THROUGH THE EYES OF A CHILD
Growing up in smalltown Lincoln, England of the late 1980s and into the 1990s, my native British surroundings were full of overcast weather, rotting bricks, pre-Sunday shopping, monochromatic colour schemes and four channels of unexciting, terrestrial television. But luckily, I spent my biennial summers abroad in the company of my Canadian mother's family in Alberta.
Alberta was a magical, unbelievable, escapist world of air-conditioned travel in wide road vehicles, billboard sign advertising, cities centered around sleek skyscrapers, 7/11 Slurpees, popsicles, baseball stadiums, primary coloured aisles of vast toy and candy shops, cable television, a huge choice of fast food outlets and soft drink companies, bulk-buy shopping warehouses, mini golf, shopping malls, pirate ships in the shopping malls... The culture clash was so pronounced, to my young eyes it seemed less a place where people lived, and more a heightened theme park. Alberta, an agricultural province, additionally boasted endless, wide, open, green land.
Alberta was also a pop cultural crystal ball, in that all TV shows and films appeared on TV and in cinemas 6 months prior to UK releases. A trip across the pond made you a pop culture oracle in the school playground come September.
I was also a big Disney fan. The studio during this time was being very successfully resuscitated by a team lead most notably by Michael Eisner and Jeffrey Katzenberg. These two, who'd worked their magic previously at Paramount, had taken a small studio, believed to be somewhat frozen in time since the death of Walt Disney in 1966, and were putting it on a fast track to becoming the mega-studio it is now known as. From cinema releases to straight to VHS product to Saturday morning fayre, I was there. I also enjoyed the more anarchic classic Warner Bros. MGM and Max Fleischer cartoons too. In the UK these cartoons filled many random gaps on television between sport and news broadcasts. I was a good artist and the seeds of wanting to be an animator were probably sown in my psyche at this time by this stuff and these guys.
WHO'S THAT DUCK?
As the Cold War melted, my world was that of the animated television universe of what became known as The Disney Afternoon. On a lazy July weekend in 1992, whilst browsing the entertainment section of The Bay, a Canadian department store with my cousin John, a bank of brand new television sets began to play a bumper for Saturday afternoon Disney programming. Appearing on the screen was what seemed to be a familiar talking Disney duck in the Ducktales vein, albeit quirkier. Intuitively, I responded to the shows wacky style, reminiscent of the then recent film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which I was a big fan of. My excitement levels expanded to the size of my cartoon eyes. I quickly turned to John. "What is this show?"
"Oh, that's just Darkwing Duck".
We raced home the same day, and I got to enjoy my first ever episode.
In a nutshell, Darkwing Duck was about an egotistical, crimefighting duck, his sidekick (the aeroplane pilot Launchpad from TV show Ducktales) and his adopted daughter, Gosalyn, and their adventures, fighting the various villains, in and outside of the metropolis of St. Canard.
My favourite episode was Dry Hard, whose central villain was a bottled water salesman transformed into a shapeshifter made of water. His name? The Liquidator. As the confronted businessman accidentally falls back and melts into a vat of chemicals, Darkwing remarks, knowingly "Err, all for the better. Cases are so much easier when the bad guy offs himself like that..." A marvellous, morbid, meta moment.
The city of St. Canard as depicted in the show was also an exciting island of sleek skyscrapers against an impressive sky, overlooking a glistening bay and endless, wide, open, green land. Although the show was set in a cartoon universe, I forever associate the landscape of St. Canard with those exciting childhood memories of Alberta.
Aside from honing my VHS recording skills whenever a new episode aired, over the years I also collected select memorabilia from the show. My most prized possession was a giant Darkwing action figure. I remember getting this from a clearance sale around 1994. Sadly, I lost both parents in my early twenties, and facing an extensive clearing of the family home, at the time it seemed I was beyond such childish toys. I threw it away.
FROM FAN TO FILMMAKER
Darkwing Duck was also a direct influence on my becoming a filmmaker. After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University with a degree in Film and Photography, I had to deal with my parents' loss and tie up their affairs for myself and my younger sibling. I stayed on in Lincoln for a few years but then applied to the top film-making institution in the UK to do a Master's degree. I enjoyed my time studying television production at The National Film and TV School in the UK and my time there led to my winning a Silver Dolphin award at Cannes, a New York TV Festival Critics Award and a Royal Television Society Award. My work has been screened during the 2012 London Olympics and I have presented my films in the Houses of Parliament. I guess I owe some of that to this particular cartoon duck.
Darkwing Duck to me remains one of the most stylistically impressive TV animations of all time. Fun, confident and with a unique, offbeat voice all of its own, Darkwing Duck often crossed multiple genres (even within single episodes), referenced adult orientated pop culture of its day (without ever being unsuitable for children), explored darker subject matter with a sometimes irreverent and sometimes heartfelt tone, and was very playful with its storytelling and form. A love letter to both cartoons and comic books, it looked back with great respect and pride at Disney’s animation tradition while also being firmly about the present and the future. It effortlessly tapped into the superhero resurgence born of Batman in 1989. It predated and influenced iconic animated shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men.
Darkwing Duck creator Tad Stones has been a huge influence on me. A master storyteller of TV and feature animation, Tad climbed the ranks at Disney from animator to writer/producer, and is an architect of my childhood. I was honoured to interview him. As Tad spoke to me by telephone from his California base, I looked in my flat at a rare, expensive item, purchased overseas from Ebay. It was a Darkwing Duck action figure, the one I got rid of in the house sale after my parents died. My girlfriend of the last decade got one for me, knowing how much of it symbolised my past, my innocence, my childhood. I guess Darkwing Duck does that for all of its fans, young and old.
LET'S GET DANGEROUS!
Tad, you have described Darkwing Duck as “A Warner Bros. short made 22 minutes long and given Disney heart”.
On release in 1991, the LA Times made comparisons between Darkwing Duck and the classic Warner Bros. shorts, particularly some of the work of Chuck Jones starring Daffy Duck. Although not immediately noticeable, Darkwing Duck himself has similarities to Daffy Duck as The Scarlet Pumpernickel and even Dorlock Holmes, both as neurotic, egomaniacal personalities and as elastically animated character designs. Darkwing Duck also featured traditional absurdist elements from Warner Bros. classic shorts, such as falling anvils, custard pies, red dynamite, instant regeneration and other cartoon physics and violence.
During the shows early development, when named Double O Duck, Darkwing’s entire head, hat and cape design were nearly exactly the same as Daffy Duck as The Scarlet Pumpernickel. However, his body seemed to replicate a tuxedo associated with James Bond.
Classic Chuck Jones/Maurice Noble Warner Bros. cartoons and Darkwing Duck
The development origins of Darkwing Duck come from Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was head of Disney film and TV at the time. He told me to create a show based on the title Double O Duck, which had been an episode of Ducktales. He said it can’t be Launchpad, it has to be a new character, so his origins were a spy show. The first thing I tried, and I was not excited about it, was a spy parody of which we’ve all seen hundreds, and I wasn’t excited and neither was Jeffrey. Normally the next thing would be to get someone else to do it, but luckily he told me to do it over and that made me take it more seriously. It took the easy path that I had taken, off the table. There was some original art done.
Now here’s a strange thing; I don’t know whose idea it was to put a mask on him [Darkwing]. I don’t remember being surprised, "what is this mask on this guy??" And if I had done a mask it wouldn’t have been a bandana mask, that was Bob Kline that did that, and that’s what the Daffy Duck Pimpernel character had. Anyway, it wasn’t like I was saying “why’s there a mask?” but I don’t remember saying "let’s put a mask on him”. Somewhere along the line, a piece of artwork was done with a mask and a tuxedo, pretty much what you referred to, and it was Duane Capizzi one of the story editors on staff who I eventually wanted to be on the show, who said “Boy look at the tuxedo and the cape” - and the hat was a much smaller hat at that time - and I think of pulp characters, and I loved pulp characters.
I was too young to have grown up with the age of radio, but as a comics fan and a mysteries fan and fan of the paranormal and all of that you get into the old stuff. I had heard plenty of recordings of The Shadow and had read plenty of the old pulp stories that had been recollected into paperback books. It was actually Doc Savage who had a team of very eccentric specialists working with him and I said “oh that could be kind of a template to think of him as a spy, it’s not a James Bond parody, but here’s the guy about communications and here can be the inventor and here can be…” you know. Just a strange group of entertaining characters and Launchpad actually was brought in as part of it, just probably because he was on our minds because of the title Double O Duck.
I was too young to have grown up with the age of radio, but as a comics fan and a mysteries fan and fan of the paranormal and all of that you get into the old stuff."
Anyway, a lot of those pulp origins, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Zorro and all of those and the later pulp heroes kind of are playing with the same source material. I certainly didn’t look at Daffy Duck as The Scarlet Pumpernickel. It was “oh we’re gonna put a mask on him” and then the artists started drawing bigger hats. With the cape, it certainly started oozing into my comics childhood. Anyway, there was a lot of the spy stuff so the relationship to Daffys character was only that they were ducks and they were drawing from the same source. To me, The Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro are two classic characters both of them parodied in cartoons and they are closer than any sort of pulp hero, superhero kind of thing.
And those are the pulp origins of Darkwing; it started out as a kind of unique spy show. Finally we added the idea of an adopted daughter - a niece at the beginning of development - then we went out and sold it. Jeffrey was happy enough, we did a lot more artwork and kind of pitched storylines. We went out and sold it and the people who owned the rights to the James Bond series and all of Ian Flemings works, a guy called Cubby Broccoli, producer of all of those classic Bond pictures, said “No, Double O agents aren’t a real thing, that’s a creation of Ian Fleming; we own it, you can't use it”. So we had to rename him; we did a contest and it was Alan Burnett who later went onto Batman and ran the Batman stories of that early Bruce Timm animated Batman show [who came up with the name Darkwing], and anyway I said I thought the name was fantastic. I said let's add Duck to it because Darkwing is what he thinks in his head, but Duck makes it more silly sounding and that’s basically the hero take on our show. That let me step away from the spy stuff, although there were plenty of spy stories in there or at least dealing with the organisation of S.H.U.S.H. That kind of released me into the world of Silver Age comics that I grew up with and that’s when it really started being fun.
