SDCC '08 - Marvel's Craig Kyle Talks Future of Animation

The cover to the Marvel Animation direct-to-DVD feature 'Next Avengers'

Over the next couple of days, all those going to the San Diego Comic-Con are going to be presented with an opportunity to see the future of Marvel Animation. Craig Kyle, VP of this rapidly growing group, is going to be the presenter, and he is acting remarkably confident about it all.

Then again, he might have something.

After all, the TV series Spectacular Spider-Man, which in a way might mark the beginning of this new phase, has done remarkably well. It ended up the top program on the now departed KidsWB and maintains that slot with its new incarnation. Later this summer, the Next Avengers direct-to-DVD will be hitting the market…and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Before this interview was done, we had Kyle not only talk about the webslinger and this new team of young heroes, but also what’s going down with Wolverine & the X-Men, Hulk Vs and the upcoming Iron Man TV series. From there, Denys Cowan took about 20 minutes of his very precious time to talk up his network’s [BET] upcoming Black Panther series.

In other words, and suffice to say, by the time this weekend is done, you’ll have a very complete vision of all the animated projects Marvel will be involved in for the next year.

So, with no further ado, let’s get started with Mr. Kyle. Being Next Avengers is so imminent, we decided to concentrate on that first. Here’s what he had to say:

NEWSARAMA: Craig, so who is the director of Next Avengers? I heard it was Frank Paur.

CRAIG KYLE: This is actually Gary Hartle. He’s worked with us on a bunch of projects. For instance, with us, he actually boarded the entire Hulk fight in Ultimate Avengers I. So all that kick-ass action between Cap, Iron Man, and Hulk, whipping the Avengers single handedly, that was all Gary Hartle. He’s a really tremendous director and board artist.

What’s funny is he boarded about 25% more of that fight than we can use. Still, it wounded up being 7 ½ minutes and is the most remembered sequence in the entire film.

Gary is also real old school animation. He’s been around a long time. He’s one of the guys that when he came on board, and a slot opened for a producer/director, we gave it to him. Also, we are planning to hold on to him. We just don’t want to lose him or Frank Paur. They are the best we’ve got right now. Like Frank Paur, he’s considered one of the greats. Even better, they’ve worked on a lot of the same projects.

I think what really matters is not only are these guys great artists, but they are also great storytellers. They big their best to whatever project we put them on.

NRAMA: So would you say you’re trying to be, for lack of a better name, a Marvel Animation Team much the same as, for lack of a better name, the Dirty Competition?

CK: [Laughs]. Absolutely! In this business if you can hire these great talents, you want to do your best to hold on to them. There’s too much great work out there, which means us there are too many opportunities to lose these guys. So you constantly want to put projects in front of them and keep them excited and want to stay. So far, we’ve been very fortunate in doing that.

NRAMA: Okay. So how did Invincible Iron Man do, especially since the release of the Jon Favreau’s movie?

CK: Invincible Iron Man did very well. I won’t give you the exact numbers, but it has become our #2 seller, behind Ultimate Avengers 1 [editor's note —when we interviewed Ed Rollman last year, that D2D sold 850,000 copies at that time]. Invincible Iron Man has edged out Ultimate Avengers 2, and thanks to all the support from the feature film its begun to sell very well again. It really did get an additional kick from the Favreau movie. Lionsgate told me recently that there has been a lot of increased sales over the last couple of months.

NRAMA: So that leads to, and let’s be real, we are people who can look at a TV series like Spaced and relate all too well to it. We know who the Avengers are. Do you think their name is ingrained into the buying public well enough to sell, but not with the original team but with their kids? Or do you think it’s going to move because of the Iron Man and Hulk connection?

CK: There’s no question that when we go out there we will let people know that those two characters are going to be in the film. It would be foolish to ignore them. What’s funny is their inclusion is it just made good sense for the story. It just happened to have worked out very well that their live action movies were released so close to Next Avengers.

As you watch the movie, you’ll see there’s a real reason behind it being Tony Stark and Bruce Banner, the playboy and ladies man as well as the tortured scientist and put them in the parental role. You’ll see they’ve transformed Tony into a loving father due to certain events in the film. Call it The Unforgiven aspect in the Hulk’s character, where Bruce Banner is forced into a situation where he has to put on the guns, if you will. We did that for story sense and it worked out really well.

NRAMA: So how long has this story been in development?

CK: It usually takes a few months. Actually, the last four movies are part of a series of eight. What differentiates the first four is that’s where we really found ourselves. We were learning to work on the strength of the story, and getting the animation done with the right studio in Japan. With Next Avengers, this is by far the best looking film we’ve done to date.

