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In Depth With Greg Weisman & “Gargoyles”

by  in Comic News Comment
In Depth With Greg Weisman & “Gargoyles”
Cover to “Gargoyles” #1
“Gargoyles” Promo

There’s been much talk about the declining American education system and so we at CBR would like to see how well you learned your history. Did you know that, a thousand years ago, superstition and the sword ruled? If you haven’t learned about the Age of Gargoyles or about the way they were cursed to be frozen in stone for a thousand years, only to wake up in modern Manhattan, then you haven’t been paying attention in history class. Some of you may argue that all this never happened, but for devoted fans of Disney’s “Gargoyles” cartoon, which ran from 1994-1996, this series is quite real and quite vibrant. With a new “Gargoyles” comic book forthcoming, under the Slave Labor Graphics/Disney deal, CBR News caught up with series creator Greg Weisman to learn more about the cartoon’s past and the series’ future, as the comic takes the characters forward. This isn’t a reboot or re-imagining: this is the true, canonical future of “Gargoyles.”

For those not familiar with “Gargoyles,” the series (now available on DVD) was about six gargoyles – Goliath, Brooklyn, Lexington, Broadway, Hudson and Bronx – and their awakening in modern day Manhattan, after being betrayed by humans they trusted and cursed to remain in stone for one thousand years,. So, we don’t want to spoil too much, but the series has remained popular because of the uncanny amount of character development, exploration and maturity permeating the series, all unusual for what some might dismiss as “just another Disney cartoon.”

CBR spoke to Wesiman from his office, which unfortunately does not resemble the gargoyles’ castle, and the writer was candid about everything “Gargoyles” related.

Thanks for talking to us Greg. So, what made this such a good time to bring back “Gargoyles?” And why did you decide to go with Slave Labor? I’m sure you’ve thought about this previously.

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I’ve been trying, for some time, to generate interest in perhaps doing a “Gargoyles” comic book and finally my partners, Greg Guler, who was the lead character designer for the animated series, myself and Marty Lund, who is our business guy, formed a company called CreatureComics.Com. We approached Disney about licensing “Gargoyles” to do a “Gargoyles” comic book. And Disney thought it was interesting because Greg and I created the show, but knew we had no track record. So, Disney hooked us up with SLG. SLG had a deal in the works, to license three other titles from Disney: “Wonderland,” “Tron” and “Haunted Mansion.” So, Disney approached SLG for us, how do I put it, like a marriage broker [laughs] and said, “Hey, there’s this fourth property: are you interested in taking it on?” And Dan Vado was, so we talked with Dan about his goals for “Gargoyles” and his mini-Disney line in general, so it seemed like a really nice fit, and there you go.

Obviously there’s the emotional attachment from having created it, but as a creator, what made it so imperative to bring it back and work on something else?

I did two seasons of the show, and they did a third season without me, which was frustrating, to be honest. I’m not knocking the creative team who worked on that third season, but the show was so much my baby that to see other people taking the characters in directions I didn’t want to take them was so traumatic. I didn’t leave the show because I ran out of ideas. There was a lot going on at Disney at the time and Disney just didn’t still want me around [laughs]. They let me go, which is the kind way to put it, and I moved off with a lot of stories left to tell. A lot. When I saw someone else doing “Gargoyles” stories, I thought I was nuts to walk away from this property, but the truth is, the thing that kept my interest going in the property is the fans. Their annual “Gargoyles” convention goes to a different city each year and in 2006, June, we’ll be in Los Angeles and there will be a lot of special guests there, like Greg Guler and Frank Paur, who was the original producer/director on the show, and the other producer/directors Bob Kline, Dennis Woodyard. There will also be the writers Michael Reaves, Brynne Chandler, Lydia Marano and the composer of the great score on the show, Carl Johnson. Plus, our voice director, Jamie Thomason. We have a number voice actors coming, including the entire clan: Keith David (Goliath), Jeff Bennett (Brooklyn), Thom Adcox (Lexington), Bill Faggerbakke (Broadway), Edward Asner (Hudson), Bridget Bako (Angela), Elisa Gabrielli (Obsidiana). And we’ve got David Hedgecock, who’s the new penciller on the series. We’ve just started getting guests, so there will be a lot more than the ones I’ve just listed, but in essence, for ten years I’ve been going to the conventions – this year will be the tenth – and the fans have been so great to me. Their interest in the series has never waned and so every year, I get this big ego boost and big shot of “if only there were more ‘Gargoyles'” stories. And there are: they’re just sitting in my head, in notes and all sorts of materials I’ve accumulated over a twelve year period, so in a way, doing this comic book is a huge relief. It’s like an outlet [laughs]. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, but it’s simultaneously nerve-wracking, because the fans have waited so long for this, that I am concerned that everyone will look at it and say “eh,” y’know? [laughs] The expectations are so high that I worry I can’t live up to it and because over ten years, I’ve spilled a few tidbits, maybe too many and so some of the surprise, for the hardcore fan, may be gone. It’ll all be about execution, and we’re putting together a really good book and I’m proud of it, but I’m also so nervous.

