Written classic DC Comics heroes? Check. Written acclaimed animated series that endures over a decade later? Check. Headlining an all-new Friendly Neighborhood series about everyone’s favorite web-spinner? Check. When it comes to a diverse résumé that exudes a genuine love for comic books, superheroes and fresh takes on old favorites, there’s few in the same league as writer Greg Weisman. While fans probably know him best for his hit “Gargoyles” animated series from Disney, you’re also probably familiar with his work at DC Comics and some of his writing on “The Batman” animated series. As reported recently, Weisman is the supervising producer on the new “The Amazing Spider-Man” animated series, set to premiere on Kids’ WB next year. If that weren’t enough, he’s also brought back “Gargoyles” in an all new comic from Slave Labor Graphics, which he told fans at WonderCon would be getting a companion mini-series. CBR News caught up with Weisman at his Sony office in Los Angeles where he gladly spoke about Spider-Man, Gargoyles and a few other weird ideas.
|Covers to “Essential Spider-Man,” collectioins of early Spider-Man stories.|
CBR NEWS: Greg, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. The big news is your involvement with Kids’ WB & Sony’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” animated series. How did you get involved?
Greg Weisman: Well, I interviewed for the job in February of 2006, got the job in December of 2006. After 11 months you start to think maybe they went with someone else [laughs]. I’m glad they came back to me eventually. I actually started work in January. And I’m thrilled!
I take it that means you’ve always been a Spider-Man fan?
Yeah, I’m a huge geek, big time comic book geek and love the old Marvel stuff. The classic Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita Spider-Man are some of my favorites – my shelves are lined with Marvel’s “Essentials” and I just love the cast. Spider-Man has a great rogue’s gallery. It’s fun stuff.
Looking at Spider-Man’s history in animation, he’s had quite a few series: the old sixties series, “Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends,” the nineties series and the recent MTV production. What kind of fresh take do you have on the character that hasn’t been seen in previous series? Anything fans might not expect?
I find that a lot of the series sort of start with Peter older and if you go back to the original Lee/Ditko stuff, he’s in high school and so we’re going back to the beginning with a clean slate. It’s 2008 and we want the show to be very contemporary, but otherwise think 1962. We want this to be the beginning of the universe: there aren’t a lot of superheroes out there, there aren’t super villains, this is not a world jam packed with costumed characters. When we first meet Peter in our series he’ll have been Spider-Man for four months, mostly over summer vacation. Uncle Ben’s death is still a painful thing for him, but not a fresh wound. We’re going to literally open the series on the night before his first day of high school, and we’re going to meet all the classic supporting cast, introduce the villains for the first time. Spider-Man is going to get taken to school in every way you can think of, which is the theme for our series: the education of Peter Parker. That’s the approach we’re going to take, to have that kind of fun with the character. Of course things will get grim during the course of the series, but we’re not going to introduce it that way.
You mention that there aren’t a lot of superheroes in this universe, so will we see any other Marvel characters appear?
The Fantastic Four do exist and in essence, if you look at the order that Marvel Universe characters were introduced back in the early sixties, that’s the order we’re going to introduce characters. Whether or not we can use certain guest stars is, frankly, a legal issue and not a creative issue. We may have guest stars here and there, but I can’t promise that, and it’s not something that’s decided. I’m hopeful, but I don’t want this to be about the guest stars – I want this to be about Spider-Man and his regular cast. I can see a lot of stories where guest stars would be fun and resonant with Spider-Man, but we’re not going to throw in a character just because we can. The first rule is “does this character have any resonance for Spider-Man?” and that determines if I ask to use the guest star. The second thing is whether Marvel has a legal issue, if the character is licensed to someone else and if we can get permission. First and foremost is the creative hurdle and then the legal hurdle.
You mention the early Spider-Man stories as an influence, but since you’re doing a contemporary update of the mythos, does “Ultimate Spider-Man” have an influence on this series?
Well my attitude is that a good idea is a good idea is a good idea. If Bendis did something we like in “Ultimate Spider-Man” then I won’t be shy about stealing from him like I steal from Lee, or Ditko, or Romita [laughs]. Likewise, if there’s an idea in the films that we like, we’ll integrate it into this series. But we’re not doing “Ultimate Spider-Man” or the Spider-Man movies. We’re trying to create a series, and what I’m about to say – I know, please don’t disconnect the context here. I know it’s going to sound arrogant, naïve or both – but we’re trying to create the classic Spider-Man series, the one that ten years from now people will look back and say, “wow, that was Spider-Man.” I recognize that I might be kidding myself and I realize that we’ve set a large goal for ourselves, but the goal is to create something contemporary and timeless. The bible for us is the old stuff and if there’s a good current idea, we’ll grab it and give credit where it’s due. I’m not shy about giving credit where it’s due. We want to have fun with the show and have something with a timeless feel, so we’re taking these characters from the series, contemporizing them and bringing them into the 21st Century, having fun with them.
