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Landon Thomas writes...

I notice that you like people to do Gathering journals so I thought I'd write some Greg-related highlights from CONvergence.

Thursday, July 3, 2008:

'Spectacular Spider-Man'

The SS-M panel's audience was a little sparse to start out with (it being 5pm on Thursday), but thankfully the room soon filled out nicely. The audience had good questions, so they were definitely fans. I learned that Greg wants to do a straight-to-DVD movie with a spring break story idea by Vic Cook, but it probably won't be approved by Sony until the sales for the first DVD come back. I also learned that Greg is interested in doing a feature at some point in the future. Greg said that in three weeks he'll have to fire his crew if season 3 isn't picked up. Only four people would stay on: himself, Cook, another producer and a production assistant. At an unspecified time after that he'll have no choice but to look for more work. I would learn why Sony is so timid in approving these sure-fire hits in the animation panel tomorrow.

I introduced myself to Greg after the panel with the usual 'I'm a huge fan' spiel. I decided to keep my real gushing to a minimum until the signing on Sunday. I asked about Ben 10. Ben 10 was one the great, recent animated series, in my opinion. Greg's season 3 opener 'Ben 10,000' really brought the series to a whole new level. The same with 'Ken 10'. Both episodes were the best of the entire run. I loved seeing the shades of Gargoyles in there with Greg's fearlessness in shaking things up, adding drama, introducing new characters, and playing with the time line. This is part of the plethora of evidence that Greg is the Pixar of televised animation. Most people think Pixar is all about technology, but what makes them really special is their placement of story-telling above all other considerations. That's why I think Greg is Pixar's analogue for the small screen. And it's not the 'writing on multiple levels' thing that makes Greg special in my mind. That's very important but what makes him one-of-a-kind is the complexity, plotting, and risk-taking he puts into all his work. Animation is my favorite method of story-telling and I always love when the Americans get it right, because it's my culture. But regardless of the intended audience, most TV animation stories are just too simple. Even more so than Gargoyles, Spectacular Spider-Man showcases Greg's persistent will to fully exploit every minute of airtime and make every character, plot, and setting blossom to its full potential. The complexity of every episode is amazing to behold. Only the Dini/Timm DCAU teams have come anywhere close. With Greg's help, I think it's inevitable that TV animation will someday graduate from "kid's stuff" to "everyone's stuff" in the same way Pixar has revolutionized animated films.

Anyway, this was all stuff I wanted to articulate to Greg after the panel since it sort of related to TSS-M, but I knew I'd forget most of it, so I've put it here. I asked Greg if the 'Ben 10,000' and 'Ken 10' stories were his idea or if he wrote off an outline. He said he did create the stories and that 'Ken 10' was Man of Action's entry for Emmy consideration. Greg wouldn't have received credit if they'd won, but hopefully this will reflect back positively anyway. In fact, I'm glad someone has finally noticed his talent and given him a high-profile project again. I hope Spectacular Spider-Man's run will be long and fruitful so that Greg will have some weight to throw around and get us an original series again. Even if it's not Gargoyles, I can't wait to see some of Greg's original characters onscreen again.

Opening Ceremonies had a nice little bit on Greg when showcasing the guests of honor and there were obviously some fans in the audience when his name came up.


'Animation All-Stars'

I attended the Animation All-Stars panel, which had Greg, Mark Evanier, Wally Wingert, and Matt Waterhouse. I was wearing my Hot Topic shirt today, which Greg noticed. w00t!

The animation panel was more gloomy and revealed why TSS-M was being treated so poorly despite Spider-Man's massive success and name recognition: the industry is full of yes-men committees. This is Sony's only animation project when they used to run 7-8 at a time. That's the reason it took all of 2006 to hire Greg. It's not because they weren't sure he was the guy; it was because it took that long to approve the show through the ranks of timid bureaucracy. They're all terrified of being the guy that promoted a losing product, even though Spider-Man is the most sure-fire brand in fiction right now. It's the same reason season 3 and the made-for-DVD movie weren't approved months ago.