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But as a creator of the characters, in theory, you can’t really do anything “wrong,” can you? You’re the one who knows these characters best.

No one ever criticized George Lucas for what he did with “Star Wars” after the first three – maybe two – movies. I think that in an in an ideal world, you’re right, that my abilities are so incredible! I shouldn’t say that, because once you transcribe it, it’ll seem like I really meant it [laughs]. The assumption is that I’m operating at the same level, or whatever, that I was operating at when I worked on the show and it’ll be just as good, I hope it’s true, I’d like to think it’s true. I actually think I’ve gotten a little better with age. In theory, who else would know these characters better than me? That’s true, but individual fans have their responses to things and I don’t want to undersell the book, I think it’s going to be great, I really do, but I’m also a neurotic, insecure being and I worry that fans will say “I could have done this better!” and that happens.

What about new fans, or fans who only have a passing knowledge of “Gargoyles?” This is a sequel to the show and so I imagine the continuity could be overwhelming.

Particularly in the first two issues, we tell a great story, but they’re designed to welcome new readers or people who haven’t seen 66 – or 78 – episodes of “Gargoyles” already. Our series picks up right after the end of the second season, basically ignoring the third season, but I tell a story that I think allows a new reader to get to know these characters, their histories and for hardcore fans, the history stuff will be old news. It’ll still be fun and exciting, but they’ll know about the pasts of these characters. I think for them, the book will really start picking up with issue #3, when we really press forward with all the new ideas and new directions. But for a newcomer, someone who hasn’t seen the show before, I’d like to think that the first two issues will act as a primer. Hopefully they’ll be an engaging, entertaining primer [laughs] – it’s not a textbook, it’s an adventure story. I think it does get the old information across in a new way for everyone. I don’t know but I hope there is some synergy going on too, so people can go to the “Gargoyles” convention, buy the DVDs, watch the reruns on Toon Disney, and buy the comic book. I think all of these things play well together and hopefully we start a kind of mini “Gargoyles”-renaissance here. I think the DVDs turned out pretty damned good and hopefully we’ll have the rest of second season coming out on DVD this year. We’ve got the first season on DVD, the first half of the second season on DVD and it’s a great way to watch the show. They’re gorgeous, crisp and just as exciting. So hopefully the comic book reader wants to catch up on past stories and can go get them all on DVD.

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But for new readers, what do you see as the hook? You have a lot of supernatural, mystical comic books already out there. So what’s gonna make “Gargoyles” stand out?

Well, I think it’s the same appeal that existed in the original show, other than execution and well-told stories, we’ve go a real unique look to the book, great characters, great storylines, if I do say so myself. You’ve got various conceptual hooks: the idea of gargoyles, these medieval creatures waking up in Manhattan today is a fascinating idea. The idea that gargoyles are stone by day, but come alive at night is fascinating. The idea that the monsters are the heroes is, I think, is one of the great classic archetypes. We’ve got romantic relationships, we’ve got action, we’ve got a huge Simpsonian cast of characters and there’s a lot to hook readers if they’re inclined to give it a shot.

