CCI: "Firebreather" heats up Cartoon Network

Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn's fan favorite character, Firebreather, is about to hit the small screen. Announced Wednesday by Cartoon Network, "Firebreather" is set to become a two-hour TV-movie with the possibility of full series behind that. This news comes right after the character finally getting his own ongoing series from Image Comics in May of this year. Hester, the comic's writer, and Kuhn, the artist, spoke with CBR News about the Cartoon Network project and what "Firebreather" fans might expect.

Hester reveals that while the Firebreather cartoon is still in the early stages, the project is moving forward steadily to the screen. "Cartoon Network gets to determine the final realization of whatever it becomes, but the plan is to do a movie-of-the-week - a two hour feature for television - and then sort of make that a backdoor pilot, and if that's well received it will slide into being a series.

"We've known about it for a while," Hester continued, "and there's actual work being done on it. We've seen a treatment of the screenplay so things are moving along. It's more than just an initial pickup."

The storyline of the feature will be familiar to fans of "Firebreather," but will have some surprises in store. Said Kuhn, "It will be based on the first four-issue mini series, but it will have elements drawn from the [upcoming] series that isn't even out yet."

"Since it's two hours," Hester said, "it'll expand on [the mini-series] and dig deeper into certain aspects of it. It will expand certain characters that we introduce in our comic, but don't really get into. It will expand on the backstory."

While the story is based on Hester and Kuhn's work, the writing of the feature falls to someone else. The creators are fine with that, though. Said Hester, "I guess when real money is involved they like to have people that are actual screenwriters. In some ways we kind of want it that way. We want to keep the comic book and the animated show separate. We like our comic to inform what they do but we don't want to have to adapt what were doing in the comic for Cartoon Network."

That's what appealed to Cartoon Network about us," Hester continued. "We're not second-guessing ourselves, we're just doing what feels right. An original idea and original execution and that's what appealed to them."

The "Firebreather" screenplay is in safe hands, according to Hester. "James Krieg is writing it. He's written a bunch of episodes of 'Monk' and a lot of animation work as well. He's a seasoned TV guy but he's a big comic book nerd as well, so we're on the same wavelength."

One thing still being developed is exactly how "Firebreather" will look when it appears on television screens. "The format is still being decided," Hester said. "They were kicking around doing in live action, like the recent Ben 10 feature [Race Against Time]. Then they were thinking of CGI and motion capture. I think they're still trying to decide where to go with that, the technical application."

Regardless of the final approach to the look of the show, the creators believe fans will find the look of the feature true what's been established in the comics. Said Hester, "I think, certainly, one of the big appeals to [Cartoon Network] was the look that Andy gave the book. It's got that animated economy to it and I think that appealed to them. It's up to them how they apply that, but I don't think it'll be too far from what Andy did. It will be recognizable to readers as "Firebreather."

"If I had my druthers, they'll use a good friend of mine, Sean 'Cheeks' Galloway," said Kuhn. "He's a great character designer. He's worked on things like the 'Hellboy' animated movies and is currently working on [the animated series] 'Spectacular Spider-Man.'"

None of this, says Kuhn, indicates a lack of involvement on the part of "Firebreather's" creators. "They've asked for input through the process," said Kuhn.

The path from page to screen has not been a simple one. "No Hollywood deal is allowed to be easy," said Hester. "It has to be some convoluted mousetrap."

Both Hester and Kuhn credit film producer Julia Pistor for seeing "Firebreather" through the hazards of Hollywood development to find it a home. "Originally, we were optioned by Paramount, and during that time they didn't really do anything," said Kuhn. When the option was up, it was Pistor who contacted the creators with an offer to help. As a vice-president at Nickelodeon, Pistor has a long history of shepherding successful animation projects. She recognized "Firebreather" as something special.

The executive who had brought "Firebreather" into Paramount had unexpectedly passed away, leaving the project with no champion when the option period had passed. "She said 'this is too good to just let die," Hester explained. "She offered to take it out herself and find a place to set it up."

As the project is still coming together, a timetable for "Firebreather" to grace TV screens has not yet been set. The ongoing "Firebreather" series is already underway from Image Comics.

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