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Thursday, May 28, 2020

TMNT '90 Producer Kim Dawson, Writer Bobby Herbeck-- Talk Turtles!

 From Scoop:

In 1990, producer Kim Dawson and writer Bobby Herbeck put Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles onto the big screen. The live-action film took the No. 1 spot on its opening weekend and since then has become a beloved modern classic among comic fans and the now-grown kids who saw it in theaters in ’90 and are showing their children. As the cast and crew celebrate the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Herbeck and Dawson talked to Scoop about the movie, recounting behind the scenes events that brought the Ninja Turtles to life.
Scoop: Let’s start with how each of you got involved in this movie.
Kim Dawson (KD):
In the summer of 1986, I got a call from my partner [producer] Gary Propper that he was in Detroit and had found a comic book that was the first issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the black and white. He was a talent manager, managing a comedian named Gallagher playing at the Fox Theatre. He got so excited when he found this comic because he felt it could be the first movie that we made. We did a lot of television projects together, but the first movie we made that could be a live-action picture. He sent me the comic and then the next day I called Mirage Studios, who had just signed a deal with Surge Licensing for treatment and then with the two of them it took us a couple of months to negotiate the deal and we finally put it together. Actually, I misspoke, it was the summer of ’87, so by the fall of ’87 we had a deal in place and that’s when I introduced the project to Bobby.
Bobby Herbeck (BH): I was working for Golden Harvest, I was writing a movie for them, they’re out of Hong Kong, they did the Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies. Kim told them “Bobby’s over there working with Golden Harvest, that’s a perfect fit to make the Ninja Turtles.” Which took some time to get my boss to put the dots together. He kept telling me, “Write the movie I’m paying you for and quit bugging me with the pinjin, ninjin turtles.” He gave it a different title, which someday maybe we’ll do the Pinjin Ninjin Turtles. A couple of months maybe, it was going around Hollywood.
KD: It was longer than that because by December that year we had prototype toys from Playmates, and there was a graphic novel by that point, and there was now going to be a cartoon series promoting the toy line. The toy line launched at Toy Fair in February of ’88. Bobby and I and Gary Propper went out to Hollywood and talked to everybody we knew and basically pitched our hearts out. We had the toys, we had the press kit, we had what we thought was a viable package and people weren’t buying at that point. Nobody was interested.
BH: I was literally laughed out of some pitch meetings and after one of the pitch meetings, they called my agent and said, “Who’s the guy smoking pot that came in with this turtles thing?” They thought this was just some stoner trying to sell a movie. It didn’t happen easy, but I kept going back to Tom Gray, my boss at Golden Harvest. Finally, one night we had a drink and it donned on me, he had a 12 year-old kid at home and I said, “Hey Tom…” and he said “Don’t go there.” I said, “Just one more time, you go home tonight and ask your kid about the Turtles because now they’re on TV, building an audience.” By the time I got back to Long Beach that night he’d left me a message to call him and get Kim and meet him for breakfast in the morning. We had a meeting and he was leaving the booth, he calls it he had one butt cheek off the booth when Kim reeled him back in with “You have the best martial arts guys in the world. You just put them in the costumes and dub the voices.” Then he slid back in and the ball started rolling. It took, maybe three months.
Scoop: You said it was a tough sell and I was wondering if you saw any reluctance because of Howard the Duck since that was around the same time.
You are so right my dear. This was Tom Gray’s biggest fear: that it was Howard the Duck. [both laugh]
KD: And there was another comic book that had been a live-action picture called Garbage Pail Kids that had also tanked badly. Howard the Duck was obviously George Lucas, and Lucas was…I think everyone at Universal was stunned that the movie didn’t do better.
BH: And again, this wasn’t what Golden Harvest did. They did these action kick butt martial arts movies; they didn’t do kids movies. They didn’t have a clue at the beginning and I’m sure Raymond Chow, the man that owned the company was like “What are you talking about?” I don’t think he had a clue how you make that movie. As time evolved with the help of Kim and Gary Propper, rest his soul, the other producer we lost last year, really the force behind finding the book and then coming to me, and then working with Tom and putting it in his brain, really – this is how you do this movie. It just started evolving. Everything I tell people, Kim and I – it was all timing. It’s like catching a wave, our timing was perfect. Kids had only had TVs then, they didn’t have iPads and Xboxes and stuff, they got their entertainment on TV. Pong was the game.
Scoop: You mentioned that part of the pitch was getting martial arts actors and putting them in the suits, then dubbing the voices. Did you have any voice or suit actors in mind when you started?
KD: No, here’s how it went down when Golden Harvest made the deal for the rights, they sent Bobby to Massachusetts to work with Kevin [Eastman] and Peter [Laird], they were looking for the right director to do it. We focused in on Steve Barron who had been doing a lot of Michael Jackson videos, he did “Billie Jean” and a few others. I think he was the production designer/art director on Dark Crystal. He just had a real look that they liked, and I felt that would probably be to our advantage. So, when Steve came on board, he was good friends with Brian Henson and together, they convinced Jim [Henson] that the Creature Shop should be the ones to make the costumes. Brian felt that in order to do the movie properly, that the actor inside the costume had to be enough of a stuntman to do a backflip and drop through a simulated manhole cover. So, they had trampolines in the Creature Shop, so they were building suits to make those work, so it was really focused around the puppeteers and the actors that he brought together. The voice actors were an after thought later on. We didn’t replace those voices until well after the movie had been finished.
Scoop: I wanted to ask about the costumes. We’re at the 30-year mark and the costumes still look great. I was curious about the process of getting Jim Henson’s Creature Shop involved. It sounds like they put a lot of thought into mobility as well as the look.
A lot.
KD: It had to be. There were actually two sets of turtle costumes: you had the stunt turtles, the guys who did all the fighting and running, that sort of stuff, then you had the talking turtles, that were the acting turtles. The acting turtles had, under their shells, extensive electronics that were the servo motors that were used to move the facial features. I think what you’re driving at, a key point of the success of the film, is between the puppeteers who used joysticks and also remote control gloves called waldos and the actor inside the suit. There had to be a rapport. Brian was very careful in casting those parts so that those guys could behave the way the characters are written, because Bobby wrote these deep characters that were all differentiated in their words and that had to manifest itself in how they behaved inside the costume with their facial features and everything. So, it was a complex dance, if you will.
Steve Barron was at the heart of it because even as they cast all these characters, he had to be thinking about how they would interact. I think it was that chemistry between the puppeteers, the actors inside the costumes, Steve Barron, and Brian, even the script supervisor, because they were all wired up – could hear one another, talk to one another. So, aside from the fact that the costumes were operating at 110 degrees of non-air conditioned studios, the sweat that built up in the costumes kind of shut them down. It kind of fried those electronics on a regular basis. It took longer to make it than it should have, probably.
Scoop: What story points or background from the comics did you want to include in the movie?
That was all by design. Once Tom Gray said he was in, we were going to go for it. We flew to Northampton to meet Peter and Kevin, to convince them. My job was to convince them that Golden Harvest was the company to make the movie – which we did. I got back, not home two days and was told, “Pack up, you need to go back and sit with Peter and Kevin. They need to sign off on the story for the movie.” That was not a short and easy process, it took some time for them both. I’d do a treatment and give it to them, we’d meet a few days later and I could tell by their body language that one liked it and one didn’t. That went on for a while. I finally said one morning, “How did you guys ever get a comic book done? You can’t agree on anything.” So, they finally agreed and I came back. I’m getting to answer your question, a lot of it came from the graphic comic book, obviously, the characters and then to just delineate them a bit more on screen and some of the story points, plot points were from the comic book. I added Tatsu to the mix.
KD: You added comedy to it and rapport. The original comics are pretty anxious. It’s much darker. I think that we knew we had to make a movie that was PG-13 or PG. We couldn’t make a movie that was dark and an R. We knew that there was an audience of comic fans out there, but Tom Gray was interested in the more youthful audience, which is where New Line felt that they could bring it to the theaters and attract an audience that was kind of bifurcated. We had a youth audience in the afternoon and in the evenings and then later at night we had the cult comic book collectors.
