Recently, I got the distinct pleasure of sitting down with not just one member of Ape Entertainment’s Shrek team but the writer and artist on each upcoming story. In this roundtable interview Scott Shaw, Drew Rausch, Matt Anderson, Mikhail Drujic, Jason Burns, and Rob Reilly give us a look into their individual takes on the Shrek Universe.
Questions for the Team:
Alex Rodrik: What do each of your stories bring to the world of Shrek?
Scott Shaw: Dozens upon dozens of fart jokes. And one gag about “Nikstlitslepmur” (“Rumpelstiltskin” backwards) being a Finnish name.
Matt Anderson: With regards to “The Lost Flute” there was a real opportunity to explore how the Pied Piper got from the classic origin we all know and love to the place that we find him in Shrek Forever After.
Unfortunately I can’t say much without spoiling aspects of the film, but needless to say, Pied Piper serves a very specific purpose at a key moment in the film, and after reading the screenplay I knew that the story of his undertaking of that role was one that needed to be told.
Oh, and for anyone who’s worried that this will just be about a character that is new to the series, fear not — there is lots and lots of Donkey in this story!
Jason Burns: My hope was to bring a few laughs. The story I wrote “Cookie Monster” brings together a new ogre character from the latest film (Shrek Forever After) named Cookie with the franchise’s famous cookie star, Gingy. It’s an oddball pairing, and the way they mingle in the tale is loosely based on the well known Mouse and the Lion fable, only in this case, it’s an ogre and a gingerbread man.
Mikhail Drujic: Being honest really, I did not know the world of Shrek all that well when David offered me the possibility of working on this project. However, while I started working on the project, I started to get to know all of the characters better. Certainly I have ended up very familiar with these characters, and now I am like any other fan of this saga of movies.
Drew Rausch: Well “Rumpelstiltskin’s Revenge” fills out the actual main plot of Shrek Forever After. Like most nemeses, Rumpel has a reason for his major plan and this story leads up to that. I imagined Rumpel a bit like Ben Linus from Lost. He’s this little fellow in a big world, and he has these mastermind ideas, and it’s just a challenge for him to get them to go right. And there’s this constant Wile E. Coyote/Road Runner dynamic between him and Shrek that’s full of slapstick style gags.
Shaw: David Hedgecock is a good friend of mine and I wanted to work with him again. We originally met when he hired me to do covers for GO-GO Gorilla and the Jungle Crew, an Ape comic that’s a tribute to DC’s Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew!, a funny-animal superhero series that Roy Thomas and I created. For that matter, David considers me to be one of the primary influences on him to become a cartoonist! Ape Entertainment puts out very high quality funnybook products so I really wanted to be part of the licensed property title that will dramatically raise their profile in the comics industry.
Anderson: For me, the reason for my attraction and involvement in this project is two-fold. First, I have this somewhat recently instituted rule in my life that essentially says, “If David Hedgecock (Ape’s co-publisher) asks — say yes!”
Second, having spent the majority of my comic writing life working on creator-owned properties, its been a real thrill to tell new and interesting stories with characters that not only have rich histories, but that are also known to people all over the world, even those who’ve never once stepped foot in a comic shop.
Burns: Being able to work with such universally recognizable characters is a dream come true. I started out in the industry working exclusively on creator-owned content, and it’s only been recently that I’ve transitioned into licensed material, including Jericho based on the prematurely cancelled television show, and the upcoming Pocket God, also with Ape Entertainment. Having a built in audience is a great thing in comics, and even better than that, it’s Shrek! Who doesn’t love Shrek?
Drujic: The opportunity to work with very popular characters was very attractive for me, and also the opportunity to work for an important company like Dreamworks. This was an important challenge for me.
Rob Reilly: While I was growing up, animation was a huge staple in my house. As a kid being constantly bombarded with the classic Warner Bros., Walt Disney, and Max Fletcher cartoons, animation hypnotized me and fueled my desire to become a cartoonist. Now that I’m an adult, I appreciate that Dreamworks has continued the long tradition of extremely well-made animated movies, even before the Shrek franchise was developed. I always dreamed of working with the company (having applied 3 times) and as soon as this opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer. I’m proud to have worked on this short story and ecstatic to live a dream that was in the making for 25 years.
Rausch: The details of what lead up to me working on the Shrek Prequel are a bit fuzzy. I’ll do my best to recount for that day. I remember it being quite some time ago. David Hedgecock, publisher of Ape Entertainment, had called me up and asked if I wanted to go with him and get some frozen yogurt. I figured sure, why not. We’ll probably discuss business venues, chat about gossip, exchange stock market secrets; plus I love frozen yogurt. I hear Yogurtland has a Red Velvet Cake flavor now.
So after David picked me up, I remember wondering why we were taking the highway towards LA, considering that there’s a yogurt place down the street from me. I’m new to the area so I just assumed that he knew of a better place. A place that not only served you frozen yogurt, but let you roll around in a giant pool of it. I will admit to being a bit shocked to find that after like 2 hours of driving, we pulled up to a frozen yogurt stand that looked remarkably like the Dreamworks Animation Studio. Still under the impression that there was going to be a frosty treat with various toppings of my choosing, I followed as we walked across their campus. It’s huge. They have ducks. And a giant Kung Fu Panda. And a hallway covered in pictures of various celebrities in compromising positions.
