Josh Green recently got the chance to catch up with Grace Randolph and Amy Mebberson, the creative team behind BOOM! Studios’ hit series, Muppet Peter Pan. Check it out as Randolph and Mebberson give us an intimate look into the series and their creative process.
Josh Green: Tell me a bit about how your background led you to becoming a comic book writer?
Grace Randolph: Avid reader of comic books + studying screenwriting at NYU Film + being extremely patient, persistent and professional + having good spec scripts = comic book writer!
And those three “P’s”? They’re the most important ingredient in ANY recipe.
JG: What was your first exposure to the Muppets? Who’s your favorite Muppet character? Do you have a favorite Muppet movie, show, or special?
GR: Like many kids, my parents introduced me to the Muppets. I watched “The Muppet Show” and “Muppet Babies”, or at least I’m told I did as I don’t really remember any of it. What’s stuck with me is the later stuff, such as the most recent movies, TV specials, and “Muppet Vision 3D” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando. By far and away, my biggest Muppet influence is “A Muppet Christmas Carol”. “A Christmas Carol” is one of my dad’s favorite movies and I’ve seen pretty much every version ever made. In fact, I could act out the entire story — in detail, by heart — at the drop of a hat! So I was really taken with how the Muppets parodied that classic tale.
As for my favorite Muppet, personally I love Sam the Eagle and Pepe. Hehe, now THERE’S an odd couple!
JG: Tell me about how you incorporated the Muppets into the classic Peter Pan story. Were there any Muppets that you wanted to utilize, but just didn’t have the space for them in your story? What should fans of your first issue look forward to in issues 2-4?
GR: Well, the great thing about the Muppets is that they have such tremendous history and personality, so as a writer it’s my job to harness all that energy and mold it into Muppet Peter Pan. It’s tricky because the Muppets are wonderfully chaotic, but if you’re not careful the story can just come off as a mess. I’m very disciplined as a comedy writer and a sloppy story would annoy me to no end, both as a writer and as a reader! Therefore I go over each script very carefully — taking in BOOM! and Disney’s notes as we go along — and make sure it is one lean, mean comedy machine!
As for which Muppets I’m using in the story, I’m happy to say that I’m using every single Muppet on my wish list — and then some! But I will say that they’re spread out with each issue focusing on a certain set of Muppets. As I said above, I’m looking for controlled chaos and I don’t want the Muppets competing with each other for “stage time”. I want them all to have the chance to shine. So if you don’t see your favorite Muppet in one issue, take heart that they’ll be getting their time in the spotlight soon enough!
And if you’re a fan of the first issue of Muppet Peter Pan — you have excellent taste. Hehe, just kidding! Amy Mebberson, editor Aaron Sparrow and myself are all working very hard on Muppet Peter Pan…for the readers! So if you enjoy it, then I’m over the moon and have done my job. As for issues 2 – 4? Oh, we’re gonna all have some fun, and I don’t want to spoil it! 😛
JG: Do you have any more Muppet stories that you’d like to write? Other than Peter Pan, what other classic stories do you think would work well with the Muppets?
GR: I would LOVE to write more Muppet stories and I hope that’s in my future, but only BOOM! and Disney know for sure. There are a lot of talented writers pitching stories for the line, but I’m pretty proud of the other two pitches I’ve submitted so we’ll see. Plus Muppet Peter Pan has been getting some great reviews, and that never hurt anyone’s chances…
JG: You also write Warcraft & Starcraft manga at Tokyopop as well as host a web series called Beyond The Trailer. Care to tell our readers more about these projects?
GR: I sure can! Beyond The Trailer is a web show that I created which runs weekly on YouTube, where it’s actually one of the Top 10 shows under “celebrity and entertainment”. I cover every major movie that’s released that week, offering a comedic commentary followed by interviews with audience members who just saw the movie. I really enjoy making the show because it gives me a chance to use both my sketch comedy and improv skills — plus I love movies!
