Marvel Comics held a press conference today to discuss the upcoming Cartoon Network “Fantastic Four” animated series with Executive Producer Craig Kyle and Story Editor/Head Writer Chris Yost. The series sees its debut this Saturday, September 2nd at 8:00 PM on Cartoon Network’s Toonami. We’ve got a transcript of that conversation with Craig and Chris.
Tell to us about working with Cartoon Network on this. What’s that like?
Craig Kyle: They’ve been great. The production is being handled by a studio called Moonscoop in France. They’ve done a few projects that have made it over to Cartoon Network. We’ve been real impressed with them, they do beautiful work and I think the best work they’ve done yet is on this series. Their partners on this project were Cartoon International and also M6. Those were our partners through the development and post phase and having it out on Cartoon Network here in the States for us, I just don’t think there’s a better home for this project. They’re where people go to see great super hero and comedy series and I think “Fantastic Four” for us will be that perfect mixture of both. It’s a perfect home for the project.
You referred to this as a cartoon and comedy series. Is that the approach? Are we looking at a gag a minute or action a minute type of thing?
CK: I definitely don’t think we want a gag a minute. I think if you start to do that you really loose the great emotion and the fun of the family and the action and adventure that the FF always deliver that people enjoy from the comics. It was never to kind of just make it slap stick hilarity throughout the 22 minutes. What was really important for us is when you look at the Fantastic Four it’s a fun world – these guys are celebrities. They do their job, they’re out in the sun and the fun, they’ve got fans, they don’t hide and they’re not in a world that fears and hates them. They’re the biggest heroes in the world and they are a family at the same time, so they have all the problems, situations, arguments and craziness that happens in a family. I think a lot of what people loved from even the more recent work in the Fantastic Four whether it be the “Ultimate Fantastic Four” or the stuff that Mark Waid was doing, we just love when they’re fun and they can break up the intense moments with a joke or Ben and Johnny end up fighting each other more than they do the villain at hand. That’s really what we look to for this series – something that’s really fun and not written down to a younger audience. We think there’s a way to entertain both kids and the older fans and I think we found that balance. There’s tons of heart, adventure, action, scifi storytelling, but it’s definitely a fun and funny series through and through.
Chris Yost: The Fantastic Four of all of Marvel’s properties really lends itself to a combination of this light hearted fun, but at the same time when this series gets big, it gets huge. The adventure and action are all there, but these are four characters that are at their core a family and human beings. Johnny and Ben are just fun. We saw that in the movie and Mark Waid’s run is a perfect example of this. They’re a close knit group that you know will bust on each other and then go save the universe.
There are some toys planned based on the animated series. How big a licensing stream will be associated with the animated show?
CK: The toys Chris and I were lucky enough to see when we were out at the New York office were just beautiful. They were all put together by the Toybiz folks and I gotta tell you they’ve done so many spectacular lines, many of which are in both Chris and my office right now as we speak, and we were just really impressed with them. As of right now I don’t know what the release date will be on those figures because now Hasbro is handling our toy division and license, so I’m not sure what the plan is. I think the first plan is to get the series out to the fans, see how they react to it and then build a strategy from there. Form the work that we’ve seen they’re really some of the better projects that those folk have put together. We’re anxious to have them out there, but I don’t have any details on when they’ll actually hit the market.
You said Hasbro will be handling this. Their shipments don’t happen until December, so I’m guessing we won’t see them until sometime next year.
CK: I think that’s likely and I think what you see a lot of times – and I think this is really smart – you put a series on air and let’s see what the appetites of the viewer are. Do they love the show and do they want to own it? I think if you build up that hunger for merchandise you’re better off than necessarily hitting day and date with product. Again, you’re getting this from the creative guy at Marvel Animation, so that shows you how much I know about licensing, but I have a lot of faith in this series. I think it’s going to be spectacular, so I think the demand will be there once it’s been on air for a brief period of time. If the folks at Marvel New York and Hasbro think it’s a smart thing to do, then I think we’ll see those figures out much sooner than later.
How long is the commitment from Cartoon Network?
CK: All that we are producing right now is 26 episodes. Of course we hope to do far more than that and I think the way Chris and I sat down and structured the series, there’s a lot more room to grow. We definitely didn’t do everything in the first 26 and there are a lot of characters we’d still like to get to. If this series takes off we’d love to come back and keep it going.
Besides the FF and Doctor Doom, what other villains and characters can we expect to see in this series?
