Last year, we went a little crazy for the footage we saw of the “Black Panther” animated series developed by BET. Featuring award-winning actor Djimon Hounsou as the voice of Wakandan leader T’Challa (a.k.a. The Black Panther), the six-episode series debuted on iTunes back in June and now arrives on DVD next week, courtesy of Shout Factory and Marvel Knights Animation.
The animated series is based on the celebrated “Black Panther” comic book arc written by former BET President of Entertainment Reginald Hudlin and veteran artist John Romita Jr. (“Kick-Ass”), and uses a motion-comic style of animation.
Along with bringing you the exclusive clip above featuring a young Captain America’s first encounter with Black Panther, I spoke to Hudlin about the series’ journey from the page to the screen.
MTV NEWS: Black Panther isn’t necessarily a top-tier character, but you managed to recruit some top-tier talents for the series’ cast and creative team. Djimon Hounsou, Kerry Washington… Was it a hard sell? What was your pitch like?
REGINALD HUDLIN: The great thing about Black Panther is that it seemed to sell itself. When I reached out to Djimon and all of these other people, I presumed nothing. I presumed I would have to explain to them who Black Panther is, but he knew exactly who he was and had been tracking the project and said yes right away.
MTV: What was behind the decision to animate it with a motion-comic style rather than traditional animation?
HUDLIN: It kind of goes back to the origin of the whole show. At the time, I was President of Entertainment at BET, and I was sitting around talking with my Head of Animation, Denys Cowan, and he goes, “You know what would be a cool show? Black Panther.”
I thought that was a cool idea, but it was just a lunchroom conversation. Then a couple of months later, he came back with this three-minute animated sample and said, “This is what the show’s going to look like.” He just went ahead and did it.
MTV: What was the sample? Was it something that appeared in the series?
HUDLIN: It was basically what you see in the first couple minutes of the show — the flashback when the invading tribe is moving through the Veld and they get attacked by the Panther’s Teeth. I was just blown away. He found a way to take the amazing art of John Romita Jr. and bring it to life in a way I’ve never seen before.
And the fact is, there’s more animation in “Black Panther” than there ever was in any episode of a Hanna-Barbera show. The phrase “motion comic” is kind of a misnomer. It’s limited animation, but so is anime. It’s all about what you do in it. I felt like this was a breakthrough style in maintaining the original art and at the same time having more energy and more motion than anything I’d seen before done in Flash. And it allowed us to contain the costs, so we could do it all in the U.S.
MTV: Oh? I didn’t realize this was an entirely US-based animation project…
HUDLIN: Yeah, it was great to drive to Hollywood and work with the animators doing the work, as opposed to dealing with a translator or flying to Korea.
MTV: This was announced years ago, and then we saw that video in early 2010, and now it’s finally arriving on DVD. One of the biggest questions surrounding the project is: what took so long for us to see it?
HUDLIN: There were a lot of things. One was that when we started this when I was the President of Entertainment at BET. We started production and announced it, and then I decided to leave the network, so I had to work out my exit strategy. Everyone was asking who’s going to be doing “Black Panther,” so we had to formalize a deal that involved me becoming a producer on the project. So we worked out that deal, and then there was just the working out of the practical realities of the style of animation we were doing. The truth is, no one’s done this before. No one’s taken actual panels from a comic book and animated them…
MTV: Not in full, television-ready, 30-minute episodes, at least…
HUDLIN: Absolutely. So it was a whole other kind of challenge. Just working through the look of the show and getting it to a point where we were all happy with it was no joke. It really took time. I knew we were behind schedule, but we had to get it where we needed it to be. It was a real learning experience for everyone involved.
MTV: If all goes as planned with this release, do you think we’ll see more of the series?
HUDLIN: It’s all up the audience. If they really embrace it, then who’s going to say no? The audience votes with their dollars. I’ve got five years worth of “Black Panther” stories, so I’ve done a lot of the heavy lifting already. Now we actually know what we’re doing, animation-wise, so that would be fantastic.
MTV: You mentioned your run on the comics and how the series was based on that, but I noticed a few significant changes from the comic book arc. Storm had a bigger role in the animated series, for example.
HUDLIN: Well, it’s like this: You go, “We have six issues of a comic book, so we’ll make six episodes out of them” — but it doesn’t work that cleanly. You have to build in commercial breaks, and sometimes things go faster or take longer in animation, or the actual rhythm changes in itself. Sometimes you find yourself saying, “Wait, we have an extra minute here” or “Oh, we have three minutes here,” or “We have no time here.” So the re-balancing of the storytelling for this medium changed it.
We ultimately ended up having more time, so as we did all that, I realized there was room for more story, and I was really grateful for that. There was all this stuff I wanted to do in the initial six issues that there wasn’t enough page space for. So I was able to build out a little more of the assault on Wakanda, but the biggest addition was writing Storm into the story.
As we’re working in the show, I was like, “We don’t have a big love story at the center of this thing — that seems like a mistake.” Black Panther has this incredibly hot chick who’s going to become his wife, so why wouldn’t we throw her into this thing. Marvel gave us the permission, and I took a little of the Eric Jerome Dickey “Storm” story, which I loved, and worked a little of that back story in.
Again, my presumption is that folks who see this DVD have never read a comic book before. They don’t know who Black Panther is or Storm, or anything like that. I want them to appreciate it when she shows up and starts putting foot to ass.
“Marvel Knights Animation: Black Panther” arrives on DVD January 18 from Shout Factory and Marvel Knights Animation.