Last weekend at WonderCon in San Francisco, CBR News spoke directly with the producers, artists, and voice actors behind the new "Spectacular Spider-Man" cartoon. The latest animated Spider-Man series debuted at the convention, where even the actors were seeing it for the first time. "Spectacular Spider-man" will debut on Kids' WB! on The CW Network March 8 at 10 AM.
"Growing up, I watched-not quite the original, because I'm not old enough-but the '80s 'Spider-Man,' the '90s 'Spider-Man' and the MTV 'Spider-Man,' but I think there was never a Spider-Man series that you could say was the quintessential Spider-Man series," said Mike Vogel, Director of Animated Programming at Sony. "Everybody talks about 'Batman: The Animated Series' as pretty much the one that sums up the essence of what Batman is, and I don't think that Spider-Man has had that yet. So that's what we're going after: the Spider-Man series to end all Spider-Man series."
This sentiment was echoed by Greg Weisman, Supervising Producer, who said that upon coming on to the project, he bought all of the "Essential Spider-Man" volumes and took copious notes. This strategy also helped some of the actors get into character. Josh Keaton, the voice actor playing Peter Parker and Spider-Man, said he too read the "Essentials." But Keaton said he also has other influences to draw upon. "Honestly, I love Spider-Man," the actor said. "For one, Peter Parker's pretty much who I was in high school. I mean, I was the dork that set up the computer lab at school, and I couldn't get a date to save my life. It's just awesome to be able to be him even if it's just a very small way. I can't really climb walls and stuff-wish I could-but I can at least be his voice."
Keaton, whose credits include roles in the "Back to Future" animated series, Young Hercules in Disney's "Hercules," and character voices in the video games "Metal Gear Solid 3" and the new "Ninja Gaiden," talked about some of the challenges of acting for animation. "It can actually be a little more difficult in certain ways than on=camera acting because, with on-camera acting, you're acting with somebody else, you have a lot of give and take," he said. "A lot of times with voice-over you're acting by yourself. So you have to make it truthful, you have to make it so that when they edit those performances together, you make it sound coherent, cohesive. Luckily in this show, they've been really great with the scheduling, and they've been able to, if I have a bunch of scenes with Eddie Brock, or if I have a bunch of scenes with Marko, the Sandman, we've built our schedules so that we can actually read together most of the time. It's awesome, it really helps out a lot."
Responsible for the visual look and feel of the series are Victor Cook, Supervising Director/Supervising Producer, and lead character designer Sean "Cheeks" Galloway. With a huge project like "Spectacular Spider-Man," their roles were no simple tasks. Interested parties include Marvel, Sony, Kids WB!, Hasbro, and others. "We had twenty revisions of the Spider-Man design, and thirty revisions of Peter," Galloway said. "What I had to do was bring the funkiness that I bring, under their art direction. We had about six or seven levels of approvals." He also confided, "When I took the design test, they said my Spider-Man and Peter were terrible. That almost lost me the job, actually."
Galloway also indicated that early discussions for the show involved an anime-inspired version of Spider-Man, but Cook and the other producers said that this was not something they were eager to pursue. Cook said that he wanted a "squash and stretch" look to the show, which is an aesthetic used more in American humor cartoons. "Some people might think that sounds a little strange, to use squash-and-stretch and apply it to an action show," Cook said. "But with 'The Incredibles,' squash-and-stretch was in there. Or a movie like 'Mulan,' I know there were cartoony things about 'Mulan' on the lighter side, but the villains and the battles and the more realistic aspects of that were still that little bit of squash-and-stretch."
Cook also said that the action sequences in "Spectacular" would be huge. "I really want to make those as over the top as possible. Spider-Man was a big athlete, what I wanted to do was bring in this Hong Kong flair to it, where it's almost like wirework. With animation you can do that, where it's not just like he jumped 12 feet in the air but he jumped 30 feet in the air. Something like he did in the movie, he jumped from rooftop to rooftop. In some of the other animated shows I never got the impression that he was any stronger than a regular guy. And that came through to me in choreographing the action scenes that that's the most straightforward thing to do, to have Spider-Man just slug it out with guys. And it's not like he's never gonna do it, I know some fans want to see punching and they'll see it when he's really pushed to the wall, but on a creative level it's not as interesting to look at. On the Spider-Man level, the man's a smart aleck. So he, I think, is going to have a little bit of fun."
