BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES WEEK: The series’ first director takes you back to the start.
Batman: The Animated Series — the brainchild of Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, Paul Dini and a team of animation visionaries — celebrates its 25th anniversary Tuesday, Sept. 5, but we’ve got a whole week of retrospectives planned for you here at 13th Dimension. For the complete list of stories, including interviews with creators and animators, click here.
Kevin Altieri wasn’t just one of the directors and storyboard artists on Batman: The Animated Series. He was the director of the first episode that went into production: On Leather Wings, featuring Man-Bat.
I moderated Kevin’s spotlight panel at Cliff Galbraith’s East Coast Comicon earlier this year but saved the transcript for BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES WEEK. In this interview, Kevin talks about how he got involved with the show and his work on that classic first episode. We’ll be posting the rest of the interview in installments over the next couple of months.
Dan Greenfield: How many episodes did you actually direct?
Kevin Altieri: I’m not exactly sure at the moment. I think 32. That number comes to mind. For the first seasons, I think I directed more than anyone else but I was the first director that started so that makes sense.
Dan: What were some of the biggest, most prominent episodes that you directed?
Kevin: Well, On Leather Wings, that’s for sure. The Man-Bat one. That script kind of shocked me about how good it was. It was, like, “Here. You wanna direct this cartoon? Here’s the script.” And I’m reading and it’s got a werewolf-style transformation in it! My GOD! I have to do that! Zeppelins! It’s got zeppelins! I was, like, “Are you kidding me?”
Dan: How did you get the gig?
Kevin: Well, I had known Bruce Timm because he had worked over at DIC Entertainment for a while. I don’t think he worked over there too long but he was there when I was directing COPS, I think. I was on COPS and Real Ghostbusters… and ALF Tales. Anyway, so Bruce knew me and they were trying to hire people. I had heard that they were and I had just finished working for Disney. I was doing development on Treasure Planet.
After I was away from Disney, I was just doing some comics for TSR and I got a phone call from Bruce. I think it was from Bruce. Anyway, he was just saying, “Come on over. We’re doing a Batman series.”
And the first thing that goes into your head is, “Oh, yeah, here we go again. We’re gonna have another goofy Super Friends-style Batman. Just what we all need.” Because the only thing they were doing was Tiny Toons — which is great! But, you know, it’s a goofy, funny animal cartoon. So I go over there and there’s not really a lot set up. There’s just Bruce, Anne Luiting and Eric Radomski. That’s it, you know? And they’re trying to find people that can draw superhero style, that can draw action/adventure.
I was talking to Bruce and we were talking about Alex Toth. We all had the same — Iwao Takamoto — we all had the same kind of influences in animation, in artists that we love. And he says, “Well, let me show you…” and he shows me that first reel that he and Eric did. And I’m, like, “You GOTTA be kidding me! Yeah, sign me up! I’ll… Please. I’m your man! I’ll direct whatever you want.”
Dan: When you were working on it 25 years ago, did you expect it was gonna stand the test of time? Did you know that you were doing something so special or was it just one of these things, “It’s my job and I’m doing it and whatever happens happens.”
Kevin: No, I had no idea. The first time I got an inkling of it was I went up to WonderCon. … When it was the Oakland con, it was my favorite convention so I’d fly up there, which, from my house out near LAX, it’s easy to get to. So I just hop on Southwest, land in Oakland, rent a car, go to the convention. And I go to the convention.
I had briefly known (DC writer/editor) Denny O’Neil so I had stopped by the DC booth and he goes to me, “Hey, we’re screening your episode today.” This was before it had ever hit the air. They were doing those pre-screenings. And all they were showing was the Man-Bat episode because that’s all they had at the moment.
And, of course, I go across the street with a friend of mine and I get, like, a couple of pints of Guinness in me (Dan laughs) and I go, “Oh, boy! Here comes my cartoon.” I go walking in and there’s this BIG audience of people. I was absolutely dumbfounded about how the audience reacted. I can’t believe it. I’m sitting there in the audience and when Man-Bat goes flying by the zeppelin window and the pilot goes like THIS? (Swiftly turns head.)
Kevin: The audience literally went like THIS (swiftly turns head again). And then when Batman hits the window, they all just JUMPED! And I was… Wow! This is very COOL! (Laughs)
Dan: Must have been very gratifying.
Kevin: Yeah, I was really amazed at the audience! I wasn’t amazed so much. I thought we’d did a good job but it was really cool that the people really responded the way they did. They loved it.
MORE: For the complete BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES WEEK Index of features, click here.