The Wednesday at 7pm Cartoon Network debuts their original movie Firebreather, based on the comics series by Phil Hester and Andy Kuhn. The comics, which started with Image Comics in 2003, focus on Duncan, a teenager struggling to fit in at a new high school and make an impression on a girl. And, oh yeah, he just happens the son of the centuries-old Kaiju ruler of the monsters: Belloc. So in between the travails of high school he finds himself battling lots of giant creatures straight out of a Toho movie.
We chatted with Hester and Kuhn about their journey from comics to seeing this CGI feature from animation legend Peter Chung debut on Cartoon Network this week.
Mania: When you and Phil first started working on the comics, did you think about the prospects for a movie or TV show? If so, how did you view those prospects? Did it seem likely? Unlikely?
Phil Hester: Not at all. Look, we're barely a functioning comic. To actually get produced on any level is always a miracle, and with a book with such a weird hook it's a double miracle.
Andy Kuhn: These days the entertainment industry seems to be taking comics more seriously, at least as a pool for ideas, if not as a medium itself. Hopefully Hollywood will continue to mine comics for movie and TV ideas for years to come, because I have a crap-ton of other ideas I'd like to sell them. Hey, Hollywood....call me!
Mania: The process of getting Firebreather to film has been filled with a number of false starts and even tragic twists. How tough is it to go through the ups and downs? Do you keep a distance from it or is the whole thing exciting?
Hester: I always assume it will never happen. Hell, at the premiere I half expected a camera crew to jump out and proclaim it all a giant hoax. I guess it's a default self-preservation mode. I have had a lot of things optioned by some truly amazing talents, but this is the only thing that's come to complete fruition. If I just assume the worst, every good thing is a happy surprise. That said, the highs and lows are sometimes unavoidable. I keep my distance, but some hit close to home. Right now the high is inescapable.
Kuhn: It's still all very exciting for me, but I try not to get too worked up about it. When we first started dealing with Hollywood I would get worried if I didn't hear a new update every week. These days I just don't sweat it. if I hear from them it's great, if I don't hear from them it's great too.
Mania: The Firebreather movie is directed by Peter Chung, who is a legend (if for no other reason) for creating Aeon Flux for MTV. What did he bring to the process that impresses you in particular?
Kuhn: Peter is a great director. I can't say enough good things about his work on the movie. The thing I like most about Peter is he clearly has a style that's uniquely his own. If you see any of the shows he's directed, whether it's Firebreather, Aeon Flux, The Animatrix or something else, it's unmistakably his work. That's what puts him head and shoulders above most animation directors in my book. He's an amazing talent with a unique voice.
Hester: He's a visual genius. His sensibilities are infused in the flick from character designs to storyboards to music. It's definitely a Peter Chung experience. Peter has an eye for the weird and the stylish and Firebreather certainly has those qualifications. He's also gifted when it comes to delineating complex action clearly. Believe me, about 20 minutes into this you'll see that on display on a level even higher than Aeon Flux. The action is breathtaking.
Mania: What's your favorite moment in the new movie?
Kuhn: For animation, there's a two second scene of Duncan's dad Belloc scrambling up a mountainside while he's being fired on by UN forces, and smoke is rolling off of him. That two seconds of animation is really great. Having worked as an animator, I know how hard it was to make that scene work. My hat is off the the animator that did it.
Hester: Without a doubt the "test" in the desert. We see Duncan truly cut loose for the first time and are treated to some violence that is not gory or brutal, but still thrilling and startling.
Kuhn: For acting, I really love the scene where Duncan's mom starts to tell him how she and his dad got together while Duncan covers his ears and talks over her so he doesn't have to hear it. It's a funny moment.
Mania: The movie makes some tweaks to the character. Any plans to incorporate them into the comic?
Hester: No. From the beginning we made a clear distinction between the cartoon continuity and the comic book one. We don't begrudge Cartoon Network for any of the changes they had to make when adapting the book, but we're holding fast to the standards we set for the characters in the book. Jim Krieg (the screenwriter) and Peter did jump us a little on some future developments, but we'll still be taking our own path to get to those points.
