Back in July of 2007 during the heyday of the first Transformers film, I got the chance to talk with Flint Dille, writer of many 80’s Hasbro properties including Transformers the Movie. Currently working in the Video Game industry, he authored episodes of G.I. Joe, Transformers, Visionaries and was the writer, producer and developer of my personal favorite cartoon – INHUMANOIDS! Below is part two of the chat and interview! Enjoy!
Gregg: Well you kinda’ beat me to it here! You’re probably sick of hearing about Transformers and GI Joe. I’ve noticed on the internet I’m one of a handful people that are really rabid fans of the Inhumanoids!
Flint: Inhumanoids is amazing! I wouldn’t say its obscure, but yeah – not a lot of people know about it, but you go to ComiCon and Inhumanoids has probably the most fanatical fans.
Gregg: Yeah! The show was definitely unique! Especially against other animated fare at that time. Can you recall how the project came about?
Flint: Oh yeah! Really easily! As I said, I was working on Transformers and Tom Griffin called and said “I’ve got this new show we’re working on, it’s called Inhumanoids. It’s a new toy line coming out, about these guys that go in and investigate the center of the Earth.” Y’know kinda’ like Journey to the Center of the Earth? “Here’s the stuff; go write the show!” They had the stuff a little-bit developed; they might’ve eliminated some characters, but it was pretty raw.
Gregg: Cool! How much input did you have the concepts?
Flint: What was weird about Inhumanoids is that both Tom Griffin and Joe Becall were creative kinds-of-guys, but Joe was usually the guy you’d run into earlier in creation and somehow Tom seemed to have this one; maybe Joe was out of town at the time but it seemed, to me anyways, like it was Tom’s baby. I remember sitting with Tom Griffin in his office with a blank piece of a paper and he drew a circle and said “This is the Earth and our bad guys are in here!”
So I said “Okay let’s see…Metlar! He’ll be in the core! Tendril…he’ll be closer to the surface because he’s all plant-matter and D’Compose he’s down in there deep! And the Redwoods are good guys, y’know? They’ll be on top of the Earth trying to warn people!”
Yeah it was kinda’ built like that.
Flint: And we said this wasn’t GI Joe. Earth Corps. Y’know, okay they have a government grant but it gets cut and they don’t have much money with a lot of budget cuts – this was the 80′s – and you were always hearing about budget cuts.
Flint: Right! Frivolous government spending! So of course we needed the evil Senator who was out to cut them – Masterson – who was Ted Kennedy…
Flint: …because he made a deal with Metlar. Yeah it was set in a real, Cold War-world.
Gregg: I noticed the show had a distinct style as well: decrepit backgrounds, everything was – not bleak – but not so much happy. All the characters y’know had these heavy deep black shadows.
Flint: Oh yeah! Well this was a horror show! More than anything. The one thing that changed in GI Joe and I think this was largely Gerber, was that during the production it went more from being a military, counter-terrorist unit to being more a spy/espionage show in actually making it.
Flint: It went from being The Dirty Dozen to James Bond. You know shows do that; things change when you’re actually making them, and Inhumanoids was our Horror property, and we wanted it to look like a horror movie.
Gregg: You guys succeeded in spades! Everything about it was just, to me, pitch-perfect in its execution. The one thing I noticed that was used during the mini-series and is missing from the later episodes was the 24-style of editing – where the screen splits and shows multiple views of the same action, or simultaneous events happening.
Flint: Oh yeah! What was cool about that was it was something we wanted to do, and the mini-series was perfect. Animators, you know, didn’t want to do it and, I could be wrong, but I think Larry Houston story-boarded a lot of that stuff and he lived inside my brain, and he could like take what I was talking about in a script and make it look even better in the storyboard than it was done in my brain.
Flint: But we wanted to do a lot of that , especially in the mini-series, because we wanted to compress the stories into those seven minutes and we thought it would look cool because it’s above the Earth and Below it and you could split the screen with the good guys and bad guys above and below.