Plus, you’ve got a villain who looks like Commander Riker [laughs].

We do! The one thing that we’re missing, obviously, in translating this from screen to page is the voice. I’m sorry about that, I am. One of the things we looked into – not with Slave Labor, but back when it was just CreatureComics – was doing an audio comic book, recording a vocal track to go with the comic. That was me thinking I’d hate to lose that aspect of the show. We had such great voice actors, such as Jonathan Frakes, who played David Xanatos, and terrific actors across the board, that it seemed a shame to lose them. It’s the one thing the book can’t do. But I’m hopeful, for all fans, that the voices are so great that they’re in their heads. When they’re reading the book, they’ll hear Jonathan Frakes as Xanatos or Keith David as Goliath, with his great deep voice, even with just words on a page. For existing fans, I think it’s impossible to forget those great voices, so they’ll bring that with them.

Speaking of the DVDs, I just re-watched them. In that first story you told a pretty brutal one, especially for a Disney cartoon. It was never gory, but was very intense. Are we going to see that same intensity in the comic?

At least. I mean, my personal preferences don’t tend towards gore, so this isn’t going to become a slasher book, but that kind of intensity is what I’m looking to bring to the book. Our standard is the TV series, so our goal is to try and match that – and then top it. That doesn’t mean shock for shock’s sake, but I’m into things having meaning and consequence. I don’t think you can do that without pursuing storytelling aggressively and since the kind of stories we’re telling are big stories of clashes of good and evil, and everything in between, people are going to get hurt, sometimes people are going to die.

So then what kind of advantages do you gain from moving away from the television medium and into the comic book realm?

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I definitely gain one big thing: I’m no longer trapped in by the 22 minute limitation of television. To do a half hour of television, you have to make the show 22 minutes exactly because of commercials, so your story, no matter how big or small, has to fit in 22 minutes. One advantage to comics is that, yes, you’ve got a set page count, but if I want to tell a story across two or three issues, that aspect is up to me. I like to make every issue have a beginning, middle and end, but the end may be a cliffhanger. I like every issue to have its own structure, but we may not tell a complete story in each issue, so that serialized storytelling flexibility, in essence, is something we tried to take from comics and put in the television series. I think we succeeded to some degree. We had continuity in the television series, but in TV, that’s not a natural, that’s something you try and achieve. In comic books, that comes naturally.

I started out as a comic book writer, worked for DC Comics for years, writing “Captain Atom,” editing books like Marv Wolfman’s “New Teen Titans” and Roy Thomas’ “All-Star Squadron.” A whole bunch of books. It took me a while to adjust to television, after spending so much time in comics, and now, to be honest, it’s taking a little bit of time to adjust to being in comics. I have to probably relearn some old tricks I’ve forgotten and I’d like to think it’s a pretty fast learning curve, and I’ll hopefully learn some new tricks. There’s an element of trial and error here [laughs].

Speaking of fun, the supporting cast in “Gargoyles” seemed to be one of the more diverse fictional casts. You had the Pack and their superweapons; Macbeth as a badass warrior; even the Illuminati. Are we going to see all these characters back in the comic?

Yeah, given enough issues, you’ll see everyone again. You can ask my penciller, David Hedgecock, how many characters I make him draw and give him reference for [laughs]. We have a huge recurring cast of characters and we’ll see all of them again. In the first issue, we see Xanatos, Macbeth, Vinnie, everything from obscure characters to big ones, like Goliath, Elisa, etc. I’m not trying to throw everything and the kitchen sink into the first few issues, because I want new readers to be able to get into it, but still create a story for old readers to enjoy. Starting in issue #3, we expand the canvas a bit more, introducing new characters and re-introduce more existing characters. There’s no limit to how many can show up.

For those new readers, or perhaps those who have forgotten their “Gargoyles” lore, where exactly are you picking up from?

