Once again I had the opportunity to participate in some roundtable interviews at the New York Comic Con with cast and crew associated with the amazing world of DC’s animated universe. This year I was able to attend roundtable discussions for “Constantine: City of Demons the Movie” as well as for the upcoming Blu-ray release of “Batman the Animated Series”.
First up on Thursday was “Constantine: City of Demons the Movie” as I had the opportunity to speak to producer Butch Lukic as well as screenwriter and legendary comic book scribe J.M. DeMatteis, lead character designer Phil Bourassa as well as voice talent Damien O’Hare and Rachel Kimsey.
First up was Butch Lukic who has been working in the industry and with Warner Bros. Animation since the early 90s. Butch talked about the influences on the story as well as the look and feel of the world within the movie. He also mentioned that there weren’t any ties to the live action Constantine or the Arrowverse other than Matt Ryan doing the voicework. He talked about getting to add an extra twenty minutes of footage to the CW Seed shorts in order to flesh out a full-length movie.
I asked him how different and or difficult it is to push an R rated animated film over something more along the lines of PG or PG-13?
“Based on what we showed today to the audience we opted not to show any of the violence or gore because it’s R rated plus the swearing, adult language, sex scenes…it’s not there for that audience but it’s in the DVD and the R rating is because of that. But in the beginning when we got the script, I could have easily played it easily PG-13 but I told my guys…let’s play it hard and see where we can go with this but also find out…we weren’t told we were getting an R rating, find out from DC themselves if they were going to cut out some scenes and limit the violence so we left it all in there. When I found out it was going to be an R rating I figured, might as well lay it on some more!”.
Mr. Lukic also talked about the web-series being planned out as a full-length movie from the start as well as plans for more Constantine as well as for the new animated released to stream on DC’s streaming service DC Universe.
Next to the table was lead character designer Phil Bourassa who has designed many characters in both Marvel and DC animated projects among other things. He was lead character designer on “Young Justice” as well as a character designer on “The Spectacular Spider-Man” animated series.
Mr. Bourassa talked about the difficulties of re-designing characters when adapting them from the comic books to an animated series. Some characters like Constantine pretty much stay the same throughout various mediums while other characters that may not have been dusted off in 20-30 years need modernized or adapted to today.
I asked him while working on “Constantine: City of Demons”, where he was allowed the most creative freedom for design work and which parts provided the least amount of creative freedom?
“Well the most creative freedom across the board on most of these projects is the villains because they lend themselves to more interpretation and demonic characters and monstrous characters in particular can be anything so the sky’s the limit. You can do anything, the sky is the limit and you can just have a lot of fun with them. On the flipside, it is the characters that cannot be trifled with and I consider John (Constantine) to be one of those characters.”
He talked about the differences between his work on “Justice League Dark” and “Constantine: City of Demons” whereas with the initial PG-13 rating on “Justice League Dark” he was immediately drawing Constantine smoking cigarettes and drinking but he had to take those things out. After eventually getting the R rating he would keep thinking about parts that Constantine could have been doing all the Constantine things that he does.
He also talked about his influences as a kid growing up with the likes of John Buscema and Gil Kane as well as eventually getting into anime and manga. He brought up a good point that as you mature as an artist, you’re really not looking at other artists in those ways as influences as you were as a kid and that you just focus on what you know and whatever your style is.
I asked him about his thoughts on the popularity of supernatural character such as John Constantine and Dr. Strange, who were once considered B-list and C-list characters, and how they’ve gained popularity with mainstream audiences.
“I feel like supernatural stuff has always been kind of cool even if it wasn’t from the comic book medium. You’ve always had stories that dealt with the macabre or the horrific. There have always been iterations of that stuff but now that the comic book medium is being mined as some would say it’s becoming more mainstream and popular.”
Following up next was none other than legendary comic scribe and storywriter J.M. DeMatteis, who has written just about every top-tier Marvel Comics and DC charter that you can name and has been working as a scriptwriter on animation projects such as “Justice League Unlimited”, “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and the “Spider-Man” and “X-Men” animated series from the 90s. His most well-known and revered work is “Kraven’s Last Hunt” from his seminal 1987 run on the Spider-Man titles. Surely some mention of “Kraven’s Last Hunt” will come up during this interview, right?
Mr. DeMatteis was asked what particular Constantine comics or stories influenced his story for “City of Demons”? He mentioned that he had a good feel for the characters as he recently worked on the “Justice League Dark” comic and that he was also influenced by a graphic novel called “All His Engines” which formed the foundation for his version of the story.
I asked him how different it was doing a comic book script as compared to a script for a web-series or an animated series?
