Roger Langridge took time out of his busy schedule to sit down with Josh Green to discuss his work on BOOM!’s hit series The Muppet Show.
Josh Green: So tell me about how you got the opportunity to write and draw BOOM!’s The Muppet Show.
Roger Langridge: They tracked me down. The folks at BOOM! had seen my Disney Adventures work somehow; I guess it was circulating behind the scenes. Anyway, they asked me if I’d be interested in doing more of the same for them, and I said yes; and here we are.
JG: Will your unpublished Disney Adventures’: The Muppet Show stories ever see the light of day?
RL: I believe the remaining unpublished pages are included in the collected edition, Meet the Muppets. (Available wherever fine comic books are sold!)
JG: How long have you been a Muppet fan? Do you have a favorite character?
RL: How long: I go back to Sesame Street as a tot, around 1970-71. The Muppet Show itself I watched from the beginning, or whenever they started showing it in New Zealand — they’re not usually the first to pick up the next big thing, or at least they weren’t in those days, so I expect it had been around for a couple of years already by the time it reached us.
Favorite character: I like the ones with hidden depths. Gonzo and Miss Piggy are the ones with the most stuff going on under the surface, in completely different ways. I flip-flop on which is my favorite all the time.
JG: What do you think of other Muppet products outside of The Muppet Show; such as the various Muppet movies, the Muppet specials, Muppet Babies, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock? Also, what are your opinions about Muppets since the passing of Jim Henson?
RL: Well, I loved Sesame Street as a nipper — and seeing a few episodes as an adult, I think it held up surprisingly well. It had that same blend of jokes for kids and jokes for the mums and dads. For example:
The Count: They call me the Count because I looove to count! Ha ha ha!
Guy Smiley: Really? They call me Guy Smiley because I changed it from Bernie Crabowitz.
I’m not all that familiar with most of the post-Muppet Show stuff. I’ve seen a couple of the movies, a few episodes of Muppets Tonight, that’s about it. Never seen a single episode of Muppet Babies or Fraggle Rock. I was a bit old for them by the time they came along, I think.
Post Jim Henson, I think they’ve definitely had their moments. A lot of Muppets Tonight made me cringe, like they were trying waaay too hard to be hip, but a couple of episodes were as good as anything Henson did, at least in terms of pure gags. It probably helps if you encountered the newer characters at an impressionable age, which I didn’t – I was a bit old to be beguiled by them, I think. A couple of the post-Henson movies have been pretty solid, too. I liked Christmas Carol quite a bit.
There’s a knee-jerk part of me that thinks the whole thing should have been laid to rest after Jim Henson passed away, but then, I’d be out of a job if that were the case. In wiser moments I realize the Muppets were always a team effort, and they always evolved. They were never the product of a single imagination. That said; the post-Henson stuff tends to be more hit-or-miss for me, though the hits are still worthwhile.
RL: The characters for the first four issues were dictated by Disney – they wanted those characters, in that order. Once I had that brief, my job then became to find something that defined each character that I could build a story around. (And leave myself plenty of room for sketches and daft gags, of course.) BOOM! asked me to think in terms of four-issue story arcs, so the next arc is a bit more plot-heavy. I’m pulling back from that a bit for the third arc, to something a bit more like the first series, with a linking motif connecting more self-contained stories. I think Disney had the right idea there.
JG: Do you enjoy writing the on-stage interludes, whether they are musical numbers or classics like “Veterinarian Hospital” or “Pigs in Space”? Do you have a favorite?
RL: Do I enjoy them? Yes, absolutely. They’re a big part of why I wanted to do the book. The characters alone don’t do it for me. The most appealing thing about The Muppet Show to me as a kid, having been a fan of The Goon Show and Monty Python, was that streak of surreal weirdness running through it. My ten-year-old self would have been happy to dispense with Kermit and the gang entirely. Now, of course, I realize the benefits of having something more grounded to bounce the weirdness off against. But hell, yes. It’s not “The Muppet Show” without the strange bits.
Favorite: no idea! Anything surprising is good.
JG: Your humor jives well with the tone of the actual Muppet Show. Does this come naturally to you, or did you have to acclimate yourself to write in a “Muppet style”?
RL: I think it’s more a question of parallel evolution. As I say, I was into Python and the Goons, and most of my favorite comedians are ex-vaudeville or music hall acts — Keaton, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Spike Milligan all had their roots in that world, so it’s always fascinated me. During the 70s, Muppet writers like Chris Langham were also working with Milligan more or less simultaneously, so there was a lot of crossover in sensibility. I think I’m just very fortunate that my brain is naturally wired in a Muppet kind of way due to those influences.
JG: For the most part, you have been sticking to the proper continuity of the Muppet timeline. The only real exception is Rizzo’s presence in the book, since he came into the fold afterwards. I also noticed a cameo of Pepe the Prawn. Since Pepe is now one of the most popular Muppets, are there any plans to make Pepe a more prominent member of The Muppet Show cast?