Our second season ended with a three episode story called “Hunter’s Moon,” and at the end, the clocktower, where the gargoyles lived, was blown up. They were, for the first time, definitively caught on videotape and that tape was distributed across the city, possibly the world, so now the gargoyles’ existence is known. Till that point, we’d played with the idea that the gargoyles never made a huge attempt to hide themselves, but they also never held a press conference, so they were like an urban myth around New York. Not anymore. The gargoyles then moved into the Eyrie building, which is Xanatos’ headquarters with the castle on top, and Xanatos and Goliath, in essence, declare a truce. At the end of the episode, Elisa, for the first time, kisses Goliath, so you’ve got them about to take a new step in their relationship as well.

Elisa, for those who don’t know, is the human detective who befriended the gargoyles in their pilot story, and she and Goliath have had this attraction growing since the beginning of the series. It took them 65 episodes to get to their first kiss [laughs], but there we are, that’s where we’re picking up. They’re living with Xanatos, but don’t really trust him. The world knows the gargoyles exist, but don’t know what they are or who they are.

In the second season, I remember you also did a little world tour, beginning with Avalon. Goliath discovered gargoyles and other creatures around the globe. Are they going to be seen again?

Yes. Those characters were not introduced for the hell of it, like “I don’t know what story to tell, so I’ll make up some new people.” In the first two seasons of “Gargoyles,” we were trying to weave a kind of tapestry to create an expansive and expanding type of universe, in which the gargoyles were a part. So given enough time, we will get back to those characters, because they’re part of a story we’re trying to tell. The comic book, again, becomes part of the tapestry of the series, including the first 65 television episodes, where it all began. Like I said, this is how we’re going to move forward and all the threads left dangling at the end of the television series will begin to come together. I hope we don’t overwhelm everyone, including myself. It is going to be a gradual thing, and I know everyone has their favorites, and want them to show up right away, but I promise, they will come.

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You keep talking about the plan for the series, and so does that mean you’ve got a definitive “final scene” of “Gargoyles” in mind?

I know how individual stories end, y’know, for individual characters, but when we were first working on “Gargoyles,” we came up additional ideas, not necessarily for this series, but for spin-offs. There was a prequel called “Gargoyles: The Dark Ages,” set in the past, twenty years before the massacre at Wyvern takes place in out pilot. So, we extrapolated our stories backwards, and we had another one called “TimeDancer,” where Brooklyn gets lost in time for forty years, and then “Bad Guys,” which focuses on our villains. We had a show developed called “Pendragon,” which focused on King Arthur, who we introduced – we introduced King Arthur [laughs] – who appeared in the second season of the show. We had a show developed called “The New Olympians,” which spun out of an episode of our show. In essence we had a sequel show set in the distant future, called “Gargoyles 2198,” which obviously was set in the year 2198, with the descendents of many of our characters and we have a bunch of stories in mind for that. I know what happens in 2198, 2199, but I’m not so sure about the year 2200 [laughs]. So I guess the short answer is, no, I don’t have a specific end game in mind for the series as a whole. There’s no way I could live long enough to tell all the stories I have in my head. But I do have arcs in my head, so there will be ending points, just as “Hunter’s Moon” was an ending, and “Reawakening” in Season One was an ending point. But those ending points have “open ended closure,” so you have a moment of closure that don’t preclude further stories from being told in some fashion. That’s what we did in “Hunter’s Moon” and now we’re going to pick it up from there. I know how all the individual characters’ stories end, but I’m hoping we’ve created a world and universe that someone can follow for many different reasons.

Would you ever consider developing some of those ideas in comic book form, if this “Gargoyles” series proves successful?

Absolutely. I’ve expressed as much to Dan, our publisher, about that and I don’t want to speak for him as to the prospects of that, but as a creator I’ll do it anytime. It’s a little premature to start thinking about those now, since the first issue of the main book isn’t out yet [laugh], but we’re hoping to be successful creatively, financially and in every way. Hopefully fans go wild for the Disney books and if that works out, I’d love to do more.

