INTERVIEW WITH TAD STONES – Darkwing Duck


Tad Stones, the creator of Darkwing Duck, took some time to answer some questions about his show. If you want to learn more, check out my review of Ducktales and the subsequent interview with Mr. Stones about the one cartoon that started it all.

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TMB: So it’s pretty much known that Darkwing Duck is a non-direct spin-off of Ducktales – specifically, the “Double-O-Duck” episode. Can we get a little rundown why the secret spy angle was replaced with the superhero angle?

TS: Simple, Jeffrey Katzenberg hated my spy take. Of course, I hated it too. He felt “Double-O Duck” was a super marketable name in search of a great show so he made me attack it again. So I went Doc Savage (the team), the Shadow/Green Hornet with it but still had the spy connection. Once Gosalyn was added we had a show with heart and personality at the center of it so when we found out we couldn’t use the name, it didn’t matter. The show stood on its own.

TMB: Darkwing Duck is a pretty great character, and Jim Cumming nails the voice. What’s interesting is how over the course of the season, he and the character starts to add more nuances and vocal tics – sarcastic impersonations, trailing off when flustered, hilarious stammering, and so on. Did Cummings himself add that to the mix? Was it tricky to animate around? It’s not something seen extensively in other Disney Afternoon cartoons.

TS: It was the partnership of Jim Cummings and Ginny McSwain, our voice director. Jim would explore different reactions while Ginny pinpointed the things that sounded unique and played them back to him. Then she’d remind him to use a certain reaction in another show. The two of them built a sonic vocabulary for Darkwing which help make him distinct. Ginny never got any publicity support or fans would really appreciate all the great work she did. She did most of the casting for the show.

TMB: Similarly, Darkwing Duck is particularly more slapstick and “wackier” than the other cartoons in Disney Afternoon. Was there a particular reason for this direction? Did it help to allow for episodes like “Darkwing Dabloon” and “Comic Book Capers,” where the episode is a bit different tone-wise, or blatantly self-aware?

TS: It was something I wanted to do but I had to sell it. The Disney tradition, pre-Genie, was all about sincerity and the audience losing themselves in the story. I remember a major discussion about whether Darkwing should ever address the camera. I love playing with the form of storytelling for any medium. “Comic Book Capers” excelled at that. I wish we had more experiments and less straight storytelling episodes. Back then we had very little oversight after the first three or four scripts except for an executive assigned to the show. I performed that role on DuckTales. For Darkwing we were lucky to get Greg Weisman who had edited at DC comics so was well versed in comic tropes. Greg also has a great sense of humor although fans connect him more with drama and overarching story lines because of Gargoyles and his adventure shows. One last thing that helped was the premiere of Tiny Toons while Darkwing was in mid-production. Sometimes, when the competition has a hit, our own execs might dissect it to see if anything can be applied to our shows… rarely with good results. With Darkwing we were already well down that road so we weren’t sent off course. So it’s not that we took anything from TT, it’s that we weren’t pushed to change the course we were on.

TMB: Gosalyn Mallard is a really fun character. What was your approach to her, and her relationship/connection to Darkwing? I particularly enjoy how much she becomes like him over the course of the show.

TS: I’m not sure I see that sort of change. They both started with huge egos but Darkwing has a huge streak of vanity running through him. Gosalyn is more an action junkie/ thrill seeker. As I mentioned before, we didn’t really have a show until Gosalyn. Just doing a goofy Batman wouldn’t have much substance but having the friction of a father and daughter at the core makes for great conflict, emotion and fresh gags. It’s like an overprotective Batman who doesn’t want a Robin but the kid refuses to stay at home.

TMB: Can you give a bit of some insight into NegaDuck? It was a bit odd to see NegaDuck as a “negatron” version of Darkwing Duck, then to suddenly make him his own, separate character.

TS: My philosophy was to go where the entertainment was. Once we saw how entertaining the Negatron version of Negaduck was, I wasn’t going to leave him on the sidelines. And I wanted him to face Darkwing not a limp Posiduck. So I told my story editors to do more stories with him and not to refer to that original story. The Negaverse didn’t come along until later.

TMB: Who was the most difficult villain to write for? Who was the most fun? In fact, a brief rundown on how villains like Megavolt, Quackerjack, Bushroot, Liquidator, Tuskernini, and Splatter Phoenix were created would be amazing.

TS: Tuskernini was the hardest because he just wasn’t that interesting. The best thing that came out of his first story was the idea of Darkwing always changing his “I am the blank that blanks your blank!” Originally DW was just going to say the same one over and over like the Shadow’s radio introduction. Different editors and writers took to certain villains. Google their names to see the various series they went onto later. Doug Langdale was the best at Megavolt. Duane Capezzi took a liking to Liquidator. I loved Bushroot because he was more misunderstood than evil which was interesting. Carter Crocker wrote the best Splatter Phoenix stuff.

TMB: Kind of a silly question, but is there any connection, metaphoric or otherwise, between Steelbeak and Tiny Toon’s Fowlmouth?

TS: Since I’m unfamiliar with Fowlmouth I’m going to say, “No.” Steelbeak was created around a voice that I heard Rob Paulsen doing while kidding around. That’s the fun of working with the actors we had.

TMB: Where and how did the development of Morgana come from? Was it simply, “Let’s give Darkwing Duck a girlfriend!”? Or was it a suggestion from above to have a strong female character in the mix? (That’s what happened with Rocko’s Modern Life, apparently).

TS: There were no suggestions from above. [Morgana] might have come from me. I’m pretty sure I named her. It was mostly about trying to do different things with different villains. We didn’t have a magical character and I loved the Addams Family. The romance came as the story developed.

TMB: Continuity and consistency was never a real concern with Darkwing Duck, which is perfectly fine. But, if given the chance to do it all again, would you go for more continuous plots and detail more concrete elements like DW’s origin and job as Drake Mallard?

TS: Continuity was not only a real concern, I specifically wrote against it. That’s why DW has around six origin stories in the series. Darkwing Duck was based on the Silver Age comics that I grew up with and the general status of most comic strips where characters and relationships don’t change. Darkwing was a COMEDY show first and foremost. Why on earth would I want to spend screen time with Darkwing doing some ordinary job? He’s a SUPERHERO, we want to see him do superhero things. That’s why it’s funny when Gosalyn messes things up by inserting herself in his adventures. Should we spend time with Gosalyn in school? I am content to let fans write stories where they try to connect the threads and create their own stories. If I were doing the show today I would try to make the action bigger and staged more dramatically and the comedy a little more off the wall. More “That Sinking Feeling” where Darkwing and the gang are suddenly dressed in baseball uniforms and get Moliarity in a pickle. More “Comic Book Capers” and “Hot Spells.”

TMB: Favorite episode? Least favorite?

TS: It’s been too long since I’ve watched many episodes. Favorites change along the way from script, to board to finish. I love almost all the episodes animated by the Disney Australia Studio because they got the spirit of the show and got the most out of the gags. When I watch episodes now I want to edit five minutes out of them because modern pacing is faster. But I think I had more favorites than stinkers.

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