Hitting DVD today is Marvel Knight Animation’s Black Panther series, featuring an all-star cast with Djimon Honsou in the lead and a supporting cast that includes Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard and Jill Scott. Based on Reginald Hudlin’s 2005 comic book take on the character, the series arrives straight from Hudlin and the good people at Shout! Factory.
In honor of the release, CraveOnline chatted with Hudlin about the series and his extensive work in comic books, film and television.
CraveOnline: Take me back to when you first got attached to Black Panther as a comic book. Did you go to Marvel or did they come to you?
Reginald Hudlin: You know, it was a pretty freaky series of events. I was doing storyboards for a TV commercial with Paul Power, a storyboard artist, and comic book illustrator. I would use comic book references for the panels. I would say, "I want a punch like Jack Kirby," or he’d mention Neal Adams and I’d say, "Oh, I love Neal Adams!" and he pulled out his cell phone. Suddenly I was talking to Neal Adams. Then Neal goes, "Why don’t you look me up the next time you’re in New York?" I fortunately wound up going to New York and couple of weeks later and I’m sitting with Neal Adams. We’re talking and he goes, "You ever met Joe Quesada?" I say, "No," and, all of a sudden, I have an appointment the next day with Joe Quesada. I’m hanging out with Joe and his Executive Editor Axel Alonso, who is now Editor in Chief. I’m talking about my passion for comics and he goes, "What do you want to write?" I said, "Black Panther," and I left with the gig.
CraveOnline: Your background is in film. Tell me about the process of taking your printed story and heading back to the screen.
Hudlin: It was interesting. We first thought about it pretty simplistically. We said, "There’s six issues of the comic. Let’s make a six-episode series." But it wasn’t that straightforward. When you adapt it, some things take longer. Some things are shorter. You’re also working within the ad breaks and making room for commercials. Sometimes we’d have a minute extra. Sometimes we’d be a minute short. I also wanted to make sure that the show could move very fast. Ultimately, we had room for more stuff, so I added more backstory. The biggest addition, of course, was adding Storm, who did not appear in the original storyline. I kept giving the audience some backstory on her life and her relationship with Black Panther so that we could have a love story in the center of this action epic.
CraveOnline: Is it easier to take something like this that you were responsible for creating in the first place and adapting it or working from someone else’s script?
Hudlin: It’s way easier to adapt something that I wrote because I’m not precious with it. I’m constantly looking for a better line, a better idea, a better action sequence. I’m currently adapting a very well-known novel into a graphic novel and it’s 30 pages too long. I’m trying to make the cuts and even the writer of the original book is saying, "Just hack the thing up!" and I’m like, "I can’t do it!" (laughs) So it’s much easier adapting my own stuff.
CraveOnline: Where did the casting begin for this?
Hudlin: We got very lucky. Very, very lucky. I called people expecting to have to explain a bunch of stuff. That wasn’t the case. When we reached out to Djimon, Djimon knew exactly who the Black Panther was. As soon as he heard about the project, he said yes right away. With Alfre and Kerry, they were already good friends of mine and we’d all been dying to work together. They got onboard right away. With Jill, I had been a big fan. When I called her, I was explaining who Storm was and Black Panther and she said, "When I was a kid, I made a list of things I wanted to do and one of them was to play Storm. I’m happy you called, but I wasn’t surprised."
CraveOnline: Djimon, too, is a big comic book fan.
Hudlin: Yeah. The cool kids read comic books now. Sam Jackson and I, we can talk comic books and kung fu movies for hours.
CraveOnline: What has your reaction been interacting with fans since entering, full-on the comic world.
Hudlin: You know, I’ve never been one to be shy about my passion, so I’ve always sort of been out of the closet. But now it’s getting interesting that more and more people are feeling comfortable expressing their fandom. It’s great. I wouldn’t say that there’s pressure on the cool kids to be up on comics, but certainly there’s a lot less mocking.
CraveOnline: What’s a dream project for you, either on the screen or in comics?
Hudlin: I’ve been lucky enough to play out a lot of my dreams. I’m developing some of my own comics now. Mark Millar was talking about a conversation he had with Stan Lee where Stan said, "You know, I created the Marvel Universe because I couldn’t write some of the already existing characters." I think that’s right. As a creator, it’s great to play with the toys. I feel very lucky to have kind of apprenticed under Alex Alonso and be part of the Marvel machine, but at a certain point, you have to contribute to the conversation with your own full imagination.
CraveOnline: It also seems like continuity must get to be such a hard thing to follow.
Hudlin: Yeah. That’s what ultimately made me go, "I’m good." Even though some of those company-wide epics have lead to great stories like "Civil War" — and I think that the "Black Panther" issue of "Civil War" is one of the best things I’ve ever written — it’s so exhausting. It’s draining. You put in a pitch years in advance for Doctor Doom and it’s, "Sorry, he’s already taken." "Huh?" (Laughs) It’s just too much.
CraveOnline: Do you still find yourself sort of a protective parent, checking in?
Hudlin: Yeah, I do. Though of course I didn’t create the Black Panther. I did what I wanted to do with the character and others are going to do what they want to do with the character. And that’s right. That’s why it’s a Marvel character.
CraveOnline: Is there still talk of doing a live action film?
Hudlin: Well, there’s talk. That’s up to Marvel and they play their cards pretty close to the vest. The impulse for me writing that original miniseries and doing the DVD was that, if there was never a Black Panther movie and whether I was involved or not, I wanted to establish who the Black Panther was defining him in a pretty definitive way. I grew up loving the character and I wanted to leave something for the next generation to connect to and go, "That’s the Black Panther!"
CraveOnline: You’ve also been incredibly involved with television these past few years. It seems like a lot of balls to have in the air.
Hudlin: You need to think of sleep as an option. An option that I rarely take. (Laughs)
CraveOnline: When you start working with a project, do you instantly know if it will work better as a comic book or better as a movie or TV show?
Hudlin: Not instantly. Sometimes you just have to talk it through. There’s a project that Dwayne McDuffie and I are collaborating on right now. It’s just like, "Wow! This could be a great comic. It could be a great film trilogy. It could be a great ongoing series on television." I’m not sure what it is. We’re still very early in conception, but it could be a lot things. Sometimes you just have to think it through and see what shape it takes.
CraveOnline: Any thought of collecting your "Black Panther" run as a Marvel Omnibus?
Hudlin: You know, just the fact that my entire run is in trade just blows my mind. In fact, I can tell people, "Go to my website. Go to www.reggiesworld.com and you can order any of my Black Panther books." Because some of my friends are not comic book people. They go, "Okay, you’re doing a comic. Do we go to Target?" and I go, "No! Just go here and buy all of them or as many as you want." That’s just very helpful and I’m grateful that the stuff continues to stay in print.
CraveOnline: Tell me a little about working with Shout! Factory for the DVD.
Hudlin: Shout! Factory has an overall relationship with Marvel and I guess they’re doing a lot of the Marvel Knights stuff. The edgier stuff. The company is just fantastic. That’s what I look for in a partner.
CraveOnline: Tell me, as a comic fan, what are reading now?
Hudlin: I’m all over the place. I’m loving whatever Mark Millar is writing. Whatever Garth Ennis is writing. I can’t believe what Grant Morrison is doing with Batman. He’s just totally revitalized the character. "Crossed" is just horrible. (laughs) Every issue, I just say, "I can never read this again!" In the same vein, Alan Moore’s "Necronomicon" is just dark, dark dark and some pretty amazing stuff. So I’m all over the place.
Black Panther is now available on DVD.