Another thing is with the first four films, we had worked with four classic Marvel characters or teams. We are thinking about what if we broaden the demo to now include younger fans? We wanted to do one for all the other kids on the couch who are watching it with their older siblings and parents. We also wanted to do a story that still would appeal to the older fans, too. Lastly, we wanted to use language and actions that wouldn’t necessarily go on TV, stuff standards and practices wouldn’t let us do. In other words, we wanted to treat this new generation of Avengers like real kids. Give them the edge on the schoolyard. I think people will see that although it’s a PG film, it has the guts or edge our core fan base expects.

NRAMA: So who did right the story on this?

CK: Greg Johnson sat down initially and broke the story. Then Greg got tied up working on Wolverine & the X-Men, so we had Chris Yost come in from the Fantastic Four series and banged out the script. Chris really has a great handle on fun, young dialog. He really got the kids to live on the page.

NRAMA: So being this really is a new phase for Marvel Animation…

CK: It really is an experiment. It’s the first of two, and I’m really happy with the way it came out.

NRAMA: So do you personally feel excited about Next Avengers? Are you nervous?

CK: Well, later this week I’m going to San Diego where I’m going to be standing up there and taking all those questions about this film. I know the fanboy backlash is going to happen. It’s stuff they didn’t read in the books. They don’t know these characters. They're going to ask why we just didn’t do another Avengers movie. I understand.

NRAMA: But in this industry you are always going to get trolls who are wondering if you’re delusional.

CK: Yeah. But in the end you have to understand that you can’t please everyone. I mean there is a lot of great competition out there. I mean I already have Gotham Knight and it is extraordinary. I’m a huge Batman and Bruce Timm fan, and his work is exceptional.

NRAMA: Yet when I wrote about Gotham Knight there were people who called it garbage.

CK: That’s why I say if the fans give us 20 minutes, get through the new characters they don’t know, give them a chance to be on screen for a little while, get acclimated. That’s all I ask for. You will see we are very plugged into the classics. We treat our material, especially Tony, with extreme respect. The same with Banner. In fact, this is my favorite Banner. He’s at the end of his life almost, and he’s incredibly believable. So I tell the fans to just hang out for 20 minutes and I guarantee they won’t forget about it.

NRAMA: Now what about the kids? I mean some are obvious, like the sons of T’Challa and Storm and the Pyms. It also seemed to make sense that if any woman was going to have a child from Captain America, it would be Black Widow.

CK: That’s the fun thing about James. He’s got both the blood of a soldier and a superspy. He wants to be the good kid, but there’s a fire inside of him he can’t quite get his head around. He has a real love for the world of danger. In fact, you can see that in all the kids. It makes for an extraordinary journey.

NRAMA: What I was leading to though is how would you describe Torin, the daughter of Thor?

CK: Torin’s fantastic. She’s the most self-assured. She knows exactly what she is and who she is. She sees herself as better and above just about everybody because her father is a god. It’s only later in the film that what she believes may not exactly be true and her faith is really tested. We really kind of tear her down during the course of the movie. She’ll have to go through a major rebirth. By the end of the film I think she’ll also give us one of the most memorable moments.

NRAMA: What about Azari? He’s the son of a goddess and a king.

CK: Azari’s a real interesting character. Again, you have two conflicting personalities in him. He tries to be the prim and proper, respectful one. Yet at the same time he feels the need to be more wild and stretch out. He’s also going to be forced to go beyond his boundaries. Otherwise he literally will die out there. He’ll have to learn to not play it safe. Get his hands dirty.

NRAMA: So, to be inclusive, what about the son of Giant Man and the Wasp?

CK: Pym is loosest and the silliest of the kids, but he’s also the most ingenious. After all, he’s got the brains of two incredible scientists in him. So he’s really hyper-intelligent. Yes, he’s also more comic relief but in the end he does come through and shows just how powerful he really is in combat.

NRAMA: So is James the natural leader?

CK: He struggles to find his place, but in the end these kids are really a team. As we have said in the promotional material, this film is about how they do come together as a team. They are the children of the great heroes in the Marvel universe. Now we’ve tied them to some of the great guns of the past, so they have a shot.

NRAMA: So if everything goes well, do you see this as the possibility of a franchise?

CK: Absolutely. I can see how we can easily get another movie out of this. I also would say a series would be another great outcome. When you see what we’ve done you’ll know the battle’s been won, but the War will continue.

If we find that the people who watch it with their kids find that this is a show they all can watch, that will make it happen.

In part 2 we complete our conversation with Craig with topics that include X-Men, Spidey, Hulk and Iron Man plus a little more Next Avengers and the future of Marvel Animation. Then it’s Mr. Cowan’s turn.

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