BH: Two things here, first of all, Kim’s the one that brought this up a while ago, Tom didn’t really give two beans about the story as much as the action, because they were an action company. So, it was not always easy with him and writing it, as to what they wanted and didn’t want. Once I was assigned to it, Steve took me to London to write this – which was great to be away from Hollywood with Steve and do this. I looked at Star Wars, the first one, I wanted to count the number of battles and I wanted to see the motivation from Lucas as a writer. I realized each battle had a reason, a theme. It wasn’t just “Hey we need a battle scene here.” But that is part of a template.
So, every time in that movie when the Turtles go up against the Foot, there’s a reason for it. It’s very important in the writing that Splinter says, I’m paraphrasing this “You never start the fight, you only defend.” That was the message. I’m a message guy. I love the scene where he talks to the boys and tells them he loves them and will always be there. My friends, adults who took the kids to the movie back then, one big rugby player guy starts crying and says “Oh, man I took my son to see the movie.” And I asked “What are you crying about?” and he said “My son looked up and said, ‘Are you my friend daddy?’ and I said ‘Yes’ and he said ‘I love you daddy.’ I started crying and said, ‘I love you.’” He’s telling me “You piece of s---, you made me cry in front of my son at the movie theater.” [both laugh]
For Kim and I, this has all been wonderful for us because we’ve been kind of in this bubble. I know when I’m out in the world and someone says, “This guy wrote the Ninja Turtles movie” the reaction I get. We are just blown away by the love and devotion of the fans and how many there are. We had no idea, after all these years. And the second generation. It’s a blessing.
Scoop: What are each of your favorite parts of the movie?
BH: I have several, I like the whole thing because it was a success. I love the opening because kids are at the edge of their seats to see the Turtles like this. Seeing Raphael lifting the manhole cover and knocking the light out and you finally see his face from the cop’s bubble light and the next shot is in the sewer and you see them in silhouette. I get goosebumps every time. I think that was a brilliant thing. The beginning for me.
KD: One of my favorite parts of the movie is the farmhouse. When they go to the farmhouse and the things that happen there. The dialogue between Donny and Casey and certainly the repertoire between Casey and April, I love. The Kodak moment when Raphael wakes up and Leonardo is there is my favorite moment in the movie because it’s like what brothers would do. “Get a grip. What’s the matter with you?”
BH: Two of my favorites scenes are that Kodak moment and the one when they bring April down to the den and she’s passed out and they look at Splinter and say, “Can we keep her?” that had all kinds of connotations to me. I just love that.
Scoop: Did you have any pushback from the studio or censors regarding the fighting in the movie?
KD: It’s interesting. Particularly in certain territories around the world, there was a fair bit of pushback. Norway, I think they changed the name to Hero Turtles. I don’t think it got nearly the traction it could have or should have in Japan or Korea where martial arts are a big thing because they felt it was –
BH: A mockery.
KD: Right. Whereas the guys who played the characters, the stunt Turtles, Pat Johnson was the choreographer and he did all the Three Ninja movies, he was brilliant. He was an amazing fight choreographer. You just can’t say enough. Oddly enough, the second and third film don’t have quite as much violence in them. This was back in a time when violence wasn’t tolerated as much as in today’s world, when you compare movies where they’re blowing the crap out of stuff. There was pushback. We did get some from whatever organization in Washington, DC pushes back on kids’ violence. The truth is, when you look at it, these fights do have a message and all that. The movie’s an allegory for things that are going on in life that are much deeper and richer than a 7 or 8-year-old can understand, I think. There’s a lot of double entendre in the film and that’s all due to Bobby and [co-screenplay writer Todd Langen] and the words that they wrote and built the characters and certainly the direction. But, there was some pushback.
Scoop: The movie has built a legacy. It was No. 1 on its opening weekend, a lot of people consider it among their favorite movies, and the kids who saw it in 1990 are showing their kids now. As the movie is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, what are you feeling as you reflect back on it?
Oh, how blessed we were to be involved. I swear. In life you have those moments where you can go left or right, it’s that Robert Frost poem “The Road Less Traveled” it feels like we arrived in that moment at the right time in our lives. It’s been that sort of thing. It kind of launched a whole new career for me, because I was a television producer up until that time and I’ve been able to produce films since then and I’ve made amazing relationships with people.
So, as I start to build from 30 years ago the things I’ve been able to do as a result of that particular picture, it’s a blessing. When the movie was first released, I’d moved to Orlando to produce The Mickey Mouse Club for Disney Channel. I was out of the Hollywood mix and I’ve been able to stay in Florida as a result of the film because we did three in a row. Two up in North Carolina where it was easy to get to and the third film was made out in Oregon. For me, it was just that seminal moment that broke open a new pathway in what was now a long career. I started in the mid-‘70s in the film and television business. For me, it was just that opportunity where you got to take a path that you never even anticipated. I owe that to GP, Gary Propper was my partner, like I said, he was the manager of Gallagher at the time. We made a dozen specials for Showtime and I’d done a lot of work in entertainment and sports prior to that. Once we started down the path of Turtles, it kind of gave me a new perspective of what the world was about because it was frivolous and it was lightning in a bottle. No doubt about it.
[Editor’s Note: Kim Dawson had to end his portion of the interview at this point for another engagement.]
Scoop: Bobby, do you want to comment on getting pushback from the studio or censors regarding the fighting in the movie?
Like Kim said, we did get that, you always get it, but to go a step further on what Kim was saying about the Asian market, according to Tom Gray who was running the company at the time, he told me a couple of year ago – I was shocked – this movie didn’t really play in Asia at all. They didn’t want it. It played everywhere else in the world. I think he told me there was no Asian market, therefore the foreign numbers weren’t very good, box office-wise. Now, once it was a hit, they started buying into it because it became a phenomena around the world. It just brought awareness to it – this little graphic book that was in a store in Detroit. It just put it on the map and Peter and Kevin.
The other thing, when I was writing the delicate balance I always felt was not to write down to the kids on this movie and to write straight across and keep the parents in mind because you had the teenagers and then you had the younger kids. Like Kim said, there were two groups that went to the movie. I always say that part of the success of the movie is that it was written such that the parents – and I know for a fact because I’ve had parents tell me – they took the kid to see it, kind of begrudgingly, and come home and call their sister or brother or friend and say, “It was really a cute movie. It’s really good, go see it, you’ll enjoy it too.” So that helped.
In the business, they’re making big money on these movies, these tentpole movies, because people are going back to see them again. I’m not a math person, but someday I’m going to ask somebody what they think the box office would’ve been today at today’s price of a ticket, because you remember, tickets were a heck of a lot cheaper in 1990. I’d be curious what that number would’ve been today.
Tom Gray and I had made a bet. We were going to lunch the week before it opened, and he was nervous as hell. He said, “Herbs, I think we’ve got Howard the Duck on our hands.” I said, “No, we have an audience. Howard the Duck fell out of the sky. We have an audience already waiting to see this.” He said, “What do you think it’s going to do opening weekend?” I said, “My money is on $20 million-plus.” And he goes, “From your mouth to God’s ears. If that movie opens to $20 million the first weekend, Golden Harvest will buy you anything you want.” I didn’t go for the house. So, we’re in his car going to lunch in Santa Monica and Wilshire Boulevard where they cross and this beautiful black convertible two-seater Mercedes pulls up and I said, “I want one of those.” And I was about to get married to boot. And he said, “You got it Herbs. If the movie does $23, $25 million the first weekend.” To this day, 30 years later, no I never got the car.
And I say, that is typical Hollywood. They love you at the time and then…next… They didn’t let me write the sequel. I didn’t have a sequel to write. They didn’t let Judith [Hoag] come back for the sequel either to play April. That’s all Raymond Chow because he’s very tight. When you write a movie, if you write the sequel, it’s called your quote – what you got paid to write the first one, they have to up the ante on the second one. He didn’t want to do that. He didn’t let me have the sequel. I was not happy at all. I said to Tom, how can you let this happen, I’m the one that brought you the movie? He said, “Well, my hands are tied.” I did not leave with very good feelings there. Tom was very upset when we won the People’s Choice Award on national TV and Kim and I are on stage thanking everybody and Tom, to this day, has not gotten over that we didn’t thank him.
