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Monday, November 30, 2009

Aquaman Shrine Interview with James Tucker - 2009

Today we have a very special interview with Brave and the Bold Producer James Tucker!

As anyone who regularly visits the Shrine knows, I am a big fan of the Brave and the Bold show, and am particularly happy over their unique take on Aquaman. I am thrilled to see an engaging, fun take on the character, and Aquaman has quickly become one of the biggest stars of the show.

James was very generous with his time, answering my questions just before the Thanksgiving holiday when I'm sure he was very busy:

The Aquaman Shrine: One of the things I like the most about the Brave and the Bold Aquaman is how much of a contrast he is to Batman. In the comics Batman and Aquaman are very similar--they're both serious, serious guys, but on the show they couldn't be more different. At what point in the development of the show did you decide to portray Aquaman as the lighthearted "seeker of adventure" type?

James Tucker: Our take on Aquaman came about very early in Batman: The Brave and The Bold's development. It was Sam Register's (the development execuctive in charge of the show at the time and now the president of Warner Bros. Animation) idea to push Aquaman in a different direction.

We were trying to come up with a different way to view him that hadn't been done, but was still true to the character in general. He mentioned perhaps giving Aquaman a similar personality to a greek god ala Hercules or Vultan from the Flash Gordon movie.

TAS: I was going to say, Aquaman does remind me a lot of Prince Vultan.

JT: I immediately thought of Aquaman as a less obnoxious version of Miles Gloriosus, from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum musical. We wanted to play up the kingly aspect of who he was, but not make him the angry King Arthur under the sea type we had portrayed him as in Justice League.

I balked at first but once I started developing a visual for him, it just started clicking in my head. The final piece of the puzzle was casting John DiMaggio as Aquaman. Once I heard the voice, I knew we had something special. I based his design on Steve Reeves, the actor who played Hercules in the old movies. There was something about his big pompadour haircut that suggested ocean waves to me.
Although one could say that all those characters share similar influences. We just added the super hero angle on top of all that and we got our take on Aquaman.

TAS: Do you have a certain number of episodes you want each of the recurring guest-stars (Aquaman, Blue Beetle, Green Arrow, etc.) to appear in, or is it just a matter of how each episode's story develops?

JT: We (my co-producer, Michael Jelenic, and assistant story editor, Todd Casey, and myself) get together in a room and decide who's going to appear and how often then we write it all out on a big white pad and post it on the wall. We have a hierarchy of characters that we select based on our enjoyment of the character and sometimes on requests from Mattel, who produces the toyline for the show.
Some are re-occurring like Blue Beetle and Aquaman. For the second season we knew we wanted more of Aquaman but to also bring in others who weren't highlighted first season. Aquaman is one of those characters we've all fallen in love with and so we sometimes stick him in a story just because we like him so much. He'll have his own spotlight show early in second season where we see more of his family.

TAS: You're reading my mind! I was going to ask if we were ever going to see Aqualad, since he's been mentioned on the show, but never seen. Also, We haven't seen Mera or Ocean Master since Aquaman's debut. Any plans for them to return?

JT: Yes, Mera and another family member of Aquaman's will appear early in season 2. It's a totally off the wall episode, but I think it shows us a side of Aquaman we haven't seen on the show and be a favorite of longtime Aquaman fans.
TAS: Personally, I'd love to see a Batman/Mera episode. That's not a question, just a request!

JT: Well, you kind of will get your wish I think.

TAS: You mentioned Mattel and the B&B toy line. I've said many times on the Shrine that I think B&B will end up doing more for Aquaman's popularity than it will for Batman (how much more popular can Batman get, after all?), and I think a large part of that is because Aquaman is so prevalent in the B&B Mattel toy line. Kids see Aquaman on the show, and then there is on toy shelves!

Does Mattel give you specific comments as to what characters they like, in terms of becoming toys? Do you find yourself digging out an obscure DC character and then Mattel goes "Wow, we can do something with that!" (I imagine this conversation went on over B'Wana Beast!)
JT: The answer to that question is "both". We give Mattel our list of preferred characters who will be featured more than once. There's some give and take between us and them, for instance, if they have a toy promotion designed around Plastic Man, then we will try to make sure he's well represented over the course of the season.

Usually that means at least a teaser and then an episode devoted to him. Blue Beetle was treated that way and so will Metal Men in the second season. Other than those concessions, the toy company really gives us free reign to do our shows as we see fit. Using the more obscure characters comes from us but then the Brave and the Bold mini line takes advantage of that aspect of the show and runs with it.

Bill, the guy in charge of that line, loves the show and he's a huge DC fan too, so he knows all the obscure characters we put in the show and makes sure he fits them into the mini line. Since the minis are a lower price point, the toy company can put more of the B and C-listers in that line and not lose money. You may not see a Detective Chimp in the main B&B line, but you'll probably see it in the mini line.

