Millennials like myself had the privilege of growing up with so many good cartoons in the 1980s and ’90s. Transformers (Generation 1 AND Beast Wars), G.I. Joe, Darkwing Duck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dinosaucers (yes, Dinosaucers—one of the best cartoon theme songs of all time) and countless others that left an impact during our formative years. Then, there was X-Men: The Animated Series–another show with a killer theme song and a whole lot more going for it. What separates X-Men from so many other shows (sorry, Dinosaucers), is that fans’ passion for it continued into adulthood. And the fact that the entire series is available to anyone with a Disney+ account means new viewers are discovering it at this very moment. It’s this perfect storm of easy access and eternal enthusiasm that make books like X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series possible.
Published by Abrams, this 288-page, 12 x 10″ hardcover takes readers on a visual journey behind the scenes of the classic cartoon. But this book isn’t cobbled together by a fan who grew up obsessing over the show–it’s as personal as it gets because it’s brought you by showrunner Eric Lewald and Julia Lewald, who was a regular series writer. And, fortunately, the husband-and-wife team provides an honest account of their time on the series–no matter how cringey the truth may be.
For example, an initial Saban idea was for an X-Men series featuring Professor X, Cyclops and an animal sidekick cruising the country in a van in search of a new mutant every week. Two dudes in a van, rolling up to strangers–nothing creepy about that! Thankfully, what we got was a lot better.
This X-Tome kicks off with a quick overview of Marvel’s troubled animated history before the launch of X-Men: TAS, which also shows how uphill a struggle this was for the Lewalds and the wider team of X-Creators. From there, the focus is placed on key details from each of the show’s five seasons, along with the series bible, character breakdowns and more.
The character breakdowns are especially interesting (including a look at what brown-costume Wolverine would have looked like) as it’s clear our heroes quickly evolved beyond what was on paper in the early stages. For example, we’re told Cyclops is aware Jean Grey is in love with him, but he doesn’t want his feelings to interfere with his responsibility as leader of the X-Men. Huh… really? I’m glad Scott was “aware” of Jean’s affection for him… he really played it cool based on the number of times he screamed her name throughout the show’s run.
Also cool–getting to see the many ideas that came out of a meeting with Marvel Comics while planning seasons three and four of X-Men: TAS. Quite a few rough notes–“Nightcrawler,” “Lady Deathstrike” and “Proteus”–all made their way onto the small screen. Others, like “Exodus,” “Magneto’s volcanic bases,” “a relationship between Storm and Forge,” and the inclusion of “new villain” GamesMaster just never made the cut. But boy is it fun to imagine what could have been. (Except GamesMaster… he didn’t really stand the test of time.)
Now, I fancy myself as something of an eXpert (I mean, I do write a weekly X-Men interview column). So it should come as no surprise that these types of “new” reveals were my favorite parts of this book, as these are the types of details I want to find in a book like this. I would put the first-draft storyboards for the iconic opening title sequence in the same category of awesome reveals. Just imagine turning on “Night of the Sentinels” and seeing opening credits that featured Mojo, Dark Phoenix and other characters that wouldn’t appear for several seasons! And, in the case of the Brood–never!
Now, I do feel like it’s important to point out this isn’t the first deep dive into X-Men: TAS history. In November 2017, Eric Lewald released Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series. I’ve read this in-depth exploration and it definitely goes a lot further than this one. Now, to be fair to X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series, the Lewalds admit this new release is “streamlined and art-focused.” So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you’re a hardcore X-Men: TAS fan, you’re going to want to read both books to get the FULL picture. If you’re only in the market for one X-Men: TAS book, this one’s certainly going to look nicer on your coffee table and give you a good overview. But for all the really juicy details, read that other release.
One advantage of the art-book format is that it includes character models for pretty much every featured character, including blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameo characters like Captain Britain and even Doctor Strange. Yep! The future Marvel Cinematic Universe superstar was a guest at Scott and Jean’s (first) wedding. Who knew!? (And then he appeared a few more times after that!) Did you know the Technet appeared in a bar scene in an episode? Seeing what obscure Marvel characters popped up on the show, as pointed out in this book, will no doubt make for a fun rewatch of the series post-reading.
There are also proposed character redesigns that give the cast a more “animated” look but were rejected. Still, it’s fun to wonder what could have been and see Arcade and Mesmero–who never made it onto the show–in this fresh style.
I’ve tried to give enough teases throughout this review without spoiling the whole book because spoilers are the worst. The main takeaway here is if you’re a diehard fan of X-Men: TAS and want to learn more about the series than you can glean from your 100th rewatch on Disney+, this is the book for you. Though, again, if you haven’t read Previously on X-Men, definitely order that one as well for the full picture.
X-Men: The Art and Making of The Animated Series will cost you $50 and will be available October 13.
And if you’re looking for more chances to go behind the scenes of X-Men: TAS, check out these past AIPT interviews with the Lewalds!
- X-Men: The Animated Series’ Eric & Julia Lewald reflect on the show that created a generation of X-Fans
- X-Men: The Animated Series’ Eric Lewald talks adapting ‘The Dark Phoenix Saga’ for TV