The following is an interview with Kevin Burke and Chris “Doc” Wyatt, the creators behind the Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters animated series on Netflix, as well as the IDW Publishing comic book series of the same name. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Burke and Wyatt about the genesis for the Stretch Armstrong animated series, their creative process in writing for both the animated series and the comic, what’s in store for the future, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent release of your Netflix animated series, Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters! For our readers who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about the premise of the show and its derivation from the 1970s Hasbro Studios action figures?
Kevin Burke: “Stretch Armstrong,” as a toy, has been around since the 1970s. He was a shirtless wrestler whose gimmick was his ability to be stretched to insane lengths and then always return to his original form. And even though there were other characters in the line, such as “Stretch Monster,” there wasn’t really a mythology or a world to Stretch Armstrong. Remember, this is before Star Wars or Transformers or 1980’s G.I. Joe, when toys really came with a developed backstory and world for kids to imagine being a part of.
When Doc and I got a call from Hasbro asking us to pitch on the character of “Stretch Armstrong,” we realized that this lack of a mythology was actually an opportunity to create a whole new world from the ground up, which is something television writers rarely get a chance to do. So, we decided to pitch the show that we’d be dying to see on TV. At the time, we were writing Avengers Assemble for Marvel, and one of the interesting and challenging things about that show is the fact that all of the Avengers are adults and are confident in what they are doing. We wanted to do a show about unlikely heroes, who, like our audience, are finding themselves in strange and sometimes extraordinary situations that they aren’t sure how to deal with. We wanted to get to the core of why kids (and adults) are always drawn to superheroes – wish fulfillment; this idea that if you had great powers, you could solve all the problems in your life. We also wanted to firmly place this in high school and deal with the personal lives of these characters. So, we went in with the idea of these three friends, each who has problems/stresses in their lives, and how getting powers was, despite the problems it creates, exactly what they each needed to escape the pressures of their lives. And both Hasbro and Netflix flipped for it! The enthusiasm was huge, and the process of bringing this show together has been insanely enjoyable.
BD: How would you describe your creative experience in adapting these characters from the Hasbro toy line, as well as working with the cast and crew of the series?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: Actually, on this show, it went the other way around! We had the extremely good fortune of being allowed to create the show and the characters first, then have the toy team adapt them as products. They did an amazing job. Walking into Walmart (The “Flex Fighter” figures are Walmart exclusives.) and seeing Stretch, Wingspan, Omni-Mass, Blindstrike, Stretch Monster, and Quick Charge on the shelves for the first time was an amazing experience. The team found a very cool way to use the “stretching” play pattern of the original toy, but boil it down to a small, affordable action figure format. As a toy fan, I’d love these figures even if I had nothing to do with the show!
Kevin Burke: Seriously, since the show is made by Hasbro Studios and inspired by an old toy, people assume the new toy line was developed, and then later the show was created. But no, the studio let us completely design the show for story and content, and then the toys followed us. We’ve done shows in the past where toy companies have asked us to place products within the episodes. Ironically, the show that’s inspired by an actual toy is the one that gave us the complete creative freedom to do what we wanted. And this is really the best way to do it. We firmly believe that if a kid (or adult) is drawn to a story and a character first, then they will want the toys. Take Harry Potter, for instance. If the toy came first – a boy in glasses with a robe called “Wizard Student” – and someone tried to chase it with a story after the fact, that would have tanked. But I think Harry Potter merchandise has done pretty well.
BD: Are you able to share any details with us about plans for Season 2 of the series?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: I don’t think we’re allowed to talk about that yet, but we can talk about the INTERACTIVE SPECIAL that’s premiering on Netflix in March. Using new technology exclusive to Netflix, it’s a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type of branching narrative story, where viewers reach choice points and then pick which way they want the characters to go. We’re very excited about it.
Kevin Burke: The viewer actually gets to “write” the story while watching it. There are so many options and various endings that I can’t wait to spend a weekend playing it myself. As for anything after that, we can’t officially say – but know this, the best is yet to come!
BD: As creators, it is a rare experience to be a part of the development process for the same property in both an animated series and its comic book counterpart. What can you share with us about having the opportunity to adapt Stretch Armstrong to the sequential art medium with IDW Publishing?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: Hasbro and IDW have a long partnership—Transformers comics, GI Joe, My Little Pony. Even MASK and ROM: Space Knight. They’ve done tons of stuff together. So, the word came in that IDW wanted to do a Stretch comic, and we were asked if we wanted to write it… Of course we did!!! Our editor, Joe Hughes, asked us to write out a one-page pitch of what stories we’d want to do with the book, and about a week later we got approved. The comic isn’t an adaptation of the show; it’s filled with brand new stories that interweave within the existing episodes.
Kevin Burke: We are so thrilled to be able to write the animated series and the comic book; that Hasbro has given us the creative control to build and expand this world into multiple mediums. This isn’t a situation of having a number of different outlets telling conflicted stories, like some franchises. Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is a singular story guided by the same group of people. So, if you watch the show, play the interactive episode, or read the comic, you’re immersing yourself into this singular story about three unlikely superheroes.
BD: How many issues or story arcs do you have planned for the series?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: There are going to be six issues total, two story arcs of three issues each. The three-issue stories are going to be collected as individual trade editions, too.
Kevin Burke: A lot of ideas we pitch in the writers’ room, some of our favorite ideas, end up having no space in a half-hour cartoon, so we’ve saved some of the best stuff for the comic book. It really is a chance to expand the show’s story, to go deeper than we sometimes can on TV.
BD: Are there any other projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: Marvel Animation’s Cort Lane just announced that Marvel’s Spider-Man Season Two has been greenlit, and we’re serving as Supervising Producers, Story Editors, and writers for the season. Part of the season adapts the awesome Superior Spider-Man storyline from Dan Slott’s run of Spidey comics, which was both very popular and also very controversial. We’re proud to be a part of that!
Kevin Burke: Yes, Season 2 of Marvel’s Spider-Man is going to go some places that no Spidey show has ever gone, as well as will refocus some classic Spider-Man elements that we haven’t seen in a while. We can’t wait for long-time fans and new viewers to check it out! And on top of Stretch and Spidey, there are a few things cooking that we can’t talk about – but really want to! Remember, because of how long it takes to produce an animated show, we write things about two years before they’re released. So, while we can’t give out details, we happen to know what your late 2018 and 2019 looks like – and it LOOKS AWESOME.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell fans who want to learn more about Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters and your other work?
Chris “Doc” Wyatt: The main thing I’d want to tell fans is to follow the work of Victor Cook (our fellow Stretch Executive Producer and Supervising Director), but I probably don’t have to tell fans about Vic, because I’m sure they already follow him due to his work on Spectacular Spider-Man and Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated. He’s the guy who puts the flex into the Flex Fighters.
Kevin Burke: I just want to say thanks to all of the people who have been fans of ours and have supported our shows, and especially the fans who are discovering and loving Stretch. This show is a rare chance to get involved with a brand-new superhero universe from the ground up, and we know for all the viewers out there that it’s going to be a fun ride! So, hold on!