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Hi Greg! I'm such a big fan of you and the spectacular team's take on Spider-Man. I grew up with Spectacular, (and young justice!) and it came back as a big inspiration in my life as an artist and writer after insomniacs fantastic games and rereading the classic comics from when I was a kid. You have created my favorite versions of these characters by modernizing them and giving them that classic feel in ways that blow my mind. Im a pretty classic spidey fan (i love lee/ditko/romita) despite being in my teens and I value cohesion like your take did. I have a question however from an aspiring writer to a professional;
If I think that a version long passed (yours) was the best version of something, what can I do to personally find a way to make my own take, despite having a similar mindset? Should I be afraid to be similar?
I would really value your opinion and again, thanks for your fantastic and inspiring work. Really hoping to see more of your stuff!
Well, first off, thanks.
Secondly, as a professional, I really wouldn't spend much time (even much idle brain time) adapting something that you don't own, unless you're (a) being paid to do it or (b) you have a reasonable hope of being paid to do it. And even for (b), I wouldn't recommend doing very much work until someone said, "Yes! I love where you're going with this. Let me pay you to go further." Instead, I'd recommend coming up with your own original thing. Blow us away with that. And then maybe will want to trust you to adapt something that is theirs, e.g. Marvel with Spider-Man.
But finally, to get to your question, I guess I wouldn't sweat it too much. If I adapt Lee/Ditko or Lee/Romita comics, I'm still borrowing from what came before. And I'm not stopping there, nor am I shy about "stealing" from any of the source material from any era. Because, that's NOT stealing. It's adapting. I'm sure my adaptation had many similarities with others that came both before or after Spectacular. Of course it did. We're all going back to the same source material. So how could it not?
Warning: This is going to deal with some heavy topics (specifically antisemitism), but I was encouraged to ask for your opinions. Please do not take this as accusatory, I'm just a long-time fan who's been thinking about some serious issues over the last few years.
When I watched Gargoyles as a kid, there was a villainous organization called the âAlu Minadi.â I later learned it was correctly spelled âIlluminati,â and that it was a staple of all sorts of genre fiction about secret societies, where it was largely interchangeable with the Freemasons. It was also commonly used as a metonym for any sort of behind the scenes string-pullers, what Angel would call âThe Powers that Be.â All well and good, until I was reading an article about Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series. I found out he believed the Illuminati was a real, very dangerous thing. I learned that they were sort of a real group that disbanded centuries ago, but many people believe they still operate in secret. Worst of all, they are almost always at least implied to be Jewish.
I was horrified to realize that Nazi rhetoric about an international conspiracy of Jewish puppetmasters was so prevalent in popular discourse. Over the last few years I've seen more and more conspiracy theories enter the mainstream, and if you scratch the surface of any of them, there's almost always antisemitism underneath. Even truly absurd ideas like âthe lizard peopleâ are often just âwink and nodâ references to supposed Jewish conspiracies. The biggest right now is Qanon, which claims powerful people do all sorts of depraved things with kidnapped children. This is, of course, just a modern reworking of the ancient âblood libel.â Many of its adherents go beyond coded messages and outright say Jews (or possibly âZionistsâ) are behind it all. So now whenever I hear anyone talking about âthe Illuminati,â even as a joke, my antisemitism radar pops up. Sadly, it's usually right.
All that said, what am I to do with shows I love that rely on such conspiracies? Of course, I'm not accusing you of antisemitism (I can think of several reasons that'd be ridiculous, starting with your own ethnoreligious identity), but I didn't know anything about you or any of the other creators when I first saw the show. There is some irony that the character obsessed with the Illuminati is himself Jewish, though I didn't know âBluestoneâ was a Jewish name at the time. Where I eventually came down is that Gargoyles has such clear anti-racist themes that it's hard to imagine anyone taking an antisemitic message from it. On my recent rewatch, I noticed the punks in M.I.A. were basically reciting Brexit talking points about immigrants ruining England, 20 years before Brexit was a thing. âGolemâ puts Jewish characters in the heroic roles and opens with what I now recognize as a pogrom. Also, the characters we see involved with the Illuminati do not appear to be Jewish. Malone is presumably Italian (though I suspect his wife was Jewish), the upper leadership in the comics are mostly from Arthurian legend so probably a mix of Christianity and paganism, Shari is Arabic, and Thailog is... Thailog. And they partner with a clear KKK analog, which I doubt any Jewish organization would do. Still, people do often take perverse readings of shows. I've seen people read white supremacist messages into My Little Pony of all things. And on rare occasions I've even seen people say that Gargoyles was trying to tell the truth about the âreal Illuminati.â
This all ties in to a bigger question of how much responsibility creators and artists have for the audience's interpretation. There are shows like The Sopranos and Breaking Bad that clearly condemn their villain protagonists, yet some fans still admire these âantiheroes.â Alan Moore has said fans tell him they identify with Rorschach, at which point he wishes he were somewhere else. I myself am worried the âsex traffickingâ plotline in my unpublished novel might contribute to harmful ideas. Sex trafficking is real, to an extent, but its reality is nothing like popular beliefs, and those beliefs were part of both the 80's Satanic Panic and its modern iteration, Qanon. These questions are enough to make me (more) neurotic.