There’s just so many things to the story. We’re doing a documentary series on this whole history from the beginning of Peter and Kevin to how this movie got made and subsequently what happened during and what’s happened over the years after and the lawsuits and the this and that. The latest chapter after this is the coronavirus. We were all set, 30th anniversary. The virus couldn’t have hit on the 29th or the 31st anniversary – on the 30th the virus hits. We were supposed to do WonderCon and Comic-Con, we were supposed to do a series of autograph shows and other cons. But everything’s shut down.
But, we found a workaround with social media. We’re doing a pizza party on the 23rd of May on our YouTube channel at 8 at night Eastern, 5 Pacific. Judith, bless her, has rounded up not only the cast, but she got Steve Barron, Brian Henson, Kim and I are going to be on it. It’s just a thank you to the fans. No money involved here. This is just a thank you to everybody and our way of showing some appreciation. It’s the first time we will have all been together in all these years.
Scoop: You have the documentary and the pizza party. Are you working on anything else for the anniversary?
BH: We’re going to do a book. We just talked to Neca who had some ideas, because they think it should be a coffee table book with pictures and stuff. They’re going to join forces with us. This guy Randy [Falk] is amazing, the guy that runs that company and his partner, the guy who designs stuff, Trevor [Zammit]. I thought, “this will be a half-hour conversation [referencing a call from earlier in the day], we’ll get to Amanda in no problem.” This thing went on and on. They’re doing a whole line of 30th anniversary toys that are going to be in Walmart and Target in June. When it comes to the Turtles, they do a lot of other action figure stuff, but when it comes to the Turtles, all they are interested in are the early Turtles. Not today’s, they just want ones from our time. They think they’re the original, and I agree.
I’m not a big Michael Bay fan and what he did to the Turtles. I get asked that in a lot of interviews. Frank’s TV interviewed me last year and asked, “What do you think of the Michael Bay Turtles?” and I said, “Not much.” They didn’t change Superman and Spider-Man and Wonder Woman and how Batman looked. Maybe a subtle change, but not a change like that, to a point where there… My grandson jumped in my lap, he was 6 when he first saw the first Michael Bay one and he said “Pop-Pop, why’d you make them so scary?” I said, “I had nothing to do with it.” They are! They’re just not the sweet, fun looking little Turtles.
Scoop: One of the things I like about this movie is that April O’Neil isn’t just a damsel. Raphael does save her, but she has gumption and attitude. Was it important to you to write her that way?
BH: Absolutely. I asked [Judith] what was the hardest scene in the movie, I knew what it was, it was waking up and discovering Splinter and the Turtles and she has to scream and jump up on the couch. She said that was the scene and I said I thought that was the hardest to do. That scene I didn’t like that much, not her fault. I didn’t want her to look like some screeching little… I had a thing in my comedy act that when you look at older movies, the woman when she always fell down. How come the men don’t fall down? I fall down all the time. You see a woman running and she falls, you go “C’mon, with the falling. Stop falling.”
I wanted her to have just a little edge to her because that’s what the ‘90s was, you know. Women were raising a little hell about the glass ceiling and I thought she should not be the atypical woman that they put on the screen. She could carry her own and in real life, she is that way. She’s a tough broad. I love her. I mean it, she’s been a godsend for us, putting this thing together. I said, “You’re our superstar, you’re going to get the Oscar for this – I’m not sure what we’ll call it. Best supporting, that’s for sure.”
Scoop: Before Kim got off the phone, I asked how he’s feeling as he reflects on how popular the movie is and the fact that people who saw it in 1990 are showing their kids now. With the 30th anniversary this year, how are you feeling?
BH: I’m a weepy guy. I’m very sensitive and I cannot tell you…I’m touched. I’m almost going to cry. I’m touched by it all, I’m overwhelmed. When my wife and I go to a public function… I’ll give you a couple quick examples. I go to a wedding last year and there’s people in their 30s, mainly, at this wedding. Someone mentioned, “See the guy over there, he wrote Ninja Turtles, the movie.” So, when I’m leaving, I was stormed by about eight guys going out the door, saying, “Dude, you can’t go” and when they say “dude,” I know they know. “Dude, can we get a picture with you?”
It’s happened again and again to almost the point of embarrassment. I’ve been invited to celebrity events and I used to be a judge at the Pepperdine Songfest that the students put on every year. The first year I went, I was sitting next to Ben Stein and some other faces. Ben was introduced and he got a nice ovation and they go “Bobby Herbeck” and I’m standing up and they say, “The man who wrote the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie” and as I’m standing up – my wife will tell you – the kids jumped up and were screaming like I was Elvis. I shot back down in the seat. This was an auditorium full of kids.
At the intermission, someone came in the green room and asked, “Are you here for the second part of the show?” and I said, “Yes, I’m judging.” They said, “Oh man, you aren’t going to believe this.” There were all kinds of students putting on productions, song and dance. The second number, these four guys come out – they didn’t know I was going to be there – they come out on stage dressed as Ninja Turtles. They’re singing a number and pointing out at me. I look at Tami [his wife] and I got tears, and said, “Can you believe this?” That’s why the kids wanted to know if I was going to stay. And I was mobbed afterwards when the show was over.
I’m just saying, it’s there, it’s been there and now I’m realizing it’s bigger. When we talked to TMNT Minute podcast, I said, “So what do you think, we have several thousand fans?” And they said, “No dude, it’s in the millions.” I said, “You’re kidding me.” And that’s what the Neca guys are saying. That’s what Randy was saying today. I’m just blown away, you know? In my business… First of all, to get a hit like this and it lasts this long, and still has a gravity pull? You just can’t be more blessed than that. I’m serious. We got so lucky. I’ve tried to get another one all along the way, but lightning only strikes once. Now, George Lucas is a different cat, but we’ll take this. The second one did okay, but everybody loves the first movie. I’m blessed. And people like you, I can’t thank you enough for wanting to take your time and hear what we have to say, but beyond that being a fan. That’s why we’re doing this.

  Original Post: 

For more information on convention appearances for Bobby Herbeck and Kim Dawson, contact their booking agent at Eva Ink Artist Group/Pros & Cons Celebrity Booking at evaink@aol.com.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Graham Nolan- On His Careeer-- Batman to Monster Island!

Great interivew with Graham Nolan. Here is the original link: 
Artist Graham Nolan is lauded for his work in Batman titles, The Phantom Sunday strip, Hawkworld, and his all-ages adventure creation, Monster Island. In particular, Nolan made his mark on the Dark Knight by co-creating Bane, one of Batman’s most formidable foes. Nolan recently spoke to Scoop about his work on these titles, the significance of Bane, and what he’s working on now.
Scoop: Were you a fan of comics when you were growing up?
Graham Nolan (GN): Oh, yeah. I started with monster magazines which always had articles or ads about comics. I really got into them when my 6th grade teacher brought a stack for the class to read at recess.
Scoop: What’s your artistic process like – do you do a lot of preliminary sketches and drafts?
GN: At this point in my career, no. I layout the story and nail it about 90% of the time. If I get stuck on something or I don’t like my attempt, I keep it as a placeholder and move on to return to it later when I have a clearer head.
Scoop: In Bane, you co-created a villain who quickly became one of Batman’s most formidable foes. What went into creating that iconic character?
GN: Bane was a necessary story element needed for the Knightfall story arc that Denny O’Neil wanted to tell. We needed a villain to take out Batman so we could replace him with a meaner, more ruthless Batman. Fans were going nuts over the Punisher and Wolverine who killed their opponents and thought Batman should do the same. We wanted to show them why that was wrong and give them a Batman that did kill. There was nobody in Batman’s rogues gallery at the time to do it, so Bane had to be created. Chuck Dixon came up with his background and I designed the character based on where he was being raised and certain story needs.
Scoop: Which of the stories you worked on in Detective Comics and other Batman books was the most challenging? Why?
Every story presents its own challenges, whether it be the staging, the locations, reference needed, etc. I did them so long ago, I can’t think of any off hand that were harder than another.
Scoop: What does it take to set and maintain the tone in Batman comics?