In trying to do that, what kind of creative latitude do you have? What things can you change?
We’re getting rid of Peter Parker and changing his costume to a light pink bunny suit. But otherwise… [laughs] We’re not doing those things. I have sort of my own compass on things and I’m not changing things to change things, but we want to find a way to surprise our audience here and there while also creating something that people can look back at and say, “Wow.” That’s not about wholesale changes or trying to reinvent the wheel in some way, because it’s a pretty great wheel to begin with. I fundamentally come from a place of respecting the material to begin with so I’m not this guy who goes, “Spider-Man sucks, we need to fix it.” I don’t believe that. This is a show fundamentally about character, human beings and I respect this cast immensely from Peter all the way to Flash Thompson, who’s a good guy and will be a war veteran down the line. I respect the character. I respect J Jonah Jameson and I respect the villains. That’s the place we’re coming from, a place of respect.
I gotta ask about the animation. Any decision on the style that’ll convey that timeless look?
We really have not decided. We know it’s a 2D cel show and we may have some 3D elements, but other than that we’re in really early days – we just started. Our supervising director and producer is Vic Cook, who is coming off the “Hellboy” DVDs and has done “Buzz Lightyear,” “Team Atlantis” but has not actually started yet. He’s a great guy and he starts in a couple of weeks. We don’t have a set style yet, but we want something contemporary and timeless. Something iconic. Again, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel and we’re not going for the pink Spider-Man suit. We want it to be animatable.
If I have a large fault with something from the nineties Marvel series, it’s that they took the comic book characters right off the page with the anatomy and musculature defined so that they were hard to animate and move. Our Spider-Man series is primarily about movement. This is a Spidey who moves. Those are my marching orders to my staff and that’s what I’ve told my bosses at Sony, Kid’s WB and Marvel. We’re all in complete agreement. This is going to be a Spider-Man who moves, so we need a style that allows us to move.
Speaking of movement, looking at “Gargoyles,” you’ve always been good at moving characters forward while also telling strong single episode stories. Are you taking this same approach with Spider-Man?
Yes. When people hire me, they know what they’re getting whether it’s for “Gargoyles” or “Starship Troopers,” or even Spider-Man. Strong episodic stories that tell a complete tale in one episode. I weave a tapestry and that’s what makes it fun for me. Maybe it’s my comic book background or it’s just the way my mind works, but we’re going to be telling 13 stories that add up to one large story.
And using lots of Star Trek voices too? [Note: “Gargoyles” featured much of the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” principle cast in regular voice acting roles.]
[laughs] I don’t know, we haven’t even come close to that part of the process and we’ll hold auditions and y’know, if we wind up with Star Trek actors then I’d be thrilled. They’re a great ensemble of actors.
We’ll start campaigning for Jonathan Frakes [Commander Riker] as Spider-Man.
[laughs] As much as I love Jonathan, I’m not sure he’s Spider-Man. Still, Jonathan’s great – I’d love to use him on something.
As we’ve discussed, Spider-Man has been around for some time and brought to life in a number of animated projects. What do you think makes him such an enduring character where other heroes have failed?
He’s so fundamentally human. He’s every man. Superman is this noble guy from another world who becomes one of us but Spider-Man already is one of us. Batman is driven. Thor is a God. The Fantastic Four are celebrities. Spider-Man is you and me. He’s the guy who has money trouble. He’s the guy with romance trouble. He’s the guy whose responsibilities yank him in 50 directions. He’s got family, friends and he tries to be good to all of them, but it doesn’t always work out okay. He can be a jerk sometimes. Fundamentally he tries to do the right thing and I think that’s how many of us go through our lives. We try to do the right thing but we screw up, then try to make it right. It’s that humanity and everyman quality – and I don’t want to sound too pretentious, just a little pretentious [laughs] – if you go back to medieval mystery plays, there was the everyman character and that’s who Peter Parker is, the everyman.
Stepping back to the other people around Peter, you mentioned you love the supporting cast and will include some favorites. Now there’s Flash Gordon…I mean Flash Thompson–
We’re going to put Flash Gordon in too, pending legal clearance [laughs].