CY: There are guest stars coming. The majority of the Fantastic Four’s major villains are in there – Doom, Mole Man, the Skrulls and the Kree. As I sit down and look at all 26 episodes it’s pretty amazing the Universe that’s been built there. The Fantastic Four have a great rogues gallery and they’re pretty well represented in there. Guest stars, well, I don’t know what I can mention …
CK: Why don’t you mention what’s coming up in the first five … well, wait, [laughs], how about the one who fights Ben?
CY: Our large green friend the Incredible Hulk will be in the first five episodes and I gotta tell you it’ll be an amazing thing.
CK: What’s the title of that episode Chris?
CY: “Hard Knocks.”
So they’re going to fight? [laughs]
CK: Absolutely! You can’t have an Fantastic Four series without the Hulk and not have them throw down at least once. That was a real pleasure.
Where in the history of the team does this series take place? Are the Fantastic Four already active at this point?
CY: When the series starts they all have their powers and are operating out of the Baxter Building as a team of heroes. The general populace knows who they are. As the series progresses you’ll be introduced to certain villains, some of which they’ll already know.
CK: For us we don’t really look at the films or the comics as our origin story. We did want to get to that, but to be fair to anyone who’s going to see the FF for the first time on television needs to just pick it up with the ball rolling in such a way that anyone can enjoy it and I think we found that balance. The first episode, “Trial by Fire” with Ronin, I think is a real shining example of what the best of the series has to offer and what’s to come. I think you get into the characters and how they relate to their world so quickly that you’re not as concerned with how they got their abilities. By the time the Baxter Team come into play, you will absolutely see that origin. Like I said, the comics and film shouldn’t serve as our origin piece – the fans of this series deserve to see how it happened and I think Chris found a very creative way to tell that story and I think it’s a real fun way to get into that.
CY: In fact the main title sequence gives some glimpses of it and it’s pretty amazing.
CK: Moonscoop did a beautiful job on the main title.
CY: I watch it over and over. [laughs]
Are there any plans for guest writers from the comics industry to join the show?
CK: At this point we did not work with any of the comic book guys. No reason for that other than the people we’ve worked with in the past that have done a lot of super human work on other animated series whether it be Batman, X-Men or Spider-Man, were all very anxious to become part of this project. What we found, too, was FF was a tricky series for all involved. You can find guys who have a real expertise in action and drama, or you can find guys who are amazing at comedy. Finding that fusion is very, very difficult. It put a lot of pressure on Chris because he is very good at that and he’s the guy who we yell at if the scripts don’t come in with that balance. [laughs] I think he made some great choices in terms of casting the writing talent. I think when you guys watch this, you’re going to find the tone I think the majority of people like about the FF in every episode.
Looking at the art released thus far from the series, you’ve obviously chosen a very mature style for a series that will primarily appeal to children. How do you quantify that? Why did you choose such a mature look for the series?
CK: When Moonscoop came in they had such an amazing vision for this. With all of our projects and you look at the 35+ years of animation, you want a show that’s going to stand out because there’s a chance you could see a different version of this series whether it be from the ’60s, or the ’80s or the ’90s. We wanted a show that was really going to pop and look unlike anything else. This show looks nothing like its predecessors. It’s a beautiful show. 80% of what Moonscoop brought to the table when they approached us made it in. The palette is spectacular. You’ll see all sorts of Kirby-esque technology in and throughout the Baxter Building, whether it be the underbelly of Johnny’s hot rod and then the gears of the machines they use or the beautiful lab they designed – this show really celebrates the best of what Kirby created when he blazed the trail with these characters. The look is somewhat anime in its inspiration, but again this came from the guys in France. What we found is – and you can see this in the model sheets – the expressions of these characters are so awesome. There’s one sheet I just love which is all the faces of Ben. They way they bring all this great emotion to this big rocky character we just love. The look for this series we think will appeal to all kinds of kids, but again we want the older fans like me and Chris to sit down and really enjoy this. We think this style has great broad appeal.
Will you be tackling any of the classic FF storylines in the series?
CY: A lot of them are new stories and new interpretations of elements that have appeared in the comics before. I don’t know that there’s going to be any one thing that’ll be word-for-word from the comic, in fact I’m sure there’s not. It’s a new telling of these characters in these situations and meeting particular villains. I think as you watch the series it harkens back to certain issues and elements from runs by John Byrne and Mark Waid and all the greats, but it’s all kind of a new take on it.
