Interview: Greg Weisman Talks ‘Gargoyles’
When I was younger, there was a Disney cartoon that my friends and I loved and which impressed our parents with its maturity and layered story-telling. The series was called Gargoyles, and it told the story of a clan of warrior creatures from 10th Century Scotland who are brought to modern-day New York City via magical manipulation. Led by the noble gargoyle Goliath, the creatures find themselves to be strangers in a strange land, forced to hide while trying to find their new place in the 20th century. Soon enough, they wind up becoming superheroes, protecting the same humans who either fear them or don’t believe they exist.
Although the series lasted only two seasons (followed by the short-lived Goliath Chronicles series, which is considered apocryphal), its fan base remains extremely loyal — so much so, in fact, that a convention for Gargoyles fans, called the Gathering of the Gargoyles, has been held each year for more than a decade now. In recent years, we’ve seen much of the television series finally released on DVD, and Slave Labor Graphics has begun publishing an ongoing Gargoyles comic book series and spin-off miniseries, Bad Guys, headed up by series creator Greg Weisman and picking up where season 2 left off.
I spoke with Weisman (who also serves as story editor for the new Spectacular Spider-Man animated series) during the most recent Gathering of the Gargoyles event, and we chatted about the clan of winged Scottish warriors that he created so long ago and what the future holds for them.
COMICMIX: So, we’re at the 12th annual Gathering of the Gargoyles convention. You have the new comic book series from SLG and the Bad Guys spin-off coming out now. You’re even talking about future spin-offs. All of this says there’s a decent fan base. So what’s happening that we still only have the first 26 episodes of season 2 on DVD?
GREG WEISMAN: Well, there’s a lot of turnover at Buena Vista Home Entertainment. You’ll have people there who are interested in the project and then you’ll have new people come in who aren’t so much. The ugly truth of it is that Season One sold very well, and the Season Two, Vol. 1 DVD did not sell so well. Even if, ultimately, it sold as well as the first season, we sort of lost Disney’s attention. So we need to get their attention all over again, and the best way to do that is by making sure that we continue to sell the DVDs that exist, show them that the comics are selling well. Gargoyles is SLG’s best-selling comic.
CMIX: And the conventions must help…
GW: The Gathering is how we got Disney’s attention in the first place. But attendance is dropping, sadly. So the message that I send to the fans is that we really have to work harder to spread the word. Hot Topic put out a bunch of Gargoyles t-shirts and it would be great if Disney could see those shirts selling well and think, "Hey, maybe we should look at this again." But it’s not just about money, of course. It’s not about one person going out and buying 20 t-shirts. It’s about one person going on the Internet and saying “Man, I saw these t-shirts. Remember Gargoyles? Does anyone have the DVDs? Has anyone else seen the new comic books?” It’s about spreading the word that people are interested.
CMIX: How hard was it in the initial stages to do a Disney Cartoon with fairly adult themes and writing? Did you get a lot of flak or were you allowed to mostly do what you wanted, since the worst violence was implied and not actually seen?
GW: We were a syndicated show, so we didn’t have a network, we had our own Standards and Practices Executive … We could do harder-edge things if we showed the consequences and if it worked in the context of the story — if there was a message behind it … We also had our own personal standards. We weren’t trying to do gratuitous violence or shock for the sake of shock. We had stories to tell.
There was also a lot of support from the guys up the ladder. They believed in the show and wanted us to do something great. We were certainly, without a doubt, aided by the fact that Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett had recently been successful with Batman: The Animated Series, which had a more mature skew to it. I was a big fan of that series and many of the people on Gargoyles had worked on that series … Frank Paur, Michael Reaves.
CMIX: In the first season alone, you show the murder of most of the Scottish gargoyle clan, albeit without actual bloodshed, and you have the episode in which one of the characters accidentally shoots and hospitalizes another. Even when there wasn’t an issue with standards and practices, did anyone try to tell you to tone it down since it was a kids show?
GW: It was always the plan that our show worked on many levels. There would be fun stuff and colorful characters, explosions and comedy, and that worked on a level for kids. But there’s also a level above that. That first season, where we wanted to do that episode where Broadway really learns what a gun is, my bosses were behind me 100 percent. We felt it was an important lesson for both parents and for kids. Not just “kids, don’t play with guns” but “parents, lock your guns away.” It was really an episode for families to watch together.
At the time, we were doing a tryptich of stories for the trio of younger gargoyles and that was Broadway’s story. It was more shocking than the other two [stories starring Brooklyn and Lexington], but it was still part of that tryptich and I don’t think it stood out as “oh, this is the birth control episode.”
CMIX: The show started off as very urban with basic elements of fantasy and minor science-fiction ideas such as robots and techno-armor. You described it as being inspired by Hill Street Blues and Gummi Bears. By the end of the second season, we had clones, genetically engineered warriors, fairie folk, time-travel adventures, Shakespearean characters, people from Arthurian legend and Norse gods. Was there ever an idea or plot point when you thought, “You know, this is too weird for Gargoyles” or “This is too much outside of the genre?"
GW: [Laughs] No. We saw the show, from day one, as a superhero universe without capes. They’re going to have wings and loincloths, not capes and tights. But the genre we felt we were doing was still a superhero genre, which has always been a mutt with stuff from all sorts of different genres — fantasy, sci-fi, detective. That’s always been what the super-hero genre was. We just felt that as long as we introduce new concepts and characters gradually so that nothing is too jarring right off the bat, then it could work.
CMIX: And Disney never told you they were afraid the show was becoming too complicated or too far away from the original genre they saw it as?
