Exploring TwoMorrows' The Age of TV Heroes
Readers of comics have long obsessed over seeing their favorite characters in live-action portrayals. Before the current rush of cinematic blockbusters, superheroes enjoyed a long – if erratic – history on the small screen.In November, TwoMorrows, publisher of The Jack Kirby Collector and the popular Modern Masters series, releases a book-length spotlight on the television iterations of the popular heroes. From Jackson Bostwick to Adam West, The Age of TV Heroes provides interviews with and commentary by actors from nearly every show readers can recall, from The Adventures of Superman (1952) to today’s Smallville. Plus, thoughts on the television heroes from comic book luminaries Stan Lee, Chip Kidd, John Romita and more. Featuring a cover by Alex Ross, The Age of TV Heroes promises to be a bounty for superhero TV fans. Writers Jason Hofius and George Khoury took time to speak with Newsarama about The Age of TV Heroes.
Newsarama: Jason and George, when did you decide to put together a retrospective about TV superhero shows? George has worked with John Morrow a few times, but how did TwoMorrows get involved as your publisher? Jason Hofius: I'll answer the second part first and try to keep it brief. I have a background in advertising copywriting, illustration and art direction. In 1999 I went to work with Sandy Frank Entertainment as the Merchandising Director for their TV property Battle of the Planets. While there, we were contacted by TwoMorrows about doing a book on the series with George as author. When I spoke with George, we quickly discovered we had similar ideas and feelings about the project – so much so, we agreed to co-author the book, which was published as G-Force: Animated. We had a great time working together and we went on to create a privately published piece about Roger Stern that George wrote, and I helped design and co-edit, called Rog 2005. Following that, we both wanted to put together another project for TwoMorrows. The one we felt the strongest about and that held the most personal meaning to both of us was what is now The Age of TV Heroes. I think we first pitched the idea in late 2003. George and I are both big television fans and were both positively influenced by the superhero programs and comics we saw while growing up. I think it also helps that we're the same age and we both got to experience many of the same shows at the same times – That was really beneficial when we were deciding on what to cover and how. George Khoury: Over the last five years, the amount of hours that Jason and I have spent planning, working and talking about this book is staggering. I was recently telling Jason that I wouldn’t know where to start work on this book if we had to do it all over again. We used very resource we could find in our text and photos. We were also very ambitious in trying to interview a wide range of actors, producers, comic book creators, interesting personalities and writers that would allow us to tell this story as we envisioned it from day one. If you love superheroes and their small screen incarnations, you’ll love this book. NRAMA: How many of the actors were you able to talk to? JH: Quite a few. I'm glad to say the majority of the actors we contacted were willing to help us. A few people turned us down, but thankfully that didn't happen very often. We were worried going in that we wouldn't get the level of participation or interest that we hoped for. Once we described our project though, most were happy to share their time and memories. There are major cast members from nearly every series we detailed, so we ended up being able to include almost everyone we wanted. NRAMA: What was one of the highlights that you found while speaking to these stars? JH: It was surprising and pleasant to hear how many of them seemed to enjoy their time playing heroes. For me that was an overall highlight. Going into something like this, you never know what you're going to hear, and we weren't particularly interested in repeating stories from anyone who was bitter or felt like they were "trapped" in a specific character's role. I can't think of anyone who told us their experience was a bad one or that they hated their job. That was refreshing and helped keep the tone we wanted for the book. A few spoke about difficulties they had during filming, but that's normal. Almost all the stars sounded like they enjoyed their opportunities and felt fortunate to be able to play high profile characters. I was really glad to hear that. GK: The only time that I really got starstruck was when we interviewed Danny Seagren, the actor who played Spider-Man in The Electric Company. First, I didn’t think we could find him. Second, it was very surreal for me to think that I was speaking to someone that gave me so much joy as a child. When I was in the first grade, I lived for seeing those few Spidey segments on The Electric Company. To finally hear about the story behind them was so much fun. It was instrumental to the vision of the book that we were able to get so many of the key performers that we needed for this story. There’s always a rush of excitement when things go your way on a project like this. And we were able to get the people that we needed for this book. NRAMA: My first Spider-Man encounter was The Electric Company shorts! What types of things do you discuss in the book? I imagine that each performer’s experience in making the show, in addition to their knowledge of or interest in the character they each portrayed, varied considerably. JH: We're looking at the behind-the-scenes histories of each series we're detailing. We start with what brought the show to television and end with what took it off. Driving each piece will be interview quotes, which are interwoven into the essays discussing the series. Each piece will generally have a lot of information from the perspective of the producers, directors, writers, stunt people and/or actors who worked on a specific show. We will also include information on ratings (when known) and general public reaction. Since we tried to let the interviews direct how each entry would go, they'll all have their own stories to tell. Yes, you're right, people's experiences and knowledge of the characters varied a lot. Lynda Carter told us she was well aware of Wonder Woman as a young girl, while Nicholas Hammond was only somewhat aware of Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Although he did make sure to speak with Stan Lee about the character and did a lot of homework once he got the role. NRAMA: How is the book structured in presenting the material? JH: We'll have an overview timeline section with brief entries for all the live-action comic adaptations. After that will be the more detailed decade-by-decade coverage of many of the biggest shows. We'll have a couple fun "commercial