TAS: Aquaman has appeared in a number of Brave and the Bold episodes, almost more than any other guest star. Did the show want to make a conscious effort build up Aquaman's rep a bit?
JT: We wanted to fight against the perception that Aquaman was a silly character people use as the butt of jokes but I also didn't want to retread him as the angry king, especially since we took that angle with him for the Justice League series.

I always liked him as a character but in the past he's not been given much of a personality, at least, much of a pleasant personality, IMHO. So the trick was finding a unique personality for him that would pop against Batman's and create some excitement but still be consistent with what he is as a character.

As with all the characters on our show, I wanted people to find him humorous but in an accessible way. Not by making fun of him, but by actually playing up all the things people have come to mock him over, i.e., talking to fish, etc. I hedged my bets by giving him Mera's hard water power, which I always thought was very cool.
The idea is that, yes, to some his powers are silly, but he doesn't think so. He's an optimist, he likes people, he loves being who he is: a king and a hero. I think that personality is consistent with who he has been portrayed as in the past but also gives people who had dismissed him as the butt of jokes him a new angle into his character. Whether his powers are silly or not (I don't think they are), he's a likable character that the audience can enjoy.

TAS: How much Aquaman backstory did you give John DiMaggio before he took on the role?

JT: Andrea Romano, our legendary voice director, described what we had in mind for the character to John. I may have also told John to channel Milos Gloriosus too. John, being well versed in musical theater, knew exactly how to do it from then on and had us on the floor laughing with each line reading.
The thing I love about what John does with Aquaman is he's able to get us to laugh at Aquaman's antics but not laugh at him. That's very hard to achieve with a character and if we had cast that part badly, Aquaman wouldn't have grown into the lovable character he has on the show. He's a character all the writers who work on the show want to write because he a breath of fresh air from the constipated heroes that currently seem in vogue.

TAS: Does each member of the staff have a particular favorite (or favorites) obscure DC character that they each want to work into the show?

JT: Oh sure. Ben Jones, one of our three directors, loves Red Tornado. Unfortunately, he never got to direct a Red Tornado focused episode in the first season, and Reddy doesn't appear as much in second season.

Michael Chang, another director, likes Dr. Fate a lot and he got to direct the season one finale, "Fate of Equinox" episode that featured Dr. Fate. Our newest director, Michael Goguen, loves Capt. Marvel and directed "Death Race to Oblivion" which featured the debut of Capt. Marvel in the teaser.

The great thing about working on this show is that a lot of the people on the crew are fans, and because the show itself is good-natured, I think people enjoy the vibe of working on it, even this type of show takes a lot of work because of all the brand new characters and locations we go to each episode.

TAS: You've mentioned in interviews before you're a fan of Aquaman. Were there any particular Aquaman comics you read growing up that you really loved?

JT: My first exposure to Aquaman was most likely the Filmation series and then the Superfriends after that. I didn't get to read the comics until he was being featured in Adventure Comics drawn by Jim Aparo. I'm pretty sure the first issue I read was the one where Aquababy is killed! I remember that issue making a big impression on me.

I have always liked his visual and think he's right up there with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman as an iconic superhero. Everyone knows Aquaman on sight whether they've read his comic books or not.

Speaking for this Aquaman fan, James' answers were one good piece of news after another!

As all of us know, Aquaman doesn't get a whole lot of respect from DC Comics' itself, so its a huge relief to hear he has so many fans in the upper echelons of Warner Bros.' animation and merchandising arms. And, thanks to a fundamental belief in the strength of the character, we now have Aquaman regularly appearing on a nationwide, hit TV show, and appearing all over toy shelves.

I thank James so much for his time talking to the Shrine, and for all his great work. I didn't think this was possible, but I'm looking forward to future episodes of Brave and the Bold even more than I was before!


IADW said...

Wow - awesome interview Rob!

Bubbashelby said...

Great interview. And a huge thanks to James Tucker!

I think Batman The Brave and the Bold is one of the best things on television today! Here's to a very long and successful run.

Josh Hill said...

Thanks for this interview! I was a little bummed about having to go back to work today after the holiday, and this helped get things kicked off on a better note. I love this show, and I love that Aquaman is such a major part.

Hey Rob, how about running a poll asking if fans would want to see the DCU comics version of Aquaman adopt the personality of the BRAVE AND THE BOLD animated version, now that it has become so popular? I would be curious to see what the majority of fans think.

Russell said...

Thanks for running this great interview today! I'm with Josh that I was not getting into the whole "back to work" thing, but this just jump-started my morning!

Wings1295 said...

Great interview, Rob! So cool to see someone as psyched about Aquaman as the character's fans! Very cool. :)

Adama said...

Way to go Rob! Great interview!

Andy Luckett said...

Very nice interview, Rob! Great to know Mr. Tucker is such an Aquaman fan. Sounds like some exciting plans for this season!

Plaidstallions said...

I thought I couldn't like this show more....

Terry Beatty said...

Nice interview! These characters are in very good hands with James Tucker.