Interview transcribed by Brandon the Intern
Z: Welcome everyone to the TWG Grand Comic Fest edition. I’m sitting here with Eric & Julia Lewald. Why Don’t you tell everybody what you’re best known for?
JL: Julia Lewald here, I’m a writer, mostly TV animation some live action and I had the great good fortune of writing on X-Men the animated series. (that came out a few years ago) and we are here celebrating the anniversary of (XTAS) along with other shows I have worked on and Eric has worked on. Eric?
E: Yeah I had the great opportunity to be the showrunner on X-Men the animated series back in the 90s. A fancy way for saying in charge of the stories in charge of the scripts. We’re here in Grand island also with our friend Larry Houston who is in charge of the art side of things. We can’t draw a bit but we love telling stories especially heroic stories. We’ve been in Hollywood for awhile. We both moved out there from the middle of the country. We’ve worked on over 40 different television series. X-Men is the one where everything came together perfectly.
Z: So where did you guys get your start?
JL: Overnight sensations that take ten years. I was born in Wisconsin and grew up in Texas. Those are my bonafides to say I didn’t know anybody. No connections . boy I wish I a little nepotism in my pocket. nothing! In my senior year of college, I was planning on going to graduate school for medicine law whatever that just the path. Bumped into a friend one day who said “I’m moving to California to student teach music, I hear they pay people to write would you like to come with me?” I did it, I moved out to Los Angeles and ten years to the day I arrived in LA I got my law degree because this was before the internet so I thought while being a writer having my law degree would help. One day I got an opportunity from Disney from a friend, for 6 months I was writing scripts and making up ideas for shows and that’s how Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers, got one script past them and then they asked offered me the open desk and that’s how I got started.
E: I got some starts in Minnesota and Tennessee and filmed on movies. Loved the movies and so I made some for dives. I was on the crew for Hercules and that worked and my neighbor actually worked on Conan the Barbarian had written dozens of scripts for them. They just got signed for 5 seasons 65 episodes which is huge! So Conan was looking to hire for the show. I wrote a script and sent it to my friend and he said “they liked one of them this is a good foot in the door” The directors of the show both wanted their own script. We will make you a promise and I said we will let you have this script for free if I can write the next one and read it to you. We each then wrote 6 episodes for a different show called Challenge of the GoBots a transformer competitor. Helped write a few other shows and then got signed onto Disney a few months before she was on. Then an office romance and went from there.
E: We were at Disney for our 3-year contract then they changed their hiring motto and were let go after our 3 years. So, after that the same friend from Tennessee was getting started at this place called Fox Kids. I was hired on there to help oversee the last season of Beetlejuice. That went well and was working on another project for a few months and then got a call one Sunday and was told I need to come in tomorrow morning marvel is going to be here. We are going to have you be in charge of the writing of X-Men animated series. I wasn’t familiar with the comic, so I said that’s Marvel right? He laughed and said, “we will get through the meeting and it will all be okay they have people who know about the comics and they just really like your style of writing.”
Z: When you guys both started writing, did you think you would be a writer for a career?
JL: Honestly, it didn’t really occur to me that you could be a writer because of the way I grew up. But ever since I could I always had a spiral notebook and would constantly write poems or clever quotes I liked from grade school and on. I really would only write for myself I never expected for the world to see what I wrote. But when my friends suggested I could get paid to write in Hollywood it all clicked. I really thought okay this is a good business model and a way for me to make money. I was not into novel writing but being able to make a script and telling a story was magical for me.
E: For me because I liked bed stories, legends, and myths growing up. I also always had a love for big action, heroic movies. My buddies and I would sit down and write a 12-hour movie series about historic adventures things like the trojan war or things with powerful things. Kind of like pre-Game of Thrones. So going out to Hollywood was scary thousands of people trying to do the same thing as me. So, I was lucky enough to have that neighbor who worked on Conan the Barbarian and that was my first step. After working with live action for a while I realized that animation was a little bit more visual. Being a script writer, I was able to help create spectacles and stories. Back in the 80’s if you wanted to have a big action-packed story CGI was not as good as it is today. Animation was the best way to do that because it was too expensive for live action.
