BACKSTAGE - INTERVIEW - ERNIE ALTBACKER
The first season of Green Lantern: The Animated Series hits the halfway point this weekend - at 10:00am (ET/PT) on Saturday, April 14th, 2012 - with the crucial episode "Reckoning," featuring the return of the Red Lanterns. The World's Finest caught up with Green Lantern: The Animated Series staff writer - and writer of "Reckoning" - Ernie Altbacker to discuss not only this pivotal episode, but his work and thoughts on this series as a whole and his assorted other projects past and present. Continue below for much more, including a taste of what's to come in Green Lantern: The Animated Series! Green Lantern: The Animated Series airs Saturday mornings at 10:00am (ET/PT) as part of the DC Nation programming block on Cartoon Network.
The World's Finest: First off, a quick introduction for the readers! Can you give us a quick rundown of your role in Green Lantern: The Animated Series and how you came to work on the show?
Ernie Altbacker: Sure. I had the great privilege to be the staff writer on Green Lantern: The Animated Series. Jim Krieg called me after he was named the story editor and asked if I would be interested. You bet I was. At its core the job is to make the show runnerís life easier. Part of that is writing my own scripts at a good pace. Another part is keeping the notes straight for the various scripts and outlines and making sure the other writers get those before Jim speaks with them. If the schedule gets too tight it can also fall to me to do whatever notes pass is needed. Itís hectic but fun.
WF: What is different about Green Lantern: The Animated Series as compared to other super-hero cartoons out there? What do you find so attractive about this character (and universe), and why do you think that is a solid hook for the audience?
EA: If the show were just about cocky test pilot Hal Jordan turned Green Lantern righting wrongs around the galaxy while making awesome quips, it would still be something Iíd like. But from the very beginning Giancarlo [Volpe], Jim [Krieg], and Bruce Timm wanted much, much more. They demanded heart and a real sense of drama painted on a giant canvas. They wanted a futuristic space opera which I thought was cool. Another thing I loved was once we got going there was a conscious effort to earn our jokes through character and story. But donít get me wrong, we also feature some top notch faceplants throughout the season.
WF: You wrote "Beware My Power: Green Lantern's Light, Part Two," the second episode of the series. Was there any worry about how to approach the characters and situations very early in the series?
EA: Jim, Bruce, and Giancarlo had a direction and rough breakdown of the arcs and some specific episodes they wanted to do when I came on. That stuff has to be planned out carefully. If itís not done right, if you have too much or too little foreshadowing, the whole thing falls into a heap and you wind up with confusion instead of piquing the audienceís interest as you had intended.
The pilot of any show is put through the ringer, and rightly so. People are going to make lasting impressions from those first episodes so everyone wants it to be something special. Added to that, unless you count a few Filmation cartoons in 1967, it was the first animated Green Lantern starring show ever. Plus (I think) it was Warner Bros first superhero CG project, and Bruce Timmís first CG show. As you might imagine, there was a bit of scrutiny on those first scripts, but it was more from excitement about the possibilities and opportunities than any sort of worry.
WF: This weekend's new episode "Reckoning," cited as a tentpole for the first season of Green Lantern: The Animated Series , also comes from your pen. Without spoiling anything, what is so important about this episode? Why is this a 'must-see' event for the series?
EA: This episode really forces the Red Lantern War seasonal arc forward. Reckoning ramps the stakes way up for the Green Lanterns (and everyone else) for the second half of the first thirteen shows, propelling us toward a slam bang finale. At least, thatís the goal.
If it does succeed itís because of a superb team effort. The design teams made up such great sets and characters. Then the equally, super-talented storyboard artists took the script and made the mayhem I got to writeóand I love my mayhemóeven better. Every animator on Green Lantern: The Animated Series deserves huge credit for how the series turned out.
WF: How does the CG [Computer-Generated] animation come into play when you work on a script? Do the new possibilities possible with CG allow for crazier ideas?
EA: First, Iíd like to clear up one thingóCG is much more expensive than 2D. As far as coming into play, with CG a writer has to be more ingenious as you only get so many new sets, characters, props, etc. in each episode. Where CG is superior (in my humble opinion) to 2D animation is in the camera work and acting. The tracking and dolly shots done in Green Lantern: The Animated Series canít be reproduced in 2D. Then thereís the acting. Giancarlo goes over the episode and tapes himself to get just the right expression or body language and sends that to the animators. Many times what comes back is so subtle it blows me away.
This leads to the extra added bonus of sometimes seeing Giancarlo strutting around a room as he tries to get Goggin the space squidís ďparanoid fast walkĒ (or something) down pat.
WF: This isn't your first super-hero work, having worked on the likes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Ben 10, Static Shock, among others. Have you noticed a shift, in your time working on them, in terms of what shows can get away with in terms of story-telling and violence, etc?
EA: Violence ďtoleranceĒ seems to vary from year to year and show to show. I donít find it limiting at the script stage but then I donít put in too many eye gouges, fish hooks, or ball-rupturing testicle strikes which may draw negative attention. Keep those to a minimum and youíre good.
WF: Which leads me to this question! When working on Green Lantern: The Animated Series , do you find yourself with a considerable amount of freedom to basically approach the characters and stories as you see fit, regardless of how dark or serious things could get? Green Lantern: The Animated Series has had its fair share of very intense moments so far...and I imagine things get very heated as the season movies along.
EA: One of the things I think makes the show special is that freedom. And if you think things have been intense in the first half of the season, buckle up. But the drama on the show is lightened with comedy and poignant moments so things never get too heavy, I think.
WF: Can you drop any hints as to what fans can expect as we barrel toward the season finale, currently scheduled for May 2012?
EA: I canít tell you how excited I am for the upcoming episodes. Each one brings something special and everything culminates in a big season-ending two-parter. Did you know it was a two-parter? I wrote Episode #112 and Jim Krieg wrote the finale, #113. And if you like the first thirteen I think youíll be more than pleased with the second thirteen.
WF: Can you fill us in on other projects you have coming down the pipeline? Where can we expect to see your name in the coming months?
EA: The very next thing for me is actually a book, Shark Wars 3: Into the Abyss which comes out Tuesday of next week, April 17th. Itís a middle grade (Grade 3-6) underwater adventure series featuring rival clans of sharks vying to take over the ocean. Two more books come out later this year, one for Shark Week in July. Barnes & Noble is doing a special edition for Shark Wars 3: Into the Abyss that includes a free poster so if you have kids from 8-12 you might want to get it there. You can find out more about Shark Wars at sharkwarsseries.com.
But Green Lantern: The Animated Series is this Saturday so Iíll leave you with a couple thoughts. We got our first peek at the mighty Red Lantern homebase/battleship called Shard in Episode #102. In Reckoning you get to see much more of Shard including one place I donít think anyone would have guessed. Also you get more Red Lanterns, including one that fans have been asking for. So donít forget to tune in to Cartoon Network this Saturday at 10am.
"Green Lantern: The Animated Series" airs Saturdays at 10:00am (ET/PT) on Cartoon Network, with encore presentations Sundays at 10:00am (ET/PT)!