“You know, the formats are different and when you first write a screenplay for an animated project you’re thinking a lot about the format because you have to learn it and you’re constantly thinking…you can’t do this or you can’t do that because it’s not a comic book. You can’t do too much interior monologue because it’s not that kind of thing, it’s all about the story. But after a certain point that goes from your head to your intuition so you don’t think about the format anymore and it’s really just about the story. So whether you’re going to write a novel or a screenplay or a comic book…whatever it may be, you’re serving the story and once you learn the form you don’t think about the form anymore. I’ve been writing comic books so long, I don’t think about how to put a comic together I just know how to put a comic together…good, bad or indifferent, but I just work with the form naturally and the focus is on the story, not the form.”
He talked about how writing a character like Constantine recently, he felt like he knew him already and that once you write a character and feel familiar with them, they’re real to you. It helped him to get right into the character and not have to come in cold.
In the panel earlier, Mr. DeMatteis mentioned a particular line from the “All His Engines” graphic novel that was a major basis for the “City of Demons” script. I wanted to know if there was more to it than that on why Constantine is usually in these exotic locations like pyramids, jungles and swamps and now the setting is just the city of Los Angeles?
“Honestly, they came to me and said we want to adapt this graphic novel and that’s what happened in the graphic novel. It was interesting because it takes him out of his comfort zone and that also makes him more vulnerable. There’s a line somewhere in it where he says he knows London inside and out, every nook and cranny, every dark corner of its psyche. Los Angeles is something that he didn’t know, so to have the actual embodiment of Los Angles appear to him made for an interesting dynamic as well.”
And of course there were talks about Kraven possibly appearing in the Venomverse as well as the follow up to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” “Grimm Hunt”. He also mentioned that “Kraven’s Last Hunt” would make a great 90 minute animated feature.
I got to ask Mr. DeMatteis about who he would like to pair Constantine up with for an interesting team-up?
“I don’t know. Sometimes the danger is when you take characters from one world and bring them into another there’s a delicate balance such as when Constantine and Batman teamed up (in “Justice League Dark), Batman is as dark as you’re going to get in the superhero side of things but it still almost another universe with the supernatural world and such. It’s all how you approach the story, but what I loved in the Justice League Dark comics was the dynamic between Constantine and Zatanna . I really enjoyed playing with that and with their relationship.”
I also asked him how they brought him into the fold to work on the DC animated films.
“Well I’ve been working in animation for like 16 years now so I’ve done a lot of animation. I’ve worked on three of these previous movies and I think that is sort of bounced off of the “Justice League Dark” movies and the fact that I’ve worked on these characters in the comics as well. This was an interesting one since it was done on the CW Seed and it wasn’t done through the usual Warner Bros. Animation channels so I was working with a whole different group of people but it made it that much more interesting and unique.”
Next we got to chat with Damian O’Hare who voiced Constantine’s childhood friend Chas Chandler in the movie. Chas’s daughter has fallen ill and he goes to the only person that may be able to solve the mystery of what happened to her. Mr. O’Hare has also voiced Constantine on “Justice League Action”.
He talked about how he prepared and researched the character of Chas and how he put his own spin on the character for this movie. He also views Chas as the audience’s eye as he comes face to face with mystical and supernatural elements that normal people shouldn’t see.
I asked him if he prepared any differently while doing something like “Justice League Action” 12-minute shorts as compared to a full-length R rated film?
“I think the tone is different…there’s a certain beat or speed and rhythm in the 12-minute movies that you have to sort of stick to since everything is just rolling on whereas this you can breathe a lot more and actually take the time and play it like the live-action. There’s more of a reality to it and since you’ve got that 90 minute movie you can afford to play it like it is, and the graphics and animation are a little more rough around the edges and it feels a lot more grunge.
He talked about the humanity of Constantine and how his relationship with Chas really tests their relationship and compels the story forward.
Last but certainly not least we all got to speak to the lovely Rachel Kimsey who voiced Angela, the spirit of Los Angeles and has previously voiced Wonder Woman on various DC animated projects including “Justice League Action”.
She talked about how fun it was to play Angela for the first time on screen and how she was able to let loose and not hold anything back for an R rated animated movie and that she didn’t have to censor herself. She felt that having the R rating honored the characters and the actors were able to open up and push the envelope.
I asked her that, being a fan of the character, if there were any aspects of Constantine from the comics that may not have been too prevalent in the movie but moving forward that she would like to see brought to the forefront that would add another dimension to the character?
“That is a big question and I think that it’s honestly better answered by people like J.M. who actually create Constantine but for me the fun is to watch how healthily Matt (Ryan) embodies the character and how much he’s taking it on…I really love that because he’s more popular and in the popular imagination where more people know about him, I really like the more lighter and brighter side to him that we don’t explore as much in this one and I think it there’s something really fun in about that. I’d like to see the day where Constantine doesn’t battle any bad guys and he just gets to live with himself. I want to see the day where these heroes are like, it’s Tuesday and no one is trying to blow up the city so now what do I do. I apparently like really boring comic books!”
Thank you to Gary Miereanu, DC and Warner Bros. Animation for organizing and setting up participation in the roundtable interviews.