Batman was my favorite hero as a young boy growing up watching the Adam West TV show and reading the comics of the ’70s. Every artist has their approach to the character, mine is based on that he is a hero first. Everything he does is a self-sacrifice. It’s not revenge, nor is he a psychopath. That is the first thing that goes into his “look.” The rest is steeping this hero, clad in dark colors (that really represents “light”) into a shadowy world filled with bad people. He is the Dark KNIGHT. That errant knight on a holy crusade seems to have gotten lost and everyone seems to concentrate on the DARK aspect which tends to make the character a selfish narcissistic nutjob.
Scoop: What did you like about working on The Phantom Sunday strip?
The Phantom is a great character and I had a lot of fun working on him. He was my Mom’s favorite character growing up.
Scoop: How is working on a Sunday strip different from working on a monthly comic? Does one present more of a challenge than the other?
The biggest difference is the format. A comic book page is a blank canvas that you can layout the story any which way that works. Comic strips have panel breaks and tiers that have to be adhered to because newspapers cut them up to fit the formats of their Sunday comics pages. Much more freedom on a comic book page.
Scoop: What was your favorite part about the more futuristic look and gritty feel in Hawkworld?
The futuristic look and grit of Hawkworld was all established in Tim Truman’s prestige series. Hawkworld was my first big job where I got to start a series with #1 and help guide it forward.
Scoop: How did you come up with the concept for Monster Island?
I was getting fed up with the direction of comics in the late ’90s. The superhero comics were too violent and overly sexualized for me to give comp copies to my young daughters. I decided to write and illustrate an “all ages” comic filled with high adventure that someone of any age could read and enjoy on different levels.
Scoop: You’re working on a sequel, right? What’s the premise for that one?
The sequel, Return To Monster Island is done and published. It and the original can be purchase here: www.indiegogo.com.
Scoop: Outside of comics, you provided art for Dungeons & Dragons. What were those experiences like?
GN: The D&D gigs were some of my first freelance jobs. I was never into that gaming, but it was fun and a challenge to work on that stuff.
Scoop: Switching gears, are you a collector? If so, what do you collect?
I’m trying to collect all the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Fantastic Four comics. The only big one (as in expensive) that I’m missing is #5, so if anyone wants to make a deal…
Scoop: What are you working on now and how can fans support your work?
I’m currently finishing up The Expendables Go To Hell graphic novel with Chuck Dixon which is available here: www.indiegogo.com.
For more information on convention appearances or commissions for Graham Nolan, contact his booking agent at Eva Ink Artist Group at: evaink@aol.com.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Michael Golden-- Patreon Page! Join the Force!

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We want to invite you to join Michael Golden's new Patreon Page! 

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Butch Patrick on Being Eddie Munster & a Kid in Hollywood

  Great Article with our friend and client Butch Patrick. Here is the original link:

In the mid-1960s The Munsters became a cultural phenomenon by mixing the popular family sitcom with a Universal monster twist. Butch Patrick portrayed the youngest Munster, a precocious boy who happened to be a werewolf. Since then, Patrick has entertained generations of fans on TV, film, and at special appearances. Patrick recently chatted with Scoop about his experiences on The Munsters, his appearance on many popular TV shows, and his plans for the future – including Munster-themed escape rooms.
Scoop: What was your initial reaction to learning that you would play a boy werewolf on The Munsters?
Butch Patrick (BP): I grew up in Southern California, obviously Hollywood was where you had to live back in the day to work. But I spent a lot of time with my grandmother in the Midwest and she was a big antiquer, so I had a nice balance. At that particular time, I had just finished doing General Hospital and The Real McCoys and I rode with her to go to a school, a parochial school back in the fifth grade because my mom was trying to marry a Roman Catholic and she had been divorced, so we were trying to appease the Catholic church. So, I wound up in parochial school, which was fine.
During that period, the interview came for The Munsters and I flew out to California for it and when I wound up getting it, everything changed. Number one, I had to stay in California, I lived with my uncle, my mom was married to a baseball player, or was attempting to marry a baseball player on the east coast. So, I had this sort of strange dynamic.
I don’t know if you ever saw early pictures of Eddie Munster, but he didn’t have a widow’s peak and he didn’t have really bushy eyebrows. He was really sort of a regular kid who wore a funny suit and had pointy ears like Spock. Then, they decided he wasn’t believable enough to be the offspring of Herman and Lily, so they upped the ante a little bit and made me a little more peculiar looking with the hairpiece and stuff. In a longwinded way of answering the question, I loved the monster movies at Universal. I was a huge fan, I built all the models of everything that they had to do, so working at Universal at the monster studio was a real big thrill.
Scoop: What did you like most about playing Eddie Munster?
Number one, the sets were very, very cool. The whole idea of a TV show that was featuring sets with cobwebs and all the good stuff that the Universal monster movies had and they utilized them on the set. So, what we were doing was making a sitcom, but we were featuring monster movie credentials in the set design and the special effects. But, we had Leave It to Beaver producers and writers, so what they did was merge a family-friendly sitcom with lovable monsters. Once you heard Herman Munster talk, he wasn’t Frankenstein, he was lovable Herman Munster. It was a very interesting mix that worked briefly for two years really, really well and it’s got a lot of staying power because of it.
Scoop: Did any of your adult costars give you acting advice?
No, actually they didn’t. They used to call me a 39-year-old midget because they thought I was wise beyond my years. I was 11 and 12 playing 8 and 9. In Hollywood, they love when you’re older and you can play younger. But, not only was I 11 and 12, I was mentally about 18 years old. I was actually very old for my age as a kid. A lot of times in a series, a kid is kind of like a set up character where they’ll walk into the room and do their thing and they kind of go on their way unless you occasionally have, like, Dennis the Menace or Jerry Mathers, the Beaver [from Leave it to Beaver], where the kids are the main characters.
When they noticed that Fred [Gwynne] and I had a good rapport, and I could handle dialogue, they started writing some scripts that featured the father and son. And when those happened, Fred and I had a lot of father and son scenes, and that’s where we would run lines together and he would give me, I wouldn’t call it advice, it was more of coaching. He would coach me a little bit and I loved it because I was learning. If you ever want to learn something, always be around people that are better than you at it.
Scoop: The show is a classic, beloved sitcom and lots of people have favorite episodes. Which episodes or storylines standout as your favorites?
BP: Oh, sure, absolutely. I have several, actually. There’s a lot of great shows, but I think the ones that I enjoyed the most, probably was the one where we introduced the Dragula and we were at the dragstrip, because I liked cars, and we were outside and it was cool. There were hotrods and stuff when the Dragula came into play. That’s number one because I was a big fan of George Barris. I used to actually have a Wednesday special when I would leave the lot for a long lunch and go by his shop and go by my hobby shop to pick up some slot car stuff.
Number two would be “Eddie’s Nickname” where I grew a beard, simply because it was so funny when we went to see Dr. Dudley, [played by] Paul Lynde – he only did two episodes – that was one of the episodes with Paul Lynde. It was just hilarious about me and Herman going down the street and Herman has a bag over my head because he’s embarrassed to be seen with a boy with a beard. It was just a funny concept.
And then, number three was “Zombo” with Louis Nye as a TV host, which I thought was a real guy because of the nature of so many horror hosts through the years on television. The episode was cute because at the end they had that very classic saying about “don’t judge a book by its cover,” “strength of your character, the size of your heart.” It has, like, 70 million views on Facebook about Herman’s little chat with me at the dinner table about why I shouldn’t judge people by their skin tone.
Scoop: Those are definitely good ones.
BP: Yeah, those are good ones. And we had a lot more, there were a lot of them. But, those three come to mind.
Scoop: What was the environment like behind the scenes?
All sound stages are pretty dark anyway. Ours just happened to be dark and dirty because the whole Munster household was covered in dust and cobwebs. Everything was opposite, up was down, day was night and everything on the set was extremely dirty. But, we were, like the number one visited sound stage at Universal. And we were there the first year they started the tram when they started the Universal City Tours, which obviously became phenomenally successful.
Scoop: I did the Universal tour when I was in LA. It was really cool.