Yeah, you got me there [laughs]. But which other cast members are going to appear? You mentioned following a vague timeline of the comic book mythos, so will we see Mary Jane now or just Liz Allen?
We’re going to compress the timeline a lit bit, so things that took place over years in the original series probably won’t take place over years in this series. Pretty much you name a supporting character and you’re going to see them, if not in season one then later, but hopefully in season one [laughs]. I don’t want to get into too many specifics because it’s early in the production and I could say we’re doing x,y and z, but then find out z isn’t allowed, so I don’t want to in March, for a show that’s going to premiere in February, lock myself into a corner. Unless a character is extremely, extremely obscure, you can almost guarantee that if we’re picked up for season two and three, you’ll see ’em, but the major ones will appear in the first season. We’re going to crush the timeline a lit bit but preserve the major elements of it. You’ll be seeing Betty Brant, Liz Allen, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson and lots of others.
You mentioned that when people hire you that they know what to expect and using “Gargoyles” as the best example, you really seem to have a strong plan for a series when you go into writing. Do you have a specific beginning, middle and end in mind for “The Amazing Spider-Man?”
I’m really focusing on year one because we don’t have a pick up for year two and we want year one – I mean season one – to really, excuse my French, kick as much ass as possible! You don’t get season two if season one doesn’t kick ass, so we’re trying to really create a great 13 episode arc for season one. I’ve got a lot of great ideas for season two and beyond, quite frankly, because that’s how my mind works. I can’t stop it if I wanted to. We do have a real clear plan for what we want to do in season one – beginning, middle and end, though I’d say “open end.” Even in “Gargoyles” we never intended to end it with some kind of finality. Even when we did the last episode, we did it with what I like to call “open ended closure” and that’s our plan for season one. I’m hopeful we’ll have a season two, but if not, episode 13 will have some closure but be open ended so that we could jump right into season two.
For those people who don’t know you too well, they may not know you’ve got a long history with superheroes. Tell us about that.
I’ve got a lot of background in superhero comics. I worked at DC Comics for years and wrote “Captain Atom” with my partner Cary Bates for years, 50 issues, two annuals and a “Secret Origins” story. I edited “Teen Titans,” “Infinity Inc,” “All Star Squadron,” “Power Of Shazam” and I worked at DC on staff and as a freelancer for a decade. I’m no stranger to superheroes. I’ve also done multiple episodes of “The Batman” on Kid’s WB for Warner Bros and had a great time there working with Duane Capizzi, Alan Burnett and Michael Jelenic. We told a story I’m really proud of that aired recently. It showed Batman in the future and showed Gotham 1000 years into the future. It’s the “Greg Weisman homage to Tom Stoppard.” Stoppard wrote a play called “Arcadia” which I’m a huge, massive fan of and let’s call that episode, “Artifacts,” an homage to Stoppard. Credit where credit is due.
From the big tank and costume colors, I assume there was a “Dark Night Returns” influence there as well?
Oh yeah. There are influences from the Miller stuff without a doubt, but the structure is from Stoppard. “Gargoyles” is, in a lot of ways, superheroes without capes just wings. We tried to enter the superhero genre through a side door. I’ve done “W.I.T.C.H,” “Starship Troopers,” “Buzz Lightyear” and “Super Robot Hyper Monkey Force Go!” Almost every series I’ve done has a superhero influence and it makes sense since I’ve loved this stuff since I was a little kid. Since I’m so fundamentally immature [laugh], I still enjoy it a lot.
Alright, let’s turn to some more, shall we say, nerdy questions. Do you have a favorite specific Spider-Man story?
Part of it is a “when did you start buying comics” kind of thing. I think there’s always an element of the “when did you start reading” that goes into your tastes. Now I’m not old enough to have been reading when Spider-Man first came around – I’m old but not that old. My earliest Spider-Man memories are Romita Sr. stuff, so I remember the first real introduction of Mary Jane Watson – that always struck me. As a teenager, I went back and picked up the reprints so I love the original Green Goblin stuff and all the classic villains. I don’t know that I have one seminal Spider-Man story that stands out for me but I like the arc of who the character was and I’ve pretty much been reading Spider-Man non stop since the late sixties.
So are you going to be one of those guys camping out in line to see “Spider-Man 3?”
Again, I’m not a teenager, so no [laughs]. I definitely want to see it and I’m excited – I liked the first two movies a lot. Kind of vaguely hoping that since I work at Sony, they’ll let me see it early [laughs], but I don’t know if I can.
Well, we’ll put the word out there for you. Let’s talk about webshooters: organic or man made?