'Gargoyles: The Continuing Saga':

I was thrilled to see the room packed and two other folks in Hot Topic shirts. Many ancient, late-90s-style Ask Greg questions were asked like "What's up with the gargoyle dogs?" and "What happened to the third season?" It made me realize that as a professional that regularly attends fan conventions, Greg must have to answer the exact same questions over and over again. It made me wonder if Greg ever starts to say "CHECK THE ARCHIVES!" before catching himself. ;)

I did learn a couple things, though. A lot of the fans weren't aware of the comics or just the Bad Guys spin-off, which was promising (new sales, right?) Greg also mentioned Blue Mug Productions, which I heard whispers about in the comment room but didn't understand. Greg spelled it out nice and clearly: "If you like Gargoyles and you like porn..."

Unfortunately, food poisoning from who-knows-where was catching up to me so I had to enjoy most of the panel writhing on the floor in the back. But I did get to hear the ENTIRE "Better than Barney" story, which made it all worth it. I really wanted to meet other Minnesota Gargoyles fans after the panel, but I was too ill and had to leave for the day, which was a bummer.


'Legion of the All-Stars'

This was the headlining comics panel and truly had an all-star panel of Terry Beatty, Chris Jones, Mark Evanier, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein and Greg smack in the middle. During the intros, people were enamored with Greg's mention of his upcoming Red Tornado mini-series. This reminded me of how little press there has been for it. I don't know why DC hasn't put out a press release or why DiDio hasn't mentioned it at any conventions or even the DCU panels going on at Comic-Con right now (at least from the articles I've read). RT has pretty much been the star through most of JLA's current run, which is kinda-sorta the flagship title.

Anyway, lots of good stories. Chris Jones brought up his "The Flashback of Notre Dame" work, and obviously had warm memories of that. A woman asked a really specific question about Bionicle on behalf of her son and Greg of course had to say that he hadn't worked on that show for very long. They had prominent English accents and soon left. I hope they didn't come all the way to Minnesota just because of the brief 'Bionicle: Mask of Light' blurb in Greg's guest-of-honor bio. After the panel, it was the perfect opportunity to get Greg and Chris to sign my Bad Guys #3. Chris was excited since he hadn't seen a final copy yet which means my copy was probably the first one he signed, which is pretty cool.
After the panel, I tried to rattle all the RT questions I could remember. I really wanted to know how Greg got the job, since the comics world seems so insular. Apparently DiDio did remember Greg from the Captain Atom days. I hope that question wasn't offensive. I also asked if Greg was writing from a DC outline (another foot-in-mouth question), since the character has been changing so much in the recent JLA run. Greg said it would be his own story.


'Material Adaptation'

This was a panel on adopting material from one format to another, like comic to film. It had Vincent Truitner, Marv Wolfman, and Greg. Vincent used his recent Golden Compass experience to provide the most concise explanation on how to adapt by studying the core of the characters and the themes of the story. Once you do that, you can take some liberties with the production without insulting the original work. Greg and Marv provided a spin on the old piracy debate. As content creators, they have to protect their work since it's their livelihood. But they also understand the concerns when rigid corporations don't adapt to new technologies or fan expectations. So they didn't have any easy answers or a decisive side of the debate.

Marv had some interesting thoughts on writer originality. He mused that writers can't expect their work to be 100% original. Every writer gets their ideas from the great ether that is the common experience. Two completely different writers could come up with similar ideas at the same time. Their thoughts could have been triggered by reading the same newspaper article or have been completely random. Marv's point was that there are a fixed number of story possibilities and you need to protect your copyrights. Greg agreed with an anecdote about someone who sued Disney in the mid-nineties for copying his Gargoyles idea. It was later proven that this was impossible given the writer's material was unavailable and developed after Gargoyles started production. But Greg learned that all professional content creators don't accept unsolicited writing for this reason.

I think the best story I heard at Con was Greg's Tarzan anecdote during this panel. When he was still at Disney, the features department was negotiating to secure rights for the Tarzan movie. There was big meeting with the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate coming up and it was discovered that Greg was the only exec around that had bothered read the original Tarzan books and comics. So Greg tagged along to the meeting even though he was a TV exec at the time and completely outside his purview. I won't get into details because Greg tells it so much better, but basically he was the only guy that the heir connected with since he actually knew the material. He single-handedly obtained the estate's blessing, yet never got a credit on the movie since he wasn't supposed to be there.