I wanted to do a much broader show. I loved old Warner Bros. cartoons and specifically Chuck Jones, his peak work and yes Maurice Nobles artwork we loved."
Now, the tonal shift: I’d come off of Rescue Rangers, which had nearly killed me because we were way understaffed. I wanted to do a much broader show. I loved old Warner Bros. cartoons and specifically Chuck Jones, his peak work and yes Maurice Nobles artwork we loved. We were young animators, we were the generation of fans just like fans who entered Marvel comics after Stan, Jack and Steve Ditko and those guys had come in. We were kind of a generation of animation guys who came in growing up with their works on TV, merchandise and comics and the design style of Maurice Noble was just fantastic. We did not [say] “look at this piece of artwork - copy that for this!” No, Michael Spooner was a fantastic artist and layout artist on Rescue Rangers and he was kinda hurt when I didn’t pick him for Darkwing, but once he saw what Fred Warter and Paul Felix were doing in our layouts, he said “I totally get it now; I wouldn’t have been able to do that”. So really it was Fred’s taste and art style, knowing that I wanted to be more caricatured and more simplistic. It was a better fit for the kind of crazy action we wanted to do, and Paul Felix, who later went on to be one of the top concept artists at Walt Disney animated features since then. They built that world, and we described what we wanted.
Early artwork was of course development artwork by Bob Kline for the pitch cards, and alot by Mike Peraza who did shots of the city. He was not as Maurice Noble-ish, as Mike was doing Mikes style, but probably the idea of Darkwings headquarters being in one of the the towers of the bridge, I don’t know whether Mike did it and I said that’s where we’ll put his headquarters or if Mike suggested it. I’ll defer to Mike, as I know he designed the inside of the headquarters which we changed and Jeffrey had input on. That’s what I loved about running an animated series; it's having incredibly talented people pitch ideas or suggest something and then being open to that, rather than say its all in my head and all I need is robots to carry it out.
That’s what I loved about running an animated series; it's having incredibly talented people pitch ideas or suggest something and then being open to that, rather than say its all in my head and all I need is robots to carry it out."
Tone wise you are correct, I wanted it to be as wild as a Warner Bros short but it had to have Disney heart, and that’s where Gosalyn came in. There were practical things; the typical default and infact it was still in some of the advertising material, as the entire company tended to go back to their defaults: if she’s his niece why didn’t she know he existed? That means his brother died and it seems way more serious than we want to be, so we just went into different directions, but as far as Disney heart it was very important to me that Gosalyn is going to be a wild character too. She’s not going to be the old fashioned Webby, she is closer to Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes. She should be fun. They are going to get on each others nerves, but it is very important that they will say they love each other. They will hug, they will make contact, which was very rare in cartoons. Since then, I’ve been to conventions and especially women who’ve come from rough childhoods, and this has happened over and over again, have pointed to the Darkwing/Gosalyn relationship as being an anchor for them, and meaning so much to them, but to me that took it out of the short subject category. If you take that away and just try to do the twenty two minute show - although I have to say Animaniacs was great at it - it wouldn’t feel at all Disney and it would be hard to just play the gags on their own. After a while it would become boring, at least that was my thought at the time, because you can watch a classic Road Runner/Coyote cartoon and they are fantastic. You watch like 3 of them they are fantastic, but if you try to watch them all in a row they just wear on you because they have no interest in them; it is just variations of the same gags over and over again.
2) 1989/1990 seemed to be the beginning of a transition from the very wide eyed, comedy adventure of 1980s animated cartoon shows (such as Ducktales and Chip'n Dale: Rescue Rangers) to the more self aware, anarchic, irreverent and edgy style of the 1990s, often with a retro-stylistic nostalgia for classic Hollywood cartoons (either in spirit, look and/or music). Arguably starting with Ralph Bakshi’s Mighty Mouse and taken to the mainstream by The Simpsons and then Ren and Stimpy, Darkwing Duck seemed to be Disney’s earliest venture into this kind of territory, which Warner Bros. had already just gotten to with Tiny Toons.
Was there any conscious discussion of this at the time, especially given the cross-pollination of similarly aged talent behind the scenes and a collective nostalgia for the cartoons you grew up with? Was there any hesitation to move in this direction?
It’s not so much a mood in the industry, as I believe I want to say I was in development on Darkwing before Tiny Toons came out. I do know this - and this is more about my management at TV Animation - there’s always that feeling that when you’re working on a show and somebody elses show comes out and it is popular, and there was always that danger of “hey why can’t you get some of that into this show?” And we were very lucky with Darkwing in that it was already in the direction that Tiny Toons was in. And when management - and I am talking about my boss - when he looked out there, instead of getting excited about it, trying to give us notes that would change things, it worked to our advantage. It kind of took away some of the reservations that executives had.
I had an executive say to me “How can you have jeopardy in the show if he has a safe fall on him and all that happens is he turns into an accordion? How would people care about him being in danger or how do you cut to a commercial and have them come back?” And I said "Because Darkwing will look afraid and we’ll have scary music”. And that’s all we did! It was purely the audience was with us, obviously the characters cared about each other too, but I tend to think and believe this is true that the audience doesn’t watch it analysing it “Hmm, my suspension of disbelief is being stretched too far because he just survived an anvil and now he’s worried about a rubber arrow aimed at his head”. They just go with the flow and you cue them with music and colour design and all of that.
It wasn’t "all this stuff is out there happening; let us do something like it". It was I pitched a show because I didn’t want to do the same thing over and over again. I pitched a show meant to be funny and to be broad and to go in a different way with stories, and Jeffrey specifically said that’s great, and we pitched to Michael Eisner who was on board with it, everyone was on board with it.
The other thing that happened, because our studio was still very small and trying to do a lot, there tended to be lots of oversight certainly in development and then like your first three scripts tended to be micromanaged almost or exactly and then they tended to go away.
So a guy who really knew his comics was the guy we were pitching to, and he was totally onboard with it"
So we would pitch premises and you would always have an outside executive assigned to the show to kind of be someone familiar with the show but is separate from it, who is not on the team, to be that outside voice that says “wait a minute, you pitched the show as being this, and you’re getting away from that”. We were very lucky in that our executive was Greg Weisman, who had been an editor in DC comics and he was a very creative guy who of course later created Gargoyles, currently has Young Justice on DC Universe and has done many shows including Spectacular Spider-man. So a guy who really knew his comics was the guy we were pitching to, and he was totally onboard with it, and he even said, I have said often, it's a good thing that he didn’t let our mutual boss at the time know that he’d said “look you don’t have to take my notes, but I’m going to passionately pitch them”. He could wear you down, but I know that upper management would not like the idea of an executive saying “you don’t have to take my notes.” But that gave us incredible flexibility. Also, Gregs notes were really good.
The guidance of the show and how the storylines developed was very much helped by the feedback we were getting, but it was not about comparing to other shows of the time. It was my taste and then the story editors I worked with doing their takes on my taste that created the show. Because about script number three the boss was too busy and had to go back to running the department, so it was only Greg looking at our stuff, mostly. I am sure there’s lots of storylines that we did that would not have survived had our division president looked at it like he had done at the beginning.
Some of the strangest episodes were our favourites. "
There’s one where I kill Darkwing Duck. That was not an ABC show. Over here in America we had two seasons that were done on the ABC network, before Disney owned them, and then we had 65 episodes that were in syndication. I actually ran that episode idea of Dead Duck past the ABC sensor, even if it wasn’t an ABC show. I said I am showing him riding his motorcycle into the wall and evidently dying; what do you think? She thought it was great because it showed the repercussions. They didn’t want heroic characters doing dangerous things that could be imitated by kids in an unsafe way. They didn’t want to show Darkwing riding a motorcycle without a helmet because kids would ride their bikes without helmets and head trauma would ensue. But she said In this case the fact that it had repercussions is a great lesson. That was just me going out there on a limb and saying I’m going to ask an outside authority to just double check me on this. Usually I was not that cautious.
Some of the storylines are just things that occurred to us and took us in strange directions. Some of the strangest episodes were our favourites.
A lot of the feeling of early Disney television is the result of Gary Krisel who was our president. A lot of our early shows, certainly Gummi Bears and The Wuzzles are trying to give the the feeling of feature animation even though you couldn’t do it, you didn’t have the time and the budgets, but they were chasing that, storytelling wise. Rescue Rangers had such a horrific schedule that it’s probably most of my sub-conscious because the script schedule was insane. I ended up co-writing a lot of scripts as they came through me. Darkwing was to my taste.
I started with features, and that’s why after Darkwing I was pitching a sci-fi show that was gonna be in that same wacky vein but in a different way, but instead I was assigned to Aladdin because of my background in features. I had shared an office with Ron Clements who was one of the directors on Aladdin and after that it was direct to video, then to Hercules and all those spins offs, so I wasn’t able to create another show after that, as they wanted me on these other things.
Regarding Dead Duck, Darkwing Duck was the first time death and the idea of dying was confronted on a Disney show. Gosalyn became orphaned because her grandfather Waddlemeyer was murdered by villain Taurus Bulba. In a more darkly comedic manner, we see the permanent aftermath of a S.H.U.S.H. agent reduced to tinned food in the episode In like Blunt. Did the generally absurdist, wild tone you were aiming for and superhero/secret agent tropes allow you to acknowledge and play with mortality when you felt like it?
It was not by design, but certainly the broad tone of the show allowed for dark humour, including death.
IRONIC HUMOUR AND CARTOONS BEYOND KIDS TV
3) Your admiration of Gary Larson’s The Far Side comic strip is pretty apparent in Darkwing Duck, to the extent of characters named Dr. Gary and Dr. Larson, and space cows from The far side of the galaxy. How else did your love of Larson inform Darkwing Duck, and was it ever a problem justifying the nods to his work?