My makeup man, Michael Westmore (he was still an apprentice at the time), he would do my makeup in the morning and then he would do Pat Priest and send us on our way. Then he would go up to the top of the hill. Now at the time, up where CityWalk is, there was nothing there, it was just the top of a hill where they had graded a road for the trams to go up to so they could look at the studio from a bird’s eye view. He would be up there with a little stand and a makeup chair and he would do a makeup demonstration. That’s how they started the top of the CityWalk. From that deal, all that money that they generated, became Universal Studios CityWalk, and all the hotels popped up. It was interesting to see it in its infancy. Our set was one of the stops along the tour. We used to actually have to stop production to let the tram go through. The tram had carte blanche over us because they were making so much money from it.
Scoop: Wow, so you had to stop filming?
BP: If we were outside on a location shoot, the tram with its microphone and its tour guide, we would have to stop. Because number one, we couldn’t use the sound with them in the background, but number two the deal was that when they were coming through, we waited for them, to let them go past and then we would fire it up and redo it. It was almost like when you were in the street playing football as a kid and then “Car!” and everyone stops, the tram comes through. We would stop and chat with the people a little bit and then the tram would go around the corner. Luckily back then they only had one an hour. It wasn’t like it is today where they’re coming through every ten minutes.
Scoop: Did you ever get scared by the makeup or sets?
No, no I was pretty much never scared about anything. I used to love to go explore when I could ditch my social worker and have time on my own, because normally they didn’t want you to do anything that could be considered dangerous. We were next door to Stage 29, I believe, but it was the Phantom of the Opera stage. Which was the largest soundstage in Hollywood. It was, like, six stories tall. I used to go in there and climb up the ladders on the sides to get up to the catwalks where all the lights were. Instead of being, maybe 10-12 feet up there, they were like 60-70 feet up there. So, it was a really interesting place to go see. It was the stage with all the seats like a normal opera. It was a wonderful place to go explore. The whole studio was a cool spot. I had a very blessed childhood. When I wasn’t at the studio, I was at the ballpark with my baseball playing stepfather, or I was at the movie studio. So, it was pretty cool.
Scoop: How long did you get stuck in the cabinets while filming?
BP: It wasn’t too bad. They were pretty efficient in getting me in and getting me out. I was so small for my age that I really could fit into a lot of spaces. I think there was the drawers, obviously, the dresser drawers for sleeping, the kitchen cabinet, then there was the grandfather clock, behind the fireplace. They put me on wires and put me on the ceiling. I think that was about it. Running around, this and that, it was fun. But, they never left me in too long.
Scoop: You were on several popular TV shows as a little kid, including The Real McCoys, Bonanza, and Mister Ed, among others. What were those experiences like for you? Did you have a favorite?
I really enjoyed the westerns because I could ride a horse and my uncle John used to supply horses to the studios, so I would see him occasionally. One of my favorite shows at the time was Rawhide, so to do Rawhide with Clint Eastwood was very, very cool for me. Bonanza and Gunsmoke were good. I watched Gunsmoke myself. As far as fun campy shows, I did My Favorite Martian and I Dream of Jeannie, which I enjoyed both of them. I would always enjoy doing a show that I watched myself. I did a lot of shows that I never watched, but The Untouchables, I watched, I didn’t watch Ben Casey, I didn’t watch The Detectives, I didn’t watch cop shows until after The Munsters when I did Adam-12, I did a couple of those. I did some Disney stuff, which was after The Munsters, the Disney Studio was pretty much the gold standard for kids. If you got work out of Disney, you were doing really well. I spent about a year and a half out there and did a lot of work for a brief period of time.
The Monkees was a big thing for me I was a big fan of the show. I missed meeting the Beatles when they came to Universal Studios, somehow I missed them. The Monkees, at the time, were as popular as the Beatles in America, if not maybe more because of the TV show connection. So, I had a good time doing their Christmas show, working with them for a whole week – as an equal. A lot of the show was about them babysitting me, so I had lots and lots of scenes with them. I was like, another small, young 13-year-old robot, genius computer type kid. Except for Mike Nesmith, the other three were kind of like playing goofy kid-like characters and I was the kid in the suit and the sports jacket who was very analytical and adult-like. At Christmas, which kind of played the whole thing that I didn’t get the meaning of Christmas. I was kind of doing a “bah humbug” approach to it.
Scoop: What was it like being on My Three Sons?
BP: Oh, that was cool. The way that came about was very interesting. I was living with Mary Grady, who was my agent, whose son was Don Grady who was Robbie [on the show]. Virginia Martindale was the casting director for My Three Sons, and I think what happened was one day, they needed somebody fast and Virginia knew that I was at Mary Grady’s house and I basically got to ride into work with Don Grady. My character was to be Ernie’s best friend and after that one time, they just kept writing me in. So, over the course of about three years I think I did nine or ten episodes, always as Ernie’s best friend. It was more of a convenience thing at the start, then I figured after that, for Virginia, it saved her having to have a casting call because she knew that “Butch worked out well the first time, so we don’t have to worry about calling anymore kids and I played different characters and nobody seemed to care. It was great. To this day, I’m friends with Stan and Barry and Don when he was alive, bless his heart, and Mary Grady, his mom, is still alive and she’s like, in her mid-90s. She was my only agent in Hollywood ever. The only agent I ever had.
Scoop: How was your experience filming Lidsville? I imagine it was fairly trippy.
It was the cuckoo, kookiest. That was a series I didn’t really want to do. I was in high school, about ready to graduate and they filmed from June to September of ’71. I turned them down twice. I went out, I looked at it and said, “No, I don’t think I want to do this. I had really long hair, I looked like a should’ve been in Led Zeppelin or something. I had hair almost down to my waist. I was surfing and all I really wanted to do was go to the beach and smoke doobies and be a ’60s Woodstock type of kid in the ’70s.
But, Marty [Krofft] called up again, and I went out again, and I met with Sid [Krofft]. Sid took me out in his Corvette, we went out to Hollywood Boulevard and got my haircut. I decided to do it because The Cowsills, who I was going to school with at the time told me, “Who’s going to turn down work? It’s 11 weeks out of your life, the paycheck was pretty substantial.” They had told me they made Jack Wild a star in H.R. Pufnstuf, and I corrected them and said, “No, Jack Wild was the star from Oliver!, so don’t try to tell me something that’s not true, but I will do the show,” because I really thought the one girl was cute. Caroline Ellis. I thought, well maybe she’ll come to the set one day. That would be worth the trip right there.
So, I wound up doing it and it turned out to be an interesting summer. Charles Nelson Reilly was a handful, Billie Hayes was wonderful, Sharon Baird who played Raunchy Rabbit was wonderful, and all the Little People in the hats, I knew most of them, because at one time or another they had been my stand-ins as a kid, growing up. So, that was an interesting summer. I did it because, I never thought anybody would see the show, because obviously, Saturday morning, all my friends would be sleeping. As it turned out, they saw it, and they liked it, and in hindsight, I’m happy to have done it because it’s got a lot of staying power amongst the Krofft shows. And the Kroffts did a lot of good stuff. Lidsville was one of them.
Scoop: What was it like returning for Here Come the Munsters in 1995?
BP: That was interesting. They’d done some remakes. I saw Fred [Gwynne] and Al [Lewis] during Munsters’ Revenge, I think it was in 1982. A friend of mine had a business and said, “Hey, The Munsters are across the street from me.” And I go, “Get out of here.” And he says, “No, I’m serious.” I drove out, and kind of surprised both Al and Fred, reconnected with them at that time. Then when we did Here Come the Munsters, Edward Herrmann did a really good job. He did the best job of anybody recreating the role. The fact that we did a cameo in it, all of us together, was nice. I’m glad it happened. 
Scoop: You’ve appeared in a bunch of horror movies in recent years. Are you a fan of the genre?
BP: Not especially. I like comedies. But, work is work. [laughs] I’m not a big fan of getting scared, I never have been. I didn’t really consider the Universal monster movies to be scary. I considered them to be really cool, unusual stories. The horror genre of today, is like, slashers and chainsaws, and Saw and Hostel, and stuff like that. It’s kind of like the dark side of humanity being films. I’m not really a big fan of that. But, an actor’s job is to act and that’s what I try to do. I don’t even go on auditions anymore, what I do is, someone submits an idea to me, and if my schedule permits it... It’s usually not a payday. You’re not doing it for the money. You’re doing it sort of to get back to the filmmaking genre and it just so happens that a lot of people that are Munsters fans and write stuff for me are making horror movies.
