STAS 10th: Miracle Worker Mark Evanier on Superman
To commemorate the impending 10th anniversary of Superman the Animated Series, Toon Zone News and the World’s Finest Online have teamed up for an interview series with an assortment of people associated with the show or the tie-in Superman Adventures comic book series.
Two things drove Mark Evanier to a writer’s life: the life (or, perhaps more accurately, the wife) depicted on The Dick Van Dyke Show and his father’s misery as an Internal Revenue Service agent. In addition to a long career writing for a long list of sitcoms and variety shows, Evanier’s resume includes a long list of some of the best known animated programs from the 70′s to today, including Garfield and Friends, Scooby-Doo, Thundarr the Barbarian, and Dungeons & Dragons. Evanier has also achieved quite a slice of fame as a comic book writer for DC’s Blackhawks, his creator-owned DNAgents and Crossfire, and the infamous Groo the Wanderer with Sergio Aragones. Evanier was also a close personal friend of the legendary Jack “King” Kirby, and is one of the leading Kirby scholars today. We managed to steal some of Mr. Evanier’s time via e-mail for the following interview on his writing for Superman the Animated Series and the Superman Adventures comic book.
TOON ZONE NEWS/WORLD’S FINEST: How did you get the job to script episodes for STAS?
MARK EVANIER: Alan Burnett and Paul Dini invited me to lunch at an Italian restaurant and said, “We’re going to be bringing some Kirby elements into the show and we’d like you to write a couple.” I said, “Fine. Would you pass the garlic bread?” And that’s about all there was to it.
They had very good timing, actually. I had a contract on another project that would have prohibited me but they happened to ask me right after it had expired and before I’d signed a new one. If they’d asked me two weeks earlier, I would have had to say no.
TZN/WF: Roz Kirby passed away right as the show was beginning to air. Was she willing or able to watch Superman the Animated Series? If so, how did she react to seeing who they modeled Dan Turpin after?
ME: I don’t think she saw one but I seem to recall hearing that a couple of the artists had gone out to visit her and shown her some of the artwork.
As for how she reacted to seeing Turpin look like Jack, that’s awkward to answer. Jack and Roz were both very polite people and they didn’t like to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially if that person was trying to honor them. During his lifetime, Jack received a number of tributes and honors that he would have preferred not be bestowed on him but he didn’t always say that aloud.
At one point — this was while Jack was still alive — there was a flurry of Kirby “cameos” in comics where artists were drawing characters to look like him. He really didn’t like that and he’d say, privately, “It’s bad enough that that company claims they own all my ideas. Now, they’re going to claim they own my face.” But when the artists who drew those comics presented Jack with copies, he’d usually say, “I’m honored.”
I never heard Roz talk about the Turpin thing. One of her kids told me she wished they hadn’t done it. But I’m sure if you’d asked her, she would have said, “It’s such an honor.”
TZN/WF: Were you involved in any of the other episodes of the show involving the Kirby New Gods/Fourth World characters?
ME: I wrote one episode on my own and one in tandem with Steve Gerber, both involving Fourth World characters. There was another episode that I wrote that involved Mr. Miracle but it didn’t get made so I used the plot in one of the comic books. I would have written more of the animated series but I got busy with another project.
TZN/WF: Did the comics job come before or after the job for the show?
ME: I don’t recall for sure. I think after.
TZN/WF: Did you find that your work on the comics was more tied-in to the show since you wrote for both, or were they more or less independent of each other?
ME: Pretty much independent.
TZN/WF: You were pretty well-established as a TV and comic writer by the time you did your Superman animated age work. What do you think was the most valuable thing you brought to the Superman table from your past work?
ME: I don’t know. I’m a good speller, maybe?
TZN/WF: On the other end, what was the most valuable thing you learned from working on Superman?
ME: Always let Dini and Burnett pick up the check at the restaurant. No, I think it was probably economy. Those scripts were very short so you really had to make every word count. I enjoyed that.
TZN/WF: If you could go back and re-do one thing on Superman the Animated Series or Superman Adventures, what would it be and why?
ME: Well, I’d completely rewrite everything but I always feel that way about what I write. But I guess it would be that I wish I’d cleared the time to write a few more episodes. That was a fun show to work on.
TZN/WF: What was the biggest surprise you had from working on Superman the Animated Series and/or the comics?
ME: I don’t know if this is the kind of thing you’re looking for but one time when my mother was in the hospital, I was trying to get an orderly to do something for her. Her bed needed to be fixed and this fellow who could do it was on his break, sitting in an empty hospital room watching TV. I went in to ask him to please stop watching TV and fix my mother’s bed…and it turned out he was watching the Superman animated series and it was an episode I’d written. I pointed this out to him and he got quite excited and I guess he felt that I was an important person and he’d better hurry downstairs and get the parts to repair the bed. So I guess I was surprised at the power of the show.
TZN/WF: What are you working on now?
ME: Writing a couple of screenplays and a couple of comics. We’re doing another Groo mini-series and I just wrote a short Batman story that Sergio Aragones is illustrating for the Solo comic (Issue #11, which was released since this interview was conducted – ed). Mostly, I’m just trying to catch up on e-mail, keep my website updated and get Norton Anti-Virus to run properly on my computer. That’s the toughest thing I’ve tackled in months.
Toon Zone News and the World’s Finest Online would like to thank Mark Evanier for his time. Mark Evanier’s weblog at www.newsfromme.com is required reading for comic book and animation history, lost restaurants of Los Angeles, life in the animation business, and a whole lot of laughs.
This interview co-published with the World’s Finest Online. Images from Superman the Animated Series courtesy of the World’s Finest Online.