That was just my taste. The two huge newspaper comics at the time by far were Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side by Gary Larson. I love comic strips, I grew up with my dad having these books about how to do comic strip art. He was not a comic artist, but he had these books because he wanted to be an editorial cartoonist or whatever and had this famous artists course on cartooning. I just loved those books and a lot of my early art knowledge came from those things. So comics were huge to me, not just comic books but comic strips, and those things were huge in the day. Outside of Gosalyn, I don’t think we have any Calvin and Hobbes references per se, but you know, cows and the random “we come from the far side of the galaxy on the Planet Larson” does not hurt the story for a little kid who knows nothing of the reference, but for someone older or just to tickle us, it has an extra layer to it. So it wasn’t like we were playing to get an older audience for this at the same time, it was just very funny to us. It didn’t hurt anything, it was like why not make this reference?
I don’t know that every Larson reference came from me, but the two main ones did.
There are other references to things children wouldn't understand. For example, at one point In Dry Hard, we see a trendy bar called "La Grande Yuppe", and a joke is made about Zinfandel. At the time, this was a wine synonymous with yuppies. How did management respond to this more sophisticated style of humour entering a Disney children's TV show?
Management was not that detail conscious. We didn’t target every joke to an eight year old. In this case, a child wouldn’t get the specifics but would sense the overall tone of the character.
4) Darkwing Duck also made fun of the Saturday Morning product of the 1980s, such as Negaduck’s hatred of the Cute Little Lost Fuzzy Bunnies, similar to parody material in both The Simpsons Happy Little Elves and later Fluffy and Uranus from Duckman.
That’s just more comedy writers mining the same vein of humour.
There had been so many saccharine sweet “safe” cartoons that were out there, that people had worked on and finally they get to be on a series that doesn’t have to go that way. It’s seen in lots of shows and movies too. You know, it's like having a bunny rabbit with a machine gun. It is the easy humour of something that seems really cute but turns out to be the opposite. Baby Hermann in Roger Rabbit for that matter.
It was a general feeling now the studios and networks were open to a wilder kind of show and because of syndication the studios had more control. And Negaduck was such an over the top character, we had lots of fun with him going over the top and wielding a chainsaw and talking about fluffy bunnies and things like that. Sometimes we would say that’s how evil he is, what he does to these cute things or he’s repulsed by them because they’re too sugary.
It was an easy gag, but it was a lot of us exorcising our demons of being stuck in a super saccharine straight jacket.
5) The character of Gosalyn Mallard seemed like a very strong response against that saccharine straight jacket. As you said, she's very much the opposite of the similarly aged Webigail from Ducktales, who seemed to lean more towards the overly sensitive stereotype of a young girl in the 1980s. Gosalyn could hold her own next to Bart Simpson or Babs Bunny for attitude.
Please tell us more about how Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes was a direct influence on Gosalyn.
Calvin is a delight. I, along with millions of readers, followed his adventures every day in the newspaper. What Gosalyn shares with him is a wild imagination, although Gos usually narrates her thoughts instead of slipping into visual flights of fancy. She can also be skeptical of authority, notably Drake. She and Calvin are very impulsive without a lot of filters between brain and mouth. But Gosalyn is much more open about her positive feelings and affection for her family, especially her dad. You could say much of this comes from her being an orphan although I didn’t think in terms of her backstory as I wrote her. Perhaps some of my story editors and writers did.
TUXEDOS AND CAPES
6) The show had begun as a spy spoof Double O Duck, but moved more towards a superhero vibe. Was the popularity of 1989’s Batman a factor in this?
No. I knew Tim [Burton] because he had been at Disney and we were thrilled with that [Batman] when it came out, but it was 100% what I grew up with. I got to do superheroes, which I never thought I’d be able to do and get to do a fun version of them, but it wasn’t like “oh superheroes are big”. I mean now when Darkwing is just appearing in the new Ducktales, if they do more on that now they can draw on [the popularity of modern superheroes]…
I was playing with tropes of the Silver Age for which my audience had never read a Silver Age comic, whereas now superhero tropes are so well known by the general public. There’s just all sorts of material you can play with on the more serious side and the ridiculous side. There’s just a whole bunch of different subject matter. Definitely if you were doing any sort of superhero parody now you’d be drawing on feature [film]s as opposed to random comics, and that just wasn’t true back then.
I was playing with tropes of the Silver Age for which my audience had never read a Silver Age comic"
The biggest effect Batman had upon Darkwing, again, going back to the Silver Age, is that the early Batman when I was a little kid growing up, had a big long car and a big bathead on the front of it and then they had a motorcycle that had a bathead on the front of it, and little helicopters that had little batheads on the front of them. It was just very funny that from such an early age this superhero was into branding.
Anyway, that obviously affected Darkwing because I said he’s not going to have a car, he’s going to have a motorcycle, but here’s the duck beak and here’s this, and for a while - I think we may have used it once - we had like a boat called the "Wave Shredder", I wanna say. So we had the Ratcatcher the Thunderquack - obviously a big flying duck head - and the Wave Shredder. Yet even though he had a secret headquarters, the obvious thing would have been to fill it with a whole collection of preposterous souvenirs from various not just seen episodes, but also from adventures you’d never know, which could have been a great running gag to say about “why do you have a giant penny here?" "Oh That was the case of the giant coin mint or yunno or whatever”. We didn’t do that, that was just early development that set the thing. You didn’t have a Batarang or a Duckarang or whatever. Again, that was the biggest Batman [influence], it wasn’t Tim’s movie.
We did an episode with Dark Warrior Duck which was definitely playing with tropes that had come up within the comics, the idea that Robin softened Batman, and without Robin to be with Batman would have been a harsher more punishing character. So I really played on that with Gosalyn which really underscored the element of the show about how close these two are and what they meant to each other.
7) Double O Duck's tuxedo jacket became a dark purple, more in line with the attire of The Shadow. Steelbeak seems similar to the steel-mouthed henchman Jaws from 007, but has an American gangster villain voice and clothing, as if he might be a comic book villain. Why do you think cinematic superhero and spy stories can be melded into one form so successfully?
It was very much Jaws.
Steelbeak was based on the voice: Rob Paulsen, an incredible voice actor, and Rob would kid about with that voice. I always said I am gonna create a character for that and then did Steelbeak and it was definitely a Jaws thing of giving him a Steel beak. In Darkwings elevated universe, you didn’t want him to just come up against a guy in a suit. It had to be some big character difference, so a tough talking guy in a tuxedo could have been OK, but he just needed that extra thing in our world of spy/superheroes/villains.
I think there’s different types of spy stories, obviously. If you’re talking about classic spy stories before Bond it was about danger and espionage, secrets and being found out and suspense. Once Bond got to Goldfinger and Thunderball and it was like “hey look at this gimmick”, he became a Batman. He had not a utility belt but he had little secret gimmicks, he had a special car that could eject you out of the passenger seat or go underwater of something, so as those movies became special effects epics, who is to say he wasn’t a superhero? I think that’s part of it. The villains became bigger and more eccentric and outlandish, and that’s easily in the wheelhouse of Lex Luthor or the villains.
In Darkwings elevated universe you didn’t want him to just come up against a guy in a suit"
To me, Darkwing needed a rogues gallery not so much Batman, but more the Silver Age Flash, who had a fantastic rogues gallery of all these bizarre villain types, with crazy costumes and abilities. This is what I was kind of chasing, although Batman is famous for his villains too. The spies didn’t but as you got into Goldfinger and like I say various villains got more eccentric, I think that’s easy: Bad guys against good guys, a bunch of gimmicks and outlandish big epic scenes.
But then you have someone as ordinary looking as Ammonia Pine!
Her gimmicks were different. It's not necessarily the visual, but she had her bubble gimmicks and her insane fascination with keeping things clean.
8) The meeting of Disney ducks and Chuck Jones is reminiscent of 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit, in which both classic Disney and Warner animated characters inhabited the same world of Toon Town. Darkwing Duck’s face even includes white puffy cheeks that seem modelled on Roger Rabbits.
That was not almost. Toby Shelton, who started in features and was a master character designer - and then became one of my directors on Darkwing - he also designed the main Darkwing cast. We were trying to say this is different to the ducks that had come before. This is not Ducktales, this is not even Donald Duck.
In trying for a completely different silhouette, he said I’ll give him cheeks like Roger Rabbit and I said those look great. Anyway, that was a case of an individual person saying what about that. I could’ve said it doesn’t feel like a Disney duck, but this was one person making a choice and me Okaying it.
It feels sometimes that some of the Darkwing Duck characters are referencing classic Disney characters. The Brainteasers remind me of Johnny Fedora and Tuskernini has a similar appearance to the walrus from Alice in Wonderland.
It’s funny, because it’s very hard not to draw a cartoon walrus that doesn’t look like that.
Basically Tuskernini looks like the walrus because he’s also in a suit and hat. It wasn’t like looking like the walrus from Alice helped his character in any way. It was more here’s the impresario type character. It was kind of an old fashioned choice, I believe Kenny Thompkins designed him. Sometimes it's for easy readability. He’d go with the kind of cliched characters in that the idea of the cartoonish opera maestro with a cape and the top hat, or upperclass, but this guy was obviously no longer upperclass. It was more that sort of thinking as opposed to going back to Alice, although Kenny had a collection of a billion models sheets that he had collected over the years, so he might have looked back at it.
On the packaging for the Darkwing Duck Playmates toys, our hero can be seen firing a rocket with a cartoon face, straight out of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, quite like the personified bullets from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Anthropomorphised inanimate objects were not seen in the finished show, however, aside from a shouting loudspeaker in the episode Days of Blunder.
Was the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit ever discussed as an influence on Darkwing Duck and was there ever any intention to mirror the playful aesthetic of Toon Town from that box office hit?
Roger Rabbit did open up that whole “Hey here’s a movie, you care about the characters” but falling anvils are worked into the universe of that show. A lot of this just broke down what normally would be the resistance to Darkwing happening.