Organic. I think that was just a great idea.
|Cover to “Gargoyles” #1|
Alright, let’s switch gears now to “Gargoyles,” which we’ve referenced a few times thus far and it has a new comic book series from Slave Labor Graphics. The second issue just recently shipped and third issue arrives this month.
Yeah, this month. It’s done and literally sitting at the printers for the greenlight from Disney to give us the go ahead. It’s sitting on someone’s desk at Disney and we don’t anticipate any problems, but they just haven’t okayed it yet.
Now you’ve had some issue with the shipping thus far – should we expect a more normal schedule after #3 ships?
We really think so. Issue four is being colored and lettered now, so Disney will have lots of time to approve it and issue five is being inked now. Issue six and seven have already been scripted. And the big news I revealed at WonderCon this weekend, is that we are doing a “Gargoyles” spin-off series entitled “Gargoyles: Bad Guys.” It’s going to be a six issue bi-monthly limited series that will alternate with “Gargoyles,” the idea being that “Gargoyles” is bi-monthly and “Gargoyles: Bad Guys” is bi-monthly so that they alternate the month in which they arrive, so in essence, you have a new Gargoyles story every month. I’ve written the first issue of “Gargoyles: Bad Guys” already. I’m about to start on issue eight of “Gargoyles” and then I’ll start on issue two of “Gargoyles: Bad Guys.” Hopefully, because we’re now getting considerable lead time, we’ll have a better schedule and we definitely won’t see the delays we saw between issues one and two.
Are these going to be one-shot stories or a six part story in total?
It’s going to be a six issue arc that introduces this team of “heroes,” call it an homage to “The Dirty Dozen.” Five bad guys brought together, threatened with prison or worse if they don’t fight on the side of the angels. The characters are all villains or former villains from the “Gargoyles” television series and their leader is Robyn Canmore, the Hunter. Then there’s Dingo, Matrix, Yama the Japanese gargoyle and Fang, the mutate. There’s the team! I’ve written issue one, which was fun and full of action.
Any chance of Macbeth showing up? He was always one of the most interesting villains from the show.
Macbeth is in the “Gargoyles” comic, with a small appearance in issue two and returning in issue seven.
Will David Hedgecock also be illustrating “Gargoyles: Bad Guys?”
No, David doesn’t have time to do both, and he’s our penciller on “Gargoyles,” so Karine Charlebois, who is also doing a fill in on issue five, is going to be the regular penciller on “Gargoyles: Bad Guys.”
You’ve stayed true to the look of the cartoon in the “Gargoyles” comic, so will there be a similar style of art in “Gargoyles: Bad Guys?”
We don’t want to be slavish and we want each individual artist to have the freedom to make the book his or her own, but we’re also not trying to reinvent the wheel on that show either. We have solid character designs and I want it to be recognizable. We’re not trying to do Goliath in the pink Spider-Man costume [laughs].
Might sell some extra copies.
[laughs] Yeah, it just might.
Right now, we can assume the future of “Gargoyles” looks bright?
I think so. I had a talk with Dan Vado at WonderCon and he’s planning to pick up the license from Disney on “Gargoyles.” He’s happy with how the book is doing and obviously no one is thrilled with how long it took to get the second issue out, but we’re very hopeful those problems have been solved. Confident, actually, that those problems have been solved. I don’t want to get complacent about it and say, “no problem, we’ll be around forever.” I want to tell great stories so that people wanna buy the book. I want the art to be kick ass so people wanna buy the book. I still don’t think we have the kind of awareness we’d like to have – I can’t tell you how many people stopped by the SLG booth at WonderCon and said, “Oh Gargoyles is a comic book now?” A lot of them bought the book, which is terrific and that’s why we go to these conventions, to help promote.
On another level, you have to admit it’s kind of disappointing that they don’t know it’s out there. We want to help spread the word about the comic books, the dvds, the annual Gargoyles convention. The dvds are available on Amazon and can potentially be found at fine retailers everywhere. The Gargoyles convention has a web page at www.gatheringofthegargoyles.com and it’s a fun convention, different city every year. We’ve been in New York, Dallas, Orlando, Los Angeles, Williamsburg, Montreal, Las Vegas and we’ll be in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee this June. The thing to keep in mind is that because it’s in a different city every year, bookmark the website and check back because if it doesn’t work out for you this year, next year it might be right in your backyard. We just want to help spread the word about the convention, the comic, the dvds and continue to build an interest in the property, keeping Disney’s attention on the property.
On the subject of the DVDs, any update on the potential for the second half of season two to be released on DVD?