Gregg: With GI Joe’s “Skeleton’s In The Closet” I noticed some reoccurring elements that appeared in Inhumanoids; the tentacle-beast in the lava, then you have the Inhumanoids – these ancient monsters trapped beneath the crust, ancient tomes speaking of hideous monsters and weird artifacts…
Flint: The grandfather of all properties like this is H. P. Lovecraft.
Gregg: I knew it! That’s just what I was going to ask you! Whether any of this was Lovecraft-influenced…
Flint: Oh yeah…I mean, remember I was doing D&D stuff at the same time and D&D and Lovecraft and the newspapers and politics and the cold war: throw that all together and you get Inhumanoids.
Gregg: That was one of my biggest questions! I’ll be honest – my parents never let me watch the show later on because D’Compose gave me nightmares…
Gregg: I’m sure you probably hear that quite often.
Flint: It’s really funny to me. It never occurred to us! You gotta’ remember I was in my twenties and it never occurred to us that the cartoon could scare somebody to the point they would have nightmares – the same way it never occurred to us the way kids would cry when Optimus Prime died.
Gregg: So was D’Compose your idea? With the whole touching people and turning them into zombies?
Flint: Y’know…honestly I don’t know. We were working with a group of people on hundreds of episodes and what was anybody’s particular idea, I can’t remember. I don’t know if that came with the toy line or if we made that up. What we knew about the toys was that the big figures, the Inhumanoids, were supposed to be a combination of an action figure and a play set – like Transformers are an Action Figure and a vehicle. These were an action-figure and a play set when you bought one of the villains. It was kind of a misbegotten idea. With D’Compose, the whole idea was you could put one of the figures in his chest.
Gregg: Right, which I can distinctly remember seeing as a kid with his pulsating red organs all slimy…and thinking that’s gross and awesome! Just bewildered and thinking “Whoa! This isn’t the Smurfs!”
Flint: Yeah it was a whole other universe!
Gregg: So did you guys try to purposely push the envelope with the animated horror? To see what you could get away with in a cartoon?
Flint: Absolutely! All of this came out of… when I got into animation that was…1983; the height of network-dominated shows. There were three networks and they all had these practices about violence in shows; it had all just gone wild. And when Steve Gerber got offered GI Joe, somebody had told him “Yeah! You can show some guy punching another guy with a real fist!”
*both of us laugh*
Flint: It was a big deal, and we laughed because you couldn’t do that! Some wiener, before we did the toy shows, had a violence count. It went like “Well if you have someone at a beach and a wave hits, that’s three points!” I remember being in meetings where there were 65 people in the room and only five were connected with creating and producing the show. Then about six were all network execs and their assistants and the rest was all violence and racial watchdogs.
Flint: I remember when we were doing Mr. T – it was a multi-ethnic show; I remember we even had Aleutian Islanders on it, and so you had three people read the script from every racial point-of-view to make sure we weren’t slurring anybody. So anyways that’s the environment that existed before our shows, and Hasbro just did not care. I mean, you couldn’t kill people unwontedly, but inside that little concern, they didn’t care. And that was what drew people to working on these shows. A lot them in animation were just sick of the tyranny.
Flint: We went as far as we could, respecting the fact that if we got a little too ridiculous, some censor would step in and keep us in some reasonable boundary.
Gregg: I remember that Marvel Animation in the 80′s had a ridiculous problem with NBC when they were making The Incredible Hulk. The network was uptight that Banner would be shirtless post-Hulk, but yet they had no problems with him bursting his seams when he became the Hulk; so his clothes would just “magically” reappear. The Hulk couldn’t punch anything or anyone with a closed fist…
Flint: You’re doing the Hulk…but he can’t punch anything?
Gregg: Exactly! If he, say, smashed through a wall, it had to be done with hands-splayed flat. He couldn’t punch it. Then there was a mandate handed down to Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends that they had to include a cute animal character for companionship. It just seemed so stifling!