On anthropomorphising inanimate objects: it does bring up a point, because I had to bring up to the storyboard crew, before there was a show, how far we would go. In some of those early boards the guys would start throwing in gags and it was kind of arbitrary to my tastes. I said this is too far; this isn’t right, and generally it was because they threw in a gag that was funny but had nothing to do with the story point or emotion of the scene. For what we were trying to do, basically this superhero show with adventures, if you sat someone down in a chair and you had the chair walk away, we could do an episode like that, but it would be an Alice in Wonderland kind of episode. To my feeling, it just was too much.
I did make a deal with merchandising: 'I’ll do as many meetings with you as you want, as long as you give me one item/toy of everything that gets done'."
I could see the speaker thing; that’s an age old gag. That’s kind of different from dealing with the reality of the universe and changing it, like "If the chairs are alive why isn’t the piano alive?" Kind of thing.
That was the same thing as the storyboard guys trying to get them to understand; that was also true of the marketing people and the people who licence the things. I did make a deal with merchandising: "I’ll do as many meetings with you as you want, as long as you give me one item/toy of everything that gets done." Which they were very good about. I didn’t get everything as I found out in later years, but still, I was very good in getting that stuff!
I couldn’t be all over it, as I was doing the show, to catch things that I thought were off. For instance, and I still have it, they did a bedsheet, with Darkwing being woken up by an alarm clock, which is basically a variation of a gag in the title sequence of the show. They thought that was genius because “Wow, we’re doing a bedspread and here’s a picture of him in bed!”
Pet peeve of mine, but I hate being asked my opinion when it's obviously too late for it to matter, but I said "If you’re doing a Batman bed sheet, you don’t do Batman in bed, you have Batman doing dramatic stuff and that becomes your sheet". And they were like:
“Oh, OK.” But they still did it! There’s always that disconnect. And sometimes it ended up on the screen.
GOOFING OFF IN DUCKBURG
9) 1987’s Sport Goofy in Soccermania, which you worked on, also has fast paced plotting, quick witted dialogue, Noble style art direction, rubbery animation and cartoon physics. It often feels like a less sentimental Ducktales filtered through the Darkwing aesthetic. Would you call it a spiritual dry run for the style you went with on Darkwing Duck, or did it influence the approach on Darkwing?
Only in that my original script and boards for it mirrored my taste in comedy.
That actually started out probably more sentimental. It has a very long, torturous existence. It actually saved me getting a paycut way back when. When I returned from designing rides at Imagineering and then a stint in live action television where I was kind of a consultant, and I ended up back in features by then because I had been away from features so long and had gotten raises and stuff over the years.
It wasn’t like there was a Tad Stones spot open. It was kind of like: “We don’t really have anything for you now and we can’t pay you this” and it was like
“Oh great here we go…”, but luckily, this special project they didn’t have anyone to put on came up where licensing - and these were some of the people pitching Michael Eisner TV Animation - they knew they could only sell stuff tied to features and then of course Mickey, Donald and Goofy, and features back then took five years to come out.
They knew that the key was to selling more stuff to get more stuff on TV, so they said can you give us somebody who can work with us to come up with projects and there I was, luckily. I went over and they had this character called Sport Goofy, who was huge in Europe with football [soccer], and then plus you could pitch anything else, so I had a meeting on that, there was a writer there, there was me and there were other people. We reconvened in a couple of weeks or however long it was and I came in with two full storyboards, literally 4x8 corkboards, covered in animation paper, and each piece of animation paper had like three drawings on it in markers and pen, and I pitched Mickey and the Space Pirates and the other was Sport Goofy.
I went over and they had this character called Sport Goofy, who was huge in Europe with football [soccer]..."
Sport Goofy was already part of their marketing so they said let’s do that, and I got together the story with Scrooge McDuck and the nephews just because it was the story that occurred to me - I certainly knew the Carl Barks comics - but it’s like OK, I need an excuse to get this ragtag team together and it was that the nephews needed a trophy for the soccer tornament. Scrooge gives them this trophy and it turns out its worth billions or whatever. The only way to get it back is to win it back, so he suddenly sponsors this team and they go up against the Beagle Boys.
It kind of was there and then they said yes we can go into production. They said:
“Hey, we have this team of animators who we hope to take on this Roger Rabbit” and it was guys mostly from a Cal Arts background. They were Joe Lanziero, Mike Giaimo - look up his credits and you’ll see Frozen and all sorts of stuff - Joe Ranft, A great story genius up at Pixar certainly before he died and Chris Buck who later on did Tarzan. These are all guys who had met each other at Cal Arts. They very much had that Maurice Noble sensibility.
When they took over the project, again, my feeling was always: you put a crew together, you let them take it in their direction. My story was long and they started cutting it down. They really cut out a lot of the personality and heart, the stuff that wasn’t actually action, they made it about the game itself. They took it to a certain point, whatever they ended up not being the ones to do Roger Rabbit, and the project fell do fowl oh area and it was resurrected as a training project over at features who had a consultation from Ward Kimball, who I had worked with at Imagineering. But I wasn’t involved with it anymore and they kind of rewrote the story again and put it together. It was a way for some of their lower animators to get production time on a real production that would help them be ready for features.
A lot of those people went throughout the industry and met people who didn’t go to Cal Arts but were of like minds and tastes and it had a huge influence on the animation industry in general."
The end of the story was that it got on the air before Ducktales - it had no connection to Ducktales other than me but it wasn’t like “oh let’s do that thing that I did in Sport Goofy”, it had no connection like that. Gary Krisel and Michael Webster, the bosses of the division called me into the office. They wanted to be so angry with me because there my name was in the credits and I reacted like
“Oh yeah I got a credit, I didn’t realise that!” Right there at the top of the story thing and it looked like Ducktales. It wasn’t Ducktales at all, and here it is going out there. It’s a TV special, it's not the kick off of their series which hadn’t been finished yet. I said, Guys, I last worked on that in so many years ago, I had nothing to do with this. So they wanted to be mad with me but I was totally innocent! It was one of the best meetings I’ve ever had, where I am in trouble but I am not.
So Goofy had no direct connection with Ducktales. The style of it came from the sensibilities of those guys from Cal Arts who also loved the Warner stuff and their teachers taught them a sense of design and pushing things and they did not try to create a bunch of artists that are going to do things exactly as Disney did it in the 1950s in Lady and the Tramp or something. A lot of those people went throughout the industry and met people who didn’t go to Cal Arts but were of like minds and tastes and it had a huge influence on the animation industry in general.
10) Why around this time with Tiny Toon Adventures and Darkwing Duck, were the classic Warner Bros. shorts seemingly used as a reference for cartoon shows, rather than the classic Disney shorts?
Disney short subjects weren’t seen by people because Disney kept them off TV except for the old Mickey Mouse Club and every once in a while the Disney weekly show originally called Disneyland, whereas Warner Bros. had their stuff. I grew when I was 4 and 5 years watching black and white Warner Bros./Max Flesicher, just weird cartoons, well before Bugs Bunny, because that’s what was out there in the TV packages. There was no Sesame Street, you just sat down and watched all that cool stuff. That was before Hanna Barbara created Ruff and Ready, a series made for TV and Jay Ward productions did Crusader Rabbit, again, made for TV, so much simpler production values, but Disney did not have their stuff out there and then Warners packaged all their classic colour shorts into the Bugs Bunny Road Runner or Daffy Duck hour.
So we grew, my generation grew up seeing all these Warner Bros. cartoons that are hilarious, we love and are part of our childhood. Mickey, Donald and Goofy we certainly knew them and would see them every once in a while, but now it is a blur because once I came to Disney features we looked at all those old cartoons.
But for the general public, the Warner Bros. and to a lesser extent Max Fleischer cartoons had a bigger impact than the Disney cartoons, because you just didn’t see it. And that was before VHS tapes, so it wasn’t like they were releasing old Disney cartoons until much later.
DISNEY DUCKS AND DAVID LYNCH
11) You were often bravely referencing pop culture material in Darkwing Duck not aimed at children, such as the TV show Twin Peaks in the episode Twin Beaks.
Twin Beaks was Jan Strnad, a comic and animation writer and author who was really excited to pitch the show. I said you can do it, but our audience doesn’t stay up that late and if they do they’re probably not watching Twin Peaks, so it has to play 100% for someone whose never seen the show. Jan turned in an outline, it was very funny, but a lot of it was just random references that were only funny if you had seen the show. I said this isn’t going to work, and then I realised if I had him do it again or if I gave it to another writer it was always going to come against what I thought was too close to the show or funny, because you’ve seen the show or not seen the show. I ended up taking over the show from there and I was very pleased that one of my other story editors Kevin Hopps, who I tried to use on almost every show I did, he had never seen Twin Peaks. He loved the show, even in script form, he said it had such a weird feeling to it. We got very excited and said what else can we do like that, what other movies, genres or series can we do our version of?
The problem was you always have to do the story that is in front of you, because you don’t have - again, our schedule then versus what you can do now - you didn’t have time to say "I don’t have the perfect idea yet; I have to go with this idea!" So even though we wanted to do more shows that were basically parodies of other genres and things like that, and we did here and there, but not to the extent of Twin Peaks. We just never had another idea come through that was pitched and again, I reacted and tried to improve or fit to my taste ideas that were pitched to me. I often came up with ideas and handed them off to people and came up with premises myself. That just happens to be one of the favourite episodes of mine and a lot of fans and it just showed we wanted to do more shows like that and couldn’t.
On the other hand we did entirely different things like Comic Book Capers, where it is so meta because Darkwing is complaining about how his comic book is written. So first of all I have to buy into there’s a comic book being written by Darkwing, or that exists about Darkwing Duck that somehow knows all the details of his life, but it’s being published at the same time, and whoever types the script affects the adventures, even to the point when somebody sets a coffee cup on the comic page, and in the adventure Darkwing and Launchpad run into a giant coffee cup. It’s one of those things where if you tried to pitch it up front, people would say what are you talking about. That was well into it where it was breaking all the rules, and again, one of my favourite episodes, because it was so different.