break" entries in there too covering related material. GK: We also have a ton of photos to accompany the text. Jason and I really wanted this book to be as colorful of an experience as the shows themselves. NRAMA: Any stars that you wanted to talk to but weren’t able to reach? Any shows that you didn’t get to cover in the depth you wanted? JH: I think we were very fortunate considering we were contacting so many people. The series I would have liked to have a little more in-depth coverage on was Smallville. It was hard for us to get anyone, but it's an active production so I can understand that being an obstacle. Even so, we were able to a key person from Smallville's staff. GK: The only person that I feel we’re missing in this book is George Reeves. If he were still alive, it would have been very interesting to get his perspective on Superman. But we were able to get interviews with Jack Larson, Phyllis Coates and Noel Neill to ably describe the experience of working on the classic The Adventures of Superman. Through his Reeves’ co-stars, we were able to paint a very vivid picture of Mr. Reeves, too. NRAMA: Honestly, guys, how much of the pleasure in making this book was using it as an excuse to revisit those old series? JH: A lot of it for me. I loved this stuff growing up in the seventies. I always caught Superman and Batman reruns and I was just the right age to enjoy Wonder Woman, The Hulk, Spider-Man, and the Captain America TV movies. I kept up with series like CBS' Flash and Lois & Clark in the nineties and still check out new live action comic-based series to this day, but I hadn’t seen significant amounts of many of these shows for a while before starting Age of TV Heroes. They really left their marks on me, because I found myself remembering plots and scenes that, in some cases, I hadn't seen in decades. It was also fun to watch the shows knowing we'd be able to talk with the creators and stars afterward. That put a little different spin on how we watched them. Seeing so much in a relatively short amount of time left me with a greater appreciation of the jobs these people did in bringing comic characters to life on TV. Fortunately, DVDs made the hunt for sources a lot easier. It's surprising how many titles have been released already or are coming up. But we still had to go back through our collections and connections to find programs that never had an official release – or had one so long ago that the playback method was outmoded. I viewed part of the Spider-Man series on LaserDisc, for instance. GK: For me, this book brought my love for comics full circle. I needed to go back to start. The work in this book reminded me how many of us discovered comic book and superheroes through these very shows. These programs really gave a sense of wonder to the millions of people that watched them. In some ways, the bond between the audience and these television shows is much stronger and purer than the heroes that we see today on the big screen today. Via television, we’ve let these stories enter our homes and some of our favorite memories. It certainly remains a very arresting grip. NRAMA: How much feedback did you get from industry people, like Stan Lee or Alex Ross? JH: Whether we contacted them for information on series they worked on or just their feelings about shows as fans, the comic industry people we spoke with were forthcoming with their thoughts. Stan Lee talked freely about the Marvel shows that did, and did not, make it on the air. Later industry people like Ben Edlund were great with information on The Tick's live series. It was especially interesting to talk with comic industry people who had experience in both comics and TV. But that didn't happen too much until the late 1980s – around the time of Superboy. Before that, comic professionals weren't usually asked to be involved in any aspect of television development. GK: It was very important to us to get the opinions of some key comic industry people in this book. Without the people from the comics industry, these television shows just wouldn’t exist. It wasn’t so very long ago when these comic book properties weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms in Hollywood. For example, former Marvel Comics President James Galton and Stan Lee were instrumental in getting Marvel television shows on the air in the seventies, but many producers really didn’t believe that audiences wanted to see these types of shows on their network. On another level we were also striving to familiarize non-comic book readers with the rich history of these characters. Above all else, this book is a celebration to these shows and the medium that gave them life. NRAMA: So many of these shows, while often fondly remembered, don't always get the respect or acclaim that the current spate of superhero movies have received. By working on The Age of TV Heroes, do you hope to alert younger fans to the past protrayals of their superhero favorites? JH: I think a lot of fans are aware of what's been done before, but additional exposure never hurts and it's certainly one of the major goals of the book. In addition to letting fans know what productions were done though, we're hoping to expand on the respect you mentioned. A lot of these shows got associated with a few shorthand phrases that unfortunately caught on and have been used to death over the years. For example, many of the series that have been popularly branded as "ratings failures" were anything but. We're hoping to present material that gets people to see beyond the surface descriptions, to get to know or remember the shows for what they were and just maybe lead to some new appreciation for some of them. Most of all, I hope it's fun for fans to read. There aren’t any other books with this much first-hand information on these shows. George and I both feel lucky to have been able to put Age of TV Heroes together. We did this because of the love we had for live superhero programming as kids and now, and I really hope that comes through. GK: Jason and I handled this material with a great deal of respect. We spent five years carefully preparing this book, not sparing any sort of expense or detail. We wanted it to be a testimony to the people that worked so diligently behind the scenes to give us these wonderful programs and experiences. And we wanted every page of this book to capture everything that’s magical about these superhero shows and their comics for our readers. This book will remind a lot of people why superheroes are our generation’s mythological figures. We were given the opportunity of a lifetime to assemble something really special. There’s never been a book that’s as devoted to these television shows as this one. The Age of TV Heroes: The Live-Action Adventures Of Your Favorite Comic Book Characters arrives in stores Nov. 17. TwoMorrows has product information.