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John Semper, Jr.
John Semper Jr.jpg
Born John Semper, Jr.
August 14
Positions Writer
Story Editor

John Semper, Jr. (born August 14), often credited as simply John Semper, is a writer, producer, and story editor. He wrote every episode of Spider-Man, except for five, as well as "Mind Over Anti-Matter" and "Fashion Warriors" of The Incredible Hulk. He also did some early work on a proposed, but unproduced, series called The Black Widow.

He has worked for production companies such as Hanna-Barbera Productions, Marvel Productions, NBC Productions, PorchLight Entertainment, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Bros. Animation. He worked with high profile names such as Jim Henson, George Lucas, Stan Lee, and Rob Minkoff.


Early life

John Semper was born on August 14.

He graduated from the Roxbury Latin School in 1970. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Visual and Environmental Studies, and earned a Bachelor's Degree in 1975.

During his time as a student, Semper worked on a summer apprenticeship in New York with award-winning documentarians Albert and David Maysles on their famous documentary Gimme Shelter.

Semper taught filmmaking and film history at the New England School of Art and Design before moving to Los Angeles.

Pre-Marvel Career

Early in his career, Semper directed a short film that combined live action and animation for Walter Lantz Productions and Universal Pictures. The film, Walter, Woody and the World of Animation, was about animation icon Walter Lantz. The film played for one year in a special segment on the Universal Studios Studio Tour. Lantz donated a copy of the film to the Smithsonian Institution.

Semper had a long list of series he worked on during his time at Hanna-Barbera. Series include The Smurfs, The Biskitts, The All-New Scooby and Scrappy-Doo Show, The Biskitts, Pink Panther and Sons, Snorks, The Funtastic World of Hanna–Barbera, and The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. He also worked on the 1985 revival of The Jetsons and the animated version of The Little Rascals.

He helped to write the animated series Kissyfur, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and Shirt Tales. While at Ruby-Spears Productions he worked on Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Semper did an editing apprenticeship on the 1983 film D. C. Cab.

In 1986 Semper worked on the animated series My Little Pony and MoonDreamers.

While working with Disney Semper worked on the series DuckTales. He also worked on the American/Japanese cartoon Bionic Six.

Semper worked on the series Fraggle Rock working with Muppet creator Jim Henson.

He worked on the animated series Kid 'n Play, featuring the hip-hop duo of the same name. In a departure from animation, he helped to write the 1992 film Class Act which again featured Kid 'n Play. The movie is about a man trying to get into Harvard, Semper's school.

He also worked on the live action series Catwalk.

He worked on the PBS series The Puzzle Place, which used puppets rather than live actors or animation. This was the series he was working on when he began on Spider-Man.

Marvel Animated Universe

Semper's series proposal

In 1992, Semper and Lee began developing a series called The Black Widow. They created a series Bible that was submitted on October 5th, 1992.[1] Whatever the reason, the series was not picked up.

In 1994, Semper began working in the Marvel Animated Universe with Spider-Man. He worked on every episode except for "The Hobgoblin, Part Two", "The Spot", "The Return of Kraven", "The Return of the Green Goblin", and "The Gauntlet of the Red Skull". When The Incredible Hulk was reorganized for its second season, Semper worked on "Mind Over Anti-Matter" and "Fashion Warriors".

As he describes, the story editor is "literally the person running the show." Since everything begins with the script everything would have to pass through his hands. He would often rewrite everyone else's work sometimes having to rewrite on the spot. He would attend recording sessions and give notes on the performances and line readings.

Semper describes that it was an enormous deal to be making a Spider-Man series at the time. At the time Marvel Comics was facing financial problems and in threat of going bankrupt, which they eventually did. The series was seen as a way to halt the problems the company was having. Avi Arad was heading up the newly started Marvel Films Animation to bring the characters to life. Their idea was to make every single Marvel character. Arad especially needed the success with his newly started company Toy Biz since all his money was riding on exclusively making Marvel toys. Also compounding was that Fox Kids was the number one network for children at the time.

Spider-Man was Arad's first venture into television and he desperately wanted to get it right. The studio originally wanted Martin Pasko who was a story editor on Batman: The Animated Series, but when the negotiations were not going well Semper was called by Stan Lee himself who Semper had worked with before. Unfortunately, several days later he got a call saying that the deal with the Pasko was finalized and they didn't need him. However, after several months Lee called him back saying that the Pasko was going to be fired. Semper was brought in and began work immediately. Upon entering the team he found that no writing had been done and the production was in total shambles.[2]

He rewatched many episodes of Spider-Man, which he thought at the original time of airing was neat at the time, before beginning. He knew of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends but knew that it was not the kind of series he wanted to make. He also watched a few episodes of the live action series The Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man. Interestingly, he based Peter's costume on Nicholas Hammond's outfit and included a giant robot as a reference to the Japanese series.