The animation will be a mix of 2D and 3D. How will they achieve that marriage?
CK: This, to me, is a shining example of where animation can go today. A lot of people love CGI and say that’s all that animation should be and I’m always the one who says on television that’s very difficult to do. I think the only project that I can think of off hand that’s a successful series that’s all CGI is “Skyland.” It’s a beautiful show, but to me where you find the best success is when you can do your environments in CGI – you can get these beautiful shots through and about the city with great vehicles and weaponry – but the emotion always dies when you have a CGI character, in most cases. Doing the characters hand drawn you get great reactions, wonderful emotion and beautiful subtleties you would never get from the CGI model. But when you see the Fantasticar tearing through the New York skyline, I think you’ll find that great marriage of the two. In our first episode, “Trial by Fire,” you’ll see Johnny who’s a 2D model laid into the 3D hotrod he’s driving in the opening of the episode and I think it’s pretty seamless.
What do you have lined up music wise for the theme? Who’ll be doing that and what kind of feel will you go for?
CK: We found a great mixture of big action cinematic score pieces, with also a little bit of that “Seinfeld” fun music for the more personal and humor driven moments. It’s a tough mix to get all the right sounds. You want the science fiction, you want the scare factor from Doom and the more menacing villains. It’s a really tricky game when you’re crafting the sounds of this series because it is so diverse. I think we have a good hero anthem and the opening main title has a very cool, retro TV feel that I think really fits the series.
In looking at the promotional art, how much was the writing influenced by the Manga/Anime style and how successful Anime has been on television?
CK: Again I have to say when you look at it, it does have a strong Anime feel, but it all came from Moonscoop. Why they chose this direction I can’t tell you. When they came in they had a really thick packet they presented to us which had a shot of the four characters at breakfast where Johnny was torching bens toast and he was about to clobber him. Reed was doing two experiments while at the table and Sue was about to just throw her head in her hands because she couldn’t control this table. Even the quiet moments were filled with chaos. They did a few passes on Ben, they graffitied the 4 on his chest. No one ever thought to do that, but when a guy who’s made of stone and is always rough housing with characters like the Hulk, it makes sense that you might just throw a little paint on your chest and run out there and not have to worry about replacing your shirt when you get back. This is a great new look for this series.
Is this sold outside of the United States?
CK: Yes. It’s at the Cartoon Network in the UK. It’s at M6 in France. As far as the Canadian broadcasters, I’m not sure who’s running it yet. That may not be finalized, but absolutely it has a wide international presence and on Cartoon Network domestically.
Although you’re not adapting any of the comics material directly, is there an era within the comics series that epitomizes what you’re trying to do with the show?
CY: As a series it’ll be a very modern interpretation on everything. When I grew up reading “Fantastic Four,” I essentially started in the mod-’80s with John Byrne’s run, but we went all the way back to when it started. Those elements we take from Stan and Jack’s days on up to Mark Waid’s days. It’s all going to feel fairly seamless, but there are definitely elements from every era.
CK: You guys were asking about specific storylines – let me spoil just a couple of things for you. In a series like this you can absolutely have an episode where Doom launches the Baxter Building into space. In the series you can have lines like Reed saying, “Thank goodness I prepared for this – grab the neighbors!” It’s a spectacular moment, especially when they’re forced to fly it back to New York. We look to the kinds of stories that are so big and out there and try to find ways to make them work for the series. It’s all a credit to what Chris did with these writers and I think they work.
We haven’t seen the footage yet, but we did shoot to get that classic first cover image of the FF fighting Giganto. You should get that snapshot cover in one of the upcoming episodes. We’re trying to honor the best of the best throughout all of Fantastic Four’s history.
You said Ronin will be in “Trial by Fire” and you’ve mentioned Doom quite a bit. When will we see Doom?
CK: He’ll be in the second episode. Ronin first, Doom next and depending on the way the episodes come in, he could actually be in again before the first six are up. He’s the biggest foe and the largest part of this series. You’ll see plenty of him. Paul Dobson who plays Doom does a spectacular job with the voice and he also plays Mole Man and there were never two more different voices I’ve heard in animation. I must tell you, my personal favorite is Mole Man – although Mole Man’s the hardest character to write since he has such limited goals, either destroy the surface world or bring it to him – but his voice, he sounds like a smoker who smokes five cartons a day, has a hacking wheeze that can barely get through a laughing fit without actually collapsing. It’s an awesome voice and I think you guys are going to love him.
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