By Jim Beard
Collectively known as Man of Action Studios, the team of Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau, Steven T. Seagle, and Joe Casey, serving as Supervising Producers on “Ultimate Spider-Man,” have worked together in the world of animation for years, creating such shows as “Ben 10” and “Generator Rex."
But beyond their work in animation, each member of the creative quartet has a long history in the world of comics. With the premiere of “Ultimate Spider-Man” only a few short weeks away on April 1, Marvel.com will chat with each member of the group on their past work, the transition from comics to animation, and what it’s been like chronicling Spidey’s new animated adventures.
A product of the “Stan-Hattan” Marvel writing tutorial at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, writer Joe Kelly wasted no time and started wowing fans with his first ongoing Marvel project, DEADPOOL. Since then he’s touched upon just about every corner of the Marvel Universe and beyond, including the world-famous character he and his Man of Action partners will tackle in the newest and greatest Marvel animated series yet.
Marvel.com: Joe, what’s your secret origin as a peerless purveyor of animation?
|Joe Kelly of Man of Action Studios|
Joe Kelly: I sort of broke into animation from two different directions. On the one hand, Man of Action had created “Ben 10,” so we were developing the original series and heading that way as a group. At about the same time, a friend of mine from NYU recommended me for work at 4Kids on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” -- I was actually coming in as Marvel maniac Chris Yost was leaving to run “Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes.” In short order, I was story editing at 4Kids while co-creating/writing “Ben 10.” Needless to say, it was a pretty good time all around.
Marvel.com: What has to be the single greatest joy of the medium for you as a writer/producer?
Joe Kelly: At the risk of sounding corny, it's the reactions of the kids to what we do. I'll meet a kid at a convention and his mom will say, "These are the guys who created ‘Ben 10,’” and this look comes over them like they're actually meeting Ben himself. It's really special. I lived on cartoons as a kid, because you had to have something in between Star Wars movies, and I really got into them. As I grew older I discovered anime and all bets were off.
Remembering how I felt when I'd plug into a show I really cared about -- be it “Spider-Man,” “Battle of the Planets,” or even “The Powerpuff Girls” -- I'm really struck any time I meet a young fan of our animated work. Cartoons have become much more sophisticated and slick, but at the end of the day they exist to make kids laugh or give them a thrill. Being able to continue that animated "circle of life," so to speak, is a real honor for me.
|"Ultimate Spider-Man" premieres April 1 inside Marvel Universe on Disney XD|
Marvel.com: That’s really, really cool. So, there've been several Spider-Man shows before this; what will distinguish “Ultimate Spider-Man” from its predecessors, in your opinion?
Joe Kelly: I've watched Spidey cartoons my whole life, and enjoyed them all for various reasons. This is the first time a Spider-Man cartoon has taken Spidey's character and built it into the DNA of the storytelling, which is to say that the humor and Peter's personality aren't just expressed in one liners and cool action. We have that and a lot more. Watching this show is like getting inside of Spidey's head while he goes on an adventure. It's like you're swinging next to him, with full access to his inner monologue, feelings, and most important, sense of humor.
The "fourth wall" is shattered in this show, and the full power of animation is visually unleashed at the audience whenever Spidey conveys a point or shares his thoughts. We're doing things that no one is "allowed" to do in a traditional action show, and it just leaps off the screen.
Marvel.com: On “Ultimate Spider-Man,” is that how you’ll examine the character of Peter to find and deliver something fresh in his portrayal?
|Man of Action's Steven T. Seagle & Joe Kelly and Ryan Penagos (center) at WonderCon 2012|
Joe Kelly: Again, I go back to the younger me who read Spidey or watched the shows and completely related to Peter. I was an honor student, loved science and art, but felt like a dumped-on, misunderstood nerd a lot of the time. That said, I also had great friends and a sense of humor that helped me get by. It also helped me get out of more than one or two fights! Reading Peter Parker was like reading about myself, and I've never lost that connection to the character. Add the Spider-powers and BOOM, that's my ultimate fantasy life.
So in approaching the series, I just try to tap into that kid -- still very much alive in my mind--and think about how awesome he would think his life would be if he was rocking Spider-powers and saving NYC every day with a bunch of super-powered best friends...then Peter pretty much writes himself!
Marvel.com: For people who are familiar with the mainstream Marvel Universe Spidey titles and his Ultimate Universe book, what would you tell them to expect in the new animated series?
Joe Kelly: It's probably been said before, but when we came on board, the idea of "Ultimate Spider-Man" was never to copy what Brian Michael Bendis and the gang did in the comics, but rather take inspiration from the "anything goes" spirit in which that universe was created. We've embraced that wholeheartedly and it's made for a new type of Spider-Man show that has familiar signposts for long-time fans, but breaks new ground with every episode.
Marvel.com: Okay, what, if anything, do you feel you bring to the show from your experience working on such Marvel characters like Deadpool, Daredevil, X-Men, and of course, Spider-Man?
|Screenshot from "Ultimate Spider-Man"|
Joe Kelly: I've been told that I have a decent sense of humor. I'm not sure whether or not that's just the voices in my head or my kids laughing at me when I ask them to clean their rooms, but we'll run with "Joe's funny" for now.
I cut my action-comedy teeth at Marvel where I learned to pop dialogue and focus on character. Deadpool is probably the best example of my comic-brain unleashed on a mainstream character. I've tried to channel the spirit of my Deadpool-head into writing Spidey whenever possible, minus the self-destructive angst and the potty mouth! Writing on the X-Men -- which is where I originally met all of my Man of Action partners -- prepped me for writing a team show and the unique challenges of keeping many plates spinning over the course of a series. And of course, it was a dream job writing for Spider-Man, which goes without saying.
Writing for comics also helps a lot with structure and speed, which are critical in animation. You just can't put out a monthly book without the fundamentals in place. I'm proud to have started my career at Marvel and proud that it continues with them in animation.