JL: The other thing about animation that we both realized was because of the animation by the time you got your script, and everyone signed off they can’t tinker with it on the back end. You know there will always be minor edits and things you may add but that’s about it. Its satisfying seeing something you wrote and your vision on screen the way you wanted it to be.
L: Are there any specific X-Men episodes that you are able to call your own?
JL: The arrogance of the ignorant at that time I was able to write days of future past part 1. That was the crown jewel story. I was lucky enough that fans weren’t as involved you could say with the story. I loved being able to tell this story and add my own little spin with time travel.
L: How many times do you have to go back and look at a script and analyze its logic?
JL: I came up for as story about Beast, in this story Beast helps a blind woman regain her vision. For a character who appears to be the most comfortable in his own skin. Once this woman regains her vision she loves Beast and is very thankful for him but, her father is a raised anti-human so it was a really powerful story.
Z: The whole series I remember watching it and it seems like just cartoons but, looking back on it that’s some heavy topics it approached.
JL: We come up with a 2-part episode in season 4 called “One Man’s Worth” which is about what would the world been like if Xavier didn’t live to form the X-Men.
E: Its one of those things over 5 years that I loved the writing, but it was also about those stories and making sure those stories match and working with the other writers and managing which was about 65% of my job. The hardest part of our job was what stories are we going to tell this season? There is hundreds of stories to pick from. Ya know you pick one out and say yea this could work. But once you find the story the other part is a craft. The inspiration of the story and how it can resonate with a character or the story. With ‘One Man’s Worth”this story it turned into a story about the absence of the X-Men. I am very proud of that one and look back on this episode and it took a few months to animate the show, but the script took 11 months! We are going back and forth struggling with time travel and making sure it made sense but it struggled into existence and we are proud of that.
JL: Because you are pitching to people at Marvel you have to understand the inspiration for them and this inspired the Age of the Apocalypse series.
L: I am glad you mentioned that Futures is one of my favorite comics and the adaptation for it was great.
JL: Marvel was already ahead and had been working on their Age of the Apocalypse series.
E: It kind of inspired them and they had already been creating this story before the comic books came out. So they liked to see our story grow. It was hard because of the timing for how ong “One Man’s Worth” took to come out. So they took this idea from our script and made it something much larger in Age of the Apocalypse. But it was just one of those magical things that everyone agreed what a cool idea. It was satisfying. Another episode was the nightcrawler episode which was not easy to get on children’s television which was a story about a respectful look into faith and what is faith.
JL:I want to jump back to One Man’s Worth for a second. Obviously, I am the hopeless romantic in the room. The fact that the rules are a hellscape and don’t you want to fix this hellscape but that means Storm and Wolverine can’t be married. In those 2 parts that is the only time you see Wolverine wearing a wedding ring. They have to sacrifice their love to save the rest of humanity. As a writer on the show I am like why can’t they be together!
Z: When you are building stories how do you keep it all together because you have stories that jump back and forth so what is the key to that?
JL: A lot of paper and scotch tape on the wall. Nothing like today we didn’t have computers to store files it was old school.
E: We were younger and better organized. We kept lists and charts about the history of the X-Men. We would break down the season, and from there we would make a flow chart with main characters and side characters. I tried to keep charts and graphs because we also had so many partners. You had production, other writers, storyboard and we would also have to sent these charts and graphs overseas. We would have the voice transcripts, the voice tapes, and the script. We would have to send over boxes and boxes of things so they could animate it overseas in those 4 months. Nowadays its so much more computerized and less of a hassle. There would be times where we would have to send things back because it either wasn’t what we wanted or misinterpreted.
Z: It is astounding how many people it takes to create just 1 minute of TV.
E: That’s why storyboarding is so important. You have to make sure the director and producer are all on the same board and it kept the focus. If you have a 200 million dollar feature its easier to storyboard and analyze every nanosecond and perfect the film. Well we didn’t have that budget so we would have to get storyboards back and only be able to maybe fix 30 minutes of a couple 100 minute feature.
Z: Since you are talking so much about the content in your book why don’t you plug it!
