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In these difficult times, it's natural to yearn for better, more nostalgic days when life was much simpler and devoid of a deadly pathogen. To help you along in your reminiscing, SYFY WIRE is proud to present an exclusive look inside X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series. On sale next week, the nearly 300-page coffee table book provides an extensive history on the making of a true '90s classic that enthralled an entire generation of young Marvel fans.
And it wasn't just written by some random fan boy or girl — it was compiled by series developer and showrunner Eric Lewald and his wife, Julia, who served as a writer and story editor on the beloved animated program. So yeah, you're in good hands with a book that features testimonials from Avi Arad, Haim Saban, and even the late Stan Lee. The Lewalds describe the process of putting the project together as "a treasure hunt."
"Today, every bit of an animated show’s artwork, rough to final, is easily stored on computer files," the couple tells SYFY WIRE. "In the 1990s and the many decades before — in the days of hand-painted animation — 99% of everything, gorgeous, hand-painted artwork — was simply thrown away. Luckily, a few artists kept dusty old boxes of bits of their work. A producer bought a few boxes at a storage-facility auction years ago before they were discarded. An animation gallery (a relatively new concept) had secured a few hundred pieces. We had old storyboards and scripts. Still, we never knew what we would uncover, which made the hunt exciting."
Below, you can check out a number of sketches and animation cels provided exclusively to SYFY WIRE. First up, we have an establishing shot of New York (circa 2055) in the "Days of Future Past" storyline, which ran for two episodes near the end of the first season. Then we move onto a sketch of Nathaniel Essex, aka Mr. Sinister (voiced by Christopher Britton) drawn by Frank Brunner and inked by Mark Lewis.
Despite the fact that the Lewalds were intimately involved with the show's production back in the day, they still found themselves surprised by certain things while doing research for the art book.
"The biggest revelation during our research was just how much work and material went into a single 22-minute episode of a hand-painted animated series," they admit. "Hundreds of people working nonstop to meet tough weekly deadlines. Twenty-two minutes means 1,320 seconds or 31,680 frames (X-Men was still shot on film). Some images were made up of 10 painted overlaid cels – backgrounds, characters, props, mouth-movements. This is all for one episode. Next week, they had to do another."
X-Men: The Animated Series ran for a total of 76 episodes across five seasons on the Fox Kids Network between 1992 and 1997. Even with the live-action films added to the pop culture equation, it is often considered the definitive gold standard in the realm of mutant-related Marvel adaptations.
"We have each worked on over 40 series in our careers, some of which did not turn out as we might have hoped. X-Men happens to be our personal favorite," the Lewalds say. "We do presentations about the series at major Comic Cons and on podcasts. Eric has published a previous book on it. Although many TV-series histories are written beautifully by people who were not involved in the production, our publisher, Abrams, seems to believe that having show principals for authors can provide a unique advantage. We would like to think that our perspective added to the book."
The following two pages depict the 1944 Logan trying out a pair of training wheel claws. "Contrary to current canon," says the book, "Wolverine co-creator Len Wein insisted that Logan was born only with his mutant healing powers, and that the claws, along with his Adamantium skeleton, were imposed upon him much later ('Logan was a healer who was turned into a weapon'). Thus, the need for the climbing aids here."
Like Julia, Wein also wrote and story edited for the show.
"After nearly 30 years, the challenge was finding varied, stunning artwork that helped illustrate every episode of the history we were telling," the Lewalds adds. "The point of the book was to celebrate the art and craft of producing a 1990s hit animated series. We knew the underlying story; we needed the visuals that had to be the centerpiece of what is first and foremost an art book. When we started, we didn’t know what images we would find. Each new un-boxing would reveal either gold or trash – or a mix of the two."
The book also features interviews with supervising producer/director Will Meugniot, producer/director Larry Houston, producer/director Frank Squillace, storyboard artist and model designer Rick Hoberg, model designer Frank Brunner, and character, prop, and model designer/cleanup artist Mark Lewis. The Lewalds' favorite interview was with Stephanie Graziano, who, along with her husband, Jim "took the huge risk of setting up their Graz studio specifically to try to land the deal to produce X-Men."
They continue: "[Stephanie] had a cushy network job and left it to dive into the demanding world of animation production. They hired the right artists and snagged a gig that a dozen other companies would have loved having. Then they discovered how hard it was going to be. Graz was faced with 'Marvel' stories (huge, expensive) on Saban budgets (small, restrictive),' and yet, they held it all together for five years. very department on the series — writing, design, storyboards, voice recording, overseas animation, post-production editing — had demanding work and short schedules in which to do it. Eric remembers how big the responsibility was to supervise just one of these (writing). Stephanie had to supervise and integrate them all."
X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series goes on sale from Abrams Books (sale price is $45) this coming Tuesday, Oct. 13. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon right here. Abrams and Marvel are bringing the book to NYCC's Metaverse this afternoon with a panel featuring the Lewalds and a slew of other special guests. Get more info here before heading into the photo gallery at the bottom of the page for a glimpse at even more exclusive pages. But it's really just the tip of the iceberg because the Lewalds' promise "endless treasures" for both die-hards and more casual dans.
"There are alternative storyboards for scenes, including the opening titles. There is new, original color art done specifically for the book by three of the half-dozen most important artists from the series: Larry Houston, Will Meugniot, and Rick Hoberg," they explain."There are character designs for every episode. There is a chapter that shows how a 4-minute sequence from of an episode ("Days of Future Past") grew from idea, to outline, to script, to storyboard, to the screen. There are stunning background layouts showing the detail the artists went to. But mostly, it is simply a stunningly colorful celebration of the work of the people who put this show together."
Casual readers, meanwhile, "will get an appreciation for the work that went into crafting a worldwide-hit animated television series during the time of hand-painted cel animation. Just as important, they may end up with a yearning to watch all 76 episodes on Disney+ to see what we were making all the fuss about."