DRAKE MALLARD VS DARKWING DUCK
12) Where did the inspiration for the Muddlefoot family come from, and what do you think they brought to the show?
Darkwing Duck’s humour mostly comes from his ego and need for control. We attacked those aspects in every part of his life. The Muddlefoots served that function in the neighborhood without being villains.
13) Amusingly, you treat Drake Mallard more as an alias for Darkwing Duck, rather than the other way around. We don't meet Drake Mallard until the end of the Darkwing origin episode, Darkly Dawns the Duck, implying that the alter ego is merely there to facilitate his relationship with Gosalyn. What are your thoughts on this?
I always told the writers, “People will tune in for the guy in the cape.” We were creating comedy adventures of a costumed hero not storylines for a neighborhood sitcom. So I could try to draw thematic conclusions from the stories we did but really we were focused on entertainment through character, comic book hero tropes and plot. Yes, he needed a home life to adopt Gosalyn because that’s how much he cared for her. Establishing and exploring their relationship is the heart of the show.
THE ROAD FROM DUCKBURG TO ST. CANARD
14) Was there ever talk of having the show set predominantly in Duckburg (the city from Ducktales)? Why did you decide to create another fictitious city to base the show in?
No, because to me it was a brand new show. Even though marketing said it was a spin off of Ducktales I never thought of it as such. In an interview a few years ago, I was quoted as saying it was a different universe, and people took that literally and I have two thoughts on it:
1) You don’t understand the meaning of an alternative universe do you? Because They’d say Launchpad proves that it’s in the same universe.
2) And I said "no, Launchpad proves that it’s not in the same universe!" Because we redesigned him and took him from being a terrible pilot to an excellent pilot, although made him a lot stupider.
The new Ducktales has taken the worst of both worlds! They’ve made him even dumber and an even worse pilot to a magical extent. So I never thought of putting in Duckburg, because if you were in Duckburg, you’d expect to run into Scrooge and all those characters, whereas I wanted to build a whole different thing, and we did. I only brought characters over when they filled a great story thing.
Gizmoduck was a perfect Superman character for us, and early on when I talk about that fan saying “he doesn’t know his own characters: he’s not Superman he’s Iron man!” It’s like no, we used him as Superman in that Darkwing was all about his ego. In the comics world Batman is feared; Superman gets the key to the city and constantly visits the president. That drives Darkwing crazy! When Gizmoduck comes and everybody heralds him a hero and it just is a direct attack on Darkwing’s ego, and he was perfect for a show for that reason. And then of course because I was in the superhero genre, I wanted to do a superhero team up show so we did our Just Us Justice Ducks. I only brought characters over because it suited us.
People think wrongly that Darkwing was inspired by Double O Ducks and there was an episode, The Masked Mallard, Scrooge dressed up as a superhero, and that felt very un[Carl] Barks to me. I hadn’t even seen the episode and I don’t even know if I have now seen the episode. But it wasn’t inspired by that at all.
It was very specific: Jeffrey liking the name Double O Duck and wanting a new character called Double O Duck. It was literally orders from the boss.
15) In the early development phase with Mike Peraza, before you had decided on the Warner Bros approach, the look of St. Canard was much more Baroque in style, more like New Orleans.
That was definitely Mikes take that way. You look at his mostly pastels he did whereas the production is much more as you’ve said Maurice Noble, clean line, because Mike was from features too. I mean that was an intentional shift. Mike basically inspired a general look that was then used as source material for Fred and Paul as they redesigned things, and Mike is by the way very capable of doing that design work too, as he studied under the same guys at Cal Arts, same as the Sport Goofy group did. Where I wanted to do the show, Mikes style was to go another way - more Basil of Baker Street than Darkwing Duck.
What it was supposed to do, it got people excited about doing the series, along with the drawings by Bob Kline, which tended to be more generic - I mean it looks like Donald Duck in a tuxedo back then - but again, to just simplify and tell the story to executives and potential syndication people. They said “Oh yeah, this feels like a Disney show that’s fresh and that’s a good storyline so we’re onboard.”
16) The island city at the end of a suspension bridge is a very striking design, surrounded by mainland surburbia. You have said that you based this on cartoon artwork of San Fransisco you owned in the 1960s.
I had a poster, and it was San Francisco as a big hill island, it was just a fun piece. That was in my mind. In order to make this a unique place, I wanted a San Francisco like city and that I wanted bridges going to it, I wanted a waterway, so I could have a use for the boat, although I never really used it! It wasn’t like I was able to track down an image of that poster and show it to my artists, so San Francisco was in my mind, and I explained that to Mike Peraza specifically and he took it from there. Then when Fred Warter took it he exaggerated the shapes and the caricatured feeling of it even more.
Of course people try to ask "what city is this?" And it’s like: "It’s St. Canard!" Its not like we renamed San Francisco St. Canard. No, all of the cities in all of our shows tend to be ten miles out of town is the old west, if you go North you’re suddenly in snow. It was whatever was convenient for the story. It wasn’t like we picked a real world geographical spot and said "This is what we want". It was more about:
"I want bridges, I want the idea of boats and the ocean nearby" and from there on it was just a design thing.
It was whatever was convenient for the story. It wasn’t like we picked a real world geographical spot and said 'This is what we want'."
We did not have a huge development period where we thought out everything about the show and chartered it out and had a white board. We didn’t have a writers room. We did not have a map of St. Canard to map out things. No, we had this heap of buildings and then as we needed a bank or city hall or whatever we would design it: it was not arranged ahead of time.
It’s like designing a city for a story potential, as opposed to arbitrarily making a decision like “all the buildings should have duck heads on them”. Like if you look at Gummi Bears, Ed Wexler - a fantastic artist who does fantastic political cartoons now - Ed would put Gummi Bears into the carvings of the walls, kind of like hidden Mickeys. It was almost a joke about how many he would fit into layouts, and that was just like the design motif of the show, whereas I had nothing like that for St. Canard. It was more the feeling of a dense city surrounded by water, having this great bridge: the Audubon Bay bridge.
17) You had a lot of great locations to reuse within the city, from different angles.
Reusing a location is often a budgetary thing. If you need a bank, unless there’s a specific reason why this is going to be a unique bank, on the waterfront or something like that, you’re going to use the same bank design that was used eight episodes back. Same with background characters and just design in general. We had a huge design load and the more things you could reuse, it meant you could put more production value into the show. Because you didn’t have to design this bank, the artist could take that time that would be devoted to that to design a brand new villains lair or something in that episode.
I was just looking for what do we do to open up stories and different types of action. And once something is designed, when you talk about different angles, well once there is a master drawing of the bridge of the city and you need to reuse it, or we’d need this from another angle for whatever reasons, then the artist would go back and see what was done before and say I can go back and draw that from a different angle and suggest this.
We had a huge design load and the more things you could reuse, it meant you could put more production value into the show."
Then at the end of the show you as a viewer, believe me, you are connecting things in your head, sometimes that are planned and sometimes that are not at all. As a kid you don’t watch as critically, you just have a general sense of how things work. Like we did not explain how you can sit in suburbia in a chair, pull a statue of Basil of Baker Street, a chair flips around and you pop up in the tower. In my head it was some sort of a weird vacuum tube that was in-between, but it was nothing we talked about or made a story point. We didn’t want to lock it down like that.
In the 1966 Batman TV show they used to jump onto the bat poles hidden behind a library shelf. They’d jump on the poles in their civilian clothes and land in the bat cave fully dressed in their costumes. It was just a conceit and a gag in the show. I don’t think we ever cut to the tower to see a couple of chairs flip around and deposit them. It was just like “off to the tower” or whatever, sit in the chair… Boom! They’re on their way and you cut to what the villains are doing.
18) How did you get such a visually impressive look to the background art? The views of St. Canard were truly unique and cinematic, with a lot of depth.
A lot of Darkwing happened at night too.
Again, that came from the original pre-prod design by Mike Peraza and then Fred Warter and then Paul Felix and then there are background artists painting them and underlighting them. You know, when Fred and Paul did their layout designs they would also do a shadow layer to say this is how the lighting should hit, just in black and white, but it was like here’s where the area of light would hit, the shadow, and they really needed to limit the number of tones. Paul once said to me “I can get it down to 5 or 6” but he just shook his head at how good Fred was, who could get it down to 3, and Fred I believe was the art director on The Goofy Movie, and you see a lot of that in there.
Darkwing Duck had a very contemporary colour scheme compared to other Disney Afternoon shows. There were strong elements of luminous colour incorporated into the character and layout design, which was a very popular fashion style in 1990/1991. Most notable is the vibrant pink/purple of Darkwing and Gosalyn's costumes as well as Megavolt And Negaduck in their hot yellow attire, and the neon blue and green nighttime mist of St. Canard as seen in the outro. Was the idea to give a modern edge to the Jones/Noble inspired visuals?
Darkwing’s purple comes from us wanting him to be in a dark costume, preferably black like Batman or The Shadow. But black can be a problem onscreen and we wanted our characters to be colourful. Gosalyn’s colour is to connect her to Darkwing. Negaduck is yellow because I was recalling the colours of another evil twin villain, Professor Zoom, the Reverse Flash. Megavolt is yellow to echo the yellow colour of warning/caution signs.
The production values were so high.
Yeah I think that was one of the trademarks. I mean, when we started, Michael Eisner, at his house on a Sunday at the start of his work at Disney, he had a meeting about TV animation. There were ten of us there, and the reason I was there probably goes all the way back to that Sport Goofy meeting, where I worked with and impressed those executives who were keen to push into getting into TV and Michael Eisner had started in Saturday morning TV at ABC. Michael said that Disney is the top name in animation and we should we be the top name in TV everywhere. That doesn’t mean TV should look like features, just that we should be the top name in TV. Not that we were given the time and money to do that, but on the other hand, we had a big effect on Saturday morning, because on Gummi Bears, Art Vitello and Jymn Magon pulled together an incredible staff and Art specifically had guys who later on did live action storyboards on Ghostbusters and Thom Enriquez who did these gorgeous storyboards fully rendered. The networks had never seen anything like that before.
