The following interview took place between August and December 2009 over email with James Tucker in co-operation with Aaron Bynum, news editor at the time of Animation Insider. The introduction is crafted to inform the uninitiated to some background history on James Tucker. Part 1 was the first round of questions sent to Mr. Tucker. Part 2 was the second round. A Part 3 was never completed due to time constraints.
Animation Insider and DCAU Resource had the opportunity to interview producer of Batman: The Brave and The Bold James Tucker. Experienced in animation, Mr. Tucker first began his career on Tiny Toon Adventures as a key animator on "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toon Christmas" Special then worked on Animaniacs. Fans know him more for starting out as a storyboard artist on The New Batman Adventures then moving on to the role of director on several episodes of Batman Beyond and Static Shock. Mr. Tucker continued to expand his list of duties on Justice League as a Producer, Storyboard Artist, Prop Designer, and Character Designer and contributed some of his time to storyboard an episode of Teen Titans.
On The New Batman Adventures, Mr. Tucker, who was a storyboard artist at the time, was given the opportunity to create a show that never existed and one he would love to work on with an episode named "Legends of the Dark Knight." He was tasked with a vignette dedicated to Bill Finger and Dick Sprang. Mr. Tucker channeled his childhood favorite series starring Adam West, the sensibility of the classic Filmation animation, and even Frank Robbins by not dwelling on abdominals and injecting humor into a depiction of mankind. The artist continued to shine when he didn't follow the script and added in his own ideas and also had to design the characters and their attitudes and adapted by coloring characters flat, using unconventional angles, sliding characters into frame, and even adding in blue streaks into characters' hair.
The rest of the staff contributed to make the vignette a success. Composer, Shirley Walker wrote new music and adapted the 40's and 50's sensibilities of drop cues, a sudden stop, and an immediate new cue beginning. Voice Director, Andrea Romano guided the actors to play their characters much more cartoony and over the top, a brave departure from the established DC Comics animated continuity that dominated the 90's. Already, the foundation for what The Brave and The Bold would entail glimmered in this unassuming tribute to legends of the Batman mythos.
A short time later, with the staff churning on all gears to prepare the Batman Beyond movie Return of the Joker, a reluctant Mr. Tucker was assigned to direct his first episode "Eggbaby." After he was encouraged by Bruce Timm and co., Mr. Tucker crafted the tale as a one shot out of the Silver Age comics complete with a super villain with a Dick Tracy persona and Jack Kirby design (Google Panama Fattie and the Losers). The episode itself began to get layered in campiness from parenting antics to a sandblaster for a weapon as Tucker modified the script to fit better. Even though he was bashed by a merciless niche of fans, Mr. Tucker went on to win an Emmy for his work on "Eggbaby." With a precise attention to detail, upon viewing the episode, he would tell which section of episode was done by which storyboard artist.
Ultimately, what Mr. Tucker learned here from having a knack for details, bringing his favorite comics to life, knowing when to adapt, and creating a story he wanted to work on would resurface when the current DC universe came to a close and he ventured off into the Source to produce his own series, Legion of Superheroes in 2006 and currently Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Batman: The Brave and The Bold, based on the DC team-up comic book series that ultimately shifted to featuring Batman and a new guest star each issue without the reliance on continuity. Now going into its second season, The Brave and The Bold is a hit among fans, young and old, alike. The rest, they say is canon.
James Tucker took time out of his busy schedule to answer a variety of questions from Animation Insider and DCAU Resource regarding his current series, Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Additionally, Mr. Tucker has answered questions about his inspiration and interest in comic books.
New episodes of Batman: The Brave and The Bold begin airing on October 16, 2009 at 7:30 P.M. Eastern on Cartoon Network.
1. Congratulations on the second season order. How did you first become involved with BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD?
I was finishing up producer's duties on my first solo series, "Legion of Superheroes" when Sam Register asked me if I would be interested in producing a new Batman series. I was very reluctant at first to do it since I had worked on earlier Batman series, "Batman: The New Adventures" and "Batman Beyond", and I didn't think I could improve on what we had done with those shows. But when Sam told me the series would be based on "The Brave and the Bold" comic book series, which featured Batman teaming up with different superheroes each issue, I became very interested and knew exactly how I wanted to do it. I saw it as a chance to use elements of Batman's mythos that kids may not have known about and their parents may fondly remember. It was also an opportunity to do a show that was very toy-friendly without compromising the integrity of the show because the show wasn't going to be a noir-ish, grim and realistic take on Batman. I wanted it to be a fun take on Batman that was still true to the Batman comics I grew up with.
