Ben Ten Returns: Part 1 – An interview with Man-of-Action guys Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle

by Gabrielle Borromeo
(Manila, Philippines)

Published in the Daily Tribune Life
October 12, 2012

Just like all little boys, cartoon character Ben Tennyson, the star of Cartoon Network’s successful TV series Ben Ten, becomes a teenager and leaves his childhood behind.
Now 16, Ben Ten is back for an all-new series, Ben 10: Omniverse, which began airing in the Philippines last Sept. 28. The new episodes premiere every Sunday at 10 a.m. on Cartoon Network.

Six years ago, Ben at 10, acquired a watch-like alien device called the Omnitrix that gave him access to shift into different alien creatures to save the world. From day to day and even up until Ben turned 16, living the life of a normal boy and at the same time fighting against the evil was just his usual routine.

Now that he is older and stronger, Ben will still be saving the world, but without the constant company of Gwen and Kevin anymore. Instead, Rook Blonko, an alien, is a new addition to the slate of characters. Rook will be Ben’s newest partner. Rook, who lacks field experience especially on Earth, is a highly skilled sidekick at Ben’s beck and call.

As for the famous Grandpa Max Tennyson, he will still be playing the important roles in the episodes. Grandpa Max is the all-in-one grandpa, advice giver, Earth-based Plumber unit’s commander and back-up firepower provider against the super villains yet still is one of the toughest Plumber agents around despite his age.

As Ben continues to fight for the better good, he also continues exploring the quirkier side of things, making each episode enjoyable.

New episodes call for new enemies and what a slate of enemies Ben has to contend with now! Khyber the Huntsman, an intergalactic hunter, may finally be Ben’s perfect villain match. He is often seen with his highly-trained alien hunting “dog” who wears a Predatrix responsible for making one who wears it one of the galaxy’s ten deadliest predators!

Aside from Ben growing up, there will be Ben Ten episodes that will showcase never-before-seen adventures of young Ben, young Gwen and Grandpa Max. They will be facing Malware, a wicked Galvanic Mechamorph, who destroys anything he touches. Malware was present in the past and will once again be present in the now — but even more dangerous! Will Ben survive this? Well, with more maturity and power, Ben will find himself trusting his own instincts, relying on his new partner Rook and — hoping for the best!

To know more about Ben Ten and find out what’s new, I had a personal phone-interview with the awesome Man-of-Action guys Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle.

The first few talks began with Joe Kelly.

Gabrielle Borromeo (GB): Hi, Joe! Why do you think Ben Ten is a cartoon that kids, especially boys, enjoy?

Joe Kelly (JK): I think that the reason kids love Ben Ten is primarily the character of Ben. I think that Ben because he is so flawed — he makes mistakes even though he has this incredible power and he has all these great aliens that he can turn into and that plays in the fantasies all kids have. He makes mistakes and he’s not perfect. I mean he screws up and sometimes he even uses his powers for things that aren’t exactly the most honest and honorable motivations you know.

He does things that kids understand so he’s not a super squeaky clean superhero like Superman. So he’s very relatable to kids. Then on top of that, we have all these incredible aliens, all these great villains. So it’s a show that has endless possibilities, which was shown from young Ben to 15-year-old Ben to even showing Ben Ten Thousand to even all the different alienations of Ben.

GB: Now Ben Ten is 16 years old. Is he going to get any older or will this be the last age he will be in the show?

JK, laughing: I think that part of what makes Ben fun is that we have jumped around. We’ve seen him pose as a 10-year-old and as a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old, and so I think we’ll keep various incarnations with Ben throughout the series. But one of the cool things about Ben Ten Omniverse is that we get to see classic Ben and older Ben throughout the series, which we are very excited about — I can’t say how, but we get to see them both.

Steve Seagle arrives to answer some of the questions himself.

GB: Hi Steve, I have a 12-year-old brother. He’s the one who watches Ben Ten a lot and he asked me why are they (some of the characters in Ben Ten) are called plumbers? What’s the connection to the series?

Laughing as well, Steve Seagle (SS) replies: We thought of plumbers a very long time ago; we liked very much the idea that your pipes are behind your walls, they’re hidden, but they are always there doing important things. And when you have a plug in your pipe, you have to get to the bottom of it. So they’re kind of like mystery solvers, these plumbers. So we thought it’s funny that the most important men in the country, in the universe actually, have this very common name and a common job, but a very important job. That without it the whole system would come to a stop.

Ben Ten Returns: Part 2 – An interview with Man-of-Action guys Joe Kelly and Steve Seagle

by Gabrielle Borromeo
(Manila, Philippines)

GB: Okay, so going back, how does Ben the character in the series mature or change now that he’s 16 years old?

JK: He’s gotten more responsibility as he’s gotten older. And you know he’s becoming in charge of the plumbers and the sort of taking the mantle’s from grandpa and becoming an agent himself. So even if he knows he’s gotten more responsibilities he’s still the same Ben and especially when you see him in Omniverse, his world has gotten very alien heavy and very big. But he’s still a kid trying to figure things out so what we’re going to see is definitely a new sense of fun and bounciness in the series as Ben tries to deal with these new challenges.

GB: Ten years from now, do you think Ben Ten will still be the cartoon children would watch?

SS: You know, what’s interesting is it’s already been on for several years. And in America, we’ve met kids that watched it when they we’re very young, when it was first shown. Now they’re teenagers and they come back to us and tell us they’re still watching it now. So I think it’s the kind of show that can bring kids with it even as they become teenagers and we also have a lot of adults too.

GB: What are your ideas and thoughts—your future plans—for the series? What else is going to happen?

