X-Men: The Animated Series developer and showrunner Eric Lewald elaborates on creative "conflict" with X-Men co-creator and Marvel visionary Stan Lee, who wanted to take the animated television show in a "different direction" than its creators. The series, which ran for 76 episodes across five seasons between 1992 and 1997, pulled from the Chris Claremont and Len Wein scripted issues of X-Men over the early 1960s works of Lee and franchise co-creator Jack Kirby. Expanding on behind-the-scenes intel revealed in his authoritative book, Previously on X-Men: The Making of an Animated Series, Lewald details "tension" with Lee during the making of the show's first season:
"When we were doing the show, Stan was really only involved in the first season, and was not involved after that," Lewald said in a recent interview with Aznfunk Comics. "He was supposed to be involved as an adviser because he created so much. He and Jack Kirby had set up the basic idea of the X-Men, even though other people like Chris Claremont and Len Wein took it in a very different direction, a much more adult direction."
Because the animated series borrowed its tone and adult focus from the revamped "all-new, all-different" era of X-Men comic books of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Lewald's vision clashed with Lee's iteration of the five-teen team from his 19-issue run published between 1963 and 1966.
"When he wrote it, they were younger, they're all-American kids, they're more extraordinary teenagers rather than the more world-weary adults that we inherited," Lewald said. "And so he had a very different idea about where he wanted the show to go, and we had a bit of a conflict about that."
The situation "ended up resolving itself" and both sides "ended up happily dealing with it," but the lengthy production process involved in creating an animated series made for "11 months of anxiety for all the people that have money in it and all the people wondering, 'Will this show work or not?'"
"No one ever knows ahead of time, that's the mystery of it. You absolutely don't know what's going to be successful, so there are great creative fights," Lewald explained. "If you have a live-action show you can see it more clearly, you could see the finished product right away. Animation, you're waiting four months for the drawing to come back from overseas."
During that time, Lewald recalled, there was "a bit of a struggle" with a Lee who had become less of a driving force at Marvel Comics, having turned his attention towards Marvel's television and film properties.
"He was such a creative, driven person, that he just didn't want to sit still," Lewald said. "He didn't want a quiet retirement. It wasn't quiet when he was 90. He was the most driven, forceful, verbal person in any of our meetings, and that was when he was 70. So he very much wanted to run with the show and make it his, and it just was a different direction than the rest of us wanted. And that made for some real tension for a couple months there while we were finalizing what the show was."
With an army of artists waiting on direction about story, tone, and the ages of its primary characters, Lewald said, "Everybody needed creative decisions."
"Since Stan wanted to take it a different direction, there was tension there for a while," Lewald added. "It was all fine — we ended up working on three or four other projects together — but it was difficult, because he is so creative, he's not one to just back down. He's a driven guy, that's how he got to where he got. It's just he had a different vision for the show than we did, so we kind of locked horns there for a little while."
"It just was either, 'We do it in Stan's direction, or the way we developed it for the first two months. Choose.' And the people at Fox chose," he continued. "It could have gone the other way. I could have been out on the street, and X-Men could have been narrated by Stan Lee."