Cook and Weisman are both fans of classic Stann Lee & John Romita era of Spider-Man comic books, while Vogel at Sony prefers Brian Michael Bendis's more modern take on the character. But all agree on the essence of who Peter Parker is. "I think what's great about Spider-Man is that he's just a guy," Vogel said. "He's not the Dark Knight of Gotham, and he's not the most powerful guy in Metropolis. He is a kid who has all the pressures and responsibilities a kid has, and also just happens to have super powers."
Some of the fun, Weisman adds, is in how this plays out. "He goes to school and he thinks he's cool because he's Spider-Man, but the thing is, the other kids don't know he's cool," the producer said. "In fact, they think he's pretty un-cool, they think he's pretty much nerdy Peter Parker that he always was. Even though Flash Thompson's a huge fan of Spider-Man, he doesn't suddenly become a huge fan of Peter Parker."
Weisman said that when the series begins, Spider-Man will be new on the scene but not brand new. "He's been Spider-Man for about four months," Weisman said. "It's not the first time he's ever spun a web, it's not the first time he's ever stuck to a wall. He's got the basics down. But he's been fighting muggers. Things have been pretty easy. So the theme or our show is the education of Peter Parker. We are going to teach this guy some lessons, in every sense of the word."
Though Peter Parker will be in high school for the entire series, his villains will not be adapted into teenagers. "I think that, what's really interesting is that Peter Parker has so many challenges in high school life just as Peter Parker, and those are kid-relatable challenges that he has to deal with, the villain side of things is going to be an adult challenge," Vogel said. "And part of what makes Spider-Man such a fun character is that he's a kid dealing with these huge-it's a David and Goliath story. I think that taking a lot of the characters and moving them into high school takes away from that."
As to who some of those villains might be, Vogel is tight lipped. "Eddie Brock is in our series, and what that means is anybody's guess," he said. "But there could be some interesting things in store for Eddie. Anyone who sees the first episode is going to have a really good idea of who several of the villains will be in the first season. Because we got to do a serialized series, where the episodes build one on the other, our pilot episode is truly a pilot episode that any fan of Spidey is going to watch and have lots of geek chills about what's coming up."
Ben Diskin, the voice of Eddie Brock, is slightly more forthcoming. Asked what interesting things might be in store for Eddie, Diskin is direct: "He becomes Venom." While this might seem obvious to Spidey fans, the coyness on behalf of Vogel, Weisman, and Cook, coupled with the twists and turns Eddie has experienced in the comics, could have suggested other possibilities. But, Diskin says, this is Venom distinct from what we've seen before, especially compared to previous Spider-Man cartoons. "Eddie in this series is more of a psychologically disturbed person," the actor said. "I loved the '90s series, that's what I grew up with, but the problem I always had with it was it said, here's a bad guy, he's always been bad. In this, you actually get to see why he starts to hate Spider-Man, why he starts to lose his mind. It just sort of comes together in this rush of anger."
Diskin also revealed that as Venom, Eddie's voice will run side by side by side with the symbiote's, and that Diskin records both voices without special effects. "He has a little bit of a cheek flap [as Venom] because he has such huge jaws, and this huge slobbering tongue, so my script is pretty much soaked by the time I'm done." Diskin's other voice credits include characters on "Hey Arnold," "Codename: Kids Next Door," and the video games "Tony Hawk" and "Rogue Galaxy," for which he is "dubiously proud" of playing "the most annoying character in the whole game."
Though neither of the lead voices attended school for acting, Weisman said that there was an unusual level of agreement among all the various producers that Diskin and Keaton were the right choices. "This is a big project, it's Spider-Man, so we had input from Sony, Kids WB, Marvel… yeah, it's a big deal to a lot of companies so there's a lot of people involved," Weisman said. "The good news is-not just good news but great news-is that, you know, we auditioned 11 parts, probably 200 people for each role, and Jamie [Thomason, voice director] and I listened to every single one of those." The producers then narrowed this list down and held several rounds of callbacks. "When we finally sat down, all of us in a room, to say who's your first choice for Peter Parker, everyone agreed it was Josh Keaton." Running down the list of the other major characters, Weisman said the choices for each were unanimous.
Is "Spectacular Spider-Man" a show for kids or a show for fans? Here, too, there was much agreement. Vogel, using language similar to that of the other producers, said, "I think the main thing about the is that it's truly going to appeal to kids because it has amazing Spidey action and it's really funny, and for the fans, it's a show that's made by the geeks for the geeks. Everybody who worked on the show, from me as development executive to Craig Kyle at Marvel, and Greg, and Vic, and Cheeks, even down to Josh Keaton and Ben-there are going to be so many little homages and little tweaks in the background design and character names that people who have been fans of Spidey their whole lives are going to see that it's a show that's going to be fun for fans of all ages."
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