Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Meet Roger Slifer

Roger Slifer began his career as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics where he had a hand in editing all the titles they published at that time. He became their Special Projects Editor overseeing comic magazines such as the Rampaging Hulk and their Classics Comics line, in addition to movie adaptations. He also co-wrote The Defenders with David Anthony Kraft and other stories featuring The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, and Iron Man.

Shortly thereafter, Roger published one of comicdom’s first Graphic Novels, Manhunter: The Complete Saga, a collection of stories featuring DC’s popular character by Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson.
From there, he went to DC Comics where he served as their first Sales Manager to the specialty comic book shops and also wrote The Omega Men, DC’s first on-going title sold exclusively to comic shops. In that series, he co-created Lobo, the popular and infamous interplanetary bounty hunter. Additionally, Roger edited World’s Finest, New Talent Showcase and a quality reprint series of Green Lantern/Green Arrow by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams.

In the eighties and nineties, Roger worked for Sunbow Productions, first as a writer on the G.I. Joe series, and later as Sunbow’s Supervising Producer of various shows including Transformers, Conan, Bucky O’Hare, My Little Pony, G.I. Joe Extreme, and Jem. In addition to his work on hundreds of hours of TV series programming, he was an executive story consultant on three theatrical movies: Transformers, G.I. Joe, and My Little Pony.  He was also the story editor for many series including Jem, G.I. Joe Extreme, and Streetfighter. In 2001 he co-produced the first season of Yu-Gi-Oh for 4KIDS Productions.  Roger has also written for many animated series including Jem, Bucky O’Hare, Conan, Spider-Man, Princess Tenko, G.I. Joe, and Robocop.

Most recently, he has worked as a writer and consultant in the videogames industry. He is also hard at work on several movie and TV scripts. And he has been approached to write a graphic novel based on World Champion Pole Dancer Felix Kane.

I recently had a chance to sit down and talk to Mr. Slifer about some of his past work. I hope everyone enjoys the following interview ...

Lone Fan: Is it true that both the Ghost Rider villain Inferno (real name Slifer) and Slifer, the Sky Dragon from Yu-Gi-Oh, are named after you?


Roger Slifer: Yes. I had met Tony Isabella through our mutual friend Duffy Vohland on a roadtrip to New York. Tony was writing Ghost Rider at the time and decided to name Inferno, a demon from Hell, after me. I’m assuming it wasn’t a reflection on my character since Tony and Duffy later were instrumental in getting me my first job as an assistant editor at Marvel Comics. Duffy was very determined to get me on staff and, I’m sure, hounded Tony relentlessly. Tony recommended me to Roy Thomas, saying that he remembered meeting me and that I was a nice guy. I’ve always assumed he had gotten me confused with (artist/letterer) Jim Novak who he met at the same time and who really is a nice guy!

As for Slifer the Sky Dragon, despite the rumors on the web, I did not name that character after myself, even though I was a producer on Yu-Gi-Oh at the time. What happened was this: Another 4KIDS employee, Sam Murakami, was our liaison with the producer of the cards. Some names of the cards had to be changed because there was concern their names would be considered demonic or sacrilegious or something here in the states. It never made much sense to me, but when you’re broadcasting here in America, it’s something that has to be accommodated. Anyway, Sam renamed a bunch of those characters after people on staff at 4KIDS. It just so happened that the one he named after me happened to be a “god” card and much more prominent than the others in the series. I attribute it to the cosmic forces in the universe trying to balance things for me being made a demon in Ghost Rider. And again, just to set the record straight, I wasn’t even aware of it until after the names on the cards had been changed and it was too late to go back.

Lone Fan: Moving on to your television career, most of the references I found for you as a producer and screenwriter were for animation house Sunbow Productions. Was that the first television production company you worked for?

Roger Slifer: Yes.

Lone Fan: How did you get hired?

Roger Slifer: I had worked for Sunbow as a writer on the G.I. Joe series which was being story edited by Steve Gerber. Steve was a good friend of mine, back from the days at Marvel. Steve had spoken very highly of his experiences with the company. I had told him that if there was ever a staff position that opened up (Sunbow was based in New York, where I was living) that I’d be interested. One day I got a call out of the blue from one of the Sunbow production assistants that they understood I was interested in interviewing for the job they had available.

I went in and interviewed, first with Joe Bacal and then with Tom Griffin who were the heads of Sunbow. Much to my chagrin, when Tom called Jay Bacal, my potential direct boss, to come downstairs to meet me, Jay seemed reluctant to do so. But it turned out that Jay was just trying to get out a FedEx package in time for a deadline. When he did come down, he looked very frazzled and like he hadn’t slept in days. I could see why they were trying to get him some help. But we hit it off and got along great. About a year later, I remember looking up from my desk and telling Jay that I felt like he looked the day he hired me. He said that was probably because I was now doing all the stuff he was doing at the time. By that point we had expanded to doing many more shows. And we had three feature films in the works.

Lone Fan: What was your first job for Sunbow?