We met up with some Dreamwork-ers, who oddly didn’t look like they were prepared to dish out some serious frozen yogurt, but instead showed us to a large room filled with metal chairs. I was asked to sit up front, even though my hair would probably restrict the view of the TV screen they rolled in. Suddenly I found myself unable to control my body, my eyelids pulled open by some unseen force. The pictures on the screen flashed quickly. They were movie stills of Shrek. They flashed faster and faster, so fast they became distorted. I could hear a chanting behind me. Even though I couldn’t turn around, I could hear their combined voices saying “One of us. One of us.” over and over again. I couldn’t stop watching. It was… I mean… there was pee everywhere…
Honestly, I love Shrek. Every single character has a very unique personality, and as an artist that means I get to play with all kin
ds of acting capabilities. It was actually quite an honor to work on such an imaginative project with people who care about the property. And you know, you can’t be dark and dreary all the time. I needed an outlet to channel all these happy feelings that I’ve been having. And that’s what drew me in. I hope those that pick it up, really enjoy the fun we’ve tried to inject into it.
Scott Shaw & Drew Rausch: Rumpelstiltskin’s Revenge
AR: Rumpelstiltskin has always been seen as a very dark character which suits Drew’s art style perfectly. Were you free to interpret the character in your own way or did you have to stay very close to the character’s design for the film?
Shaw: I drew fairly comprehensive layouts for Drew to work from and the results have greatly impressed me. Drew takes my basic breakdowns in such wildly unexpected directions that I feel like I’m reading “The Revenge Of Rumpelstiltskin!” for the first time!
Rausch: When working on any established property, especially one as well known as Shrek, you don’t really have much wiggle room with the actual look of the characters. When it came to drawing Rumple, that’s what we call him. Rumple. It’s in my contract that if I say his full name, the world ends or some cloud with a happy face gets erased from existence. Yeah I don’t know either. What was I saying … Oh right — when it came to drawing Rumple I had to be very careful not to stray from what Dreamworks had intended him to look like. He’s a character that no one has seen in the previous films and makes his first appearance in Shrek the Fourth. I wanted the audience to have a clear depiction of what he looked like, that way, when they see the movie they’ll instantly recognize him.
AR: Much like the main character, the story remains a mystery. Can you give us any little teasers to excite readers into checkin’ out “The Lost Flute”?
Anderson: Despite his initial victory over the rat populace, all is not smooth sailing for the Pied Piper, because on the very first page of the story the rats get their revenge (with the help of a new and formidable foe) by stealing Piper’s flute, leaving him utterly powerless. Lost and dejected, Piper crosses paths with Donkey, who, being the lovable creature that he is, takes Piper on a shopping spree in the hopes of finding a new instrument. What ensues includes (but is assuredly not limited to), a crash course in hilariously named musical instruments, Donkey enduring a multitude of physical…how to put this, um…mishaps, the likes of which could put Wile E. Coyote to shame, and just for the heck of it — dwarves!
And if all of that were not enough to peak your interest, the story is worth checking out for Mikhail’s artwork alone! I have to admit that I was a bit nervous when writing the script because I had no idea who was going to be drawing it, and sometimes that can spell trouble — especially when dealing with humor. Thankfully that was in no way the case here, as Mikhail nailed everything from the subtlest emotion to the broadest joke. I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator!
AR: What was it like getting to work on such well known character? What pressures did you feel due to the cast’s notoriety?
Anderson: For “The Lost Flute” there was somewhat of an interesting mix for me as, having not appeared in any of the previous films the Pied Piper was pretty much a blank slate. So long as I left him where he needed to be for Shrek Forever After, I had an extraordinary sense of freedom to work with him as a character.
Donkey, on the other hand, was a different experience entirely. Not only does he come with a substantial history in tow, but I was completely aware of the reasons why people love the character, and the expectations they have with regards to his behavior, and most importantly — how he talks. So, I was definitely feeling the pressure every time I had to write a line of dialogue for Donkey, making sure that I was living up to the standards set by the various writers that have come before me.
Also, I had a surprisingly high amount of difficultly trying not to slip in some kind of line from one of the Beverly Hills Cop movies. Granted, there aren’t many that would’ve been appropriate for Shrek, but I have to admit I am partial to, “Excuse me, is this the illegal chop shop?” Who knows, maybe it’ll pop up if I get the chance to write the character again!
Drujic: Certainly, I was not very confident working on such recognizable characters like Pied Piper and Rumpelstiltskin, so when I started with the sketches, I decided to establish a continued guideline of behavior to homogenize the trait and the character’s reactions for all of the story. Piper was a silent character who never talked, so I looked at some characters from silent movies to give a comical air to this character, and at the same time, a light essence of wrongdoing. Rumpel’s character was easier to define. Rumpel is a character that I recognized, so it was easier to look to historical representations of him.
AR: What was it about the Mouse and the Lion fable that called to you when approaching this story? Why not a play on one of the many other Aesop Fables?
Burns: I thought it would be fun to play up the angle of a BIG, food-loving ogre and a small, food-based gingerbread man, and drop that into the same theme as The Mouse and the Lion. By no means does it follow directly to that original storyline, but it does borrow from it, and the end has a much different outcome than the original that I think people will find fun.
AR: What visual elements did you really want to bring out in the characters and the world they inhabit?
Reilly: Well after just coming off a space adventure (announced soon!), I had to re-watch the original 3 films in order to understand the environment i
n which those characters lived in. Despite the many pop culture references, the landscape was still very medieval. Besides trying to keep the artwork consistent and on model, I tried to make sure that Gingy, Cookie, and the surrounding elements were fun and care-free while still maintaining a sense that they were still within the Shrek Universe.