I don't exactly know what I'm asking here, just getting out some thoughts I've been kicking around. I guess the question is: what do you think your responsibility is when making a show that mostly children watch? I know you were very concerned with your portrayal of gun safety in âDeadly Forceâ and managed to do it in a way that âconcerned parentsâ groups praised. There was also the need to avoid âimitableâ violence, hence Duncan getting killed by a magic glowing electricity bomb. Are there any similar conversations that take place around how conspiracy theories are presented? In the 90's, conspiracy theories existed, but they were more fringe. Today, they are much more mainstream, and you're making a show whose villains are âThe Light,â which is just an English translation of âIlluminati.â Even without the antisemitic baggage the name âIlluminatiâ has, I still worry about giving people more reason to be paranoid. I don't know how I would approach something like that, so I guess I'm tossing the question to you. Thank you for reading and for whatever response you have.
Let me start with one quibble: Angel used the term "The Powers that Be" as some equivalent to the Heavenly Hosts, not as an equivalent to a very earthly - if magically infused - Illuminati, as we had in Gargoyles.
Beyond that, I think you raise a number of good - or at least interesting - points.
Ultimately, I go back to something my former boss Gary Krisel once said to me. We had received one letter on DuckTales protesting an episode where Magica DeSpell used a magical circle, claiming we were promoting Satanism - that any use of magic in the show would be promoting Satanism. (The letter literally said, "Walt Disney would be rolling over in his grave if he saw what you were doing in his name." To which I wanted to reply, "Have you SEEN Snow White?") Gary said something like, "We're not going to give magic to the Satanists." Meaning, it's part of storytelling and fantasy and myth, etc. It's one of OUR tools as storytellers. And we won't give it up, neither to any one who wants to use those trappings to promote evil nor to anyone who wants to inhibit our creativity.
So along those lines, I come down on the side of "I'm not going to give Conspiratorial Villain Organizations to the Anti-Semites." And, as you noted, I hope it's obvious that I'm not an anti-semite and that neither is Gargoyles' Illuminati nor Young Justice's Light. (Q-Anon clearly is, though I know of plenty of Jews who believe in Q-Anon and don't see it (or only see a few bad apples using it for anti-semitic purposes). Go figure.)
Note: Most of what you're describing goes back to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a false text, blatantly anti-semitic, that has been used for over a hundred years to persecute Jews. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Protocols_of_the_Elders_of_Zion).
So, to your main question, what is my responsibility as a creator? I think it has to be the responsibility to, in part, reclaim the tools of storytelling and fiction from fascists and hate groups of all stripes - including but not limited to the anti-semites. I don't think it's always possible. You can't reclaim the swastika, for example, even though that predates Naziism. But I think magic circles and fictional villain groups still have hope. Of course, if you are going to use these things that have been, shall we say, compromised, you need to make it clear that you aren't feeding into the negative stereotype associated with the trope. Hence, Gargoyles' Illuminati is being investigated by a Jew and is comprised of mostly non-Jews, including many characters from Arthurian Legend.
I also personally believe it's patently obvious that there is no real world equivalent to the Light or the Illuminati. The world is too damn disorganized for me to believe that ANY one organization is secretly running things. Or if they are, they're doing no better a job than the actual governments they are theoretically trying to supplant. I mean, what's their goal? Just to make everyone miserable? If so, then maybe they're doing just great.
Hey Greg, how do you plot seasons and specific episodes, do you set end goals to achieve in the story or do you begin to plot and see where the story flows naturally?
Um, both. Go through the ASK GREG ARCHIVES for more detailed responses. But we use index cards with events marking tent poles in our stories, and then fill in with more index cards until every season, every episode, every scene is fleshed out fully.
I'm a big fan of your work - particularly on Young Justice and The Spectacular Spider-Man...I was wondering
1. If there's a possibility of the Young Justice comic series returning anytime in the future? As I've been re-reading them recently and forgotten how great they were in expanding the world you've created!
2. What advice would you give to an aspiring writer starting out...particularly in the TV and comics business?
1. Nothing to report, but I'm still hopeful.
2. Please check out the WRITING and WRITING TIPS sections of the ASK GREG ARCHIVE.
(Sorry if it's been answered but I did search the archives, and your answers about plotting YJ have been very illuminating.) Are there any books or guides to plotting a series? There are plenty of books about "how to write your pilot" and such, but I haven't had any luck finding suggestions for how to plot a series.
