Joe Kelly and Steven Seagle Help Guide ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
Kelly & Seagle on ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN
Marvel TV's latest animated series, Ultimate Spider-Man, debuts with a one-hour premiere this Sunday, April 1, at 11 a.m. on Disney XD. Serving as supervising producers on the show is the "Man of Action" team of Joe Kelly, Steven T. Seagle, Joe Casey and Duncan Rouleau. They've been rather successful with animation in the past — creating Ben 10 and Generator Rex — and all four have years of experience in the comic book world. Newsarama talked with Kelly (Deadpool, Action Comics) and Seagle (Uncanny X-Men, American Virgin) on the floor at WonderCon in Anaheim earlier this month, to hear about how they've applied their unique level of experience and expertise to the program.
Steven T. Seagle: It was definitely in place before Man of Action came on board. As much as we were like, "Why would you put Spider-Man in a team?" as soon as you see it, you go, "Oh, I get this." It gives Spider-Man a cast that's kind of a family unit, and the personalities are completely out of whack. Much of the way Spider-Man's always reflected the world around him, and that youth rebellion spirit, this is just a different way to show that, and that's what this show is all about — giving you the Spider-Man you love, in ways you didn't expect.
Joe Kelly: One of the things that's really fun about the team in general, as an overall arc, Spidey's been a solo act for like a year when the show starts, so he's like, "I don't need a team." So you actually see their relationships evolve over time. It's not just a given from second one that they're all best friends. They have to earn it.
Seagle: And not all episodes feature everybody.
Nrama: Has it been fun, writing those characters? They're all versions of familiar Marvel heroes; some are younger, some are new.
It's oil and water for some of these characters. Peter is not best friends with them from the get go, and that's very fun to develop as we go.
Kelly: We're used to seeing Peter in high school dealing with Flash, and Mary Jane, and all that kind of stuff, but to see Spider-Man have to deal with contemporaries, and butt heads with them, and argue in costume, in a superhero venue, is a ton of fun.
Nrama: There have been a lot of animated Spider-Man series in the past. From your perspectives, what makes this one distinct and unique?
Seagle: Joe Quesada said early on, and we loved him for this, "Let's make a show for kids." "Think about Spider-Man, think about everything you loved when you started reading Spider-Man and finding out about him, and let's put that in a way that makes sense for kids right now." Which we did, and it turned out that it's a super-fun show that's super-different, but I think fans are still going to love anyway, even though it's not at all what they're expecting.
Seagle: Our production team, which is led by Eric Radomski, is just doing some crazy visuals for all these things. The trailer shows Spider-Man saying, "I'd be toast," and then you watch him turn into a toaster, and a Spider-head pops up, and you're like, "What is that?" That's what this show is.
Nrama: It's refreshing to hear that, because some people get skittish when you say a show or a comic is "for kids."
Seagle: Absolutely. But Jeph Loeb, who's kind of in charge of everything with us, was also strict about making sure these are great stories. You're not going to go, "They're just being goofy with Spider-Man." It plays like a Spider-Man story.
Nrama: Joe, you've written quite a few Spider-Man stories in the past, but Steven, this is your first time working with the character. What kind of insights into Spidey have you gained during this process?
Seagle: The Man of Action formula is that the four of us guys — Joe Kelly, Joe Casey, Duncan Rouleau and myself — none of us work the same way creatively, but when we work together, that's what's good about it; that we have very different points of view. I'm the guy who hadn't written the character, or worked on the character in any way, which lets me then look at it fresh. I'm always the guy going, "Wait a minute — how is this a Peter Parker thing?" because I'm looking kind of from an outsider's point of view. They're such insiders, that they're like, "Spider-Man would never do that," to the stuff I come up with, so it balances out.
My Spider-Man comics are probably a little darker.
Seagle: Probably? A little?
Nrama: Right, we're talking about the guy who wrote "Grim Hunt" and that exceptionally sad Rhino story.
Kelly: This was an opportunity to write unadulterated, funny Spidey; which you certainly can do in the comics, [current Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott] has done an awesome job of bringing humor into Spidey's life. Here, it's clearly for kids, it is for comedy's sake, along with great action. Different muscles to stretch.
Nrama: Though Brian Michael Bendis is involved and the show starts with Peter in high school, like the Ultimate Spider-Man comic book, it looks like it's not strictly tied to that series — is it something of a mélange of different Spidey eras, all kind of working together?
Seagle: I think it's important to say — Brian Bendis works with us on the show, Paul Dini also — great contributors, but especially in that Brian let go of all that. He let us take the fun parts of Ultimate Spider-Man the comic book, but Ultimate Spider-Man the TV show is totally different. It's a completely new reinvention, in the way his was a reinvention of the comic.
Kelly: It's just taking what works from all the eras that we love, and that spirit Brian had of "anything goes;" just doing that in animation.
Seagle: It lets us reinvent. We just did an episode with a villain that shall not be named at this time, we kind of wrote it with the classic version of the villain, then we said, "You know, this doesn't work for this world." We were able to just scrap it, keep the cool parts of the villain, reinvent the villain in a way that made sense for this Spider-Man — and that's kind of what Brian was always doing in Ultimate Spider-Man.
Seagle: Man of Action is in on the story breaks, so when all the ideas come up, we're there in that room. From the story breaks, we're in on the voice records, we review the storyboards, we watch the finals, we give notes on all the edits. It's day-in and day-out on nearly every step. And we supervise the writing staff, which is now up to 15 people, I think.
Nrama: And that includes a lot of familiar names, not just Bendis and Dini, but I heard also Frank Tieri (Marvel vs. Capcom 3) is writing an episode?
Seagle: Yep, Frank did an episode. You'll see a lot more names from familiar places. We actually co-write scripts with all of these people — we partially write on every episode, except Brian and Paul's, which, how do you mess with genius?
Kelly: They're putting out a sort of direct adaptation for Free Comic Book Day, then they are launching a line of Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures comics [tying in to the series], and we have a story in the first issue.
Nrama: Speaking of comics, any news from either of you of new projects on that front?
Seagle: Yeah. Man of Action publishes through Image, and we have a bunch of stuff coming out this year, after a long period of not having a bunch of stuff come out. We have Ben 10, Generator Rex, Ultimate Spider-Man, two other shows you don't know about — so we've been very busy. But this is going to be a good year for comics. I've got The Red Diary coming out from Image with Teddy Kristiansen. I've got a kids book, called Batula, coming out in July.
Kelly: I'm picking back up on Four Eyes and Mad Dog even though it's been a long wait. Issues #5 of both of those have been written and drawn, and now I’m on to #6, but I'm not soliciting anything until they're done. Then a couple of other projects at Image that, again, are on the slow burn, but when they're ready, they'll come out.
Nrama: To wrap up, is there anything else fans should know about Ultimate Spider-Man before the debut?
Seagle: I would say the cast is incredible. Drake Bell is so funny, and so talented. Just an amazing performance from him. We have great people you know from the movies; J.K. Simmons is J. Jonah Jameson again. We've got Clark Gregg, Agent Coulson from the movies, in the show as well. The actors who play all the kids are great. The acting is top-notch and the animation is super-cool.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!