What is your name and your current occupation?
Matt Wayne, animation writer and story editor. I have exactly one producer credit, which nobody will ever find. Recent work includes being story editor of the Marvel Super Hero Squad Show, co-story editor of something I can’t talk about till July, former co-story editor of Justice League Unlimited.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
I’ve done things for money that a gentleman shouldn’t discuss. And I sold newspaper subscriptions door-to-door. And I was a cook at Big Boy. I know, it’s crazy, right?
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
Justice League Unlimited, Ben 10: Alien Force, Tom and Jerry Tales, Batman: Brave and the Bold. I’m especially proud of my shared credit with Joe Barbera on a Tom and Jerry cartoon. It doesn’t get cooler than that! I also was Managing Editor of Milestone Media, which made a lot of comics and sold the Static Shock! cartoon. The first years of that were one of the best times of my life. And it turns out that comics are the entertainment industry in miniature, so I learned a whole lot about “gatekeepers” and the like.
How did you become interested in animation?
I always loved cartoons. When I was 3 or 4, I wanted to be friends with Pixie and Dixie. I hatched a plan to break them out of the TV with a hammer, which my parents fortunately got wind of and thwarted. Rich Pursel, story editor onSpongeBob Squarepants, and writer of many of the good Ren and Stimpys, grew up across the street from me. We’ve been pals since we were toddlers. His interest in art and animation rubbed off on me. I’m not a writer/artist like he is, so I make up for it by being extra wordy. Rich and I watched all the terrible 70s cartoons on Saturday morning, and would do the kids’ version of critical analysis afterward–it always began “I liked the part when…” We loved junk like Hong Kong Phooey, but we saw Disney films together, too. I think we saw Robin Hood in its first run. And we made short films together, clay and cutout animation with an 8mm camera. In high school, I was good friends Ray Kosarin, who later was supervising director on Daria and who directed some Beavis and Butthead, too. He now teaches animation in New York, at SVA and the Tisch School. I don’t remember whether I did it first with Rich or with Ray, but the International Tournée of Animation used to come to the Detroit Institute of Arts, and I saw a lot of festival animation that way. Ray and I saw Leonard Maltin speak at the DIA, at a screening of Looney Tunes shorts, back when Maltin was just an animation geek with a book. In college I did some clay animation to the song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The most surprising part was the sort of good lip sync. I’d read the track very closely over two whole days, not realizing that the song is a dead-on 120 beats per minute. I could have probably glossed each syllable in ten minutes to get the same result. I had no idea that I’d be writing cartoons as an adult, though. Especially superhero cartoons! I didn’t start reading Marvel superhero comics until I was in my 20s. Although I made up for it and became big ol’ fanboy for a bit.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
Like about half the people in animation, I’m from Michigan. I like to call us all the Michigan Militia, but so far the name hasn’t caught on, cuss it! Since the mid-90s, it’s been very difficult to find creative work in Michigan. That’s why there are so many of us out in LA: if you’re from Chicago, you can stick around and have a life. Now that Detroit has cratered, everybody has to leave Michigan. I grew up in the village of Milford, home of the GM Proving Grounds, and as I said, Rich Pursel. Dwayne McDuffie lived about 30 miles away in Real Detroit, but he went to the same high school as me and Ray Kosarin. Dwayne and I knew a lot of the same people, but only became good friends in college. I ended up in New York after school hoping to make it as a screenwriter, rooming with Ray Kosarin and working in the same store as Jim Krieg, now the story editor of Green Lantern: The Animated Series who, like everybody else, grew up in the Detroit area. So, how did I break in? By loving cartoons; by being fortunate to grow up discussing cartoons with Rich Pursel and Ray Kosarin; by moving to L.A., getting recommended by Rich Pursel, Jim Krieg and Dwayne McDuffie for various assignments and doing a good enough job that most of the people who hired me wanted to use me again. There are maybe a hundred people making a steady living writing TV animation at any given time, so we’re all flukes. A unique chain of irreproducible events brought each of us here. It only takes one connection to break in, but it took several to stay in. And it took five years from my first scripts for Poochini’s Yard to steady employment on Justice League Unlimited, thanks mostly to Dwayne McDuffie’s opinion of the work I did writing comics for him in New York. If you tack that onto my journeyman years, you get 1992-2005, thirteen years before I could credibly claim that I write cartoons for a living. I’ve been making a living at this for seven years since JLU, which I hear is the typical span of a writing career. Kind of a chilling thought. I’m really pressing my luck!
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
When I’m going into the studio, I tend to bathe in the morning. When I’m not going in, I bathe in the afternoon. The rest of it is talking and typing.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I love the endorphin rush of a good idea.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
I hate the moments after the endorphin rush of a good idea, when I try to explain it. In real time, I’m not very verbal. It takes dozens to hundreds of people to make a TV cartoon, and we need everybody on the same page. So there’s a lot of explaining that needs to be done. By me. And I’m not very verbal. Is any of this making sense?
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Convincing my wife that watching TV, complaining to my writer friends and staring into space count as work. She’s starting to believe me.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?
Macs. I’d love to say that I bought an animation table or Cintiq on Craigslist, just to noodle around, but I can’t draw anything past a simple diagram. Been working with artists for 22 years, though, and they haven’t lynched me yet. Although there was this one Okie who came close…
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
Once when I was at Warner in 2005, Iwao Takamoto held the door for me. I’m looking forward to watching his work with my son someday, especially Scooby Doo and the Wacky Races. And I had that shared story credit with Joe Barbera, but no contact with the man himself. I’ve been privileged to work with some of the greatest modern TV practitioners–Bruce Timm, Glen Murakami, Alan Burnett, Dwayne McDuffie. Dwayne was my best friend and knowing what he thought about stuff is probably 90% of my career. I think Jim Gomez is one of the greats–he has been everywhere in animation and excels at every single aspect of making a cartoon, and he was my first story editor. Collaborating with Rich Pursel as a grownup is exactly like collaborating with him as a child, except we’re both much better now. I’d put him in that category.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
In the Boy Scouts, I was supposed to lead several troops in a song, teaching it to them all and then leading them through it. I got a nosebleed minutes before the event. The Scoutmasters pushed me to go on regardless, even though I was holding a bloody wad of toilet paper to my nose so my hand was in front of my mouth. After several attempts to make my snorting blood and halfhearted singing understood by an audience of a hundred scouts, I got fed up, whipped the bloodied wad into the crowd, and ran off in tears.
These days, I think of executives as Scoutmasters, and don’t let them push me into something that I know will end in disaster.
Any side projects or you’re working on or hobbies you’d like to share details of?
I’m teaching my son to walk. But he’s a baby, so it’s not that surprising.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Fellow writer Eugene Son and I play guitar together. The only thing unusual about it is how bad we are.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?
It’s much easier to just watch the damned things. Also, something Dwayne McDuffie said that I think wasn’t his original observation, but the conventional wisdom at Marvel Comics in the 80s: To be successful, you have to be well-liked, you have to be talented and you have to turn your work in on time. But you really only need two out of three.