As for my manga work, it’s really been amazing to work on Blizzard’s video game properties. And some of the aspects of my StarCraft story “Last Call” wound up in the game which was pretty…freakin…awesome. You can find out all about my manga work, plus Beyond The Trailer, on my website: www.gracerandolph.com
JG: Considering your previous work at Disney Animation. Is there a certain comfort zone when working with Disney characters?
Amy Mebberson: Not intentionally, no. [Laughs] I was just lucky that Disney had its Sydney studio where I was able to work and train in animation. The fact that I was a Disney fan made it all that much more enjoyable for me. I chased down this Pixar/Muppet gig with Boom! quite actively as a fan, though.
JG: Tell me about the fundamental differences between working in animation and comic books. Does one medium come easier for you?
AM: I would have to say drawing comics is something that ‘comes easier’. The vast majority of animation I’ve done has been as a day job, rather than as a hobby. Drawing comics takes fewer resources and I’ve been drawing my own comic strips since I was about eight. You can doodle a comic in a few minutes in a sketchbook, but to do a piece of animation takes certain equipment and a much higher degree of focus because you’re producing movement in extreme slow motion, a frame at a time.
Animation is a much more cerebral activity, I think. While drawing a frame, I’m plotting in my head the arc it’s moving along and calculating timing as well as keeping construction consistent. With comics, I can just draw it straight out and it’s there in front of me. Comics are great for short attention spans. [Laughs]
Of course, in both forms of media you do practice sketches and drafts and a lot of the work can be planned in advance, but while an epic, lushly-produced graphic novel could be done by one person, to tell the same story in feature animation would take potentially hundreds of people and cost millions.
So if there’s a fundamental difference, it’s mostly in the resources required. Both share plenty of the same storytelling attributes, though.
JG: Are you drawing the Muppet characters similarly to their actual appearances? Or do you occasionally take some visual liberties with the characters?
AM: When I draw the Muppets, I stay very much on-model to their original construction. I have the utmost respect for Jim Henson and Don Sahlin as craftsmen and they designed the Muppets very carefully and logically. I try to respect and preserve that in my drawings because it was how the muppeteers worked with those designs that make the Muppets so appealing. The biggest visual liberty I take with drawing them is mostly in their body language. While I stick very closely to the puppet’s limitations when it comes to facial acting, I let their bodies go free of the puppet rods so they can gesticulate a lot more ‘normally’.
I basically draw the Muppets as if they were a 2D animated cartoon.
JG: What did you enjoy drawing the most in Muppet Peter Pan?
AM: Flying scenes, for the simple reason that I hate drawing backgrounds and clouds are relaxing to paint. I also love designing costumes, so Pan gave plenty of opportunity for that. I also love seeing where I can insert a visual joke or a side-gag not in the script.
Character acting is definitely my favourite activity, so I love reading lines and having their ‘acting’ be my responsibility.
AM: Yes, it is very difficult, because I certainly won’t be doing it again! What makes up the bulk of the burden is the fact that I do all my own coloring as well. If I were using a colorist, this wouldn’t be hard at all. But I like to do my own coloring because I like to control the overall art direction and I do a LOT of detail and background work directly at the color stage.
It was never the intention for me to do two comics at once, it just so happened that Pan and MI were scheduled at roughly the same time. I got a nice long head-start on MI because that was the first project Disney approved me for, but Pan snuck up and got started a bit late because of script work. So the workload is a little rough-going right now, but there is an end in sight. I think.
Monsters Inc. is a great set of 4 issues written by Paul Benjamin and focuses on goings-on at the factory in Sulley’s early months as Monsters Inc. new CEO. Basically weird things start happening and Mike and Sulley (and Boo) have to figure out who’s behind them. Some old nemeses return and Roz still doesn’t wanna see any paperwork. It’s like Scooby-Doo, but without lame rubber masks and characters called Raggy.