Scoop: Are you a collector?
BP: Everybody collects something, that’s for sure. It’s an interesting thing. Obviously, being from a TV show that was highly merchandized, when I go to personal appearances, a lot of collectibles come across my table. I bought a Beatles collection about 30 years ago from a guy who wanted to open a music studio and I bought it to keep about 20-30 of the pieces for myself and I liquidated the rest of it. I try to collect little things when I travel. Something of interest that I can bring home. Most of the things I collect are autographs from people that I sat next to during personal appearances that I find to be interesting. Then I’ll try to get two – one to auction off for the St. Louis Pet Rescue or bring one home to someone that’s watching the house. That type of thing.
Scoop: What do you like about doing conventions?
BP: Mainly the fans. The multigeneration of The Munsters is into grandparents, parents, kids. It’s something they all watch together. I get a lot of people who are now, maybe in their 40s and 50s who have memories of watching it with their grandparents who have passed. A lot of times, you get these stories about how you were a part of their extended family and they have fond memories of their childhood, because one of the things they remember is watching it and their grandfather used to laugh, and it was his favorite show. Things like that.
Scoop: What are some of your most memorable fan encounters?
Probably when the kids come out dressed up as me. That’s always fun. You’ll have a lot of times when people present a picture of their family at Halloween as The Munsters and they won first prize. Or they have a car that was customized to resemble the Munster car. Stuff like that. Tattoos. A lot of ink on people featuring The Munsters and Universal monsters.
Scoop: What are your plans for this summer?
BP: I bought a couple of the Munster replica cars about five years ago from a gentleman. We were working together, he was hired to drive me around in his Munster coach. We became friends. He wanted to sell them off and I wound up buying them a couple years ago. Escape rooms, a few year ago, became really popular and I got a neat trailer about six months ago, and I took the Dragula space in front and I turned it into a Munster-themed escape room. So now, when this is all said and done, first of all, I’ll probably be moving to Nashville to work in a venue that’s going to be brick and mortar that’s going to be called the Terror Zone. It will feature a Munsters sound stage on the left and a macabre theater viewing platform and a theater on the right. Then, as you go through those two sound stages and sets, you’ll enter the Terror Zone which will be an hour-long escape room. My trailer, the mini escape room, takes like 13 minutes and it features, like, 5 puzzles and 2 Munster-inspired rooms – the living room and the dungeon. That’s what I plan on doing. I’ll still be sitting at a table, I’ll still be meeting people, I’ll still have the Munster coach on display, but while I’m there with this 30-foot trailer and the truck, I’ll have an escape room where the car comes out and you walk up the ramp. I will have walls that say “1313 Mockingbird Lane.” So that’s what I’m doing.
Scoop: Well, this was really cool, I’m a fan of The Munsters, so I was excited to chat with you.
Thank you, this was fun.
For more information on Butch Patrick and his convention appearances, contact his agents at Eva Ink Artist Group/Pros & Cons Celebrity Booking at evaink@aol.com.

Tom Cook-- Artist on He-Man, Smurfs-- Talks about his career!

 Hi Guys- Here is a great interview with our friend and client Tom Cook.  Here's a link to the original page as well:

In the 1980s, animator Tom Cook worked on several of the most popular animated shows, including The Smurfs, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, The Original Ghostbusters, BraveStarr, and more. Cook recently spoke to Scoop, recalling the highlights and challenges of his career, the animation industry, his collection, and what he enjoys about attending conventions.
Scoop: Were you an artist as a child?
Tom Cook (TC): Well, I liked to draw. I guess it was about 1961 or so, that Marvel Comics came out with Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. As a kid, I loved collecting comics and then when Spider-Man came out, that’s what really made me want to draw. I kind of drew just for myself, just lots of superheroes. Later on, that ended up being the reason I got hired at Hanna-Barbera – my superhero stuff.
Scoop: Is that how you got into the animation business, through Hanna-Barbera?
Yeah, I was a bus driver, a transit bus driver in LA and I’d done this since, like, ’75, so three years. One day I was having lunch and I went out and got the mail and it was just a bunch of junk mail. So, I went thumbing through the junk mail and sat down to eat my sandwich when I see this little pamphlet in there. I started flipping through this pamphlet as I was eating and it was from the local college with some of the classes they were going to be teaching during the summer. One of the classes was a comic book class. As a class, we were going to create our own comic book. So, I was really interested in that class, plus the teacher was a guy named Don Rico who drew Captain America back in the good ole days, so I thought, “Well, here’s my chance to not just take a cool class, but I’ll get to meet an actual artist in the comic books.”
He had us bring all of our drawings in, our portfolios, and after the second class he said, “Hey Tom, can I talk to you?” At first, I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, what the heck have I done wrong already? I just got in the class.” He said “I work at Hanna-Barbera as a storyboard artist and we’re looking for people that can draw superheroes, and I like your superhero work. We have a lot of people that can draw Scooby-Doo and Fred Flintstone and all that sort of stuff, but we don’t have too many people that can draw really, realistic characters and make them look good. We’re doing a new TV show called Super Friends that’s going to have Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, so we’re looking for people.” I said, “I have no idea about animation.” He said, “Well, I can get you into a class that teaches basic animation. You have to be recommended by one of the people that works at Hanna-Barbera. I’d like to recommend you.” I was like, “Gosh, yes, I’d love to do that.”
So, Thursday nights they had this class, and it was free, so I just had to drive down to Hanna-Barbera on Thursday nights. The first assignment was doing an in-between. So, I struggled doing that, because, like I said, I had no experience doing this at all. After the third week, they came in and announced that out of about 30 people that were in the class, they were going to hire four of us and I was one of the four. Which scared the crap out of me, because I had no idea what I was doing. It ended up working out really good.
Scoop: What’s your working environment like? Did you like having a lot of space, did you listen to music, did you like having a view?
Well, when I first started at Hanna-Barbera they had hired a lot of people. In fact, they would have hired me a little sooner, except they didn’t have any room for us. No room for desks or anything. So, they rented an airplane hangar at Burbank Airport, which was maybe about five miles away and just stuck a bunch of desks in this airplane hangar. That’s where I sat for the first two or three months working there. We were just out in the middle of this hangar, there were no cubicles or anything. There were like six of us. Then they had the ink and paint department, those are the ones that paint the cels. So, there were probably about 80-100 of them sitting in this airplane hangar. We were kind of separated from them because we were a bit noisier. You were allowed to put headphones on and listen to music. Whatever you wanted to do. Early on, I would bring a TV and watch TV while I was working.
Scoop: I believe one of your early jobs was on Scooby-Doo and Scrappy-Doo. How did you feel getting involved in the franchise, which had already been around for 10 years?
That was super exciting. This was one of the things that was so cool about being a fan and then suddenly finding yourself working. I grew up with Hanna-Barbera. I grew up with Yogi Bear and Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw and then eventually Jonny Quest and all those really good shows they came up with. So to find myself suddenly working on Fred Flintstone, because we were doing the new Fred and Barney show, that was one of the first things I ever did.
In fact, the first drawing I ever did at the studio was of Fred Flintstone. I had that put onto a cel and they painted it for me and gave me a Flintstones background. I still have that at my studio – my first drawing ever. But to do Scooby-Doo, that was another that was just huge and of course, it’s probably one of the longest running cartoons ever. It’s been going since ’69, so that’s 51 years. It was really cool to get in there and get to draw Scooby and Shaggy and the whole gang.
Scoop: What was it like working on The Smurfs and its big cast of characters?
Well, it was like in the late ’70s, early ’80s, they came out with the little Smurf toys. These little rubber toys, just a couple inches high, and they would have some of the mushroom houses and stuff like that. I saw those at a store and thought, “Wow, this would be a really good cartoon.” Sure enough, the next year or two, they came up with the cartoon series.