Kuhn: Phil and I have a long term plan for Firebreather.
Mania: What are your thoughts on the voice performances? Any in particular stand out for you?
Hester: I can't get over hearing Dana Delaney's voice coming out of Marge's mouth. I think Duncan and Kenny are inspired. Heck, all the kids did a great job. My favorite, though, is Belloc. There's a scene later in the flick where Belloc just says, "Margaret," by way of hello, but to hear it in that deep, voice-of-God-type bass make it absolutely hilarious.
And Jesse Head finds the tricky balance between a kid who is an outcast, but will not take crap. He's a Peter Parker who will not think twice about flipping crap right back at the bully who started it. Hence, he's got to be sympathetic, and on some level, a bit arrogant- like all 16-year-olds. Jesse nailed it.
Mania: Is there anything in the movie you wish they'd done differently?
Hester: Well, it's a nitpick, but I wish they'd left Isabel as chubby as we have her in the comic. The whole project is, on some level, about body image, and including a plus-sized girl who has no real issues with her own self-esteem is an important counterpoint to Duncan, who is almost obsessed with the way people perceive him visually. Again, a minor quibble. That's a pretty subtle concept for a kid watching the flick, so it'll be something we save for the comic book readers.
Kuhn: I wish they would have made it 3 hours long! Of course if they had, I'd be wishing it was 6 hours long. I think it's pretty rad!
Mania: At New York Comic-Con you got to see the movie on a big screen with a number of youngsters in the room. What did you think about their reaction?
Hester: That's the best part. When a kid says, "Cool!" they are not faking it. The whole reason I got into comics was they made me think, "Cool!" when I was ten. I'm just trying to pay it forward.
Kuhn: . It was great. We've seen it twice now with different aged audiences, and the movie got a strong positive reaction both times. I have my fingers crossed that Cartoon Network viewers will feel the same way!
Mania: Has there been any talk of the Firebreather going to sequel or series?
Kuhn: There's lots of talk, but nothing concrete yet. Once it blows up like a bubble gum factory next week, I'm sure we'll hear something solid.
Hester: Truth be told, we won't really know anything until we know how it was received by the TV audience. So, DVR away, you animals!
Mania: If there was another Firebreather movie, is there a storyline from the comics in particular you'd like to see them tackle?
Hester: Oh, yeah. I'd love to see another feature reflect the second and third trades as much as this one reflects the first.
Mania: What plans are in place to capitalize on the debut of the movie?
Kuhn: All the Firebreather issues that we've made are currently in print in two trades. Volume 1 contains the first four issue mini series GROWING PAINS plus a sixty page one-shot called THE IRON SAINT. Volume 2 contains the four issue story titled ALL THE BEST HEROES ARE ORPHANS.
Hester: They're available at most decent comic shops and on Amazon. Plus, well have an all-new #1 available on the day of the show.
Mania: That's called "Holmgang" right?
Hester: Holmgang! It's a mini series in which Duncan meets some long lost relatives from his Dad's side who have very little interest in welcoming him into the family.
Kuhn: We certainly hope that people who see the movie and like it will be moved to pick up the comic as well, however, we'd still be making the book, even if there wasn't a movie.
Mania: What's next for the two of you? What are you working on?
Kuhn: I'm currently finishing up the new Firebreather mini series "Holmgang." I'm also drawing an 18 page Jack Sparrow story for Disney comics. It will appear in a Pirates of the Caribbean OGN that is coming out in early 2011. After that Phil and I have another chapter in the Firebreather saga brewing. I am also lucky enough to be a part of the website comictwart.com where I participate in their weekly drawing shenanigans as much as I possibly can.
Hester: I'm working as a writer on Wonder Woman, The Darkness, The Green Hornet, Warpaint, Firebreather, Golly and a new top secret project from Image.
Mania: Thanks guys!
Kuhn: Thanks for talking with us, and please watch Firebreather on November 24th!
Indeed! Firebreather debuts Wednesday November 24th at 7pm on Cartoon Network. Encore presentations air Friday, November 26th at 8pm and Saturday, November 27th at 4:30pm. Visit the official website for details and downloads.
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