Animating the MARVEL Way with Chris Yost

Animating the MARVEL Way with Chris Yost

Whether you’ve heard his name associated with comic books or animation in the last several years, you know that you’ve definitely heard his name.  He’s Christopher Yost, and he’s been on the leading edge of comic-related animation projects that run the gamut from “X-Men: Evolution” to “The Batman” to the forthcoming “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” (a series for which he is writing and story-editing).  On the printed page, he’s helped introduce X-23 and presently steers the fortunes of Tim Drake as writer of DC’s “Red Robin” series.  We had occasion to talk to Yost about his lengthy animation credits, and even caught a tease about a much-anticipated meeting in “Red Robin”.

Newsarama: I know that you’ve probably answered this question a number of times in the past, but if I may ask once more:  how did you meet your frequent collaborator Craig Kyle?

Christopher Yost:  Craig was one of the executives at Marvel that was kind enough to give my spec writing a read, back when I was working in the Marvel Studios offices, around the time that Spider-Man 1 was in production.  Craig was producing the X-Men Evolution show at the time.

Nrama: You’re definitely one of those “Marvel intern” success stories.  Can you tell us about your time in the west coast office and what it meant in terms of your professional development?

Yost:  I was one of those 'old' interns... I think I was 28 maybe?  I had been working in advertising in Detroit, that was my actual career.  I produced TV and radio commercials for the automotive industry.  And even though I loved doing that, I knew there was more out there.  So I applied to a graduate program in Los Angeles to get my Masters in Film Production.  And while I was there, I knew Marvel had an office in LA.  So I called them up.

It was a great experience, because A) it was Marvel, and B) it was an education in how the town did business.  Just being in that environment helped learn how people in Hollywood 'talked' more or less.  What did I know, I was from the mid-west.

Plus, I got to read a ton of Marvel movie scripts.  The film side has to approach all of these properties from a more practical standpoint, and that's a good way to enter things, honestly.  Boil things down to the core human story.  What's the emotion, what can people connect to?  

Of course, throwing all that to the wind and having people in costumes beat the heck out of each other is fun, too.  Thus, 'Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes.'

Nrama: You’re well-known for being party to introducing X-23, beginning with an episode of “X-Men: Evolution”.  How did the character come into being, and what did her reception mean to you as a writer?

Yost:  Craig Kyle, who was supervising X-Men Evolution at the time, created her before I entered the picture.  He needed a way to get more Wolverine interacting with the kids, and that was his solution.  Since adult Wolverine was already part of the show, he got another Wolverine, essentially.

I was just happy to be there. :)  When he told me that she was crossing over into the comic universe, and that we were writing her comic origin, I was floored.  It honestly changed pretty much everything for me.  I owe Craig Kyle and X-23 a ton.

Nrama: After “X-Men: Evolution”, you did a few episodes of “The Batman”.  What did you think of the approach to the character in that particular series?

Yost: It was fun.  As a comic fan, and as a Bruce Timm/Paul Dini 'Batman' fan, it felt different, true, but I had a good time writing it.  And hey, it had a theme song by Bono and the Edge.

Nrama: On “The Batman”, you got to offer your take on Riddler , Firefly, Penguin, and Man-Bat, but I believe that you also introduced Gearhead in an episode that featured an upgrade to the Batmobile.  What was is it like taking on the iconic villains?  

Yost:  Being on the first season of a show is always a little scary, because the show is to a certain extent still establishing itself.  You have to rely on your story editor to guide you, because they know better than anyone the 'take' on the show.  But writing guys like Penguin, Riddler and Man-Bat in any medium is a blast because they're so iconic.  You know who they are for the most part.  And in a lighter toned show like 'The Batman,' you can have fun with them.

That being said, Riddler is scary because I'm not very smart. :)

Nrama: You were showrunner, as well as head writer and story editor, on the 2006-2007 “Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes” cartoon.  That show is now getting a big push on Nicktoons, with primetime showings.  Can you tell us about your experience with that series, which suffered a variety of schedule changes over time?

Yost: Showrunner is overstating it, but I was story editor/head writer, and FF was my first time being that.  Craig and I broke all the stories, and worked through each episode, so it was a very collaborative thing.  By the sixth episode, I'd say we kind of figured out what the networks wanted from the show... they wanted a comedy.  And we did our best to give them that.  We laughed, certainly.  I still love that show.

I really don't know what happened with Cartoon Network, but I'm thrilled it's performing on NickToons.  I love NickToons.

Nrama: My five-year-old son LOVES “Next Avengers”.  Some die-hard Avengers fans of a slightly older demographic have grumbled about the take.  What inspired that particular direction?  Was it an effort to build a kid-friendly franchise?  For my part, I really enjoyed the intro with the classic Avengers and villains, a team and set-up that we’ve never really seen in animation.

The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'
The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'
Yost:  True story.  Craig and I were at the Comic-Con world premiere of “Next Avengers,” with an audience packed with not kids, who it was for, but die-hard comic fans.  And we were scared.  We sat off to the side so we could make a quick exit if need be.

But they LOVED it.  The crowd seriously went insane, almost more than they did for Hulk Vs.  It was probably the most rewarding experience of my life with an audience.

The Marvel DVDs were always aimed more for the comic fans, and more for the PG-13 crowd, but they wanted to try one for NEW audiences, and younger audiences.  So Craig and Greg Johnson came up with the characters and the story, and I came in and did my script based on that.

It's funny, everybody wants a sequel to that movie.  We talk about it all the time.  You never know where those kids will show up.

Nrama: You’re presently wearing the same hats from FF on “Iron Man: Armored Adventures”.  The appearance and setting of the show is a fairly radical rethink, given the popularity of the films.  What was the impetus for this take, and how’s the show going as it moves forward?

Yost:  Iron Man: Armored Adventures was conceived of and approved and in production before Iron Man the movie came out.  Had it happened later, yeah, it might have been different.  But, at the time, focus groups or whoever makes these decisions felt that kids liked stories about younger heroes.  Thus, Iron Man.

It took me a little bit to warm up to the concept, but I think we made a great, fun show out of it, and told some good comic book stories with it.  I'm proud of IMAA.  Second season?  We'll see.  I wouldn't be involved in that as much, as I'm now story editing the upcoming Avengers series.  Which features adult Tony Stark. :)

Nrama: You wrote 10 episodes for season one of “Wolverine and the X-Men”; have you written any for season two?  If you, any hints or teases as to which characters or stories that you might be handling?

Yost: Sadly, I haven't worked on W&TXM, as I've moved over to Avengers.  But everything I heard sounded exciting as hell.  I spent many a day with Craig and story editor Greg Johnson as we worked on that show.  

Nrama: Of “your” episodes from Season One, “Battle Lines” and “Backlash” both focus on what I would consider to be classic X-Men team action.  It might be some of the best realization of that concept in any medium outside of comics.  What, in your estimation, is the prime ingredient for telling a solid X-Men story?

Yost:  My favorite stories for the X-Men are the underdog stories.  Everybody hates them, but somehow it's up to the X-Men to save the day.  Who doesn't love that?  But I lean toward the big episodes, the ones with the end of the world scenarios, with huge action.  Thus, Avengers.

Nrama: Even though we’ve been talking about animation overall, care to give us some insight into Red Robin coming up?  How has it been to take Tim out on his own?

Yost:  Red Robin has been a blast.  We're entering the end of the first year, and it's going to be amazing.  And artist Marcus To is doing some of the best pages I've ever seen.  Red Robin 9 is in stores now, and next issue is the big Batgirl issue!!  Check it out.

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