Roger Slifer: Weirdly, although my title changed over the years, my job really didn’t. I was Sunbow’s supervising producer for a number of shows. What that meant was that I worked closely with the writers and story editors and also with the producers of our production partners. When I first started, we were working closely with Marvel Productions who had a lot of great people working there. I worked very closely with their producers, who included Will Meugniot, Boyd Kirkland, Frank Parr, and Larry Houston, who are still friends till this day. Those guys are all amazingly talented and worked hands on with a lot of other talented storyboard artists and designers. They were the ones really responsible for the making the shows look as great as they did. Sunbow and Marvel Productions had a very close working relationship in those days. I also worked with Marvel’s film editors in editing the film of the episodes, with Wally Burr who was our voice director, and with various post-production people in mixing the final shows. Of course, Sunbow was also working very closely with Hasbro to make sure that their concerns were addressed and that all their characters got ample coverage in the stories.

Lone Fan: I notice you worked as producer on Robotix and Big Foot and the Muscle Machines, both of which were part of Super Week (also billed Super Sunday and Super Saturday), which was a half hour cartoon block that featured four serialized six-minute cartoons. What was your primary job as a producer on Super Week?

Roger Slifer: I was involved with the JEM segments, which I believe was the only one of the three that went on to its own series. I also remember working with Doug Booth and together re-writing some of the Robotix scripts.

Lone Fan: Since you were only working as a producer on one of the featured segments, did that present any problems in working with the producers who might have been in charge of the other two segments?

Roger Slifer: None whatsoever. All of Sunbow’s creative people got along great together. That’s one of the reasons I enjoyed working there so much. Also, even on the shows I was working on, there were other Sunbow staff people involved as well. Eric Early was involved in post-production for JEM, for example.

Lone Fan: You were a producer on The Transformers not long after that. You’re also listed as a writer for that series on However, they designate you as a writer of unknown episodes. Which episodes did you author?

Roger Slifer: I actually did not write any episodes of that series, even though Jay often asked me to submit stories. I was way too busy overseeing the production and working with our story editors (Flint Dille, Steve Gerber, and Marv Wolfman). To give you an idea how busy we were those days, I remember there was one weekend where I had to fly to L.A. and work with three different film editors simultaneously on three different Transformers episodes. I think we finally finished up about four in the morning and I went back to the hotel and crashed. Also, frankly, when it came to writing, I preferred doing scripts for the JEM show.

Lone Fan: You’re listed as an associate story consultant for Transformers: The Movie. I know from talking to Buzz Dixon that he actually wrote the screenplay for G.I. Joe: The Movie even though Ron Friedman is credited as the writer due to a contractual agreement with Sunbow that promised him a writer’s credit regardless of whether or not he wrote the final story as long as he worked on it. Interestingly enough, Mr. Friedman is also credited as the writer of the Transformers animated film. Is he really the writer? Frankly, I always thought the movie smacked more of Flint Dille’s work than Ron Friedman’s.

Roger Slifer: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say that Ron had nothing to do with the writing of G.I. Joe: The Movie. Ron definitely submitted an outline and a script for the movie. One of the first things I was asked to do on the movie was to refine his outline. But there is also no doubt that the script went through a lot of revisions. I know I re-wrote parts of the script and Buzz did a major rewrite. I’ve never done a comparison of all the scripts so I don’t really know how much of Ron’s script remains. But Buzz certainly did a major overhaul.
As far as Transformers, that story also underwent major revisions. I know Flint Dille and Jay Bacal wrote a completely different script that never saw the light of day. The longest meeting I ever participated in was a story meeting for the Transformers movie. I think we were there sixteen hours. It was Joe (Bacal) and Tom (Griffin), Jay, Flint, myself, Carole Weitzman and maybe another one or two people I’m forgetting. We ordered out for pizza at lunch and when dinner rolled around, we ordered Chinese. But we never left the room. The edict was, before we left the meeting, the story was going to be hammered out. After that, Flint rewrote the script. And he did a great job. It’s not easy to fit all those characters into one story!

Lone Fan: I notice you only wrote two episodes of the original G.I. Joe series: The Germ and Money To Burn. Both of these episodes prominently feature Tomax and Xamot. Is there any reason you chose to focus on those two Cobra operatives in particular?

Roger Slifer: I liked them. Also, I think Steve Gerber, the story editor, felt that I knew more about economics, the stock market, etc. than most of his other writers. That’s why I believe I was assigned Money to Burn. I don’t really remember any particulars for The Germ.

Lone Fan: In the episode Money To Burn, you had Cobra attempting to subvert America’s monetary system. Economics are an interesting choice of tactics, especially since so many cartoons focus on bad guys blowing stuff up as the only option of attack. Why did you choose economics as your primary subject matter?

Roger Slifer: Well, I guess the easiest answer is, “Why not?” As you know, at Sunbow we tried not to talk down to the audience. Also, we tried not to do typical storylines. So the idea of using the monetary system to collapse America seemed like a reasonable objective for the bad guys. I guess more than a few modern bankers were fans of the old G.I. Joe show.

Lone Fan: I got a real kick out of The Germ. The mutant monster that appeared in it reminded me a lot of the 1950’s science fiction movies. What was the inspiration for that story in particular?