The only negative with working on The Smurfs is that there were so many of them. Now mind you, if you’ve got a scene to animate, you’ve got 50 drawings of Superman in this scene, that’s going to take some time. But now, you’ve got a scene with 50 drawings of The Smurfs, but there are six Smurfs in the scene. Now you have 300 drawings of Smurfs to do, with the same amount of time on screen. So, if it was like, you know, a 20-second scene, I’d rather do the Superman scene, even though it’s a little more complicated because I only have 50 drawings to do instead of 300. That was the tough thing about The Smurfs. Thankfully, they were easy to draw. So, you could draw them pretty quickly.
I remember having a scene where I had four Smurfs on one side, four Smurfs on the other side and they were doing a tug of war. Though each character has to move differently, so you can’t recreate the same action for everybody. It was a difficult show, really for me, anyway, to animate. So many characters to draw.
Scoop: You had long runs working on a few shows, including He-Man and then She-Ra. What did you like about working on those programs?
That we were employed. [laughs] That’s because in 1981, the union the Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists Guild, decided to go on strike for more money. Every year we used to have a layoff of two or three months at the end of the season, because once you got the show done, you had to wait and find out if it was going to be a hit and if they were going to do a second season or what new shows they were going to be doing. For the new shows, you didn’t really start working until, maybe February. So, you get laid-off in, like, November, and you have to wait until February to get work. I said, “Look, what I want to do, is I want to get a longer work year, so that instead of losing out on those three months – that will be my raise, rather than getting more money.” But, there were people that just wanted more money and Hanna-Barbera had warned us that if you ask for so much money, we can’t afford that and we’ll have to send the work over to Japan. The union called their bluff and that was it – they closed the studio, so I had nowhere to work.
Lucky for me, I had heard that Filmation, that did He-Man and She-Ra, the studio head, his name was Lou Scheimer, had said, “I’m not going to send work overseas, because this is an American artform, and we have to keep the work here. We have 1,000 or more people in this business, and we need to keep the work here.” But, every other studio, except Filmation, sent all the work to Korea and Japan. And then He-Man came up it was huge. Instead of doing 13 episodes a season for Saturday morning, He-Man was Monday through Friday. So, we had 65 episodes to do in a year and that’s more than an episode a week. So, for the next 7 or 8 years, I never got laid-off again, it was always work, work, work. It was fine with me, because the alternative was not having any work at all and maybe going back to bus driving.
Scoop: Did you have a favorite character from those shows?
TC: I always say, the character I liked to draw the most was Orko, and that was because he didn’t have any legs and I didn’t have to make him walk. [laughs] I could just float him everywhere, so it was an easier character to draw. But, I liked working on Skeletor and He-Man, any scene that had those two in it was a lot of fun to do. Orko, you could get away with more animation, crazy animation because he was a cartoony character instead of a human figure. So, you could do a little bit more with him. As an animator, that’s what you like. It was a little straightforward with a human, they have to move like a human. But, with Orko he could do whatever the heck you wanted him to do.
Scoop: With those two shows and others, you worked in the fantasy genre, you worked on superheroes in Super Friends, sci-fi in Ghostbusters, even a western with BraveStarr. Did you prefer any one genre? If so, why?
Before I worked at Filmation, I worked at a little company, I was only there for about a year because they’re one of the ones that closed their doors and sent the work overseas. But, I worked on something called Thundarr the Barbarian, and that was in the vein of He-Man, but it was a couple years before He-Man. The storyline went that a comet had come and almost crashed into the Earth, and broke the moon in half and it caused tidal waves and earthquakes and everything else, so it kind of wiped out most life on Earth and the only ones left were barbarians and there were some sorcerers left. They were kind of fighting it out to see who was going to rule the Earth. That’s the show that I enjoyed working on the most.
Partially, because it was so well written. The other thing I liked about it was that one of the creators of the show was Jack Kirby, and Jack Kirby was the creator of Iron Man, the Hulk, the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer – all these Marvel characters. Getting to meet him, because he was one of those guys drawing the comics when I was 8 years old and I loved his artwork, and to actually meet him and be able to work in the same studio with him was huge for me. I think that’s the genre I liked the most.
Scoop: In addition to animation, you worked as a timing director on a few projects. Can you explain what that job entails for those outside of the business?
Sure, they call it timing director in animation, mainly because, the storyboard has already been done. So, like, in live-action, if you are the director, you would get together with whoever’s putting the story together and help form the storyboard and that’s what the blueprint is for filming the movie – what’s going to be a closeup, what’s going to be a far shot, that type of thing.
With the timing director, you’re still in charge of timing the show, and getting the characters to move like you’d like them to – if something is going to move fast, or something’s going to be really dynamic, like if somebody’s picking up a rock, do you want him to really strain to get it or is he super strong and going to pick it up like it’s a leaf? It was my job to go through and time each scene so that when you got to the end of the show, you hit the marks for the commercials and that the show would end at the right time.
You had to do something called slugging the board. So once the storyboard was done, it could run 22 minutes, 23 minutes, whatever, but you had to get it down to exactly 22 minutes – like to the frame. That’s what you did, you went in and saw which scenes you wanted to be a little bit longer, which ones you wanted to hold on things for dramatic effect and other things you could cut really quick to get rid of some of the frames you needed to get rid of. You basically worked with the soundtrack and would explain to the animators what you wanted to see from them.
Because in animation, the animator is kind of the actor. The voice does the voice, but the animator is the one that draws the character doing what he’s going to do. So, the animator, listens to the soundtrack, sees how he says what he’s saying and then figures out what he wants the characters to move like. Each animator is different, so everyone is going to take a scene and do it differently. It’s the same thing with actors where, you know, you have Marlon Brando act a scene or Tom Hanks act a scene – it’s going to be different, even if it’s the same character, just based on what they see in that character. As a timing director, that’s what you’re kind of in charge of, but instead of taking a bullhorn and saying, “Okay, Marlon, I want you to walk in slowly and then pick this up,” I’m writing down on what we call exposure sheets what I want the animator to do. So, it’s kind of the same idea.
Scoop: I’m sure you see plenty of neat collectibles at conventions. Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect?
[Laughs] Oh boy, am I a collector. I’m sitting right now in my studio and the studio is 12 feet wide, 40 feet long and it is just covered in collectibles. [laughs] It’s a lot of comic books, because I’m a big comic book collector. I also have a lot of statues of the characters I worked on. I have He-Man, She-Ra, Teela, Man-At-Arms, Skeletor, and Trap Jaw. I have really nice statues that are a couple feet tall. I’ve got pictures on the wall, autographed pictures. I’m a big Star Wars fan, so I’ve got a picture of Princess Leia in the slave outfit autographed by Carrie Fisher.
The other side of the studio, I have a baseball section, because I was a big baseball fan. I’ve got Mickey Mantle autographs, lots of the main stars from the ’50s and ’60s. I’ve got a lot of their autographs – Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Duke Snider, Ted Williams.
On the other side, it’s a lot of collectibles from the shows I worked on, like all the toys. I’ve got lunchboxes, cookie jars, something they used to call soakys, which is the shampoo, the little bottle shaped like the character that you used the shampoo and then collect the bottles. I’ve got a lot of those. Records, just tons of stuff. We could be here another two hours if you want me to describe everything. I’ve got some Pops. I’m not really into the Pops, but they did some of Scooby-Doo and the He-Man characters – I’ve got those. I actually have a Stan Lee one, obviously being a Stan Lee fan.
Actually at the Stan Lee’s Comikaze, the lady that ran it was a huge She-Ra fan, so she, when she found out I was a big Marvel comics fan, set it up that I spent 20 minutes with Stan Lee in a room. I had him sign a bunch of things. I had letters that I sent to Jack Kirby and he had sent back to me and were autographed by Jack. I had Stan sign them. I did some drawings of some of the covers, famous comic book covers, and I had Stan sign those for me as well. He was just nice as can be. I’d met him a zillion times, but each time his handlers are around so you don’t really get to talk to him. But, this time I had 20 minutes of just whatever I wanted to say to him. It was great. That’s one of the highlights of my life.
Scoop: You’re a pretty big Marvel fan, do you have a lot of comics.