There isn’t any progress I can report yet. I’m trying to get in touch with Buena Vista Home Entertainment, Disney’s DVD arm, but the executives I worked with previously on earlier DVDs have moved on to other things and now I need to find who to contact, which can make things a little difficult. The basic situation hasn’t changed: Season Two, Volume One, the first half of season two, didn’t sell that well. I don’t know if it’s because people were waiting till both seasons were available so they could buy them together or more likely, they just don’t know they’re out there. We have to get sales up to motivate Disney to release the rest of the season. As long as there’s money to be made, Disney will do it. It’s a pretty simple equation. If they don’t think there’s interest in “Gargoyles,” they won’t release the DVDs… if they don’t see a hefty return coming back. It’s that simple. So I’d obviously love it if people bought the DVDs as birthday present, Christmas presents, whatever, but I don’t expect people to spend money they don’t have or buy multiple, multiple copies of the DVD. What I’m asking them to do is to help spread the word to friends, on the Internet, the comic stores. Just help us spread the word. Some fans have felt like that shouldn’t be our responsibility, it should be Disney’s responsibility since they’re making the money, and while there’s an element of truth to that, fundamentally if fans of the series – and I’m counting myself, I don’t make money off the DVDs and just want to see them out there – if we don’t spread the word, it just won’t happen. Simple as that. It’s not if we have to, it’s just that if we don’t then we won’t see more DVDs. So I’m asking the fans to help us out.
Do the re-runs on Toon Disney help at all?
I’m sure they do help. But Toon Disney is airing those episodes pretty late at night, and you have to have some sleep issues to see ’em [laughs] or be dedicated with your TiVO. Also, those episodes are edited, and the DVDs are uncut. If you want the pure, uncut stuff, we gotta get the DVDs out.
I may be paraphrasing here, but I recall you saying that “Gargoyles” in its original form probably would not be made by Disney today.
I think that’s true. I think that we were doing a show for syndication, so we had no network, no cable station giving us notes. We only had ourselves, and we’re people with our own moral compass, but we had a different standard of what was acceptable than what is considered “safe” today. We were trying to be responsible but we weren’t trying to be safe, and today they try to be safe. Not just Disney frankly but most of the networks to be honest.
Do you think that you were also given more time and room to grow your audience compared to if you launched the series today?
I was trusted [laughs]. For better or for worse, on the first two seasons of “Gargoyles” I was given a lot of rope, one might say to hang myself. If you like the end result of the series, it’s because they trusted me to do it and if you don’t, it’s the same thing, they trusted me. I will never blame my bosses for the first two seasons of “Gargoyles.” For anything you do like about it, or you don’t, it was me, Frank Parr, Michael Reaves, Gary Sperling, Cary Bates, Brynne Chandler Reaves, our great cast, crew, great animators in Korea and Japan. But they gave us freedom and I haven’t got that kind of freedom again. It was the first show I produced and never had that kind of feeling again. So, I’ll take praise and blame too. Not for the third season, only the first two.
We don’t talk about “The Goliath Chronicles” around here.
[laughs] I don’t talk about it either [laughs].
We talked almost a year ago when “Gargoyles” was first announced as a comic and a lot has changed since then, from the addition of “Bad Guys” to working with so many great people at Sony on “The Amazing Spider-Man.” Did you ever expect all this to happen?
Y’know, this business…I’ve been doing this for 24 years now professionally and this business is still a mystery to me. I’m always hopeful that times will be good. But times aren’t always good, so now I’m going to enjoy the ride as long as I can. Everyone here at Sony is hopeful that “Spider-Man” is going to be a long gig for us, creatively and professionally we’re hopeful. We’re thinking that way and that’s why I’m focused on season one, not because I don’t think there will be a season two, but because I think there will be. I want the first season to be so good that people demand further episodes down the road. So I’m hoping I’m here for a while.
As a final question, I figure CBR News can get a bit fanboyish on you. Looking at the big characters you’ve worked on, if Goliath from “Gargoyles,” Batman and Spider-Man were all to get into a big fight, who would win?
[laughs] Oh boy, my mind so doesn’t work that way. I’m trying to imagine a situation that would cause them to fight.
Oh come on, superheroes don’t need a reason to fight [laughs].
See, I don’t write that way [laughs]. I think whatever misunderstanding threw these three against each other would be solved easily, and they’d be teaming up against Demona, Joker and Venom soon enough. I think that it wouldn’t take long before whatever conflict they had was put aside to fight the larger evil.
Aww, thanks for the warm fuzzy ending Greg.
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