Kids WB! has long been a haven for comic-based animation, with shows like 'The Batman', 'Static Shock' and 'X-Men Evolution'. Add to that roster of popular superheroes 'The Spectacular Spider-Man'. But this March, the toon outlet will host the rare series based on an indie comic, 'The World of Quest'.
Comics2Film recently had a chance to talk to Michelle Melanson, producer of the show. First, some background on the comic:
'The World of Quest' is the creation of Jason T. Kruse, a feature film and video game animator who turned to the worldwide web as an outlet for comics, first publishing the series on Komikwerks.com. The reaction from readers on the web was strong enough to motivate Komikwerks to publish the complete 'World of Quest' graphic novel and Kids WB! to option the property.
Last year Cookie Jar Entertainment, creators of numerous animated shows such as 'Arthur', 'Johnny Test' and 'Spider-Riders' took the reigns on producing 13 episodes of 'Quest'. Melanson whose background includes shows like 'Medabots', 'George Shrinks', 'Jacob Two Two' and 'Rescue Heroes' was offered the show and sparked to it immediately.
"I really like doing boys action adventure and comedy," Melanson told us, so 'Quest' was easy to say yes to. From her production office outside Toronto, she joined Executive Producer Stephen Sustarsic and a staff of writers stationed in L.A. and the quest for 'Quest' had begun.
'Quest' tells the tale of Nestor, a young, smart-alecky prince who enlists the aid of a retired hero in a mission to help him save his parents from the show's villains. That hero is Quest, and he wants nothing to do with precocious princes or adventuring, but he's bound by mystical spell to safeguard Nestor.
"One of the first things I did was introduce myself to Jason, and also Shannon Eric Denton, of Komikwerks," Melanson said. "I got to know those guys as best I could and understand where Jason was coming from in terms of what he wanted to see and what was important to him from taking it from the graphic novel to television."
Going from a 120-plus page graphic novel to short 22-minute bursts of animated network television is no easy feat.
"Jason's graphic novel is amazing and there's a lot of mythology and a lot of back story to it," Melanson told us, but part of the adaptation process comes from knowing the audience and the medium. "When you have the book in front of you and you can take the time and really immerse yourself in your own imagination. It's a lot easier than for an eight-to-twelve year-old boy who's watching something for 22 minutes.
"What we did was we created a story arc, specifically on the first 13 episodes that paid respect to Jason's ideas, but simplified some of the concepts. It's a really well thought-out graphic novel and even though it's just one book at that point, even making that into 13 episodes was a challenge," Melanson said.
Which is not to say that the show will discard the more complex mythology altogether. The goal is to grab the viewers' attention up front, and layer in the mythology once the audience is established.
"Those great creatures that Jason created, the bad guys, are all still there. The great villains, Lord Spite and General Ogun are very much part of it, and Deceit, the female villain," Melanson assures fans of the comic.
Being a Saturday morning cartoon, the concept also needed a slight tweak in tone.
"Jason's graphic novel plays more on the action-adventure side," said Melanson, "whereas Kids WB really wanted that zip-zany kind of comedy styling. There's lots of visual humor and fart jokes, and all of that has to be jammed into 22 minutes as well."
And once all those elements are reconciled, there's the perilous no-mans-land of legal clearances, where the suits scrutinize the show and fret over any potential copyright infringements. "Every script goes through legal counsel. We get told a name has to be changed and we don't question it.
"For example, I remember Chomps didn't clear because that is actually the proper name for Pac-Man," Melanson told us. Whenever changes were mandated, she always went back to Jason to brainstorm new names. "He has a character called Lance the Boil, which turns out to be the name of a character in another animated series called 'Grossology', and so we had to call him Lanze."
As challenging as it may be to translate from graphic novel to animated series, Melanson credits a talented team with pulling the show together from several locations in two countries.
"Our directors Paul Brown and Jamie Whitney are both great. Paul really was the one who found the comedy and the timing in the shows. He really brought the funny," the producer said.
"The cast is amazing. Basically we have six actors playing 18-23 roles," Melanson said. "There are a lot of new characters that we meet along the way, because it is a quest."
"That starts with our lead Ron Pardo," she said of the Canadian impressionist who has been compared to Rich Little. "He plays Quest as well as [the griffen] Graer, which, if you hear, the voices are two totally different characters and pulled it off perfectly."
Playing two of the primary characters is really just the beginning for Pardo, "There were episodes where Ron played up to 12 characters, and I defy you to think that it's the same man."
Paring up with him is a young actor named Landon Norris, who plays Prince Nestor. Norris is also racking up the big-screen credits, with his next role happening in the upcoming 'Flash of Genius', starring Greg Kinnear and Alan Alda.
Other cast members include James Rankin who plays Lord Spite as well as some of the Katastrophe brothers, Kedar Brown who plays Gatling and another Katastrophe brother, Krystal Meadows who plays Anna Maht and Melissa Altro plays Way and Deceit.
Animation for the show is being done out of Mercury Filmworks, who Melanson tells us carried the task from storyboard straight through to animation.
Melanson also cites her co-producer Ria Westaway who has taken up the reigns during post-production and is seeing the show through to broadcast.
Then there is a pair of cool theme songs for Voodoo Highway music, a comedic one intended for U.S. audiences and a more adventure-oriented one for the show's Canadian run.
Most fans have read that the Kids WB! programming block will end in September, with 4Kids taking over the Saturday animation programming on The CW after that. The transition leaves the status of current cartoons up in the air.
"The good news is that we'll get at least one run. We're 13 episodes. If we start airing in March we should get a good run in," Melanson assured us. Whether or not 'World of Quest' continues to air in the U.S. is uncertain. It will likely depend on how many kids tune in for its initial run.
However, production on the show will continue for its Canadian audience. "We also have a sale to Teletoon. They haven't set a date yet, but they're also looking towards 26 episodes."
Last week, the Kids WB! announced a release date of March 15th for the show, allowing it to follow immediately behind the buzz created by March's other new series: 'The Spectacular Spider-Man' . While that's going on, Jason Kruse is returning to the source material, polishing up the second volume of his epic comic caper, which is now published by Yen Press.
Melanson feels confident that it all adds up to a show that will find an enthusiastic audience.
"It really is an awesome show. It looks unlike anything else I think. I don't say that often, but I think we really do look different. I always equate it to Star Wars. It's sort of set in the past yet it's got a futuristic feel to it. That's what I really like about it."
Watch for more 'World of Quest' news right here on Comics2Film and be sure to check out the Kids WB! mini-site for the show. Don't forget that volume 1 of the graphic novel is available now from Yen Press.