Yeah, I used to have everything, literally everything from 1960-1961 up until the ’90s and I sold those at Heritage Auction house and basically paid off my house. So, I don’t have any house payments. Now I’ve been out collecting, getting them graded. It’s easier to sell them if they’re graded because then you don’t have this “what condition is it in?” it already says what condition it’s in, so you can get top dollar for it. I’ve got the Spider-Man #1-50, I’ve got all the X-Men up to, like, #150. I’m going out and getting a lot of the ones that are worth quite a bit of money, but making sure they’re graded and in fairly good shape. I can’t always afford, you know, if you get one that’s in a 9 condition, which is really good condition, but it’s Spider-Man #1. That’s $50,000, sorry, can’t afford that. Some of those, I’ve had to get lesser gradings. When it gets up into the #40s and #50s, I’ve got mainly 9s for most stuff. I collect some DC as well, but as soon as Marvel came along, DC was a distant past, because they just weren’t as good. Now, I don’t think either company is very good right now, I don’t really like what they’ve done to the characters – they’ve changed a lot of the stuff. Any of the early stuff up until the mid-’70s, maybe even into the ’80s are things I still collect.
Scoop: What do you like about attending conventions?
TC: I do a lot of conventions. I probably do 25 a year. I like it because number one, I get to meet the fans. When I was a kid, what I would’ve given to meet Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, any of these people that were working on these cartoons that I loved so much. It’s kind of a way of reliving that, but I’m on the other side of the table. I think a lot of people don’t understand why we are so popular, but I do, because I was a fan too. So, if I get a chance to meet somebody, even some of the comic book artists that I do these shows with, I go up and get a commission piece of art from them because I love their work. I’m like a little kid meeting these people.
It’s really nice to have it the other way as well. I was sitting there one day, I had a line of maybe three or four people waiting, and all of a sudden I look up and one of the main comic book artists, his name is Arthur Adams, is standing in my line. [laughs] I’m like “Wow, this is really weird.” So, he came up and said, “Yeah, I want to get the Super Friends print signed by you because Super Friends is what made me want to draw when I was a kid.” So, it’s the same thing. I drew because of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and now this guy’s drawing because of Super Friends and he has a huge career. So, I said, “Look, let’s just trade. I’ll give you my autograph, you give me something of yours with an autograph on it and we’ll be fine.” That’s a lot of fun.
Plus, the characters that I do are so popular that people come up and want a commission. I usually get the commissions during the day and then at nighttime when I get back to the hotel after eating dinner, I’ll sit down and draw whatever people wanted and bring it in the next day. That gives them a really cool collectible from the actual artist that I’ll sign to them. All of that is fun.
The actual convention, they’re all running together, because every convention center looks the same. So, it’s kind of the experience when I get to the city, that I get to do some things in the city. I usually don’t leave until Monday after the show’s over. I try to leave at 5 in the afternoon so that Monday morning I can get up and go visit a museum or something like that. In Cleveland, it was the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I’d never been there before. On Monday, I went over there and enjoyed the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It gives me the chance to go out and see a lot of things that I would never get a chance to see if not for the comic cons.
Scoop: You mentioned being a fan of drawing Thundarr, did you have any other favorites that really stand out to you? Or characters you wanted to draw?
TC: Yeah, yeah. In fact, Thundarr, I think was my favorite one overall. I also worked on Roger Rabbit, but it was one of the shorts called Tummy Trouble and I really loved working on that because we were working with live-action and the cartoon was in the live-action. It was a really unique process that I’d never done before. That was really fun. Getting to work on The Prince and the Pauper, which is a Mickey Mouse short, and it was the first Mickey Mouse short that had Goofy and Donald in it since, like, the ’40s or ’50s, or something like that. To get to work on Mickey Mouse, you know, first sound cartoon of all-time, that was really cool. I did a really good Garfield special that was on TV and won an Emmy, called Babes and Bullets where he plays a detective like back in the ’40s, like film noir type thing. That was really fun. Paula Abdul had a song called “Opposites Attract” where she dances with M.C. Skat Kat, which is a cartoon cat and I got to work on that as well. That was kind of way off something I never thought I’d do either, working on an actual music video.
Scoop: Wow, that’s cool. I love that music video.
TC: Look, my whole life, as you can see how I got into this business, was a series of lucky things. I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t go to animation school, I just happened to fall into it. I didn’t seek out to work on a video – I just fell into it. Every time I turned around, something would pop up and I’d be able to get involved. So, I was just really blessed to be in this business and to have as long of a career as I did, because after ’81, when they closed all these studios, it was really hard to find work. Thank goodness for Filmation, but even that closed in ’89.
That’s when I moved to Seattle and I got in at Microsoft and it was the same thing, somebody saw a drawing I did from a movie called Rover Dangerfield which is Rodney Dangerfield as a dog. Somebody saw this picture and asked “Hey, who did this drawing?” and the person who had it said, “Oh this is Tom Cook’s, he was an animator down in LA.” The other person said, “well, we need an animator.” Next thing I know, I get a job at Microsoft. I never even applied for a job at Microsoft.
I never applied at Hanna-Barbera. All of these things just – things happened that led me to there. The Microsoft job was one of the best jobs I ever had. Then off of that, they came up with the first 3D computer program at Microsoft, called Softimage, so in 1996-1997, something like that, I was learning how to animate in a computer where nobody else was doing that, so I got a step up on everyone else, animating things on a computer. And I told all my buddies down in LA, “You better learn this computer,” and none of them listened to me and they all got laid-off at Disney because they couldn’t use a computer.
Scoop: As a kid of the ’80s, your animation had an influence on my appreciation for the artwork and shaped my perspective on what I consider good animation.
TC: Did you have a favorite show?
Scoop: I think She-Ra was my favorite. I have an older brother, so when we were kids, we ended up watching a lot of the stuff he liked, including He-Man. So, when they introduced a She-Ra show, I was excited to see the girl lead the show and be the hero.
Of course, I hear the She-Ra story all the time. Because it was the first female who had her own show. We had Wonder Woman in Super Friends, but she was just one of the group. Filmation was always that way, we had the first Indian superhero, before He-Man, there was a character called Blackstar and he was originally supposed to be black and the networks wouldn’t let us make him black because they didn’t think it was the right time yet, for that.
Then, we were the first ones to put the woman first, with She-Ra. To give you an example, I’m at the comic cons, and this has happened twice now, my wife was at Summer Glau’s panel and they asked her, “what did you like when you were growing up?” and she said “My favorite thing was She-Ra.” So, my wife told me that and I took her a drawing of She-Ra and autographed it for her. She was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it!” She had a big line, so I couldn’t really spend a lot of time talking to her. But later on, at another show a couple months later, when her line got really low, I went over to her and said, “I’m the guy that gave you the She-Ra.” She said, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t get the chance to thank you enough.” So, we had a good talk about it.
Then probably, it’s only been a couple of months, I was in Portland and one of the girls, her name’s Emily Swallow from The Mandalorian was there, and the guy that runs artist alley came over to me and said, “Hey, I was just in her panel and she mentioned that she loved She-Ra.” So now, every show I see her, because we do a lot of Wizard Worlds together, we always get together and talk. She can’t wait because in Chicago, Wizard World this year in August, the voice of She-Ra is going to be there. So I gave her an original drawing of She-Ra and said “Bring this with you and get her to sign it for you. She’s a really sweet lady, you’ll really like her.” Plus, the voice of Skeletor is going to be coming too.
[The showrunners] contacted me and said they wanted to have these people and asked if I could get them and I said “Oh, I know them really well,” so I called them up and asked if they wanted to do a show in Chicago and they both said yes. Alan Oppenheimer, the voice of Skeletor, he’s 92 or 91, but still doing really well. I’m a little worried about this corona thing but I’m sure he’s smart and staying out of crowds. He’s still in pretty good shape. Melendy Britt, I imagine is in her 70s and she still looks great as well. I’m looking forward to getting back with them. I’ve done, probably four or five shows with them and they’re always fun. We do a nice panel with all three of us and all the fans ask questions. It’s really a blast.
Scoop: Well, that’s all I had for you. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
TC: I appreciate it very much, I love doing these interviews. It’s always nice to talk about the good old days.
For more information on Tom Cook sketch commissions or convention appearance, contact his agent at Eva Ink Artist Group: evaink@aol.com.