2. As a producer for B:BRAVE/BOLD, do you oversee each episode from start to finish; or do you perform a sort of quality-control, over certain stages of production, and/or the writers and directors of the individual episodes?
I oversee every facet of the show and have approval over every stage of production from scripts, voice casting/directing, storyboards, design (characters, background design and paint), post-production including editing, music, sound fx and mixing. Of course I work with a great story editor (co-producer Michael Jelenic) and very talented writers, directors, designers, color stylists, bg painters, voice directors, board artists, musicians, associate producer, coordinators, etc.. Approving work when it's done by the best in the business has been a labor of love. I also help with re-writes on scripts and I do a large percentage of the character designs. My biggest job as a producer really is being the "tone" police. Meaning, my vision of the show is very specific and it's up to me to say 'this is too cartoony', 'this is too campy', 'this is too serious', etc. I set the tone for the series and my main job is to make sure everyone else is on the same page and doing the same show.
3. How did the staff come to a consensus on the style of the series? B:BRAVE/BOLD has a jazzy rhythm to it, flirting with the retro but still very new in just about every way.
It was my job as producer to let my crew know what the vision was for the show. In my office I had lots of pictures from old silver age comics, screen grabs from old movies and tv series, etc. to let the crew see what inspired my initial designs for the show. For the music, I worked with my fantastic composers on coming up with a crime jazz type of sound for the series. Tonally I knew I wanted the series to sample from all kinds of versions of Batman as well as other aspects of pop culture. The Batman tv show of the 60s was so inventive and revolutionary that I really wanted to capture the feeling that show gave me as a kid before I got older and cynical. I wanted to do the show that I thought I was seeing as a little kid, because as a kid the sly humor went right over my head and the peril seemed real. I also wanted to make something that parents, who fondly remember the old school Batman, something they could watch with their kids and actually enjoy it. So even though our show has camp elements, we try not to let them overwhelm the show. We want it to have what I call the three H's: Heart, humor and heroism.
4. When production first began, what goals did you have for the series (or even, for Batman as he appears in the series)? Have your goals changed over the months?
The goal was as it has been with most series I've worked on here at Warner Bros. Animation. Just to make the type of show we would enjoy watching ourselves. Additionally, I did want to expose a new generation to a different kind of Batman that's not found in pop culture lately. Today comics tend to skew a lot older and the movies that feature superheroes are also a bit more mature than the average parent is willing to expose their young kids to. I wanted this series to serve the same purpose that comics and cartoons used to serve as far as introducing young kids to the idea of superheroes and imagination without getting really dark or unsuitable. Nerds, geeks and fan boys these days are very spoiled by the amount of genre stuff that's available and has gone mainstream, but we can't forget that we all got turned onto this stuff by cartoons, comics and tv shows we watched as kids that were created specifically as kids shows.
5. Having worked on superheroes in animation for several years now, do you draw from an interest in comics when you were younger... or has the work simply grown on you over the years?
Well I've been in animation since 1991, so it's been more than several years and prior to that I had dreams of doing comics. I've been drawing since birth almost and Batman was one of the first things I ever drew as kid. I have been a comic book/animation fan all of my life and I use that as inspiration to produce Batman: The Brave and the Bold. This show is my way of honoring the comics I grew up on.
6. Viewers now know or assume that in B:BRAVE/BOLD begins several years into Batman's career after Robin left to make a name for himself. Would you say Robin's departure was the inspiration for Batman to begin partnering more frequently with other heroes, and even begin mentoring new superheroes such as Blue Beetle, The Outsiders, and Plastic Man?
This show doesn't have the kind of what I would call restrictive continuity that seems popular in pop culture and especially comics today. We didn't set out saying Robin left Gotham so Batman started teaming up with other heroes. Basically we take our story logic from the old Bob Haney written issues of B&B, which is to say, we have no story logic! If you've read those old comics, you know what I mean. There was no real continuity with other Batman books or even within the book itself. I think our basic mandate is to just tell a cool story and if it may contradict something we've done earlier, so be it. So no, we didn't logic out why Batman's been teaming up with other heroes.
7. Batman has been successfully animated for more than a decade and a half, What would you say is the most challenging aspect of animating Batman?
