Editor's Note: Newsarama has removed the Superman Family artwork from this article upon the request of its owners, Warner Bros.
The family aspect of DC's Superman is more prominent than ever thanks to "Rebirth" and the success of Super Sons, and it was almost going to be the premise of a Warner Bros. animated series.
Long-time animation artist/director Vinton Heuck has shared artwork from Superman Family, an animated series he was pitching to Warner Bros. Animation. Heuck, who recently worked on Young Justice and is now working on DC Universe's Harley Quinn, wanted to bring the Kent family to cartoons with a heaping helping of "crazy Silver Age stories" inspired by comic books of the past.
To help him bring his vision to life, Heuck recruited comics/animation artist Sean "Cheeks" Galloway who did a full batch of character designs for Superman Family.
Although Warner Bros. Animation ultimately passed on Heuck and Galloway's show, the artwork and the plans live on - and Heuck shared them with Newsarama.
Newsarama: Vinton, you and Sean Galloway worked on a pitch for a Superman Family animated series. Sadly it didn't get picked up, but it is great to enjoy and think about what could have been. Can you tell us your pitch of what the show would've been about?
Vinton Heuck: I came up with it while directing on season three of Young Justice. I drew some pitch art that was basically an animation friendly version of Superman: Rebirth, with Jon (a.k.a. Superboy) front and center.
My angle was to combine these new storylines with a lighter tone inspired by all those crazy Silver Age stories I read as a young lad. Seeing for instance how Jon and his mom Lois would deal with his dad being turned into a Super-Merman was something I dearly wanted to see. There are so many dark, adult-themed DC stories I felt the company needed something that got back to its roots and was made for kids.
The peopleSuperman Family (DC) at Warner Bros. Animation liked it and had me try out a bunch of talented artists to help design the look of it, and settled on Sean Galloway for me to pair off with and develop the final pitch for DC. Unfortunately, they passed, but I'm hopeful the success of Shazam! will help open the door for more fun, kid-friendly stories.
Nrama: Why was Sean the right person to do the concept work?
Heuck: Sean's art style is just incredibly fun to look at, and has an optimistic feel. It's also very unique and works great for animation.
He was the lead designer on Spectacular Spider-Man, a cartoon many consider the best one to date featuring the Web-Slinger. I freelance storyboarded on a few episodes for that production and this is where I first met Sean. We kept in contact a little over the years, and when I came up with the Superman pitch his was one of the first names that came to mind.
Nrama: For Superman Family you mapped out a great ensemble cast, including Kong Kenan, Jon Kent, Damian Wayne, Mr. Mzyzptlk and even Natasha Irons as Steel. Can you tell us about them?
Heuck: I love the characters I grew up with like Mzyzptlk, and Steel and they were envisioned as their classic comic book counterparts. Damian Wayne was a natural choice based on the chemistry he has with Jon in their comic book adventures, the "Super Sons."
The female Steel is also an established character from the comics named Natasha. She is Steel's niece and I thought it would be cool to see her having adventures with Jon as a slightly older female protagonist. It was also important to bring diversity to my project to reflect the world we live in and reach out to a wider audience. That is also why I included Kong Kenan. He is a relatively new character, but I loved the idea of China having its own Superman.
Nrama: Just to kind of give casual people perspective, how often do pitches like this get generated in house by the artists or directors and pitched to WB?
Heuck: I couldn't tell you. For me personally it's very rare. I'm usually quite busy with my paid animation work and with my side passion projects like my new Kickstarter, Mabigon: The Blue Stones (shameless plug).
I don't get the bug to develop a pitch unless I'm inspired by something I feel brings something new or interesting to the table.
Nrama: Can you point to any series that were successfully pitched to WB and picked up from one of the animators and/or directors?
Heuck: Bruce Timm did it best with Batman: The Animated Series, which along with his Superman and Justice League series remain some of the best of their kind. One of My career highlights was getting to work with him recently, something I hope to do again.
Nrama: You've been working recently on DC Universe's Harley Quinn, and previously worked on everything from The Batman to Avengers, and even Transformers: Prime. If Superman Family would've made it, how do you think it would've been received?
Heuck: My Superman Family was inspired by the comic book version I grew up with. I wanted to create something that captured the same fun and excitement I got reading those stories.
Like anything done well I wanted something that older audiences could appreciate as well, but my focus was having it be for a young audience. I actually love working on the more adult shows like Harley, and much of my own work follows a mature approach, but I felt it was time for a new Superman-based cartoon that was all-ages.
Nrama: So an animated series might be a no-no. Have you thought about pitching it to DC as a comic book series?
Heuck: Come to think of it, it's not a bad idea! I'll let you know how that goes if I get around to it.
Nrama: What'd you learn from the Superman Family pitch experience, even if it didn't ultimately get picked up?
Heuck: I learned that I'm pretty good at coming up with and delivering pitches. Who knew?