Few shows were as at home at the recent Comic-Con International in San Diego than The Spectacular Spider-Man, the most-recent animated series to adapt the classic Marvel Comics series to television.
Chatting backstage prior to their panel at the show, supervising producer Greg Weisman says the show ‘ airing its second season shows on Disney XD ‘ is awaiting word on whether a third season has been greenlit. The DVD set of the show’s first season came out just before Comic-Con, and Weisman says the panel was going to show some completely new, never before seen footage to tide over fans.
Weisman developed the show, and says it was tremendous fun to do the research for it. ‘I read ‘ or re-read cause I’d read it all before ‘ but I reread decades worth of Spider-Man comics and assorted stuff from beyond that,’ he says.
And like most comic book fans, he has his favorite eras and creators when it comes to Spider-Man, who was created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in 1962. And those preferences had a strong influcence on the look of the show.
‘We really tried to make the Lee-Ditko and Lee-(John) Romita eras the sort of base case for what our show is going to be about,’ he says. ‘And then if we had good ideas from later times, characters from later times, we brought them in. Our show is sort of re-imagining it from Day 1, but we definitely borrowed characters from all sorts of different eras and mish-mashed them together.’
The series also had to be updated a bit, as some of the stories and situations written in the early 1960s just weren’t going to fly in the 21st century, such as 20-something secretary Betty Brant having a relationship with 16-year-old Peter Parker. ‘Wplayed the bit of him being really attracted to her and everything, but at the end she says Peter, you’re just too young for me,’ Weisman says.
Even more important to the updating was the addition to modern life of the cell phone. ‘That changes the whole dynamic in terms of things like choreography and things like notification, and everything a cell phone has done for people’s lives that just flat-out didn’t exist in 1962,’ he says.
Weisman says the moment he likes the most in the process of making an animated show is the voice recordings. ‘That’s when everything’s about potential,’ he says. ‘You’ve done the hard work of the writing and the hard work of the storyboards and the designs and all that stuff is yet to come. But you’ve got this moment, this sort of three hour window when you’re recording the voices, where these great actors are bringing the words to life and it all just feels like it’s going to be great. It’s not hard, it’s just fun.’
This is the fourth animated outing for Spider-Man, the pervious being the 1960s series, the early 1980s Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, the Fox 1990s series and a CG-animated MTV series in 2002. Weisman says in bringing the characters to life in animation they focused on the action and designing a Spider-Man who moves.
‘After the movies, the expectation of action, and how Spider-Man moves, swings through the city and flips and all the acrobatics ‘ or arachnobatics as we like to call it ‘ become so key to the character that we were determined to design a show that would allow the animators to really go to town,’ Weisman says.
That lead to a very clean but iconic style created by Sean ‘Cheeks’ Galloway, who was brought in by Weisman’s partner as supervising producer on the show, Vic Cook. Weisman says it was one particular character that convinced him Galloway had the right look for the show.
‘The character he did in the very early days that just convinced me that his was the right guy was actually not Spider-Man or the villains, it was Jonah Jameson. He just did a Jonah that immediately, I said that is Jonah. Sean’s style very clean and everything and I looked at that guy and that’s the Jonah I always had in my head. So I knew then that that was the guy. And everyone agreed.’
Galloway says he started his designs from the classic Romita Sr. and Ditko designs and went from there. Another popular Spider-Man artist, Todd McFarlane, was influential in posing the characters, if not in the look of them due to the intense detail in his artwork.
Designing these characters for animation was a learning process, Galloway says. ‘There are some things that, once a couple episodes were aired, I knew right then that what didn’t look good animating,’ he says. The main example was how he had connected the elbow to the forearm. ‘I had the line from where the bicep goes into the forearm, and it wraps around to the elbow. It looks cool illustratively. But when I saw Harry Osborn walk and then turn with that line still on his arm, it just looks really bad.’
Like most superheroes, Spider-Man has an extensive rogue’s gallery and designing those characters was the most enjoyable part of the job. ‘I would say Rhino was really fun. Doc Ock’s probably one of my favorites, and Sandman,’ he says.
Another visual tweak for the series is the color palette, which is more desaturated and uses more earth tones than most superhero cartoons. Working in this kind of palette was not just a creative exercise, but a technical one as well. ‘There’s a certain amount of percentage that can be shown on TV colorwise, and they had to make sure that I met those regulations,’ Galloway says.
Galloways says there’s a bunch of characters he’d love to tackle in a third season, including Scorpion, Tarantula, Madame Web and possibly Puma.
Weisman says he hopes the third season gets the greenlight soon ‘ he says he has the third season’s major arcs worked out and even ideas for beyond that to a fourth and fifth season. What might fans expect in a third season? ‘Hobgoblin. Scorpion. Those are a couple of little tiny hints,’ he says.