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Marvel Animation Age Interviews Greg Johnson on Writing "Thor: Tales of Asgard"

Greg Johnson is well-versed in the Marvel Universe, having written the animated adventures of these characters for over 15 years. Johnson continues that streak with Thor: Tales of Asgard, the new direct-to-video animated feature from Marvel Animation and Lionsgate Home Entertainment. Johnson discusses characters, influences, and his favorite moments from his latest work in this exclusive Q & A conducted via e-mail.

MARVEL ANIMATION AGE: Many fans are wondering: why go with a younger Thor? Is it because the character’s younger days are so lightly touched upon, perhaps allowing for more creative freedom in creating the story?

GREG JOHNSON: Though I was not privy to the conversations going on in the Halls of Marvel surrounding this, I believe there was a desire to make an unofficial prequel to the live-action movie, or at the very least a companion piece. At the time, the plot for the live action movie hadn’t been nailed down completely – and in case it explored the story of how Thor got his hammer, the animated film would need to be pre-Mjolnir. Which was fine by me because, as you say, his younger years have not had as much attention, and it opened up some new story-telling avenues.

MAA: What kind of dynamic is there between Thor and Loki? What about between Thor and Odin?

GREG JOHNSON: It’s pretty well established that Thor and Loki become enemies as adults. But how intriguing is to see them before all of that, back when they were friends? Back when Loki actually adored his brother, and would do anything for him? That is why I loved writing this film. We get to see how Thor’s brash, ego-centric actions may have actually been responsible for pushing Loki to a darker place. They’re brothers, and theirs is an emotional relationship, both in the beginning when it’s them against the world, as well as later in life when they’re at each other’s throats. Those kind of dynamics cry out to be explored in a film, so it was awesome getting the chance to do it.

As for Thor and his father, I tried to give Odin some real world parental quandaries. Odin is both a king and a father, and he worries that he might be too protective. Because Odin knows what challenges await his children out there in the Nine Realms, and he knows Thor is probably not ready to face them. How does a king be a parent to a spirited young son who has more confidence than ability? By laying down the law? By letting his son get into trouble in order for him to learn consequences, even if those consequences impact the entire kingdom? Where is the balance between letting boys be boys and protecting the crown? So it was nice to see Odin as a conflicted figure as well as a great warrior king.

MAA: Despite it starring a “teen Thor,” as some fans have called it, is it safe to say this film will be dripping with classic Thor mythology? Care to give an example or two?

GREG JOHNSON: It was important for me to create a world that felt real. Norse mythology is so esoteric (and somewhat inconsistent), it’s difficult to lay down a believable narrative with stakes that are easily understood. But it was also important that this feel like the Asgard people expect to see, with Elves, Trolls, and Valkyries a part of everyday life. Where else can you lift a pint with the Warriors Three, hit on a Nixie barmaid, or get in a bar fight with Fenris? When breaking the story and defining the physicality of the world, (Supervising Producer) Craig Kyle and I even made Yggdrasil (the World Tree) a real living tree, its massive branches acting as traveling routes to the various realms. We get to visit several of the mythological realms, and make them feel like real places. So, yes, I believe fans of the comics will recognize many components in this movie.

MAA: Your last work for Marvel Animated Features was Planet Hulk, an adaptation of the acclaimed comic story. Did you find it harder to have to adapt such a story into a 70 minute block with Planet Hulk, or come up with a story to fill that time here with Thor: Tales of Asgard?

GREG JOHNSON: Both approaches have their own challenges. The benefit of adapting a comic story is, of course, the story is already there. It gives you a birds-eye view of the complete saga as a starting point. But then that saga has to be retold in a very specific running time, and for a medium that is different than the comic page. So the job becomes restructuring the plot to still tell the story it needs to tell, which can be a bit of a brain tease.

Forging a brand new story starts with a blank page, and you can take it anywhere. Which sounds liberating, but you end up chasing down so many ideas that it can be frustrating. Too much leeway is not always good. Craig and I actually started out with a different story surrounding Surtur’s Sword, one that saw Thor a fugitive on the run with it. We chased that idea for a while, and then finally focused it down to what it is now.

MAA: Do you have any favorite moments in Thor: Tales of Asgard that you’d like to share, as spoiler-free as possible, of course! Something to whet our appetites?

GREG JOHNSON: The scene that was most fun to write takes place in an outland pub after our characters set out on their journey for the Lost Sword of Surtur. The idea for the scene came early on from Craig Kyle, who was hilarious when describing bits of action, much of which I inserted exactly as he envisioned them. My favorite emotional scene comes at a turning point in the story, when Thor, Loki, Sif, and the Warriors Three are journeying back home while Asgard is on the verge of war. It’s too much of a spoiler to discuss now, but when you see it, you’ll know what I mean.

Marvel Animation Age and Toonzone News would like to thank Greg Johnson for taking the time to speak with us, and to the folks at Click Communications and Lionsgate PR for arranging it. Thor: Tales of Asgard is available on DVD and Blu-ray disc now.

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