“I’m still very much the kid who ate his cereal in front of the TV on Saturday mornings,” Craig Kyle says as he drives down the L.A. highways. “My first real exposure to Stan Lee was Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends and The Incredible Hulk.”
Still, the man has something in him. Something that created a character called X-23 for the old series X-Men: Evolution. She became so big she wound up being one of those rare characters who moved from animated show to comic book. The only other writer to achieve that accolade in recent years is one Paul M. Dini.
Now, also like Dini, Kyle is moving away from the animation world for live action. He’s working on the upcoming Thor film. No, not the Direct-to-DVD (D2D) called Thor: Tales of Asgard Lionsgate will release in the next 30 days. Yes, he’s worked on that, too, but we’re talking the Branagh-directed feature due two years from now.
Need further proof? Pick up the latest edition of Wolverine & The X-Men, which has just hit the market. Subtitled “Deadly Enemies,” it includes the latest incarnation of the non-stop battle between the clawed Canuck and the Green Goliath. It also includes a number of other top-notch chapters in this incredible take on Marvel’s mutants.
This interview was conducted just prior to Comic-Con International: San Diego, while Kyle was, like most typical Angelinos, was commuting from one part of the city to another. The interview was supposed to be about Wolverine & the X-Men, but Kyle turned that around quickly to a look back at his 6-7 years at Marvel Animation.
Here’s what he had to say:
NEWSARAMA : You’ve been one busy man, sir. How many projects have you been working on?
CRAIG KYLE: I’ve moved from one division to the next about 7-8 months ago. I’ve gone from Animation into live action. So, what I’m doing right now is making sure I’m finishing up the Wolverine & The X-Men DVD process with Lionsgate, as well as the last couple of direct-to-DVDs we’re doing with them. I’m also staying in touch with the Iron Man folks on that animated series.
So, I’m slowly, painfully moving from one area to the next. It’s like jumping between your kids. As proud as I am about what I’ve done, I can’t wait to get really working on what I’m going to be doing next. Then there are also the comics, which I’m still going to be doing with Chris Yost, but that’s just a fanboy having his dream come true.
NRAMA: Now you’ve had your hands in all six D2D movies, from Ultimate Avengers 1 to Hulk vs.
KYLE: …And the two that are coming out, too, Thor and Planet Hulk. An executive who I’ve worked with for years, Josh Fine, he and I worked on Planet Hulk more closely than we ever had before. Josh has actually picked up a lot of the slack when I couldn’t be there.
To be honest, the Thor animated is already in the can. I was there for the very end of that one.
Chris Hemsworth, Live Action Thor Picture Courtesy Marvel.comNRAMA: What do you think about Thor: Tales of Asgard?
KYLE: It’s going to be fantastic. Gary Hartle is the director, and he’s been working with us since the very beginning. He’s a tremendous talent and amazing storyteller. He’s also been someone who constantly inspires me. At the same time, he’s one of the sweetest men I’ve ever met. I can’t speak highly enough of him.
That doesn’t say that guys like Frank Paur, who I also respect and admire, don’t have those great qualities. I think what’s helped us is we’ve really done our best to hold on to these guys. We just don’t want to see them go to other places or have to share all that talent.
NRAMA: It’s been well recognized that Frank did an incredible job on Hulk Vs.
KYLE: That’s because, like Gary, Frank isn’t afraid to get down and work on the actual panels of the storyboards to get an idea done the way he wants it. He sits with the board artists and other directors and really mulls over every frame until they are just right. A good example is the flashback sequence of Wolverine when he was Weapon X, that was all Frank. He actually boarded out that whole thing himself.
NRAMA: Who’s directing Planet Hulk?
KYLE: I don’t know how much I’m supposed to say about it.
NRAMA: OK…on the other side, you have four different TV series on the air. Yes, Fantastic 4 has been seen before on Cartoon Network, but at least it’s coming back.
KYLE: Fantastic 4 was a fantastic series that Chris Yost and I loved working on. I thought we did a beautiful job of making it fun yet not forgetting the feeling of family. It had humor and science fiction adventure working all at once. It’s great to see it’s going to get a new life on Nicktoons.
As I said, I’m still involved on the Wolverine side. I’m not working on the development of season two, and I wish I could be, but the rest of the talented team is there. Also, everything I’ve seen about Iron Man: Armored Adventures tells me that with each episode it’s just going to get better and better.
NRAMA: What’s the status of Black Panther?
KYLE: That’s one of the few I have not been involved in. Cort Lane (Iron Man TV series) is working directly on that one under Eric Rollman (President, Marvel Animation). So I don’t know where we’re at with it. What little I know is, based on what I’ve seen, it looks very, very cool. On the other hand, I don’t know where we are in the actual production process.
NRAMA: Did you work on Marvel Super Hero Squad?
KYLE: I did not. That’s again, Cort. He’s the lead producer on that. It’s been a labor of love for all involved. I’ll be seeing for the first time at Comic Con.
NRAMA: At one time, I attended a press conference with Margaret Loesch, who was then president of Fox Kids, Avi Arad and Haim Saban. At that conference they announced they were going to produce all these shows based on Marvel characters…and the only one that ever got out was Silver Surfer. Now here it is, a decade later, and you guys have done what then-powerhouses like Loesch, Arad and Saban could never do.
KYLE: Yes. Marvel has had some amazing success over the recent years. Still, without the original X-Men series [in the early 90s] I don’t think we would be anywhere near where we are now. It opened up eyes to the potential of that franchise. It showed just how passionate and very loyal are fan base is. It also showed what amazing stories are waiting to be told.
