been handled by other writers and artists since, but do you have any desire to come back and tell stories with this team? Are they characters you’d like to come back to some day?
Seagle: The interesting thing about its genesis is we did the one issue of “Alpha Flight” and immediately Marvel management said, “We want to put these guys in a series right away.” Unfortunately, because Duncan and I were so busy on other books, we said, “We’d love to, but we can’t do it for a few months.” They were like, “No, it has to happen immediately.” So we gave our notes to Scott Lobdell and said, “This is what we were going to do with it, good luck.” He ran with it and did that stuff and some other stuff. I feel like Duncan and I never actually, aside from the one issue, got to play with them in the way we wanted to. So you know, never say never. We’re very busy with other stuff, but definitely we had more to say about them and it would be fun at some point to do that, maybe.
Rouleau: Also, I’d add one more thought to that. When we were creating them, I do think we were attempting to do something that hadn’t really showed up in the Marvel Universe yet. Now, the idea of manga/anime type — not just visually, but the whole sensibility — right down to the storytelling, and maybe through a set of American eyes, is now so widely acceptable that taking a look at it now so many years later is actually quite an intriguing thought.
Thanks so much for taking the time, gentlemen. Anything else you’d like to mention before wrapping up?
Seagle: I hope they save us front row seats at the premiere, I’m excited to see it!
Rouleau: [Laughs] There you go!
Directed by Don Hall, “Big Hero 6” is slated for a 2014 release from Disney Animation