Now, everybody fights to simplify their storyboards, just because it’s part of the process but it did have an effect of what they started asking of other studios; Not as crazy as Thoms boards but still they expected a lot more out of various studios and what they were looking for. Again a lot of this is the individuals and trying to get a certain kind of quality and then constantly kicking ourselves that we don’t think we reached it.
I love in the new Ducktales, they do have a writers room, they do plot out a whole season and the art director is part of that and the colour of a specific scene is changed to underline the story. I mean that’s something I was able to do on some of my longer projects inside and outside of Disney, some of the direct to videos, but I never had time to do that sort of thing in a series unless a specific individual took it on themselves to do it. Seeing the new stuff I kick myself like “if only we had done that sort of thing” or “If I had paid attention to that” but it would’ve been a different show.
DOES NOT COMPUTE
19) Did Darkwing Duck ever utilise computer animation?
Not directly, certainly we didn’t have any CG things. Mike Peraza on Talepsin got into computers and taught himself basic graphics and what he did was generate a lot of plane acrobatics. He would print them out and they were just wire frames, very crude in todays terms and those were sent overseas for animators to draw on top of, to make the plane action more solid. Some of those studios, perhaps after years of drawing giant robots, even without computers, they did a fantastic job on those planes.
On Darkwing, early on Mike was playing with some designs of the F.O.W.L. organisation or Darkwing back in his spy days before he got a huge hat, playing with an insignia. There were certainly no “Oh this is our computer department, they’re gonna do stuff”. A lot off that was that computers couldn’t do what they can now and we were, if anything, a show featuring squash and stretch, which computers were really bad at back then.
Generally, that stuff was done by animators. If you saw an animated background it was because they animated it, but they generally do that, as it was not like the animators got paid anymore for doing something that was terribly, terribly difficult. We would rather do it with sliding backgrounds or layers or something. That might have been something depending on the studio that they kind of plussed on their own. Generally in a storyboard, we’d kind of avoid doing that sort of thing.
Much like when I said Talepsin episodes were sent to the studio without wireframes and they did a fantastic job, they could go ahead and try doing something like that and often it was just a fantastic job that they did.
20) Classic Warner Bros shorts, Silver Age comics, a show within the show that parodies Gilligan’s Island, San Fransisco of the 1960s - are these all things that you loved growing up in the 1960s? Was Darkwing Duck an opportunity to scratch that itch for your own personal nostalgia of the time in which you grew up?
I don’t even know that I came up with Pelican's Island, that could’ve been Duane or Kevin Hopps. A lot of times, a story editor will come up with something, it’s like I don’t have a strong feeling one way or the other, so it’s like hey if it keeps you excited to do it this way I’ll try to add the gags or support you. It didn’t necessarily come from me.
That person is going to tend to, within Darkwing, refer back to their own universe. If they need something on the screen, they are like “we’ve got all those characters designed already: let’s do Pelican’s Island again”! It tends to be that sort of thing. I watched Gilligan’s Island as a kid, I really enjoyed it. But at a certain point it’s like just what can’t you make out of coconuts! But it wasn’t that I really wanted to do a Gilligan’s Island pastiche.
Again, I didn’t have a copy of that [San Franscisco] poster to show somebody. So once I saw that drawing it felt right to me because I had that poster on my wall, as opposed to the more logical way of thinking: poster lead to design. Design recalled the poster. That probably made me buy and lean into that idea more than suggesting let’s go a different way. Although generally, the only time I’d say let’s go a different way was when I was looking at something that would hurt an idea I was building on or not fitting a story.
I watched Gilligan’s Island as a kid, I really enjoyed it. But at a certain point it’s like just what can’t you make out of coconuts!"
The fact that one story editor might have come up with Pelican's Island, that can help another story editor because he needs a show because he has a gag where they’re going to run through a TV set. “We already have the design for Pelican’s Island! We’ll make it that!”
That does not take away from the universe being built organically.
Just because we didn’t design it day one with a map doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid as a fan, that you watch it and weave it together, because we were doing that ourselves: building on things that we thought worked well. I mean the biggest example of that is:
“I am the the terror that flaps in the night
I am the gum that sticks to the bottom of your shoe.”
Originally he never did that, it was:
“I am the the terror that flaps in the night
I am the winged scourge that pecks at your nightmares.”
That was all he was gonna say and he was gonna say it as often as he said “Let’s Get Dangerous”. But lucky it was just the third script in, although it was produced much later, Launchpad had to masquerade as Darkwing Duck. And he couldn’t get the lines right. I said that’s hilarious and I said we have to give that to Darkwing. I didn’t take that out of the script, as a production schedule is a production schedule, but I said go back to everything we’ve got in work and put that in everything going forward. So that was about recognising something that was entertaining and fun and building it into the universe.
It was my looseness and it was my aversion to continuity back then, because of that short subject feeling I wanted."
Same as with Negaduck. In the original appearance of Negaduck, or Negatron at that point, he was split from Darkwing into a good Darkwing and a bad Darkwing. We weren’t sure if Jim [Cummings] could pull it off and he did brilliantly and he loved doing it. I said I want to use Negaduck more And everyone said "How? It would be the same story over and over. We’d have to do Posiduck."
I said "No, I hate Posiduck - nobody likes Posiduck - he’s boring! Nobody shows how Joker got out of Arkham asylum, he just shows up again with a new plan/that’s how we do Negaduck!"
It was my looseness and it was my aversion to continuity back then, because of that short subject feeling I wanted. You have a great character, Why on earth would you not use him? That’s why Darkwing doesn’t have an origin. Fans think he does! Fans point to an episode where he went to a high school with Megavolt. That’s because they like that episode. There’s another episode where he inspires himself, going back in time. We did several episodes of origins of Darkwing Duck.
It was only until the new Ducktales that Darkwing finally got an origin story that inspired him.
21) There are endless pun names for characters and locations in Darkwing Duck, for example: Tuskernini, Taurus Bulba, The Liquidator, Gosalyn, Opal Windbag, Pelican’s Island, the lawyers Shyster and Loophole. How do you successfully encourage, cultivate and moderate such great ideas in a writing team?
We were just enjoying it. We were just piling humour into it in a variety of forms.
If you have to name a character - that goes back to even Carl Barks: Flintheart Glomgold. I mean Flintheart is a description of a guy who has no heart; his heart is made of flint. It’s made of stone. Glomgold: I am going to glom onto someone, I am going to glom gold - that’s a brilliant name, that works on a different level to calling someone Lex Luthor or just a name. It’s like that’s the tradition we are building on. We just loved puns and probably didn’t worry enough about how it would be in countries with a different language.
For us, that was just part of the fun. We always tended to do a punny title or a title that sounded like a famous movie or was just a turn of the phrase, although I don’t think the movie we quoted in the title with a pun had anything to do with the actual show we were doing. We just liked the lilt of the words.
DARKLY DEVELOPS THE DUCK
22) What was the development time for the show?
The development very quickly, it was me pitching something that Jeffrey liked enough after Jeffrey ordered me to do the original show. That allowed me to use artists to do some artwork rather than just me doing it. Even moreso when I like the show and when it’s green lit you can get more people to work on it. Development was much shorter, I am talking months, based on nothing but an estimate - six months? From a solid idea to we need to start writing scripts.
When I visited the new Ducktales crew, the first thing the writers asked was "How big was your writers room?" We didn’t have a writers room! People came in and pitched an idea and if it sounded good we went back and forth and then they had to write it up if I liked it. I pitched to management and we were off to the races. People try to look at our production order and say this number comes first, so it must be the creation of the character. Well, not really, because we were discussing that but it happened to be the first one in line. The first one that was ready when we were producing them.
I found an old script schedule that was like the first week we had to put out one script, the second week two scripts, the third week one script, the forth week two script and on and on and on. I sent this to Frank Angones, the co-producer and head of story on the new Ducktales, just to show him what we were up against. And we kind of got breaks because we had 65 episodes to do and then ABC wanted the show, so we let them choose from shows that were in work, and something they would never do even a year later: we were able to do 13 fresh episodes to deliver to syndication, since the deal was for 65 and they felt it had to be 65 original things not things just also playing on network. There was kind of a mental break there and then we got to get back into it.
When I visited the new Ducktales crew, the first thing the writers asked was 'How big was your writers room?' We didn’t have a writers room!"
Then we thought the show was over and ABC said we want a second season, which had to go through a more typical network [system], they were able to give us notes, but they couldn’t give us notes on things already in work. But still, it let us have a few months of recharging to get back into it.
The schedule itself was we thought normal at the time, but now I see how they plan things out, how far in advance they work things and of course we didn’t do series story arcs. I am thrilled how they do things now. And it’s a different kind of a show, as I tell fans: They’re doing a show for the twenty first century, we did the one for the last century. Things have changed, You can go to new heights, new danger, new comedy these days, in ways we couldn’t do back then.
23) What was the date for the beginning of development?
It could’ve been late 89… 1990 would have been the start of real development.
Development probably was about six months, as we had come up with storylines by then probably somewhere in the back end of 89 when Jeffrey approached me. But again, development was me in a room, writing, coming up for things for an artist to do to help pitch the show. Most I am going to say there was three of us on. Bob Kline was on it to do those original pitch cards, Mike Peraza was on and off as he was helping on other things, and then we were off and running.
So it wasn’t like development these days where it would be "I put a story team together, we are gonna put up a white board charting out character possibilities, let’s throw out ideas, Where will we go with this? What is the art direction going to be like? Is a whole separate track going on?" That wasn’t our development.
...development was me in a room, writing, coming up for things for an artist to do to help pitch the show."
It was Development to what we called creating the 999 pack. And that meant, back then, you literally had to ship a show overseas; It wasn’t digitised. It was Xerox copies, it went in a box and it shipped on a ship - or maybe a plane, although we always called it shipping! And we lost a show once on Rescue Rangers and it had to be totally reconfigured using copies.