JK: In Omniverse there are a lot of aliens that have come to live; it’s sort of like a safe haven for aliens on earth. And Ben is stuck in the middle of that hometown and taking on his job as a plumber. But he’s sort of on his own in Omniverse and has to deal with the challenges of living day to day with all these crazy alien neighbors and problems of the universe dropping on his doorstep. I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but there have been some previews of some of the new characters. There’s a bunch of new characters for the show including his sidekick who starts to work with Ben called Rook. He’s very, very cool.

GB: Is he the same age as Ben?

JK: Well, he’s an alien sidekick so he’s age is indeterminate.

GB: So aside from the good-versus-evil theme, what set of values did the series purposely focus on to make it a wholesome kind of entertainment for kids?

SS: The Man-of-Action guys believe in a couple of things for all the kids show that we work on. One of them is identification, like we like very much that a kid looks at the show and they see part of themselves in our characters; and then the other one is transformation which is the idea that whatever you are now however powerful you feel there’s a way for you to transform and be something more powerful; a bigger better you in a lot of ways. And sometimes it takes the literal form of super powers but we also see in characters like Gwen who’s very smart so the powers don’t always have to be supers. Sometimes the powers are just things that people have.

JK: Yeah, we definitely want kids to look up to our characters and not just have a great time and go on a good adventure, but by the end of it feel good about themselves as well. So what they see in themselves, hopefully they see in the characters.

GB: Why aliens, why not other super creatures?

SS: When we actually first created Ben Ten, the first version that we did for Cartoon Network had super heroes from other dimensions and just overtime the ideas of monsters just seemed more fun and then we changed that to alien beings because of the mythology with the plumbers and the galaxy spanning adventure of it all. It all seemed like a lot of fun, we still could have the super power aspect to the idea of alien beings so I think that’s why it changed the way it did.

GB: Now that he’s growing up will Ben be facing the usual teenage issues? Will Cartoon Network give advice through cartoons like what a child should do when a child’s in-love or heartbroken and the alike as Ben might probably go through those teenage issues?

JK: Right, right, it’s funny there are certain subjects that you know we feel that are appropriate to go into in a kids’ show and some subjects that we want to stay away from. In general we really want Ben to be fun and an aspiration and a character that kids wanna be. So the kinda lessons that sort of Ben learns or experiences—they’re more general kind of life lessons about how to deal with responsibilities, and how to work with people and how to work with others and things like that. They may not be specific like puberty issues or falling in love. But we have an incredible writing team. They came up with incredible ideas for stories and that’s something that fans do wanna see. They wanna see if Ben is gonna be a little bit older, how is he gonna deal with some of the problems of being a teenager? So I think there will be some of that stuff sprinkled in. And also since again Omniverse has this wonderful dimension that we get to see classic ten year old Ben as well as teenage Ben — there’s a lot of possibilities for stories and exchange of ideas sort of between generations.

GB: Oh cool! Anyway, for my next question: why and how is Gwen related to aliens?

After another hearty laugh, Joe Kelly says: That is going into a deeper kind of context, but basically there is alien DNA that was introduced into her family line so that’s how she has her alien powers. And that has to do with you know, the long history of the plumbers and who they deal with and how they’ve dealt with aliens throughout history. So alien DNA is how basically she has her powers.

GB: What can fans look forward to in the show?

JK: Well we’re gonna have a ton of new aliens, there’s a whole new whoop to the show that’s very high energy a lot of fun and there’s a lot of comedy. You know some of the criticisms in Ben Ten and its alien force got a little bit dark and Cartoon Network has certainly heard that. And we all want it to be fun, you know we love Ben and we love high adventure. So I think you’ll see a lot of comedy, but still you’ll see a wide variety of new aliens and new villains. So also, the show certainly to me has the feel of excitement and the “what’s going to happen next?” and being sort of amazed with every episode that there’s a new hidden world that you knew nothing about. So Omniverse, you know it’s a pretty big title and there’s lot of big things happening so I think fans are going to be very, very, pleased with this new show.

GB: Ben Ten is still using the Omnitrix, is there an age where he has to stop using it?

JK: We’ve seen future episodes with Ben — Ben Ten Thousand — as we like to call him as an adult, and where he still has an Omnitrix or an Ultimatrix so I think that Ben will have that for as long as they’ll let us make cartoons.

GB: Oh okay that’s cool! Since Ben Tennyson is already a 16-year-old in this new series, would you say that the show is now skewed toward teenagers as well?

JK: You know, like Steve said before, Ben has been on for many years. So we’ve had fans throughout the entire series, some kids who started watching when they were younger now are teenagers and they still watch the show which is wonderful. But the feel of the show also is meant to get new viewers as well. Like I said before, you’re gonna get to see in Omniverse classic Ben, as well as older Ben — you get to see both. It’s really exciting for Ben Ten fans old and new.
GB: So why is Gwen not going to be part of the main cast anymore?

JK: Gwen and Kevin are temporarily gone, but they are certainly gonna be showing up in the series. I think the idea is to focus a little bit again on Ben. Get the footing back on our main character, even though we love Gwen and we love Kevin. But they’re not very far away, they’re gonna be back. Some people say they think they’re not going to be in the show at all but that’s definitely not the case.

GB: So for my last question, one day will Ben Ten become an upcoming blockbuster movie that people will be awaiting like The Avengers, The Amazing Spiderman and the like?

SS: Well, we certainly hope so. We would love to see Ben Ten hit the big screen and bring a live action version. You know, in the past we had to do a live action TV special, but we would absolutely love to see it as a film. So we’re hoping that that is going to happen.

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