Flint: Well…what was interesting is that it was so repressive that it forced a certain amount of creativity, that we didn’t default every timeout to violence. So there was something kind of good about it in a weird way, which is what was funny about it! Yeah it produced some skills that actually paid off in the end. Inhumanoids was the result of what was a repressive era.
Gregg: At the end of the day was it poor toy sales or poor ratings that caused Inhumanoids to fail?
Flint: Inhumanoids was cancelled BEFORE the toy line was released. The toy line was an utter bomb.
Flint: I remember asking Joe Becall “Hey, uh, Joe, why do you think the toys bombed?” and Joe said “They can’t get past the reality of the product.” He pulled up a toy of Tendril and he tried walking him across the table and he was large and clunky and falling over. At the end of the day? It was a bad toy. That was his theory.
Gregg: I’ve heard that supposedly it was Parents Rights groups also. Was there any backlash from parents or activists?
Flint: Oh yes. There was this one, Thomas Redecki, for one reason he was… Google him when we get off the phone, but yeah. This one guy was up there squealing about everything we were doing! Gary Gygax & I were doing an AM talk radio show and he called in and told us how horrible the things were we were doing to kids and the Saturday morning kids show. He and Peggy Charon; She was actually more interesting – she had this Action For Children’s TV or something. But Redecki always had a problem something we were doing, or this or that and he was getting a lot of publicity.
Gregg: Anyone else come to mind?
Flint: Joe Lieberman has waived some games I’ve worked on around, but y’know, it’s an easy way for politicians to make a certain amount of booking and…
Flint: On a slow week you can always go squeal about video games or cartoons and nobody will really fight you; there isn’t a whole lot of “Pro-Violence in Video Games and Cartoon” lobbyists around.
Gregg: Another question for ya’ – Sabre-Jet, aka Brad J. Armbruster – was that Ace from GI Joe?
Flint: Yes. It’s all interconnected. I’m sure you remember Marissa Faireborn in Transformers? That character was Flint & Lady Jaye’s daughter. As for Ace, I’m not sure what happened, if the character was discontinued in GI Joe or what but we always tried to recycle.
Gregg: Interesting. So I have to ask, but there are a handful of us on a website called Deviant Art, have you heard of it? It’s a place where you can post your own artwork…
Flint: No! I haven’t! Have a link?
Gregg: Yep. Just before talking with you, I set-up an account that is all specifically Inhumanoids-related artwork. I have one of my scripts up there and I have some people contributing work.
Flint: Yeah send me the link. I’d love to see it.
Gregg: Cool! Sure! How would one, if it were possible…do you think with this wave of nostalgia sweeping entertainment and comics, someone could acquire the rights to Inhumanoids to try and breathe life into it?
Flint: I’m sure. What would Hasbro have to lose, really? I heard they were thinking of bringing back Inhumanoids, probably under another name, but to my knowledge nothing has happened. You know, I really need to re-watch these all again!
Gregg: You can! On YouTube; someone downloaded all the episodes!
Flint: Are you serious?
Gregg: Yep! The whole series!
Flint: I’m there now…you’re right!
Flint: Yep. Here we are! *laughs* the Evil Eye!
Gregg: That was my favorite episode.
Flint: Yep. Dr. Merrel Andersen. Berkeley University. That was my girlfriend’s address at the time.
Gregg: I have these all, but I had to order the DVD set from London. It’s Region 2, but they play on my DVD-Rom.
Flint: No kidding? That’s great.
Gregg: Yep. It has PDF’s of your scripts too.
Flint: Wait – it does?
Flint: On which disc?
Gregg: Both! The mini-series is on Disc one; the rest are on Disc two!
Flint: Really? Oh wait – England? Yep. I remember that now. That was a couple of years ago.
Gregg: I will send you the PDF’s if you want.
Flint: That would be, thanks. Yeah I think I have some unused scripts that if you want, I’ll send you. It’s all on Macintosh …
Gregg: That would be…awesome! Thank-you!
Flint: Take care! It was great talking to you! Call again sometime and keep in touch. I’m here all the time.
Gregg: Thanks! I will!
Flint: Take care now.