Roger Slifer: Obviously, the major inspiration was The Blob. There was an interesting reaction to the germ from some apple growers association. Apparently, they were concerned that we pointed out that there is cyanide in apple seeds. Personally, I think we were performing a public service—I mean, I had no idea there was cyanide in apple seeds until I did my research.

Lone Fan: In 1990 when DIC had taken over production of G.I. Joe from Sunbow, you came back and wrote one more episode called Pigskin Commandos. What were the differences in scripting for Sunbow vs. scripting for DIC?

Roger Slifer: I enjoyed working for Sunbow. But, seriously…Doug Booth asked me to do a script for the DIC show. And Doug is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But one really shouldn’t ask a guy who has no interest in sports (that would be me) to write a show with a football metaphor.

Lone Fan: In 1995, Gunther-Wahl Productions began working on a new series entitled G.I. Joe: Extreme, for which you were the story editor. The setting of the series featured a smaller cast of characters fighting the terrorist organization SKAR. How did the series develop and at what stage in its development were you brought in?

Roger Slifer: There were actually two seasons of G.I. Extreme, the first produced by Sunbow and Graz Entertainment and the second by Gunther-Wahl. The first season, I was Sunbow’s supervising producer and worked closely with the people at Hasbro. When Hasbro decided to move the series to Gunther-Wahl for season two, they asked me to come along and be the story editor. My friends at Sunbow didn’t object, so I went along. That series was also one of my easiest negotiations. When I sat down with Lee Gunther, I asked that he pay me what I was being paid to write and story edit Street Fighter, which I was story editing for Invision for USA Networks. He agreed, we shook hands, and he said “I know you and you know me, so let’s get started.” Lee had run Marvel Productions, when Sunbow was working with them, so we already knew one another. The “Extreme” second season production was already behind schedule, so I dug in. Eventually the contract showed up and it was everything to which we had agreed.

When I was brought in on Season One, I believe the series bible had already been done. But Hasbro wasn’t completely happy with how things were developing. Lloyd Goldfine (with whom I later worked with on Yu-Gi-Oh at 4KIDS) and I starting working closely with Hasbro and the producers at Graz to address Hasbro’s concerns and together got things on track. Dan Price and Ben Torres were Hasbro’s point men on that show. Will Meugniot was the Graz producer. And we all had a great time working on the show together. Also, behind the scenes, David Anthony Kraft, an old and very talented friend with whom I had previously worked at Marvel, assisted me with story-editing the series.

I recently ran across a note that Chris Connolly at Hasbro wrote to Carole Weitzman at the completion of the first season. It was very complimentary and praised my involvement in the series. It was appreciated, because, in this business, rarely do people take the time to write a personal note. And, like I said before, it was a great pleasure working with Ben and Dan on the show.

Lone Fan: Previous to G.I. Joe Extreme, Sunbow had created one half-hour animated cartoon called Sgt. Savage and His Screaming Eagles. The special was packaged on a VHS tape that was sold exclusively with the Sgt. Savage toy line that Hasbro produced. It was a follow up to the original G.I. Joe cartoon, and certain fans have speculated that G.I. Joe: Extreme was a sequel to that special since Sgt. Savage was one of the characters featured in Extreme. Do you know if it was ever the intent of Gunther-Wahl for their series to be part of the G.I. Joe cannon that was started Sunbow and continued by DIC?

Roger Slifer: There was definitely a connection between the Sgt. Savage one-shot and G.I. Joe Extreme, but, like I said, Sunbow was the first to carry it over. I wasn’t really involved in the Sgt. Savage one-shot but I remember being handed it as reference. I also believe Ben and Dan from Hasbro were involved in that production as well. As was Lloyd, if memory serves.

Lone Fan: There’s not a lot of information about G.I. Joe: Extreme on the web and so far as I know it has never had a single DVD or VHS release. Would you mind sharing some memories about the show?

Roger Slifer: It was an interesting show to work on. Most people aren’t aware that Bill Sienkiewicz did character design for that show which was later adapted to animation by Will Muengiot. The aim with that show was to make it more “cinematic” than other shows on the air at that time. Ben and Dan at Hasbro were very involved in pushing for that. And Will and his team I think fulfilled that vision. At least in the first season.

Lone Fan: Out of curiosity, as someone who has contributed to Transformers and G.I. Joe over the years, what are your feelings on the live action feature films based upon them?

Roger Slifer: Years ago, when I was in the Marvel Bullpen, one of the artists was critiquing one of the Star Wars films. When he concluded his argument, he paused and said, “But I’m very critical, and they’re (Lucas and Fox) very rich!” Let’s just say I apply that same sentiment to the Joe and Transformers films. I would like to say, though, that I thought the animated G.I. Joe: Resolute was terrific!

I would like to thank Roger Slifer for talking to me and granting this interview, and to all those who took the time to read it and to all those who remember those wonderful days of cartoons gone by. For that, more than anything, we are forever indebted to Mr. Slifer and the quality of his work!

1 comment:

  1. I have known Roger since highschool and am happy to see some of his accomplishments. Praying for his recovery since the accident. Have shared Christ with Roger and hope he has opened his heart to our Savior. Tim R