Well, speaking of that first book, when should we expect it on shelves? Any kind of promotion?

Well, I don’t know anything definitive, but I’ve heard that we’re targeting June, and we seem fairly confident that we’ll hit that release date. It’s a good time for us, with the annual “Gargoyles” convention in June, using that platform to get the faithful motivated. As far as promotion, I’m always happy to ramble about “Gargoyles” if someone asks, so it doesn’t take a lot of prompting.

Will you be hitting any conventions this year perhaps?

I’ll be going to Anime L.A, CONVergence and I’m certain I’ll go to the San Diego Comic Con. Those would be our starting points: the Gathering Of The Gargoyles, ComiCon, Convergence and any others, if people want me to come. I’m an attention whore [laughs].

Let’s get back to someone you mentioned earlier, namely your penciller, David Hedgecock.

He’s penciling the book and Greg Guler is penciling the covers.

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Greg has been with the series for sometime, but has David been involved before?

No, David and I have had many great phone calls and e-mail exchanges, but I’ve never met him in person. My sense is that he was probably a bit too young ten years ago to be involved with the show [laughs]. But he’s really fallen for the characters and is doing some great work on the book.

Are you having him mimic the look of the television series, or are you going for a new aesthetic?

We’re absolutely using the television series as our launching pad, visually as well as story wise. We don’t want David to feel hogtied by the series: he has to make the comic his own and be able to express himself on each page. That’s important to all of us, that he not feel locked down with the series, but we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We’re taking the designs, the sensibilities of the show and recreating that in comic book form. There are aspects, like sound and voice, that we just don’t get in comics, so we’re compensating visually with lettering that evokes the feel of the series and I feel very positive about the results of the project. It is the television series, but it’s the series filtered through David’s eyes. Old fans will recognize the style and feel of the book, immediately, in every full color page.

And you’re planning for an ongoing series, right?

That’s the plan. That might change [laughs] but we’re all hopeful that’s not the case. It’s an ongoing book and I’ll do it as long as they let me.

Well, with fans so devoted to the property I’d say you have a good chance there. But does the ongoing popularity of “Gargoyles” ever surprise you?

It’s weird. I’m almost of two minds on that subject: it’s a question that’s come up before. On the one hand, no, not at all, never thought we’d have this kind of following, this kind of fan loyalty is incredibly gratifying to me and the rest of the creators on the original show. It’s been wonderful in a hundred different ways and as I mentioned earlier, it’s helped me maintain a strong interest in the property. I never lost the desire to pursue “Gargoyles” ever, but a huge portion of it is from the fans feeding off me and me feeding off the fans. But there is no way I could have ever predicted all that when we were working on “Gargoyles” at the time. Even at the time, I knew this was something special going on – even at that time. “Gargoyles” was the first series I produced, even though I’d been working in television for some time, I’d never produced a show before. So even though I had nothing to compare it to, I knew there was something special about the series and a lot of different factors, corporate factors, creative factors…a hundred different things came together to make “Gargoyles” work, even though these things don’t usually work. So yes, even at the time I knew there was something special and you sort of cross your fingers, hoping people on the other side of the tv feel the same.

One thing I’ve noticed a lot of fans mention, in response to the show, was that it was so different from other Disney shows. The intensity, the relationships, the continuity: it all broke the Disney cartoon mold.

I think that there was an element at Disney of not always knowing what to do with the show, but I want to temper that by saying we had a lot of great supporters of the show at Disney. Jeffry Katzenberg (pre DreamWorks), my bosses Gary Krisel, Bruce Cranston, Jay Fukuto and Michael Eisner, were all champions of the show. I just found out recently that when Eisner purchased the Anaheim Angels baseball tesm, he considered, only briefly, having the name changed to the Anaheim Gargoyles. That was revealed recently in the L.A Times, because the city of Anaheim is suing the current owners of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim over the name of the team, so old memos are coming out. We had champions at Disney who let us get the show on the air as we wanted, with little interference even from broadcast standards & practices, which is usually very tough on cartoon shows. We had a great S&P executive who understood consequences and let us do – not get away – but do a lot of things that we needed to do for the show. We were a hit. We weren’t a home run, but we were a single or a double, financially, for Disney. New management came on board, who didn’t understand the show, and sort of buried us. The convention, the DVDs and comic are bringing us back to the forefront and while Disney doesn’t always know what to do with us, they’re trying, and we appreciate of that effort.