RL: I’m not terribly familiar with Pepe. I don’t think I’ve even seen him in anything, to be honest. My brief was to do the classic Muppet Show, so that’s kind of what I’m focusing on — which is where my inclinations lie anyway, so that works for me pretty well. Rizzo I kind of lump in with the generic rats who used to pop up there a lot. I guess it’s just convenient that one of them has a more clearly defined personality now; it makes my job a little simpler sometimes. BOOM! are doing other Muppet books which feature the later characters more prominently, so there’s something for everyone.
JG: Your caricatures of the Muppets seem to be close to their actual appearance, but they are still stylized with a “Roger Langridge twist”. Were there ever any objections from Disney about some of the Muppet’s appearances?
RL: Not from Disney, apart from a bit of back and forth about Gonzo’s nose which we eventually sorted out. The fact is; I can’t draw “on-model” to save my life, at least not at the rate of productivity I’m expected to maintain to crank out a monthly book. I could probably do it if I spent three times as long on every page, but then I’d still be drawing issue 3 now. And the Muppets’ personaliti
es on-screen are largely carried by the vibrant vocal characterizations, which you don’t get on the comics page — so I feel I have a responsibility to compensate for that visually, which means making the characters more expressive than the real puppets could be. It’s a balancing act, to be sure, and I probably go too far sometimes and not far enough other times.
RL: The two-page splash is a regular feature, but I’m mixing up the setting from story arc to story arc, so in “The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson” we get a backstage scene, and the one I’m writing now, “On the Road,” will be something else again. I expect the opening sequence will come around again before too long.
JG: It was recently announced that The Muppet Show will go monthly after your second The Muppet Show mini-series, “Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson,” ends. Are you excited that it will no longer be a series of mini-series? Will this ongoing consist of done-in-one stories of the original mini-series or have the continuing subplots like in “Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson”? Also, are you going to be able to continue to draw every issue that you write?
RL: Excited? But of course!
Done-in-one or story arcs? Something in-between, I think. I’m trying to think in terms of each group of four issues as having something to unify them, so whether that’s a subplot, a change of scenery or something else, that element will be a consideration — but I’m also going to try to have each issue have a definite beginning, middle and end.
Will I draw them all? No, I’m not a machine and I need my beauty sleep! After the Peg-Leg Wilson arc ends, there’ll be a “Pigs in Space” issue drawn by Shelli Paroline, but then I’m back in the saddle again — until the next time I need a little lie-down.
JG: How long do you plan on staying on The Muppet Show?
RL: I’d like to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. BOOM! has made it an ongoing series and that speaks to their confidence in the book. So I’m hopeful it’ll be a good long run.
JG: I have heard that you have tried to sneak in Sesame Street characters like Bert and Ernie into The Muppet Show, but Disney usually catches them before publication. Were their any instances where you have been successful in placing them or other Sesame Street characters in the book?
RL: Well, I should clarify: I tried to sneak them in once or twice before I was told I wasn’t supposed to do that. I’m not still trying to do it!
JG: If Disney ever asks you to write Muppets for other mediums, would you jump at the chance to work on them in addition to your responsibilities to The Muppet Show comic? Also, does your already busy schedule offer you any time to work on your more personal projects like Mugwhump the Great?
RL: Other media: I doubt I could find the time, but it’s a bit of a moot point, as I’ve had no offers of that kind. Hypothetically, I wouldn’t mind trying to write for another medium just to experience it, but I think of myself as a cartoonist first and foremost and I wouldn’t want to compromise that over the long term.
Personal projects: I’ve just dropped the last of my commercial illustration gigs, which I’ve been clinging on to make ends meet, in order to work on a few things of my own, including a return to Mugwhump, which I’ve left hanging for far too long. This may be very stupid of me. Time will tell. I think tightening the belts for a few months in order to do some personal work is worth the sacrifice.
JG: This last question is for Fozzie Bear. Can you tell one of your “world’s funniest jokes” while also telling Comics Bulletin readers what to expect from The Muppet Show: Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson and beyond?
Fozzie: Aaah! Yes! Hello, ladies and germs! Okay. “The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson.” Yes. Okay. This guy Scooter walks into a basement, see, and he finds this map which says there’s some kinda treasure hidden in the Muppet Theater. So the rats say, “Sounds good!” and pull the place apart, see, and other treasure-hunters like the Seven Dwarfs and Aladdin get involved. And before too long, the Frog — I forgot to mention, while all this was going on, the Frog is watching — before too long, he…
Statler: I hear there’s a comedian on this show, put him on instead!
Fozzie: B-but I haven’t told you about Animal becoming cultured and refined yet. O-or the Pigs In Space special. Or the next story, “On the Road”…
Statler: On the road? Great idea!
Waldorf: Just stick out your thumb and keep moving! Heh heh!