The 999 package is the package you would give to every studio that had: The basic layouts, basic characters, "here are the turnarounds, here’s how we handle mouth charts, here’s the colour palette". All that so you you’d go from we’re approved to building that package together while you’re creating the early stories. And then boom! You are in production and you’re adding to those basic drawings with drawings from the individual episodes that are going into production.
24). In relation to the 999 package, at what stage did casting and voice recording happen?
Every show is different but usually the casting of the lead characters is already underway. Many things are happening at once.
25). Ginny McSwain directed the actor recording sessions. Where were these recorded and were they recorded as blocks per season?
Episodes were recorded in several recording studios in the San Fernando Valley. Usually, all episodes of a series would be recorded at a single studio so the sound would match. We never recorded in blocks. We tried to get all cast members in the room at once so they could act off each other.
26) To the best of my knowledge there were 3 seasons and 91 episodes (65+13+13) of Darkwing Duck. Were you involved with all of these?
I was involved in all shows unlike Rescue Rangers, I did like 45 of them and was taken off the show. On Darkwing he was mine start to finish. ABC was not allowed to give us notes on the first 13 of Darkwing that they bought because it was into production.
We’d given them 5 episodes to choose from, maybe one being a storyboard, one might actually have some animation done on it, others just might be in scripts, and they just had to take the ones they wanted. They tried to say "well we have some notes on this one", and we said "we’ll take that one back if you don’t like it as is, and give you another one to choose from", so it put them in a tight spot of "are we going to get one as good as this? Can we live with this one?" So that’s how those first 13 [were made].
The second 13 it went through the normal process, meaning instead of me producing any storyline I wanted just about, they would have to approve it as a premise and kind of give notes, but by then they knew the show and understood the show so it wasn’t that big a deal, but there were shows that I pitched. There was one about Posiduck, and saying can we have fun with this character in a broader way somehow like we did with Negaduck, and it never got beyond the premise whatever the premise was, because they looked at it and they didn’t have that connection to the universe of Negaduck that we did. They said we’re not interested in that one. But we did some great episodes in that season.
On Darkwing he was mine start to finish."
It wasn’t that I wasn’t involved, but I had to go through network notes that were not that particularly tough, and standards and practices type stuff, but again they knew cartoon action, so obviously wasn’t necessarily imitatable action, so we got cut a lot of slack I think. I had a different layer to go through, but if anything it meant we had to pitch more premises to get all 13 through.
When we started in syndication It was deemed 65 episodes was all you needed. That’s 13 weeks of 5 episodes, and then you just repeat them forever, and kids don’t seem to mind. Because we were new and because Michael and Jeffrey were thinking in live action terms, for the second season of Ducktales, even though they had done 65 episodes, they felt like they need to launch the series with something new to promote:
And I pitched the characters:
SpaceDuck (which wasn’t done) RoboDuck (who became Gizmoduck) and Bubba Duck. Those characters were fully developed by the guys on the show, not me, but I was the one who pitched those new character ideas that they liked. That was the same meeting that they picked up Rescue Rangers, which did not have Chip and Dale in it, and they were happy with the show, not the characters, until we were discussing other classic Disney characters and when Chip and Dale were mentioned it was Michael Eisner who said "put those characters in that show, and now you have a home run". So I developed some characters at the same time as I was developing their idea of Rescue Rangers.
When we started in syndication It was deemed 65 episodes was all you needed. That’s 13 weeks of 5 episodes, and then you just repeat them forever, and kids don’t seem to mind."
After Darkwing, I spent some time developing a science fiction show, which would be just as zany in a different way. That is when I was assigned to Aladdin, and because I had started my career in features, again sharing my room with Ron Clements, they thought I’d be the good one to transfer Aladdin into a TV series. After that, I did direct to videos of Aladdin, then Hercules, again back in features, another one by Ron and John, and then Buzz Lightyear of Star Command where at least I got to create a bunch of new characters as As opposed to just turning Toy Story into a series. Really the guys in charge of story in that were Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle. They’d been in Aladdin and I had done Hercules with them, and that wasn’t me in charge of story, but I had plenty of input. That’s when I felt like: Wait, I am in this business to create stories and characters. Mark and Bob and I are friends, so no big deal, but their next show they pitched on their own and I pitched things on my own from then on. And they created Kim Possible, which was their next show.
You kind of developed new shows as soon as the old show was done, or more likely as your old show was finishing you were kicking up ideas.
27) Was the date of production mid 1990? I had seen an internal memo for the name competition win mentioned earlier, dated late January 1990.
Probably earlier than that contest, because we never finished model sheets of that spy version. He was not the Darkwing we knew yet. The first storyboards were definitely Darkwing not Double O. Actually, with that memo saying Alan winning with contest, he was not the Darkwing we knew yet, the original storyboards had Darkwing in costume and Gosalyn, looking the way she does in the series, whereas previous renditions were all the old spy thing.
Gryzlikoff went through the most; he was Eagleton an Eagle, a bulldog (Bark something), the reason he was Russian was specifically to say S.H.U.S.H. was an International organisation, this isn’t the USA vs. Russia; he’s part of the organisation.
Is this why you took the evil organisation F.O.W.L. from the Ducktales episode Double O Duck and changed it from the Foreign Organisation for World Larceny to the Fiendish Organisation for World Larceny?
I don’t think I was aware of the DuckTales version. If I had been, I would have used the exact name. Plus, I designed the F.O.W.L. logo which was refined by Mike Peraza. I would’ve used whatever DuckTales had. I think it’s a matter of us all starting with the same joke, an organization named after birds.
28) When did you cease involvement with the show?
If the last 13 came out in late 1992, I would have been involved all the way up to post production to final music and sound effects, to the very end.
I don’t recall specifically, but when I was on my season of Gummi Bears we would finish a show on Thursday to get it to the network on Friday, to get it on the air that Saturday morning. I don’t know if we were that tight on our ABC Darkwing shows, but it wasn’t like they were done well ahead of time. So I was on it pretty much until it finished broadcasting.
WHEN A FAN OVERTHINKS DARKWING DUCK...
29) I wanted to ask you if Darkwing Duck included, rather unusually for a cartoon show, topical elements of the time, especially in these three episodes:
a) In Dry Hard you had a villain secretly poisoning the bottled water industry. This wasn't long after the Perrier bottled water recall of 1990 (where Benzene had been found in water).
No connection. He was a water villain. But he wasn’t out to kill people, he was cutting corners for profit before his transformation. After that, it was all in pursuit of money.
b) In Water Way to Go, you had Darkwing sent out to protect the reserves of an oil-rich Middle Eastern nation called Oil-rabia. It must have been written around the time of Operation Desert Shield; the American defence of oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
Again, no conscious connection. Just searching for different locales and crimes to play our stories against.
c) The episode Something Fishy, with Neptunia, has an overt eco message about our need to make an effort against pollution, which many cartoons featured at this time.
Yes. Having an ocean based character be angry at pollution was not revolutionary. It’s one of the first thoughts that pops up when considering motivations of an oceanic hero or villain. Both Aquaman and Sub-Mariner had done such stories.
30) You had mentioned before about how Gosalyn was sometimes used to soften Darkwing, as Robin had been to Batman. As explored in Inside Binkie's Brain, Darkwing is often betrayed by his own destructive ego. I wanted to ask about theme and meaning in Darkwing. Given the nature of the hero desperately chasing popularity from others, but becoming fulfilled by the thankless (and arguably harder) task of being a parent, as well as finding longterm romance with a reformed evil sorcerer (Morgana Macawber), is the theme of Darkwing that we shouldn't try to find validation from other people, but rather to embrace who we actually are?
We didn’t think in terms of themes. Perhaps we should have to get deeper, more resonant stories. But that doesn’t feel like a central theme. It’s in there but it doesn’t fit as well as what Frank Angones zeroed in on the new DuckTales. In that show, Drake Mallard is inspired by a hero who always gets up, no matter what the injury. He never gives up. I never consciously thought of DW like that, but it’s 100% right.
31) Darkwing Duck is often referred to as a 1990s show, because it was released in 1991 and 1992. The memo notes that the shows name was created in January of 1990. In the Twitching Channels episode in which Darkwing comes to the human world, the fashions seem more mid 1980s than 1991, with ankle warmers and vest sweaters. The same is true for Splatter Pheonix and her attire. The Whiffle Boy Power Gloves seem based on Nintendo’s Power Gloves, from 1989. However, Comet Guy in Planet of the Capes dresses and dances in the style of MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This, from January 1990 and Twin Peaks (parodied in episode Twin Beaks) was released in April of 1990, which seem to be the most current of the pop cultural references in Darkwing Duck. The Soviet Union was also still in existence when the show was made. Because of this, I was wondering when do you believe the show is actually set? Given so much of it must have been conceived and developed in 1989 and a few months into 1990 before production began, do you see Darkwing as a 1980s show? Is its world view and outlook by definition really set in the 1980s?
The show is not our universe. It has its own timeline. The bits you are weaving together to set in in a decade have many fathers. Fashions, dated or otherwise came from our character designers. We were all on a tight schedule, so cliches, such as gangster’s suits might come from old gangster movies. There was no Google to look up current design choices. Television often lags behind what is cool in the moment. I was in my late-thirties so, faced with an idea of a video game plot, I didn’t research what was the hot, new game system. I went with what I was familiar and had the biggest gag possibilities. I don’t think we ever referenced the Soviet Union. Gryzlikoff was made a Russian bear to show that we weren’t dealing with real world adversaries. There was peace between countries but the fight with F.O.W.L. was never ending. I know it might be frustrating, but that type of question is for fans to debate. It’s part of the fun of being a fan.
I AM THE TENOR THAT SINGS IN THE NIGHT!