Arad had always intended the series to be "one big toy commercial," causing Semper to have to fight against certain decisions. At one point he was almost fired, but he and Arad found common ground when the toy maker realized that a great show would sell toys better than anything else. Although since then they had few arguments, Arad still considered the show a commercial. At times Arad would call asking that a certain character be used to accommodate a toy, but they managed to work it out. Arad was dead set against Madame Web because he did not feel he could make a toy out of her. But Semper wanted her for the big final story arc and the toy was made anyways. He considers the Madame Web toy one of his most prized possessions.

The toy line did make Semper have to change the character of Hobgoblin and Green Goblin. In the comics Green Goblin came first. However, Semper's predecessor changed the order before he left and was the only decision that lasted. Because of that, Arad began a large line of Hobgoblin toys and pressured Semper into using the character first. Semper rectified the situation by having Norman Osborn create the weapons as he did in the comics. However, he feels that "The Hobgoblin, Part One" and "The Hobgoblin, Part Two" were just a waste of time designed to sell toys. He did not believe that Hobgoblin was a boring character to write and did not get excited at all to use him, but did enjoy working with Mark Hamill.

Semper with Scorpion actor Martin Landau

His use of guest stars was described as being a kid in a candy store. He liked being able to bring obscure characters like Madame Web to life. Doctor Strange and Blade were two of his favorite characters at the time. He liked Blade because he was black like him and was the character's first appearance outside the comics. Though he did use the X-Men as a stunt for ratings. He never made any episodes as a pilot for another series. However, Arad and Matt Edelman were always taking scripts and outlines off his desk for pitches for series and made-for-television movies. He feels there may not have been a Blade film had he not brought the character to the attention of Arad.

When writing stories, Semper took the viewpoint of Peter Parker and felt that Spider-Man was more of a supplement to his alternate identity. He considered Spider-Man just another component in Peter's life.[3]

Deadlines for the series was usually pretty tight. As such, Semper never attempted a holiday-themed episode as those add additional pressure to get them out on time. He claimed that he teased an idea of a holiday episode involving a terminally ill girl named Taina, but the holiday idea was dropped and the idea became "Make a Wish" and "Attack of the Octobot".

When working with Scott Cleverdon, the voice of Carnage, Semper learned that he was the husband of Assumpta Serna whom Semper was a big fan of.

Semper had to deal with the censorship backlash of due to the violence on Batman and Power Rangers. But he never had to omit a character for censorship. Venom and Carnage were the most extreme and they were still used. They also substituted certain words for others, such as using destroy instead of kill. They also invented the inter-dimensional portals as a metaphor for death.

When he went to conventions he would read the censorship notes. His two favorites were "Caution that when Spider-Man lands on the roof, he doesn't harm any pigeons," and "You may have a villain sent to jail, but you may NOT give him a bus ticket and send him to Florida."

Originally Semper was not allowed to use Sandman or Electro in the series because of a Spider-Man film being made by James Cameron. But when the film fell through he did use Electro, though Sandman remains the only major Spider-Man villain that was unused. They also did not allow Semper to start the series with the character's origin because of the film. However, this was not a problem since he did not want to start off that way as so many knew his backstory anyways.

Semper also wrote a story involving Spider-Man and Ghost Rider. However, the character was going to have a series on UPN and Fox did not want to promote another network's character. At the time Arad was provoking Fox, which ultimately led to the series being cancelled.

Semper used Kingpin quite often in the series because the character was a major nemesis in the 60s. It was only recently that he had become a Daredevil villain, which Semper did not like.

Generally, no one at Marvel bothered him over the series. They were more focused on Marvel's problems and keeping their jobs. That is why he was able to adapt the Clone Saga from the comics, which was highly criticized, without much trouble. Stan Lee also had little to do with the creativity of the series.

Semper was expressly forbidden from doing season long storyarcs, but did it anyways and almost got fired for it. In hindsight, he would still do it. He believes the storyarc makes the show more epic and gives it somewhere to go. He liked being able to drop hints early on that wouldn't pay off until later episodes. He dislikes some series, such as Alias, where the storyarcs are made up as they go. He feels these are more like soap operas and it strings the audience along. He enjoys shows like his and Lost where the endings are already thought out. He believes that viewers respect these kind of series because it forces them to pay attention. However, he wanted to do so as that was what was being done in comics. He said that he did the Neogenic Nightmare when no one was looking and when people realized what was going on it was too late to stop him. He is proud of the fact that he made enemies over it.

He views the Neogenic Nightmare to be some of his favorite episodes. He also loved the Daredevil episodes, Secret Wars, and Spider Wars episodes. He feels that the Six Forgotten Warriors saga was his magnum opus tribute to Marvel/Timely Comics and his version of Watchmen.