JL: Eric came out with this second book previously on X-Men an oral history book. This was the first time we talked with the voice talent. All of the voice recordings took place in Toronto. We obviously heard their voices and would send them notes. The crafting of that book it was a love letter to the show. Marvel itself was actually going into bankruptcy, the rights for characters was all over the place and until 2015 no one from Marvel was taking our calls. In 2016 we found out they were going to get all their rights back. So they called back and said we loved the first book lets make the second with all the official art work. That was the inspiration to go and look for the artwork. That is when it became Indiana Jones trying to find all of the artwork. We had to look through archives.
E: Then we found out there was no archives, storage units and artists basements is where we found the artwork. Most of the stuff had either been thrown away or like we said the artists kept it or random storage units. That was the hardest thing we were worried we weren’t going to find any of the art.
JL: But by dumb luck we had kept some stuff in our garage. We had the original scripts and storyboards but, it wasn’t the original copies we had photocopies of the photocopies of story boards. Then Larry Houston had at least 3 storage units of his career and we found a lot of the stuff. They had to clean out offices and we got access to those boxes and found even more stuff. It was amazing what we found when we found it.
L: Being able to relive those memories and finding some of the original art I bet that was an emotional waterfall.
JL: It really was and unfortunately when the book came out it was 2020 so the world was shut down. We were supposed to go to Comic-Con, but the global pandemic stopped that. This is our first ever con outside of Los Angeles. But we have been to now go out and talk about the book and tell these stories.
Z: The silver lining here is I know a lot of people know are getting physical copies of books again.
L: Comics are making a comeback; hardcopies are making a comeback like fashion everything comes full circle. It is beautiful to see young children dive into comics again. I was a kid when this show came out and it was my babysitter. I would be sat down and just watch X-Men in the 90’s. It is a beautiful thing to see.
Z: Everything that you guys have mentioned is nostalgia, you’ve said this show and that show and in my head I am like I remember this and that.
JL: To get my dream job and be a writer in Los Angeles and get to work on projects I get to talk about 30 years later is phenomenal. 30 years on Halloween night 1992 is the anniversary of X-Men. I thought it was going to kill the show, but magically it was a blessing. They had been merchandising before Halloween and mask and costume sales were through the roof. Margret Loesch CEO deserves all the credit she did for Fox Kids The Tick, Batman, X-Men, all of these amazing shows. She took a huge risk the first 4 episodes the animation was horrible. Magneto didn’t look right so she put her foot down and said she is going to get this made right no matter how long it took. She was going to tease the show and set it up by having sneak peeks. She teased it as the best show she ever produced.
E: But oops its not ready and it would cost them a lot of money over those 4 months but she believed the payoff would be worth it.
L: That is such an all-star pivot to be able to take a bad situation and still make the most out of it. That is a really smart move on her part.
JL: Running it on Halloween night and seeing the number it did for sales. Then in November and taking over kids night on Fox and seeing all the postcards for kids saying they want to see more of X-Men. Then it rolled out with the same 2 episodes and seeing what it did in primetime. January 8th 1993 the first 2 episodes were rereleased and seeing the numbers it did again. Because of the way things started in September back then X-Men had the advantage of being a new show that was not in repeats by January. Eric you and I there was 0 confidence it was going to get past the first 13 episodes. We were both off doing different shows because we did not think we would honestly get that far with X-Men.
Z: That was the thing about the animated X-Men it chose to treat children like conscious people and not talk down on them. So I am curious what was the final say to do this for children.
E: It was self interest in the script we were writing for ourselves and what we loved. We can’t dumb it down we need to make it realistic. What would 28-year-olds put in this position fighting for their lives and how would they deal with wins and losses. We believe this is a minority thing in Hollywood that every kid would look up and inspire to be them. We wrote it for ourselves and wanted to enjoy writing it in the process. We want all of the demographics to watch it that was really the bottom line. Yes it was a kids show but we wanted mom, dad, grandpa and grandma and everyone in between to enjoy it.
Z: We say we want to see one thing and we say we want to enjoy a happy thing but when something is quality and put there hearts into it and you guys show how powerful it is.
L: Thank you guys again for stopping by and taking the time to speak with us and one last time what is the name of your new book?
JL: X-Men The Art and Making of the Animated Series. You can get our book anywhere you buy your books or on Amazon.