Xiaolin Showdown Episode 2, 2003
Welcome to a show I love so much that I’m only going to dole it out one episode at a time.
In early 2003, things were winding down at my first “home studio,” Sony Animation. I’d been there since December 1996, landing a spot on the Extreme Ghostbusters crew and thriving in a whole new career. It took me through many other shows, culminating in my first Spider-Man series until the wind went out of the sails and most of us packed up to find work elsewhere.
I was still represented by an agency called the Gotham Group (who collected 10% of every paycheck, but still got me better pay than I could find on my own), so they got to work looking for my next home. It turned out to be Warner Brothers. These were big times for WB; they had their own network, which obligated them to constantly produce content. This benefited the entire animation industry, since more jobs always meant more opportunity. And they were unionized, the best of both worlds.
I’d had one run-in with WB prior to this that didn’t go very well. It was a storyboard for a Superman series. I didn’t like the director and he didn’t like what I gave him, and that was that. Unpleasant memories of this floated up to greet me as I walked toward the WB studio for an interview in February 2003. It was in what used to be a lavish bank building, attached to a revitalized shopping mall in Sherman Oaks California. The unhappy Superman experience was all I had as a reference point, and I had to wonder if someone would chase me out when I showed my face again.
Fortunately, the opposite happened. I was there to meet a producer named Eric Radomski, an alumnus of Batman The Animated Series. He was friendly and disarming as he laid out the new show that was just starting up.
Unlike most other shows I’d done at this point, it was wholly original; not based on a film, a comic book, or a toy line. It featured four kids learning martial arts, racing villains all over the world to find mystical objects called Shen Gong Wu. It was to be an action comedy called Xiaolin Showdown, and Eric needed directors to helm it. I had lots of directing experience under my belt at this point, and my primary portfolio piece was my homemade Grease Monkey animated short. It showed Eric that I could handle everything “from soup to nuts” as he called it, and I left feeling much better about WB than when I came in.
A couple days later, my agent called and said Eric wanted to offer me the job. I said yes immediately, confident that this would be a good fit and a positive experience. That turned out to be an understatement. To this day, Xaolin is easily one of my favorites. Why? Read on.
As I settled in and started learning what was what, I got my first assignment: select an artist to help me manage my storyboards. 13 episodes would be spread out between three directors, and I would personally handle four of them. We could hand out work to freelancers and do some of our own storyboarding, but we each needed a dedicated revisionist to help us stay on top of the workload. My first choice was a guy I’d worked with at Sony named Jeff Allen.
We started out on different shows there and I don’t remember exactly how we met, but we fell into the same lunch groups and got along great. When I was tapped to become the supervising director on Dragon Tales (a long story for another day), I was asked who I wanted on my in-house revision team. Jeff and another artist named Mike Borkowski were close to finishing on their show and didn’t seem to have anywhere to go next. I submitted my endorsement to the Exec Producer and they were in. Over the next year or so, we became solid friends. Jeff was an expert at keeping things light and funny and tolerable, even when clouds were darkest. I knew in an instant that I wanted him backing me up on Xiaolin, and that we could deliver something special.
The fit between us and the show couldn’t have been more perfect. Ditto the fit with Eric Radomski. It was essentially the beginning of a three-way partnership that lasted (off and on) for the next fifteen years, all the way through Avengers Assemble at Marvel. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re still just getting started in 2003.
What made Xiaolin so enjoyable for us is exactly what I said about it earlier: it wasn’t based on something else. The same was true of Dragon Tales, but that was a preschool PBS show so it came with a LOT of guard rails. This time there were none. It was like we stepped out of a jail cell, blinking in the bright sunshine as Eric handed us the keys to a hot rod and said to drive as fast as we wanted. Whenever we’d tell him how much fun we were having, his answer was, “Welcome to the cartoon business.”
Seriously, we didn’t know it could be THAT much fun. The more Jeff and I drew scenes to crack each other up, the better it made the show. It was like we were reliving the days of Termite Terrace where the mantra was, “draw what’s funny to us and the audience will catch up.”
There was still a lot of discipline involved, of course. We had a script to follow and were responsible for delivering a full episode by the deadline. But the scripts were already very funny on their own, written by the virtuoso team of Bill Motz and Bob Roth. (Both of whom turned out to be Grease Monkey fans, which was pretty cool.) So instead of polishing turds, we were launching rockets off another rocket that was already in flight.
This is why I’m going to be doling out Xiaolin Showdown episodes one at a time, starting with our first. I want you to see every single panel we drew so you’ll know precisely how much fun we had.
Our first was Episode 2, titled Like a Rock. What you’ll see below is the entire storyboard, the animatic, and a link to the finished episode. I know we made a lot of fans, based on the fact that Xiaolin was the number 1 show in its age group for all of Saturday morning, and the enormous number of glowing comments I still see on Youtube videos and such. If you’re already a fan, I want you to know that we loved making the show as much as you loved watching it. And now you’ll see the proof.
Xiaolin Showdown debuted November 1, 2003 on Kids’ WB, Saturday mornings. It lasted three seasons, concluding in May 2006. It’s now available on DVD, Amazon Prime, and various internet back alleys.
Episode 2: Like a Rock
Act A Storyboard
Act B Storyboard
Act C Storyboard
See the finished episode here