32) The superb music of the show seems to recall the musical scores for the Chuck Jones Warner Bros. cartoons, but sometimes with the cinematic style of 1960s James Bond movies and some of the mystery and darkness of Danny Elfman’s Batman score. It seemed more nostalgic for the way genre material and cartoons had been scored in the past. What was the musical intention and style of the show?
It was the same as the show; it was saying let's start with Carl Stalling, that you can go broadly with playing closer to the action, but he’s a superhero too, so you’re gonna have the need for big John Williams pieces played for comedy, where you build it up and it goes sour. For some episodes, because of that spy beginning, you have a bit of that James Bond thing. Those are all things I said to Phil Giffin who did the music. He did a fantastic job.
He did not score every episode, as we didn’t have the budget for that, so we scored a big chunk and then it was a music editor working with Protools cutting and piecing things together, reusing music and all that. After a while you’d say "Ok we can do some more new music" and you’d talk together and say “what are we missing?”
And they would say:
“I need this kind of a music cue that will get me out of this kind of music into this type of music because you guys do all the time, I don’t have anything that can do that.”
Plus they would do anything needed for a specific episode.
Again the overall music direction was the way I talked about the show and Phil did a great job on it. Then it was the music editor going in and building things, using old scores to make new music, and then me listening to that and often taking out music to do a little less. I guess I probably should have done more of that - I did more of that in Aladdin I think.
Darkwing was actually still when we used real instruments."
Often on TV, you’ll work with a composer and he’ll have secondary composers he works with to get the amount of music done.
Darkwing was actually still when we used real instruments. We actually recorded that on a soundstage, as opposed to later where it is a guy at a keyboard and a bunch of samples. That was pretty exciting stuff.
Batman came out in 89, so that would have had an influence on anyone composing a Batman like show, but it was not something we said “oh do this”.
Again, if we heard something that was wrong, we would have stopped it, and I’ve done that, and said “you know what I need is a deeper sound here. Let’s take out the flutes, can you do that?” and over lunch break the composers would get together and rewrite this and suddenly there’s a thirty piece orchestra.
I think it’s not necessarily about being nostalgic, it’s about the material you’re playing with.
33) Which studio and recording stage was it performed at?
It would have been in Burbank. We used several different studios. Rescue Rangers might have been done at Evergreen studios, which stuck with me as it used to be a movie theatre and it was two blocks from the house I grew in, so I used to go to that theatre and twenty years later I am recording music there.
34) Philip Giffin is credited as music composer for all but one episode of Darkwing Duck. Joel McNeely is credited for the episode Beauty and the Beet. However, some of the music sounds like it may have appeared in earlier episodes. How did McNeely become involved with this episode?
Once something is created for the show, it goes to the music editor who will use that cue as it is seen fit. Joel had worked on Tiny Toons and done work with Disney well before that, I doubt that it was suddenly Phil couldn’t do the work of one episode. It might have simply been the music department saying let's try him out, see if it works, or between jobs and they’re helping him out. Who knows? It could have been anything.
Once it’s part of a music package it gets used all over the place.
The idea he did a score and it appeared in earlier episodes, unless those episodes were mixed up, when a composer scores an episode it doesn’t necessarily mean he scored the entire episode. It also doesn’t mean that I didn’t listen to it and then say “this isn’t quite working with this sequence, do we have something else?” and the music editor would pull something from the pre-existing library. So anything could have happened to explain why it might have sounded like music you’ve heard before. Plus he would’ve picked up themes from before to play with.
35) The Darkwing Duck theme song channels the style of the musical genre New Jack Swing. It was an extremely popular sound in 1991, melding R'n'B with a hip-hop flavour. Given the genre, how did you arrive at this style as opposed to something more orchestral?
That specifically was Thom Sharp and Steve Nelson.
Our music department would get people to audition for free, because the pay off was huge if you got the theme song to a TV Show. It’s a huge payout. They said "this is the show we’re dealing with, this is the feel of it", I don’t know if they had scripts, and people would take a shot at it. On Rescue Rangers we had so many people submitting, and several of them would be a whole different type of sound, but you could see it working. On Darkwing, I don’t remember that happening as much.
We heard their version, it was great, very little input from me. It was "here’s a description of the show", guys sitting down and taking a shot at it and us loving it.
36) Music producer Steve Tyrell recorded the Darkwing theme song, and I am assuming the sessions people were probably the top LA musicians.
Bambi Moé was head of our music and she had connections to a lot of those people. A lot of the time the studio musicians were so great, who never get credited. They can sit down having never seen a piece of music, look it over and just do a fantastic performance. Obviously, there’s a great sax solo in that!
KICKIN' IN THE GROOVE
37) A Promotional video for the show was created and apparently filmed in Boston, in which children dance to a “Darkwing Rap”. Can you give us any insight into the production of this video?
The rap song! I had nothing to do with that; that was a complete surprise.
It wasn’t like I rolled my eyes, or groaned like they were trying to be too hard to be hip. It was just being surprised they put so much effort into marketing the show.
BIG SCREEN BILLING
38) Was a Disney Movietoons feature film version of Darkwing Duck ever considered?
Yes. They were working on Ducktales The Movie and thought it was going to be a huge success. It was OK but not the huge success they were expecting, and I took a shot at it and they didn’t like what I was doing. Mine I think had something to do with ancient Aztecs, maybe Taurus Bulba, I don’t know. Our French studio took a shot at it where they kind of ignored everything we were doing with the show and were just doing a spy thing. It was like "There’s a great movie that will have nothing to do with our show…"
After they didn’t like mine, I said I can’t do both, I have to get the show running. I know from later memos Alan Burnett was working with one of the writers of the show who did a take that Alan liked a lot.
The idea of trying to do a movie as you are doing a show, hoping that one kicks off the other; it’s a no win proposition."
I think one of the luckiest things to happen is that the movie never happened. If they were going to put all this money into the feature, it wasn’t going to be as zany as the show, the show would start bending towards the feature. With that off the table we were free to be running amock without oversight had a feature come up, especially the French feature, which again, basically I felt insulted by, not dramatically, but we wrote a bible for the series, we have sample scripts, and nothing here is remotely like what we are doing, why would you do this? Why would you pitch a movie this way? And maybe they didn’t understand the mandate that they were given to do a show.
The idea of trying to do a movie as you are doing a show, hoping that one kicks off the other; it’s a no win proposition. If you do a more serious movie that people love then the show isn’t serious, they hate your series. If you do a movie that’s more serious and nobody likes it, then they don’t tune into your show.
Thank goodness that nothing happened with that.
39) What were the storylines for the movie?
I didn’t look at most of them, I was copied on them, but I was deep in the show and time was precious! I don’t recall any meeting where I went in and I think Kevin and I had meetings about pitching some ideas, but I don’t remember having any meeting to give notes on one of the feature storylines where they felt “oh, this one’s going”.
Before too long, Ducktales The Movie came out, didn’t do as much as they expected and I am sure they got some put back from the features department. They didn’t want a Disney film going up against what they were doing on TV, as it would hurt what they were trying to do. They were on the verge of the renaissance; they were doing The Little Mermaid. That’s not the time to start putting out lower quality duck productions.
TOYS CZAR US
40) What are your thoughts and memories of Darkwing Duck’s merchandising campaign? It seemed like a much bigger venture than any other Disney show before it, but it also seemed limited compared to other shows of the time.
The reason why it probably got more interest with licensees was because it was a a superhero show which just suggests more toy possibilities. They kind of made a decision to go with younger feeling toys in their sculpts and everything - I mean it was a different age than it is now when you can do collectors pieces.
You’d have to compare them to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys of the time and I just felt they bridged the younger crowd and yet the edgier design, the toys were more action orientated and the show was; again we were a gag show. We were a gag show, we designed a second line but it never went forward. Part of it was just for money reasons. I learned about toys, that they always want the main character to be one of the bigger toys. Darkwing is a short guy, and it has to do with the mechanics of how you make a toy mould. Launchpad had to fit in the same machine, so he had to have these tiny little legs and giant chest to try to look like our Launchpad, so they were weird curiosities to me.
Again, I was happy to have it as when the toys are out there It promotes interest in the show.
Why exactly did the second Playmates toyline get cancelled?
Business. I assume there weren’t enough orders of the first line. The toys were a weird niche. They weren’t action figures like GI Joe, Transformers or Star Wars. But they weren’t Care Bears or My Little Pony. The closest toy line, actually in the same catalog and tremendously successful, were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But that was a more action driven show. It’s possible that the company decided that assigning the Darkwing Duck production facilities to TMNT made more sense. But that just occurred to me now.
Thank you so much, Tad. It’s great to find out a more complete history about where Darkwing Duck came from and what inspired it.
You are influenced by everything that is there and when you look back at it, it is hard to take it out of that specific moment in time that has all of those pop culture influences on it.
I remember Bob Schooley once said to me, it might have been after I came back to Disney to visit, "You realise we’re living in a time where writers have never lived in a world where The Simpsons hasn’t been on TV?"
Its not like you can’t write a contemporary show because that’s what they were doing, but I grew up as a little kid watching black and white Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Abbott and Costello, these guys who had literally been on vaudeville and now had TV shows. And I was watching reruns of those TV shows! And watching these cartoons from the 30s and 40s. There were variety shows on TV that we don’t have anymore.
You can’t compare it to how shows are done today; it’s a whole different thing."
My humour is hopefully contemporary for the time, but that is going to have a different flavour to it because of all those references that I don’t even know in the lobes of my brain.
The Simpsons changed lots of things, there’s different styles of humour, stand up comedy humour is different, sitcoms are different. Even if you aren’t trying to write those things, they are going to have an influence on your brain and you’re going to write in a slightly different way.
So when we look back on these old shows, it’s not just trying to realise how the production process was different, and we were flying by the seat of our pants and not seeing things till they were on the screen or whatever. You can’t compare it to how shows are done today; it’s a whole different thing. Well, The vibes we were drawing from are different.
It was a creature of the time and it thrills me that people still look at it and enjoy it. Whereas other shows date a little more, Darkwing seems to be evergreen and I love that!