You’ve worked on a number of animated shows, from “The Batman” to “Kim Possible.” How do you feel the world of animation has changed in the last few years?

The main way it’s changed is the vertical integration of companies, and thus, the reduction of the number of companies. Hanna Barbara is now owned by Time Warner, who owns Warner Bros, Kid’s WB, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, the old Looney Toons characters, Superman, Batman, Bugs Bunny, Ben 10…all one company. Nickolodeon and Viacom – all one company. ABC, Jetix, Disney – all one company. There is a huge bottleneck caused by there being so few companies and now that studios own the networks, own the distribution channels and in essence makes things less competitive, and yet more difficult to get something new done in cartoons. It happens, but it’s hard, because you’re working in a harder system. When I start talking about this stuff, I sound like a crotchety old man who’s always saying, “It was better back then,” and I don’t want to say it was great back then, but I don’t know anyone from then who could possibly think this new system is easier. Some people have done well in the current system, but it’s a hard system to navigate. Creatively, I think it’s a really mixed bag, and sometimes people get to make the show they want, and sometimes, not so much. There are still some great shows out there and I’ve had the honor and pleasure to work on a few. I’ve just finished work on the second season of a show called “W.I.T.C.H.,” which is on the Jetix block on ABC Family. The first season is on right now. I didn’t work on it, but it’s good stuff. The second season really kicks ass and – if I do say so myself – I think it’s great. It should premiere quite soon. We have a terrific cast, terrific writing staff and the animation looks gorgeous. We’ve got a lot to be proud of with that series. “Gargoyles” will always be my favorite professional experience, but “Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles” and “W.I.T.C.H.” are probably my second favorites.

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Disney’s moved away from 2-D animation in their feature films. How do you feel about that?

Y’know, my personal thoughts are that CGI is great, but there’s no magic to it. I think that CGI has been working better than cel, recently, because there are better stories attached. All you have to do is look at “Lilo & Stitch” to see a cel, traditional animated movie: it had great animation, but what sold it was great storytelling. It didn’t need great CGI to work. I think, and I don’t want to name names, but I think your readers can think of a CGI movie that sucked. It’s not the CGI that’s at fault: the story didn’t live up. If you look at the movies that have recently garnered awards attention, you’re looking at “Howl’s Moving Castle,” which is traditional cel animation, “Wallace & Grommit,” which is claymation and “Corpse Bride,” which is stop motion. Good movies are made by great tales, which is more than writing: there’s sound, voices and music, for example. There’s no rule that a movie has to be in 2D or 3D. I’m not opposed or in favor of one method over another: I look at what helps me tell the story best. I find it depressing when someone like Disney says no 2D animation outright. I think that’s foolish.

So does Disney’s stance preclude more “Gargoyles” animated projects?

No, because Disney is still doing cel animation on television and I think “Gargoyle”s could be made into 3D, though for example, I might say that in 3D, let’s do “Gargoyles 2198,” because we’re far enough in the future from our original characters and in a futuristic environment, so we’re taking advantage of the feel of CGI. So I think we can do “Gargoyles” in CGI, I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I’d be happy to go back to 2D for television. Truthfully, I’m not thinking of “Gargoyles” on television, I was trying to convince Disney to do that, but now I’m doing the comic book and I’m happy about that. If that leads to something else, so be it, but right now I’m focused on this great new way to tell a story. If we can keep this book going, and this is all we have, I can be really happy. If I can get all of the first two seasons of the series on DVD and write new stories ad infinitum, I would be very happy.

Special Thanks To Contributing Writer Arthur Lender for his assistance with this story.

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