Benjamin Svetkey
April 08, 2011 AT 04:00 AM EDT

During the final days of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s term as governor of California, as he packed up the personal mementos decorating his Sacramento offices — such as the Conan the Barbarian sword he kept in a case in his conference room and would occasionally brandish during budget negotiations — one big question hung in the air, besides how to fix the state’s $25 billion deficit. What would he do next? There were plenty of rumors. One claimed that Schwarzenegger might be appointed senior energy and climate adviser to President Obama, or maybe even energy secretary. Another asserted that he was being considered for Jack Valenti’s old job as chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America. And, of course, yet another speculated that the guy who once made $30 million a picture might return to acting in more substantial roles than his cameo last summer in Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables. Before he left office in January, the governor himself was sounding about as unsure of the future as his old Terminator pal Sarah Connor. ”Will I still have the patience to sit on a set and do a movie for three or six months, all of those things?” Schwarzenegger, 63, said in a tweetcast back in October. ”I don’t know.”

Today, EW can exclusively report that Arnold Schwarzenegger has finally figured out what’s next for Arnold Schwarzenegger. The man who was recently in charge of the world’s eighth-largest economy will be turning himself into a cartoon character. And not just any cartoon character, but the Governator, a sunglasses-wearing superhero with an Austrian accent who’ll be at the center of an ambitious, kid-friendly multimedia comic-book and animated TV series codeveloped by no less a hero maker than Stan Lee. ”The Governator is going to be a great superhero, but he’ll also be Arnold Schwarzenegger,” the 88-year-old co-creator of Spider-Man explains. ”We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting control center under his house in Brentwood.”

The cartoon won’t be arriving on TV until the end of 2012 (channel to be determined), and the comic book, which will be published by Archie in that brand’s first attempt in decades to get in on the superhero game, is also months away (although a prototype will likely be ready to distribute at Comic-Con in San Diego this summer, and a separate online edition is also in the works). EW, however, got an early look at The Governator‘s ”bible,” a 46-page illustrated prospectus — more of a manifesto, really — outlining virtually every aspect of the new endeavor, with details on everything from the Governator’s weapons to his sidekicks. We also got to sit down with the guy who’ll be lending his voice to the series, the actual, un-animated Arnold Schwarzenegger, for his first interview since leaving office.

”When I ran for governor back in 2003 and I started hearing people talking about ‘the Governator,’ I thought the word was so cool,” Schwarzenegger says, leisurely lighting a cigar in his private-citizen offices in Santa Monica on a sunny March afternoon. The space isn’t quite as historic as his old digs in the California State Capitol, but it does have a certain House of Wax-like charm. There’s a life-size replica of Mr. Freeze from Batman & Robin, as well as a copy of Arnold’s killer cyborg from the Terminator movies (also, oddly, especially for a Republican, an enormous stone bust of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, but more on that in the Q&A). ”The word Governator combined two worlds: the world of politics and the movie world,” Schwarzenegger goes on between puffs. ”And [the cartoon] brings everything together. It combines the governor, the Terminator, the bodybuilding world, the True Lies…. Also, I love the idea of a control center below my house with a path so that boats and submarines can go right into the ocean. In the cartoon, my house is much closer to the beach than where we live, but, you know, it’s a cartoon.”

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