'Signing w/ Greg Weisman'

I had Greg sign all my firsts: the first DVD, Garg #1, the TPB, and BG #1. I had some notion that having Greg only sign my firsts would be more sentimental or something. I've since realized that's ridiculous and I'll be carting my entire collection to my first Gathering in 2009, which I signed up for as soon as I got home. I also had Greg sign my new cel right smack on the top in gaudy gold ink. It probably destroyed the resale value, but I don't care: it's never leaving my wall. That is, assuming I can find someone who has a clue on how to mat it...

I also waited until the signing to do most of my fan fawning since that was the prescribed one-on-one time. I thought beforehand about what I was going to say but all that came out was 'Gargoyles changed my life mumble mumble mumble' which probably made Greg reach for his mace. Anyway, I'll assume he enjoys wading through distended fan stories about his work's positive effects, so I'm going to spill it here.

I stopped watching cartoons around 1993 and my last memories were of Darkwing Duck and TaleSpin. I just missed out on Gargoyles even though I was a Disney afternoon fan. I was about 11 at the time: the age (for me) when cartoons became uncool. I only saw a few features after that. Fast forward to April 2002: I'm a freshman in college and lazily browsing the IMDb cast pages for Star Trek: TNG. I start to notice an inexplicable commonality among many of the actors listed...

I had a vague recollection of Gargoyles already: a brief image from a long-forgotten single viewing. I think it was of Taurus on the beach. But I somehow sensed there was something special about the show. I never figured out where that feeling came from. On a whim I decided to set a summer project for myself of recording every single episode to tape and importing it into my computer under the guise of learning how to use video capture/editing software. And I'm someone who never plans summer projects. I guess it was fate.

This was back when Toon Disney played it twice a day at 10 and 10:30pm. The very first episode I watched was 'The Edge'. Within the first minute, I was stupefied. This was like NOTHING else on TV, animated or otherwise. I kept recording and capturing studiously but resolved to not watch any more episodes until I started the series from the beginning.

That October I switched my major from computer engineering to theatre. I had spent the entire summer (besides capturing and editing video) studying Gargoyles and how I could get involved in creating such a piece of art. I settled on voice acting, not for any reason more practical than that job seemed like the most fun. My parents, to say the least, were surprised that I switched from computer engineering to acting even though I'd never been on stage.

Back to today, I've received my BA and tomorrow I'm beginning step 3 out of 8 or so to get my Pro Tools operator certification. I've since settled on audio post-production (with a focus on animation) as my career choice. It's a better fit for me based on my existing skill set.

Anyway, Gargoyles truly did change my life and certainly for the better. It rekindled my love of animation and catalyzed my latent desire to make it in entertainment. I now feel like I'm finally on a path to a career that I can truly love, which is a rare gift indeed. So, if you're reading this Mr. Weisman, thank you.

Greg responds...

Wow, you really followed me about. Thanks!! And thanks for the kind words!

Just to correct a few inaccuracies...

The Spring Break idea was mine, which is not to say Vic won't contribute a ton if we get the go-ahead to make it.

As of today, 9/23, the Spidey staff consists of 13 individuals, four of whom -- our production manager, color supervisor and two color stylists -- will be laid off (not fired - no one has been fired) at the end of this week.

That will leave us with a staff of nine: myself, Vic Cook, our Associate Producer, our Post-Production Coordinator, two editors, two assistant editors and our effects editor. We will all be aboard until January 23rd, when we will all be laid off - unless a pick-up of some kind comes in by that time.

I am constantly at a loss as to why Alan Burnett is left out when talking about the DCAU. This is not a knock on the amazingly talented Paul Dini, but Paul and many other writers worked FOR Alan, who was the driving creative force behind most all of the DCAU on the writing side, just as Bruce was on the art and production side.

"Ken 10" was the series' entry for an Emmy - not Man of Action's. I'm sure no one was trying to take away my credit for the episode; the point I was making was that I wouldn't have won an actual Emmy statue, even if my episode helped the series win the Emmy.

I never really expected a credit on the Tarzan movie - and not because I wasn't supposed to be at the meeting. I didn't work on the movie - at all. So what would the credit read: Rights Facilitator? Good Schmoozer? Read the Book?

Response recorded on September 23, 2008