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To Toronto Comicon, My X-Men Fandom

Love for the Marvel mutant franchise was overwhelming at the annual event

By Monita MohanPublished 2 months ago 5 min read
(L-R): Beast (voiced by George Buza), Wolverine (voiced by Cal Dodd), Morph (voiced by JP Karliak), Bishop (voiced by Isaac Robinson-Smith), Rogue (voiced by Lenore Zann), Gambit (voiced by AJ LoCascio), Storm (voiced by Alison Sealy-Smith), Cyclops (voiced by Ray Chase) in Marvel Animation's X-MEN '97. Photo courtesy of Marvel Animation. © 2024 MARVEL.

With the announcement of a new season of the beloved “X-Men” animated show, there’s been an outpouring of interest and enthusiasm for the franchise from fans and newcomers alike. That love was palpable at Toronto Comicon, with X-Men art, t-shirts, cosplays, and the “X-Men” show’s voice actors and producer/director all in attendance.

Though I didn’t grow up with the animated show (they didn’t release it where I lived), I have long heard about it, and been keen to watch it. Any time that I get to spend with the X-Men is a great time (ok, that’s a lie, “Dark Phoenix” was a chore), so the animated show, with five seasons of episodes, was something I relished.

Thanks to “X-Men ‘97”, the show came back on my radar, and more importantly, was available on Disney+, so of course I marathon-watched the entire thing and finished it off in time to attend Toronto Comicon. Good thing too—the trailer for the new show begins with a giant spoiler for the series finale, so not finishing the series would have been a bummer since Toronto Comicon played the trailer prior to almost all the main sessions.

With so much X-Men love going around, I couldn’t wait to hear what the folks who created the beloved show had to say about it.

The Making of Our Childhoods

Larry Houston at Toronto Comicon (Photo by Monita Mohan)

I attended Toronto Comicon on Friday and Saturday. I had enough time to wander around before heading into panels on the first day, and the Artist Alley was where I spent a lot of time, mostly because a lot of folks had their X-Men prints out to reel me in.

I then happened upon a table strewn with “X-Men” prints—these looked like they were straight from the show. And wouldn’t you believe it, they were. That’s because the table belonged to Larry Houston, producer/director of said animated show.

Not only that, after a glimpse at Houston’s table banner, I realized that this man quite literally shaped my childhood. Houston is the man behind some of the most iconic children’s cartoons of the ‘80s and ‘90s, including “Captain Planet”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”, “Jonny Quest”, and a show I thought I’d dreamed up, “Thundarr”. I watched all of these shows ad nauseum as a child. I had no idea about Houston and his impact on my childhood. Larry Houston’s work was my childhood!

I couldn’t believe his inclusion on the guest list hadn’t been a bigger deal. Houston was extremely patient as he shared his resume with a gaggle of us fans. I was startled by how humble and fun he was to listen to. He giddily rattled off all the Planeteers’ powers, which he remembered precisely.

Just when you think you’re a full-grown adult who’s over such things as cartoons, you meet a creator like Houston and go right back to being a kid. Thankfully, Houston was prepared for the fangirling and humoured his overgrown fans.

Working on the “X-Men” Animated Show

Among all the shows that he’s been part of, Houston mentioned that the “X-Men” show was his favourite to work on because he had a lot of freedom on it. Later, at the “X-Men” show panel, he reiterated the same point—he had a lot of creative freedom, especially in the first season. Despite there being a room full of executives overlooking the recording sessions, Houston was able to bring his love for the comics to the series.

Speaking on the impressive character arcs, Houston explained that Eric and Julia Lewald, writers on the show, were experts at writing character dramas. However, they had no knowledge of the X-Men—on the other hand, Houston, being a long-time fan of the franchise, knew too much. But that combination of character arc-building and knowledge of the X-Men was the key to creating a show with characters that people have fallen in love with for nearly 30 years.

Houston spoke about the adaptation from comic book page to screen, especially with regard to the Phoenix Saga. Admittedly, it’s the best known—and to many, the best-written and boldest “X-Men” arc—and we’ve seen several failed attempts to adapt it in live-action films. The animated show definitely got close, but I felt the moderator of the panel was perhaps too effusive in his praise for the adaptation.

Houston explained that the success of the Dark Phoenix adaptation lay in the fact that they had so much time to tell the story. Five episodes were dedicated to Jean developing her new powers and then four followed the corruption of those powers. Movies don’t have the luxury to develop a story over nine and a half hours. Houston shared how he had to cart his personal collection of comics to the studio and photocopy pages and pages to hand over to different departments—"the designers, the backgrounds, the storyboard guys, the colorists”—so that the show could accurately capture the look of the comic book story. In fact, the artists used some of the panels from the comic pages to animate in the show, since Houston wanted it to look like a moving comic book. That explains why that particular arc feels so eerily authentic to the comics—it literally is the comics.

The Voice-Actors Talk About the X-Men

Larry Houston and the Voice Cast of "X-Men" at Toronto Comicon (Photo by Monita Mohan)

The voice cast from “X-Men” joined Houston at a panel discussion about the original show, and some also came together for a Q&A session with The Movie Podcast on Saturday. Thanks to Toronto Comicon, I now know that a lot of the “X-Men” voice cast hail from various parts of Canada.

It was interesting hearing about their experiences back then—they worked together as a group, recording lines one after the other in the studio, which definitely gave the audience the feeling of camaraderie among the characters. But, while Lawrence Bayne (Cable) was wistful for those long-gone days of sitting in a room together, Catherine Disher (Jean Grey) was having none of it, and prefers to work alone in comfy shoes—I feel you, Ms. Disher.

Most of the actors weren’t X-Men fans when they joined the show. Alyson Court (Jubilee) explained that George Buza (Beast) was the resident expert within the actors group. Despite their lack of familiarity with the source material, when they spoke about the X-Men during the Q&A, I felt like the actors understood these characters, and their enduring importance perfectly.

Lenore Zann (Rogue) talked about how the themes in the comics are universal themes. Buza mentioned that anyone who is a little bit different than what society has deemed they should be will find refuge in the X-Men. There’s a line in the new show about a character “not wanting to be himself”, and Court pinpointed that is something so many people feel. “You can’t put a time stamp on that; we all go through it,” she said.

Lawrence Bayne also loved the X-Men comics. He described his own life as an Indigenous child with two friends who didn’t fit the norm, they were the “freaks” who banded together, and being part of the X-Men franchise gives people a chance to invite other marginalized folks into “your little freak show.”

Hearing how perfectly Houston and the actors understood the X-Men helps me appreciate how and why this show has been beloved for so long, and I couldn’t help but get swept away by the excitement to be part of this X-Men resurgence at Toronto Comicon.


About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.


Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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