One of the design features that sets this show visually apart from the earlier series is the thicker hand inked line work. This is something we never attempted on earlier series because there was a fear of the animation looking inconsistent and just plain bad. Initially, a couple of the animation studios in Korea balked at having to animate the thicker inked line I wanted for the series. However, I'm very lucky that the overseas animators over the years have steadily improved to the point where doing a thicker ink line on an action show isn't that big a deal for them. I really love how it makes the show look like an old school hand inked comic book in a lot of scenes.
8. You mentioned the ink line as one of several unique design features of B: BRAVE/BOLD that you implemented for the new series. What are some other visual aspects of the series you emphasize on a daily basis? (On a similar note, do you enjoy the challenge of character design for so many heroes and villains who haven't seen the light of day in ages?)
I think the color styling and BG paint on the show is very distinctive for an action show. I purposely wanted to use a brighter palette on this show than previous shows I'd worked on. I rely heavily on Craig Cuqro, the color stylist, and Bill Dunn, the background paint lead, to give the show it's distinctively rich color.
As far as the characters, this show is my dream project on that level. Of course it is a challenge having to create so many guest stars for each teaser and episode but it's fun. I'll always be a character designer at heart, so my favorite part of this show is all the guest stars I get to include in the show and then design.
9. With so much comics and graphic novel adaptations servicing older audiences, how would you characterize animation skewing to adventurous kids nowadays, and where B: BRAVE/BOLD fits in?
I always wanted B: BRAVE/BOLD to be a show kids could watch with their parents because I remember as a kid how special it was when there was a program the whole family could watch together and share as an experience. Parents fondly remember a kinder and gentler Batman from the 60s and 70s when they were kids, and now their kids can be introduced to the world of superheroes that's not overly dark or oppressively 'real world'. I think now fans have the best of all worlds. It would be different if my version of Batman were the only one out there. Then I could see where people could complain but now we have the movies, the dtvs, and the comics that are all written and geared toward an older audience. I think if we want to continue to have new fans and younger people appreciate the genre of super heroes, then we need to provide them with an entry point the way comics and cartoons used to when some of us were kids. But I like to stress that our show isn't just geared for a younger audience, it's geared for a general audience. Some episodes have more comedy in them, some skew a little darker. We don't sugar coat who Batman is and what his origin is. We've shown the Waynes getting killed, so no one can say we're doing a 'SuperFriends' version of the character if they really have watched the show.
10. You seem to be having a lot of fun with the story's continuity/logic so far... whether introducing Joker as a parallel universe superhero; glimpses of Bat Hulk and Captain Leatherwing in "Game Over for Owlman!"; or even a snapshot of Alfred (in a flashback), in "Invasion of the Secret Santas!" What would you say is the task, or responsibility, of good story design in television animation? How do you apply this to your current work with B:BRAVE/BOLD?
I can't speak in generalities about story design as a rule, but with B: BRAVE/BOLD Michael Jelenic, the co-producer and story editor, and I tend not to worry a lot about whether people will be confused by all the guest stars or situations. Batman is the character everyone knows and as long as he's in it, he provides our touchstone into these other characters. We like to mess with the story structure from episode to episode. We also like to start episodes in the middle of action and let the audience catch up. Plot isn't as important to us as is the character stuff and interpersonal dynamics. It's not so important what the characters are doing as it is how they are doing it on our show.
11. When you are working over an episode with story editor / co-producer Michael Jelenic, about how much would you say is regularly re-written? a.)At this stage, how much trust do you place in the viewer? b.)In terms of story design, how do you design an episode that keeps people talking?
In general a lot is rewritten on most of the scripts because my job as producer and Michael's job as story editor is to maintain the tone of the series and when you're using lots of different writers, there's no way all of them will nail that tone. Some will get the humor but not the super hero elements, and vice versa. Typically, Michael sends me his final pass on a script for me to take a tweak pass over before we lock down to a final script.
As far as designing a story that keeps everyone talking, we just come up with stories we want to see and make sure we're doing interesting things with characters that people will care about. Of course, we have a built in audience with a lot of the comic book fandom, and so there will always be chatter about this show because it uses so much from the comic books as a jumping off point.
12. Do you find it more challenging to craft a story that involves more powerful figures from comics, such as Spectre? (A Comic-Con comment indicated the episode "Chill of the Night!" should certainly prove intriguing.)
With any character it seems that as long as we know what the character wants, it provides a focus for what that character will or won't do in a story. In our episode that features the Spectre, he has a very specific goal in that show that has to do with Batman. So even though he's very powerful, the issue of his powers has very little to do with his role in the story.