GW: There was actually a mandate from Disney to create an action universe on the level of DC or Marvel comics. Eisner had considered buying Marvel Comics at one point for Disney and decided not to. So there was this creative summit … And we were told to make Gargoyles the heart of an action universe, the same way that The Fantastic Four really launched the Marvel Universe. We would introduce new characters who would be used in spin-offs and have their own adventures that were separate but still operated within this universe where they could interact with each other in the way that Marvel and DC heroes do. It was a great plan, but there was this turnover at Disney and it went away. But in my head, that’s what it always was.
CMIX: In the first season, we only had the survivors of the Scottish Clan of gargoyles, who believed the rest of their race was extinct. In the second season, we met other gargoyles in England and in Japan and other places. Was there ever a concern that this was taking away the original idea and theme that the main characters were the lone survivors of their race?
GW: Yeah, it was taking away that idea, but we felt we’d already played it and we wanted to introduce the aspect of hope. At some point you have to acknowledge that if what you’ve got is only five male gargoyles, one gargoyle beast and one female gargoyle trying to kill all the others, then what you’re saying is that this is a doomed species. And we felt that Goliath, though he’s been through some tragic circumstances, is fundamentally an optimist. He wasn’t naïve, he didn’t think it would be easy, but he believed that if we worked at it, we could have a world where gargoyle and human could live together.
That argument is preposterous though if you figure that in 50-100 years all these gargoyles will be dead except for Demona who’s immortal and is going around like a lunatic. So we wanted to introduce not that the gargoyles [as a race] were thriving, but that they were surviving in pockets and even then it was grim. The London clan had lost their mission, the Mayan clan was mostly slaughtered, the Japanese clan was nearly co-opted into a theme park.
But there’s hope. There’s hope when we meet Angela and the other young gargoyles on Avalon, which was also there because I very much wanted to introduce a positive female gargoyle. All [the new gargoyles we introduced] were there to open that hope up … now it’s at least possible that the species will survive. That moment in season 2 when Hudson says, “We’re not alone, we’re not the last,” that’s important to the whole show.
CMIX: One of your proposed spin-off shows was Timedancer, where Brooklyn would spend years time-traveling back and forth before returning home. There’s now talk that this storyline will finally happen in the comics. Why Brooklyn and not one of the others, such as Lexington or Hudson?
GW: You know, at some point the characters start to tell you where they’re going next. I saw Brooklyn leaving in the season 3 that wasn’t. He had a need to break out. The trio of young gargoyles was starting to outgrow their group. We started with this notion that they were three musketeers locked at the hip and we were now feeling they were growing beyond it and going their separate ways. Broadway and Lexington were already doing that with their own new interests.
So the idea with Timedancer is that Brooklyn goes through time, vanishes for five minutes, and returns 40 years older. He’s had 40 years of adventures without them … He’s got this whole new family that he’s picked up along the way and now he’s back and boom, that’s the end of the trio as it once existed.
We also felt that Brooklyn had become something of a break-out character. Our sense was that he was extremely popular with the fandom and he seemed to have the energy to carry his own show.
CMIX: You confirmed during a convention a few years ago that Lexington was gay. When was that decided?
GW: We didn’t plan it from the beginning. We didn’t say, "Okay, here’s the big heavy-set character and here’s the gay character." Over time, we learned more about the characters. And towards the end, it occurred to us that Lexington was gay but that he didn’t know it.
CMIX: And did you inform actor Thom Adcox [who voiced Lexington] of that?
GW: No, because there was nothing we felt he needed to change and it was towards the end. I remember it was actually at the Gathering of the Gargoyles in New York that a fan flat-out asked if Lexington was gay and I said, "Yes," and Thom cried out, “I knew it!”
It wasn’t "liberal Hollywood’s" plan. It was just the way the character played out. It was just a feeling we all got and I think the vast majority of fans reacted with “I thought so” — which really was my response.
CMIX: But this never came up in the cartoon series even. It’s only now being hinted at in the new comics…
GW: We were working for a company that would never let us be open about that in those days, so we just tried to write with consistency, if not with courage. And, by the way, the lack of courage is not something I’m particularly proud of. The fact was, reality-wise, if I’d tried to write with courage, I would’ve been fired or shut down and there didn’t seem much point in that, because then you’d lose the character consistency as well.
CMIX: Do any of the old voice actors keep up with how you’re developing their characters in the comics?
GW: Keith David [who played Goliath] and Thom Adcox are both aware and are both curious about what’s going with their characters. I see Ed Asner [who played Hudson] all the time and he has fond memories of that series. And I used to talk to Jonathan Frakes [who played David Xanatos] more often before he moved to Europe. And a lot of Gargoyles actors are in the cast of Spectacular Spider-Man, so we chat sometimes.
I think one thing you will find is that anyone who was any kind of regular on the show had a positive experience. Those were good times for us, we had a lot of fun on that show and we were all really proud of the work we did on that show. I think if we ever somehow or other got the series started up again, I think every one of those voice actors would sign back up in a second.
Next, Greg Weisman and I chatted about the new Spectacular Spider-Man animated series. You can check out that interview and then look at my review of the cartoon. You can find out more about Weisman and his work via his Ask Greg website.
Alan Kistler has been recognized by Warner Bros. Pictures and mainstream media outlets such as the New York Daily News as a comic book historian, and can be seen in the "Special Features" sections of the Adventures of Aquaman and Justice League: New Frontier DVDs. His personal website can be found at: KistlerUniverse.com.