I would think there are, but I haven't seen/read any. My method has been trial and error, learning by experience.
Hi Greg. I'd like to ask for some career advice.
1. I would love to write for animation. Besides writing as much as possible, what steps should I take that would make me a better writer for this art form?
2. I love animation, but cannot draw nearly good enough for any type of decent storyboarding. Is this something I need to fix in order to write for animation? I'm good at describing what I want to see, but I'm worried not being talented at drawing will hurt my chances.
3. I'm curious on your stance in terms of writing CAMERA ANGLES and TYPES OF SHOTS in the script. Traditionally, I've been taught to leave that to the director as much as possible. How do you tackles this when you write?
4. In action sequences, how detailed do you go? Do you give a general description for the director or an actual play-by-play. For example, is it more: "they trade punches, parrying each other until Clara gets an opening and hits Harry across the face." OR "Clara goes for the uppercut, but Harry leans back and dodges, then attempts to sweep her legs. Clara jumps over the kick, then grabs his shoulders, and head butts her opponent. She makes up for the previous miss with a fist to the face." (Just came up with that, so obviously not the best examples but hopefully that suffices).
4. What should I do to get hired on a show? I know that connections are key, but as someone who has no connections, what's the best thing for me to do? I have a spec of another show and a pilot for an original series. I'd love to be a writer's assistant, but that also comes about through connections. I have occasionally messaged a creator on social media and asked if there was any opportunities on their show, but I know that's hardly a good method to pursue a career. Any guidance on this aspect would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these fan questions.
1. Sebastian, I'm going to refer you to the ASK GREG Archives on "Writing" and "Writing Tips" and "Biz, The". No offense, but I've answered this basic question so many times, it's kinda pointless for me to right it up again.
2. I can't draw stick figures well.
3. When I began in animation, we used to do much more directing in our scripts, as opposed to live action scripts, where you are advised to stick to Master Shots. Nowadays, we limit that calling of shots and angles, etc., to specific needs, e.g. we need a close-up on that light switch being turned off or a wide shot to reveal who is in the room or a tight close-up on a character's lips turning up into a cruel smile, etc.
4. I go for the specifics, because it expands page count. And page count equates to time. And if you're script is too long, you'll have to cut. So we try to get an accurate sense of time in the script, even if the board artists chose to choreograph the fight a bit differently.
5. Pre-pandemic, my first question would have been, "Where do you live?" And if your answer was anywhere other than Los Angeles, my second question would have been "When are you moving to Los Angeles?" Now, all the old rules are out the window, at least for the time being. I'm not sure what to recommend. Some of the advice in the archives should still be helpful. Otherwise, we're all just going to have to wait and see what happens, post-pandemic - assuming we ever get post-pandemic.
As a writer and creative, you've been responsible for some of my most cherished childhood and adulthood favorites. Given your experience, I wanted to know what one's approach would be when they come up with a story that they could see manifesting as an animated series? Do you flesh the whole story out as if writing a novel, or do you try and create episodes on paper and tell the whole story; is the process entirely different altogether? I would love your insight on this sensei. Thank You
Are we talking about selling or producing? They're two very different processes.
I read somewhere that you legally can't be exposed to ideas, or something like that. Does this mean you cannot read fanfictions, browse the Tumblr tag etc? How does it impact you and/or the creative process?
1. It does mean that. (See the ASK GREG Introduction, Paragraph 4, for an example.)
2. It doesn't.
I'm an aspiring writer. But mainly just as a hobby. Yes I know, writers who write for fun will likely never become accomplished writers.
Bit of dark humor aside, um. I seem to be stuck in a creative rut.
For the past seven months I've made up ideas for superhero stories. Yet, every time, I get quite far into the creative process, and my mind just disconnects. I end up lacking motivation to write, I scrap the idea, and I start over.
I was wondering if you had any advice from writing Gargoyles, or really anything else, that might be able to help me out of this cycle I find myself in time and again.
My main advice is to write every day. EVERY. DAY. Think of it as a muscle that you have to exercise and build up over time. Some days you may only write a sentence and get stuck. But the next day you write another sentence. And the next day, you cross out the first sentence but write two more. Etc. You work the problem.
More advice is to break every notion down on index cards. Keep adding cards. Pull cards, but never destroy them. If you cross something out, only put a single line through them so you can still read what you wrote. (You never know when an old, formerly-rejected idea may prove useful.) Then once you have your cards feeling right, you write it up as a prose document.
How do you plan out a story Spider-Man?
I'm not Spider-Man.
But basically, there's no difference in planning a Spidey story than planning a story for any show. It involves a lot of index cards, moving beats around until it gels.