One thing he was not happy with the series was the animation. He felt it was choppy, sloppy, and mistake-ridden. He blamed Bob Richardson for the major continuity error in "The Price of Heroism". He said that upon seeing it he cried out in agony at the idiocy of it all.

He got an Annie Award nomination for the episode "Day of the Chameleon" for Best Individual Achievement for Writing in the Field of Animation. The series won a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Animated/Live Action/Dramatic Youth or Children's Series/Special.

He ended the series the way he did so as to say that the character had moved beyond his creators and was something more. He wanted to give the sense of a conclusion but also leave it open for more. However, he does feel that there was not much he could do after saving all of existence. The show was ultimately cancelled, even though it was the number one rated hit, was because Margaret Loesch, head of Fox Kids, wanted to put Arad and Marvel Films Animation out of business. It did work and the company was shut down. However, the show was still cancelled because of a personal vendetta.

He had come up with ideas for a six season of the series. They would include Spider-Man going back to colonial England to find Mary Jane Watson. Unfortunately Carnage would also be there posing as Jack the Ripper. However, he felt that having Spider-Man saving all of existence was a good finale and anything after would have been anti-climatic.

He still considers Spider-Man to be the best series based on the character. He thought that Spider-Man Unlimited was garbage with bad designs, bad stories, and poorly conceived. He felt that Spider-Man Unlimited was what would have happened to his series if he wasn't there and Arad had had his way. Semper believed that Arad only wanted story editors who would do what he wanted. He called the series the worst Spider-Man series ever. He felt that Spider-Man: The New Animated Series was exciting to look at but weakly written. He doesn't feel that any series has been as successful as his, indeed his is the longest running Spider-Man series and the second longest Marvel series.

During his time he worked with Knowledge Adventure on Spider-Man Cartoon Maker and its sequel X-Men Cartoon Maker. Both were based on Spider-Man and X-Men respectively.

Currently, he wishes that the entire series was released in order on DVD rather than the occasional releases of a few episodes there are now. He hopes that they will someday be released in their uncut version, such as restoring the World Trade Center reference, as well as including the various behind-the-scenes materials he still keeps such as recordings of the voice acting, production meetings, and various art. Though he does appreciate that the entire series is offered through online streaming services like Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix and still airs on Disney XD.

Semper did save all of the show's storyboards and stored them in his garage. When he found out about the "Spider-Man: The Animated Series is Awesome!!" fan page on Facebook, he scanned and uploaded the images in the message boards. He still posts production art and answers questions about the show.

After Marvel

While finishing up Spider-Man Semper began working on the series Extreme Ghostbusters and Rescue Heroes.

He went to work for Stan Lee Media, started by Stan Lee, on the online series The Accuser.

He worked on The Hercules Interactive Storybook for Disney Interactive Studios. He also worked with software companies Brøderbund and LucasArts.

He worked with acclaimed Japanese animation filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki in developing the English translations for the 1986 Castle in the Sky and 1989 Kiki's Delivery Service, each released in the United States in 1998 and 1997 respectively.

He wrote for the series Clifford the Big Red Dog. The series featured the voices of Grey DeLisle, Cree Summer, Frank Welker, Earl Boen, and Kevin Michael Richardson.

Semper worked on the DC Animated Universe series Static Shock. In 2004, he won a Daytime Emmy Award for his work on the series. He wanted to do a storyarc like he did on Spider-Man, but networks wouldn't allow them anymore.

He worked on several books based on scripts of the pre-school series Jay Jay the Jet Plane. The series stared Mary Kay Bergman, who voiced Gwen Stacy, before she committed suicide. He also works on various episodes of the series.

Semper was a special guest lecturer at the Austin Film Festival for a multiple writers' panels at the Heart of Film Screenwriting Conference. Also on the panel was Academy Award winning Callie Khouri of Thelma & Louise fame and Shane Black of the Lethal Weapon series.

In 2005, he released a book titled The Singular Affair of the Missing Ball: A Sherlock Whippet Mystery.

Semper worked on an online series titled Crypt of Creeporia. The series is a blend of live-action and animation that also combines horror and humor. He describes it as The Addams Family meets The Soupy Sales Show.

He worked personally with George Lucas while developing projects for the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Most recently, Semper wrote the DC Comics series Cyborg as part of Rebirth. He said of the project, "I plan to create all kinds of exciting new adventures for this character, and I want to thank DC Co-Publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee, and Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns for having faith in me to make this title great! You can catch a glimpse of Cyborg's origin in the new Batman v Superman movie. Cyborg will also be in the upcoming big-budget Justice League. movie. And Cyborg is slated to have his own feature film released in 2020."

He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, The Animation Guild, Motion Picture Editors Guild, and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

He currently lives in Toluca Lake, CA.


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