Now over the last 8 ½ years, we at Marvel Animation have been toiling hard to build up this division. It was time to bring back the concept of the cartoons we had loved in the early 1990’s. Yes, we are going young. Yes, we are always keeping in mind a Saturday morning demo.
At the same time, we are not forgetting who our true fans are. I know I am and you are. We’ve both grown up watching these shows. Now it’s time to bring more of what we read in those books brought out in the same way. So we’re trying to get the kids from all sides here, making sure we don’t forget anybody in the process.
Iron Man: Armored Adventures; Image Courtesy Marvel.comNRAMA: You now have this six DVD box set, made of the first half-dozen movies, coming out. Would you call that the encapsulation of an era at Marvel Animation? I remember interviewing you and Eric when the first Ultimate Avengers came out. You guys were sitting on the edge of your seat hoping this would work.
KYLE: Yeah. I mean Warners had done a great job with their direct-to-DVDs, but this was a step a little bit further. We were trying to do PG-13 and not have to be worried about romance and violence. We would just do what the story demanded. It really was a big gamble.
Fortunately, the entire division of Marvel was supporting us, and the gamble paid off. They’ve stayed with us, even when we tried a movie like Next Avengers or lesser known characters like Doctor Strange. The reaction has really gone way beyond our wildest expectations.
What I also think is nice is we’ve seen movies come out from other places, and what they’ve done has been good too. I honestly love to see what’s coming out. It’s better to be a fan than ever. The guys across the street always challenge us and we do our best to give them the same. The more we swing back and forth fighting over who’s going to do the best product, the more the fans are going to win. That’s something I’m real proud of.
NRAMA: But getting back to that press conference. Marvel Animation kind of fell apart for a while after that. Would you say you were building a new studio from scratch after that happened?
KYLE: Yeah. We were in the sense that for so long we had been enslaved to what the networks wanted. We even changed our characters to suit their needs. That was a very backwards way to handle this process. The true way is to remember that what got them as far as they did is to just leave them the way they were in the book.
That’s now why you see shows like Wolverine & The X-Men and Fantastic 4. Yes, with the Iron Man series we have removed some of the things that are just inappropriate for our truly young, young fans. We just make the smartest choices we can. We never want to harm an audience.
What I will also say is today is a very different era. Then again, when you look back some of our biggest successes were in the 90s. We are now back in much the same way and now even better in some.
NRAMA: So how do you feel about your personal future? Do you feel pretty confident about it?
KYLE: Yeah. As I said before, as I now slip more into live action, I speak more as a fan than I do as a member of that team. Still, Eric Rollman is amazing how he runs that division. He’s brought in some amazing people like Frank Paur, Gary Hartle; two very specific examples of the guys who now run our division.
Everyone involved came from Eric and his prior relationships in the animation industry. It’s also a credit to him that we’ve managed to keep many of the same people we started with. He’s assembled a very passionate crew that loves what they are doing. Cort Lane is doing an amazing job. Josh Fine is going to make some amazing contributions to the company.
Now guys like Greg Johnson and Chris Yost are like family to me. I’ve worked with them so long. My entire life with Marvel has been with those two guys. There is no one like them out there.
When you look at the credits, you will see we are really a very tight, small family. That’s because we have not had to look further than the people working for us. They’ve done a wonderful job. They not only meet expectations, they often exceed expectations.
That’s the long version. The short version is I think the future of Marvel Animation is exceedingly bright. Having Joe Quesada and Dan Buckley moving into the fold will be wonderful. It’s just a great time to be at Marvel Animation. There are so many wonderful things coming down, I’m really excited.
LOESCH RETURNS TO KIDS ENTERTAINMENT
The L.A. Times reports that kids TV legend Margaret Loesch is going to head up another kids network. The last time she did that was to start up and run Fox Kids in 1990. The new network will replace Discovery Kids and is a joint venture between Discovery and Hasbro.
“The unnamed channel, which is set to launch late next year, has already drawn a fair amount of criticism from media watchdogs because of Hasbro's involvement,” reports the Times. “The well-regarded Loesch, who ran Fox Broadcasting's kids programming unit during its Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and X-Men heyday, says the channel won't be a shill for Hasbro products.”
They understand this can't be a channel devoted to toys. . . . That would not succeed," Loesch told the Times, adding that if Hasbro didn't embrace that, "I would not have taken this job."
Of course, if it happens to have new GI Joe and Transformers shows, fans shouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised. This might explain why Cartoon Network is not producing its own Tranformers: The Animated Series.
"The channel, which is taking the slot currently occupied by Discovery Kids, should launch in about 60 million homes. It will face intense competition from already-entrenched networks including Viacom's Nickelodeon, Disney's Disney Channel and its new Disney XD and Time Warner's Cartoon Network."
Loesch, who also ran the Hallmark Channel for Crown Media and most recently has been producing movies, says that while the cable competition is intense, she is just as concerned about all the other media platforms she'll be facing off against besides traditional TV.
"When we built Fox Kids, they were primarily watching television; now we have to make sure we provide an experience on all these different platforms," she said.
And who knows? We might finally see that Daredevil series Loesch promised to produce for Fox kids a decade ago.
NEXT COLUMN: A new animation fest in Brooklyn? Another interview with a voice acting legend? The ever busy Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt writing their own voice acting text? Maybe just a round-up and summation of announcements at SDCC. Find out next Tuesday.