Exclusive Interview with Eric and Julia Lewald, writers and showrunners of X-men The Animated Series

I really appreciate you taking the time answer some question about X-men TAS. We were big fans of the show and are looking forward to recording an episode about it. Please feel free to answer as many or as few of the questions as you like. Our last question is about your book. We would like talk about it briefly so we can maybe get some of our listeners to check it out! Once again thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions. 

Great questions - Hope we can answer them for you here.

X-men was a serialized show for children. Was this always the plan? Was there pushback? Did any problems arise from taking this approach?

Interestingly, when FoxKids President Margaret Loesch ("lesh" rhymes with 'fresh') gave the green-light to create an X-Men animated show in 1992, there wasn't much faith that it would run beyond its initial 13 episode run. That actually freed us up on the creative side to really 'let loose' and tell the biggest stories we could in those first 13 - and because comic books are serialized themselves, it made sense to the writers to tell a 'continuous' story, even though it hadn't been done before in kids' programming - and we chose the 'Sentinels' as the big bad guys instead of other mutants to explore the way the world works when the mutants are a repressed and resented minority who are still determined to work for the good of humans, rather than fighting a random 'Bad Mutant of the Week'.  Will Meugniot (MIN-ee-oh), who designed the series and was head producer was a big comic-book fan, and he through his weight behind the commitment to a continuing story arc.

There was tremendous pushback because, in animation, you can't always count of the episodes coming back from their overseas production and having them be air-able - lots and lots of re-takes and miscues can happen.  In fact, the reason there was the 'Sneak Peek' on Halloween Night 1992 was because, rather than premiere the series in September like all the other shows, the first 2 episodes had come back satisfactory but episode 3 was a complete disaster - and you couldn't 'skip' it and air ep. 4 while you fixed ep. 3 because it was all sequential.  In order to have enough time to fix it, Margaret Loesch made the bold/costly decision to delay premiering the show until January, allowing the network to build up excitement for this new show, and then run it as fresh material when everything else in January was in re-runs. Magically, everything came together and X-Men: TAS was a huge hit out of the gate.  But for further seasons, the cost of delaying so we could do a sequential show scared the network, and we were forced to do singles or multi-parters rather than whole seasons,

For many people this was their introduction to the X-men. For me it is hard to separate what I know about the characters from the TV show and from comics and novels I read down the line. You guys did a tremendous job adapting many of the stories like The Dark Phoenix Saga, Days of Future Past, Weapon X, and many classic storylines. Were there any stories you wanted to adapt but were not allowed to?

Our head writers were NOT X-Men fanatics, so we tended, with those few exceptions, to simply write the original stores we liked, using elements from the X-Men world.  So there wasn't a book that we were dying to do.  There was an IDEA that we wanted to do but couldn't:  When we got the order for the season 2, we had ended season 1 with the idea that Jean Grey and Scott were getting married - it made sense to us in Season 2 to have them be a happy loving couple - and have Jean pregnant - it would have been interesting to explore the ramifications of a double-mutant baby.  However, cooler heads in the art department prevailed and said it would never work to have Jean in spandex at 7 months pregnant fighting bad guys - and Marvel wouldn't approve it - but we had laid it all out.

 Are there any original concepts from the show that you are especially proud of?

Yes, it was a Saturday Morning cartoon show for kids - but we NEVER treated it that way - we were always challenged to 'write up' to the audience, not down - and the idea of actually killing a character in the first episode was vital to establish what was at stake - you mean an X-Men character can DIE? That was a very important point, but the fight to make that happen was a long one - credit to Broadcast Standards and Practices lady Avery Coburn who understood what Margaret Loesch was hoping to accomplish -

Side-note: Morph was supposed to 'stay dead' but mid-way through the first season, Fox ran a 'focus group' with younger kids and asked who was their favorite X-Men? And the big answer came back: They LOVED MORPH! Apparently, they all picked up on how much Morph had been loved by all the other X-Men, especially Wolverine - so then came the awkward phone call from FoxKids saying, 'we know you killed Morph... but could you figure out a way to bring him back?' - and that's how we used Mr. Sinister and came up with the idea of Morph's transformation.

Also, Eric's favorite original story for the series was "One Man's Worth", which highlighted what the X-Men mean to the world by showing what the world would have been like without them.  Marvel liked the idea so well that a couple years later they based their excellent "Age of Apocalypse" run of books on it.

Who are your favorite X-men? Were there any characters you wanted to use that never made it on the show?

Julia: most of us writers loved Beast, because we like to fancy ourselves as 'the smartest one in the room' and Beast actually WAS - also, the tragic romantic element was so rich - he was the most obviously a 'mutant' but he was also the most at ease with it - until he fell in love "Beauty and the Beast" episode and was forced to break it off because of bigotry --

Eric: Professor Xavier.  That's because my job for five seasons was to be in charge of the writing staff, ever-changing and all very different people.  20 people wrote for our show, and a main job of mine was "keeping the team vision together."  So I had great empathy for Charles Xavier.

The style of X-men TAS was based on Jim Lee’s designs. Was that always the plan or were the other concepts planned at various stages of development?

Funny thing - Producer/Director Will Meugniot had looked, with Marvel, at many different artists' designs, but the Jim Lee-inspired designs always felt right, both because they we current and effective and because they were simple and well-suited for animation.  But after the whole show was designed, they were almost thrown out.  Will was told: "No Jim Lee look!" by Marvel.  It wasn't a creative decision. Jim Lee had just left Marvel at that time to help found Image Comics, and the folks at Marvel were upset and didn't want to use his designs.  So Will, vowing not to lose the right designs for our show, drew up a batch that was TERRIBLE (more Scooby-Doo, etc.in tone) and submitted them seriously as an alternative to the Jim Lee look.  Marvel was so horrified that they backed off and let us go with the style you know today.

Final question. I know you have a book about the series coming out soon. What can we tell our listeners about it? When and where can they get it?

It's a big book, at 450 pages with over 200 illustrations, photographs and bits of artwork (B&W) - it's a great holiday gift for fans!

Our book "Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series" is now available through the following places:

If you order through our publisher Jacobs Brown Media Group, you'll get a hard-bound copy that Eric has signed:

http://www.jacobsbrownmediagroup.com/previously-on-x-men.html

You can order through Amazon, hard-cover or soft, but the book will not come signed:

http://www.amazon.com/Previously-X-Men-Animated-Eric-Lewald/dp/0998866326

 Here's our Wolverine, Cal Dodd, hand-delivering the very 1st copy to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who himself is a big geeky nerd (also, Alyson Court, the voice of Jubilee, was present)

Here's our Wolverine, Cal Dodd, hand-delivering the very 1st copy to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who himself is a big geeky nerd (also, Alyson Court, the voice of Jubilee, was present)

Thanks for creating such an epic show. This episode of Ruin My Childhood had the most pre-release buzz thanks to you guys. We look forward to talking about this great show. Once again thank you for your time.