Posted on August 11, 2008 by Monica Valentinelli
Flames Rising is proud to bring you an exclusive interview with Tad Stones, a veteran in the animation industry and long-time Hellboy fan. Tad worked as a producer and as a writer on the popular Animated Hellboy series; breathing life into “Big Red” on the small screen.
In this interview, Tad talks to us about his experiences working on the Animated Hellboy films Sword of Storms and Blood and Iron, how he met Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and a few, other surprises.
How did you first get involved with the Hellboy franchise?
I was a fan from the very first Dark Horse Publication of Hellboy. I really thought Mike Mignola’s art was hitting a cool place with comics like Gotham By Gaslight and Cosmic Odyssey for DC comics. Hellboy took that art and applied it to supernatural subject matter which has always interested me. So around 1995 or 1996, I pitched Hellboy to Disney TV Animation because they were looking for “edgy prime time” shows which turned out to be shows that looked like The Simpsons.
Perhaps needless to say, Hellboy did not become ensconced in the Magic Kingdom but I was constantly pitching shows with similar subject matter. Some comedic, some dramatic. Finally, I got to adapt Disney’s Atlantis as a TV series which gave me a chance to work with Mike. I basically hired him to design monsters for the show since the movie’s art direction was heavily influenced by his work. The series was cancelled in mid-production when the feature failed to perform.
We had enough done to connect into a DVD feature, Milo’s Return, so the crew and fans got to see what might have been. About a year after that I left Disney after 29 years. Or maybe I should say a door was opened for me and management started to wave “goodbye.”
I needed new sample scripts to show around and I asked Mike if I could write a couple of Hellboy half hours. He was agreeable to it so I pitched him stories and he gave some notes. Guillermo del Toro’s movie was in preproduction around then and Revolution Studios was interested in an animated Hellboy project. I had met with Sam Register, then head of development at Cartoon Network, and learned he was a Hellboy fanatic. He wanted a Hellboy series for the network. So it was cool that my name was submitted by Mike, Guillermo, Cartoon Network and my agent who was handling licensing for the movie. It was sort of a perfect storm for me. Ultimately they couldn’t reach a deal on the series and the idea of doing DVDs was brought up.
How is your work on Animated Hellboy different than working with some of your previous credits like Disney’s Darkwing Duck or Aladdin?
Darkwing Duck was my creation like Hellboy is Mike’s, except that animation is a hugely collaborative medium. I was able to produce the series without having to deal with network notes because it was for syndication. I doubt most of the story premises would have been accepted in today’s system. Animated programming has to serve too many agendas.
The motion picture, Disney’s Aladdin, was written and directed by friends of mine, John Musker and Ron Clements. I really wanted to do right by them but the series schedule was a steam roller that forced me to expand the kind of stories we did. I liked the episodes that were more serious, more filled with adventure. Sometimes the character of the Genie ran away with the show.
Although it’s a separate universe from the comic, I really wanted Hellboy Animated to mirror the atmosphere of the comic. There was no studio interference so the only notes I got were from Mike. That is “notes” meaning “inspired and brilliant ideas.”
You’re credited as a “Producer” and as a “Writer” for both Animated Hellboy titles. Can you tell us about the challenges and rewards of those roles?
The meaning of producer credits varies from studio to studio, but on Hellboy Animated it meant I was the creative lead. The reward is being the one to hire a team of really talented people. Working with that type of crew is fun as well as rewarding.
Writing for animation has the same appeal as any other type of storytelling. Creating characters, mood and the details that make up a great story combines blue sky imagination with a sort of puzzle solving aspect that’s simply tons of fun. This project had the added appeal of working with Mike and trying to imitate his way of doing things. At the end of the films, Mike and I have trouble remembering who thought of what, which I take as a great compliment.
The scripts of Hellboy Animated were written by Matt Wayne and Kevin Hopps although I had to add enough additional material to Sword of Storms to earn a co-writing credit. My real fun was writing the third script, The Phantom Claw, by myself.
Who is your favorite Hellboy character and why?
I really enjoy writing the relationships but if you told me that I could only do stories with one character, it would have to be Hellboy. Putting him in any strange situation immediately leads to stories and great action.
Hellboy: Sword of Storms and Hellboy: Blood and Iron both draw from world myths and legends. How much research went into the two scripts?
Imagine a library where there are no boring books, where every volume is about folklore, the paranormal, weird experiments or bizarre fiction. That library is in Mike Mignola’s house so we had plenty of reference material. There’s also the internet (of course) which put me on the track of several Japanese stories. Blood and Iron required much less research than Sword of Storms. We both knew the stories of the blood countess although I had to do some reading to refresh my memory. Mike has all that on the tip of his tongue.
Of course, we weren’t trying to be 100% accurate; we were writing new works of fiction inspired by all that stuff. I’ve gotten compliments and complaints from anime fans impressed or disappointed with how we dealt with the mythology.
Of the two animated films, what are some of your favorite scenes and why?
In Sword of Storms, I love the Abe and Liz stuff from the plane crash to the discussion in the rain about burps. That was lots of fun to write and Selma Blair and Doug Jones really sold it all. I really like the “Let’s bash a monster” action of the Kappa sequence and the art direction we pulled off with the spider lady. And of course “Heads” was a story pulled right out of the comics, so I enjoy that on a whole other level.
Strangely enough, in Blood and Iron my favorite sequences are the flashbacks with a young Professor Broom although it’s hard to top beating an ancient deity with a bathtub.
Do you consider Hellboy to be horror? Fantasy? A blend of genres?
Hellboy is definitely a blend of all the pulp stories that Mike discovered in the seventies. Lots of Weird Tales material was re-released around then from Lovecraft and Manly Wade Wellman to William Hope Hogdson and Edgar Rice Burroughs. The blend of horror, fantasy, folklore and dry humor puts Hellboy in a unique category.
What advice do you have for writers and artists who’d like to get into the animation industry?
Don’t. That sounds flippant but the industry is a real roller coaster, yet you have to live in one of the more expensive cities in the world while you’re trolling for jobs. If you can’t be put off then read an assortment of books about screenplay writing, the specific titles don’t matter as much as you’d think. Then to make a living at it, you have to be able to write both superhero action and low brow comedy. One of the most stable genres in the industry right now is preschool shows. It requires a mix of entertainment, education and a bit of sociology. If that sort of variety appeals to you, then by all means jump in. It’s unfortunate there are so few staff writing jobs left. Freelancing can’t beat working closely with artists and other writers, and being inspired by all the beautiful art on the walls.
Will the third installment of the Animated Hellboy series dubbed Hellboy: the Phantom Claw ever see the light of day?
Sadly, it doesn’t look good. Sales of the first two really climbed as the marketing for Hellboy II: The Golden Army kicked in but they disappointed when first released. The studio that currently holds the rights is for sale so we can only hope for some truly hellacious buyers to get things back on track. In the mean time there was a CG short of Hellboy done as sort of an experiment, and that should be surfacing on the net somewhere soon.
What’s next for you?
I wish I knew. Remember that roller coaster I mentioned? In the meantime, I have a comic book proposal out right now. It’s an idea that Mike really pushed me to draw on my own instead of pitching it as an animated series. Who am I to argue? The guy knows a thing or two about comics.
To find out more about Tad Stones and the Animated Hellboy series visit Animated Hellboy Online for production notes and more in-depth coverage about what the Hellboy animation process is all about. Currently, new posts for the Animated Hellboy site are on “hold” until the series picks up again. Tad’s most recently produced work entitled “Turok, Son of Stone” is available on DVD.
Interview by Monica Valentinelli