They make some X-Men fans sigh with the same emotion displayed when someone sees a kitten. To others, they elicit a groan – they’re a reminder of an idea that may have started good, but went off the tracks.
But love them or hate them, the X-Babies are coming back – and they’re not alone.
In October, writer Gregg Schigiel and artist Jacob Chabot will be the creative team on the four issue limited series that will not only focus on the X-Babies, but will also serve to bring Star Comics characters into the Marvel Universe.
Seriously – Top Dog, Planet Terry, Royal Roy and Wally Wizard.
We just report on it.
We spoke with Schigiel for more.
Newsarama: Gregg. for those familiar with your other work, this seems like a no-brainer, but being that you're somewhat of a new name for many readers, can you give us the Cliff's Notes version of both what you've done and how you ended up with the X-Babies?
Gregg Schigiel: Absolutely. I’ve had a non-traditional career trajectory, surely, but the short version goes like this: My first job in comics was penciling an issue of What If?, shortly after which I was Tom Brevoort’s assistant editor at Marvel (and penciling on the side when time and opportunities allowed). I then went to work for Nickelodeon doing illustration in licensing and licensed publishing, as well as drawing (and sometimes writing) SpongeBob SquarePants comics for Nickelodeon Magazine, which is a lot of what I do currently. In addition I work on my own comics which I put up on my site or sell at cons. In fact, I’m working on something now that’ll be a back-up feature in Chris Giarrrusso’s G-Man: Cape Crisis mini-series out of Image starting in August. But comics readers, if they’d know my name at all, might know me as the penciller of the final issue of What If? Vol. 2 (the Secret Wars issue written by Jay Faerber), or more “notoriously” as the penciller of the Spider-Man ”Fast Lane” anti-drug comic inserts that were pretty unavoidable at the end of ‘99/beginning of 2000.
X-Babies resulted when we (myself and collaborator on this project, cartoonist Jacob Chabot of The Mighty Skullboy Army (out of Dark Horse)) had pitched an entirely different project to Marvel and were told that that character was already spoken for. But editor Nick Lowe asked if we had any ideas for the X-Babies. And with that I stepped into the brainstorm machine and here we are.
NRAMA: So you knew about the X-Babies before this. What's your take on them?
GS: I was definitely aware of and knew of the X-Babies, sure.
My take on them is fairly simple; they’re all the cool super-powered adventure aspects of the “real” X-Men without any of the “real life” issues or angst. They’re not feared and hated by those they’ve sworn to protect. They’re beloved TV stars who are always on an adventure. It’s a much more playful canvas. They’re like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys or The Little Rascals with superpowers...a lot of energy, scrappiness, and fun.
Planet TerryNRAMA: With the Babies, it's easy to assume that this is an all-ages book, or something aimed at younger readers - but the X-Babies haven't always been treated that way. What's the tone you're bringing to this project?
GS: It’s an easy assumption, yes, and I think with a book titled X-Babies you have to be conscious of that assumption. I’m comfortable with that and I’m hoping to work within the parameters that assumption creates. Which is to say there’s a good chance, on title alone, this book might be read by a younger reader.
So I’m aiming for “cool Saturday Morning Cartoon” more than “serious prime-time drama” (the TV metaphors seem appropriate given it’s the X-Babies). I’m hoping to tread that line where long-time readers will enjoy it and newer or younger readers will think it’s cool.
I like superhero comics where the characters use their powers and do stuff, as does Jacob, so there’s going to be a lot of stuff going on. But there’s also a story we’re telling that goes a little bit beyond a straight-up punch-kick story.
So more all-ages than aimed at younger readers, but still appropriate for younger readers. I’d like it to be something I can give my niece or nephew, 11 and 7, to read, even if they don’t “get” all of it.
NRAMA: And the characters the Babies are fighting - you're going to be the guy responsible for bringing the Star Comics characters into the Marvel Universe proper? Who've you got, and what can you tell us about them?
Royal RoyGS: Without giving too much away: the main nemesis of the piece is a new character with, like many villains, what on the surface might be very good intentions. But he’s a bad guy so those intentions are skewed. And as a result the X-Babies have to take care of business. We’re bring the Star Comics characters into the Marvel Universe proper in as much as the X-Babies are part of the Marvel Universe proper. In this story they’re primarily obstacles in the X-Babies’ mission...at least at the start.
The Star Comics line was made up of a lot of licensed properties (Thundercats, Mad Balls, Alf, Heathcliff), but there were also original characters. The most well-known (because he existed prior to the line) was Peter Porker, Spider-Ham. We’re using the other characters: Planet Terry, Wally the Wizard, Royal Roy, and Top Dog.
The original concepts for these characters were as follows: Planet Terry was a space-faring orphan in search of his parents; Wally the Wizard was the slightly bungling apprentice to the Wizard Marlin, Merlin’s brother (yes, Marlin, you read that right); Royal Roy was the prince of a super-wealthy nation/kingdom called Cashelot (yep) who has a toothless pet crocodile (seriously, his name was Gummy), and Top Dog was a super-intelligent talking dog who from time-to-time worked for the US Government as he was the only creature on Earth who could use a very specific supercomputer (not making that up). What we’re hoping to do is kind of sort of reinvent/reinterpret these characters a bit (okay, more than a bit).
But yeah, I’ve actually gone back and read a bunch of those old books and found some little nuggets I hope to pepper into this current story. A nod to the source material that I’m sure will entertain just myself.
Top DogNRAMA: And maybe a few more. Now when this starts, where are the X-Babies? They're still a phenom on Mojoworld, right?
GS: At the start of the story, the X-Babies will indeed be on Mojoworld. Their status as phenoms, however, is what gets the ball rolling, as this new villain, who’s now running Mojoworld, doesn’t see their appeal. But when we first see them they’re every bit the top-rated draw folks who know the X-Babies expect them to be (until they aren’t). Also, they’re fighting dinosaurs.
NRAMA: It’s always hard to question coolness when you’ve got characters fighting dinosaurs. With all that’s going into it, is this story something that you find you have a difficult time telling your friends outside of comics about?
GS: That’s a good question, and a fair question.
It might be an old idea in comics, but I try to approach stories thinking that no one knows who these characters are, the idea that every comic could be someone’s first (and considering the earlier assumption given the X-Babies, that’s not impossible). To that end I think I’ve been able to boil down the essence of what’s going on in such a way that yes, even a “civilian” could follow. In a nutshell, a I’ve explained to friends, the X-Babies are kid versions of the X-Men who live on a world where everything’s a TV show and they’re the #1 rated show. Boom, one sentence!
Wally WizardThe real question will be, when it comes out, if I did my job and wrote a story these aforementioned outside-of-comics friends can understand (and enjoy).
NRAMA: Just to end with a tease, can you tell us the most surreal scene you've had to write so far?
GS: As of this moment, I’ve only just gotten notes on issue one, and the more surreal and wacky stuff really takes off in issue two. But from the script to issue one I’ll say this line, “have ROGUE punching a T-Rex in the face” might qualify, right?
But more surreal than that are probably the conversations and e-mail exchanges between myself and Jacob as we talk about things that are so ridiculous and or over-involved. That’s where things get really out there.