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Toon Zone Interviews Matt Wayne on Spinning "The Spectacular Spider-Man"

Having already served as a story editor on Justice League Unlimited and cast a storm with Hellboy, Matt Wayne is no stranger to superhero cartoons. The Marvel Animation Age and Toon Zone News caught up with Matt in an email interview to talk about his work on the upcoming The Spectacular Spider-Man. Take it away, Matt!

TOON ZONE NEWS/MARVEL ANIMATION AGE: How did you come to work on The Spectacular Spider-Man?

MATT WAYNE: I had pitched some stuff to Michael Vogel (Director of Animated Programming, Sony Pictures Television), Sony’s point guy for Spider-Man, and who had seen my work on Justice League Unlimited. He eventually recommended me to Greg Weisman (producer). When Greg e-mailed me about it, I was on board in an instant. It’s hard to say no to something like this.

TZN/MAA: The show deals with Spider-Man’s early days but does not specifically start with his origin. Do you think it’s important to establish his reasons for being early, or to you, is it a case of “we know why he became Spider-Man already, why show it again?”

The man himselfWAYNE: We aren’t assuming viewers know his origin. You can tell from the online preview clips that Greg made a choice to introduce Peter Parker in action, though Amazing Fantasy #15 did it another way. Probably the right call, as this is a half-hour cartoon in 2008 and not seventeen pages or whatever in 1962. As our show tells it, Spider-Man’s situation is recapped quickly and then the high school and super villain woes begin … and away we go. A flashback to That Fateful Day may come later, you never know.

TZN/MAA: There’s been a large number of women announced to appear in the show – Mary Jane, Betty Brant, Gwen Stacy, the Black Cat and so on – given the current climate of Saturday morning cartoons in which romance isn’t all that welcome, have you struggled with writing these female characters?

WAYNE: I had a great time writing one of those characters you mentioned, around episode 10 or so. Writing female characters isn’t that different. Writing romance, however, we had to tread lightly. The conventional wisdom is that young boys don’t want to see it, but they do understand that a high-schooler such as Pete might like girls. And he’s socially awkward, so his girl troubles are a lot like his money problems — the elements that make Spidey less-than-perfect and that much easier to bond with.

TZN/MAA: The character has seen a huge revitalisation in his popularity following the massive success of his live action film trilogy. What did you think of the movies – what stood out for you and are there any aspects you took into great consideration when working on this show? Which movie is your favourite?

WAYNE: Number two. The third movie came out while we were working on the new show, so we spent a lot of time gabbing about it. But The Spectacular Spider-Man is set in high school, so our Peter Parker’s not very much like the 20-something Pete of the last movie.

TZN/MAA: Any comic storylines that you wanted to adapt and bring to the show or do you prefer going down an original route with the characters?

WAYNE: We’re all very aware of the classic Lee-Ditko and Lee-Romita stories, and some of us have been reading Marvel comics since childhood. But our cast isn’t the cast from any specific run of the comics. Even when we bring in elements from other stories, our take on the characters will spin the story to a new place. Direct adaptations are unlikely, but familiar bits are everywhere.

TZN/MAA: It has been said that the show will use stand-alone, single episodes that branch into 3 or 4 long story arcs. Do you prefer to write the arching stories or do you enjoy experimenting in changing the tone for each specific episode? On a similar subject, do you write each episode of these arcs, or are they split between each of the writers?

WAYNE: Marvel had approved an episode-by-episode overview by the time Greg brought in other writers. We go over the arcs together and they’re assigned in rotation to the series writers. The good news is, the whole show is filtered through a single sensibility and is therefore much tighter. The bad news is, Greg does a lot of the heavy lifting himself, works all night and generally looks like hell.

TZN/MAA: Which characters have you especially enjoyed writing? Alternatively, have you looked at any of them and struggled with how you were going to portray them on the screen?

Spidey swings into action.WAYNE: Gwen Stacy, as we portray her, is so much more fun than the dead one. You’ll see why. I hope over time our Gwen becomes as well-remembered.

TZN/MAA: The show looks to have a plethora of villains to fight – how does one avoid the show becoming ‘villain of the week’ while still featuring a new foe for Spider-Man to fight in most of the episodes?

WAYNE: The really good villains keep coming back, Stu. You know that.

TZN/MAA: The recent Fantastic Four cartoon has taken a rather laid-back, almost tongue in cheek approach to the characters and situations. Will that be the same of Spider-Man? Can we expect comedy episodes?

WAYNE: Never! Funny scenes, of course. Fun episodes, sure. But if super heroes don’t take super heroics seriously, if they don’t have a serious reason to run around in their jammies and kick butt, and if there aren’t serious dangers to overcome, everybody involved looks silly. I did a brain swapping episode of Justice League Unlimited and it was pretty funny, I think. But it still wasn’t a comedy. Similarly, Spidey’s got a lot of humor, and there are some great laughs in store, but The Spectacular Spider-Man is first and foremost an action show.

TZN/MAA: Peter Parker is one of the few characters to grow older and actually age throughout the comic books – starting as a friendless nerd, a constant victim of bullying, through to his days in college in the Coffee Bean with Gwen, MJ and Harry and until recently, a married man. Do you think the series will eventually see him grow, or do you think it’s best to keep him in high school and away from adulthood?

WAYNE: I currently think it’s best to keep Pete in high school, but who knows? There are good and bad ways to do either.

TZN/MAA: While it has been announced that there won’t be any guest stars in the first season, which other heroes would you like to introduce into this show if you were given the rights to be able to do so?

Here's Spidey again.WAYNE: Yeah, Power Pack. Not bad, huh? I’d also love to write the Avengers and a dozen other Marvel heroes, but our world isn’t crawling with super-powered beings … yet, anyway. Either way, guest star negotiations are notoriously tricky, so don’t hold your breath.

TZN/MAA: In prior Spider-Man shows, Spidey would often find himself going up against magic and being thrown into space and to alien planets. Do you think this approach works for Spider-Man? Will there be any of these elements in the new show?

WAYNE: “Mmmmaybe,” he said, cagily.

TZN/MAA: What makes The Spectacular Spider-Man different from any other show you’ve worked on, including Hellboy, Justice League Unlimited and Ben 10: Alien Force?

WAYNE: Pete’s a talker, even during a fight. He’s kind of the opposite of Hellboy. It isn’t easy to coordinate super hero action and banter in animation, but in classic Spidey comics it’s almost obligatory. So I’ve been studying old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to get it right. That show did it brilliantly.

TZN/MAA: What else are you currently working on?

WAYNE: I’m story editing Vin Diesel’s animated project, Hannibal the Conqueror, for Film Roman, which will air on BET. It’s a sword-and-sandal epic for prime time about the historical Hannibal. One of the few American animated shows to try for a grown-up audience. Dwayne McDuffie and I are finally going to publish The Road to Hell, a comics miniseries that we’ve been promising for years, on wowio.com this summer. We’ve got 2000 A.D. artist Colin McNeil providing the art, so it’s the kind of crazy romantic comedy that many action guys secretly want to do. That plus a passel of the aforementioned Ben 10: Alien Force, and some My Friends Tigger and Pooh, because I adore whimsy. Got a problem with that?

The Marvel Animation Age and Toon Zone News would like to thank Matt for taking the time to speak to us.

The Spectacular Spider-Man is set to premiere March 8th on Kids WB!

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