January 22, 2011

My 4th Week with Fraggle Comics Day 2: Jake T. Forbes & Mark Simmons

Filed under: Feature — Tags: , , , — Joe Hennes @ 7:05 pm

I know what you want! You want more questions for the Fraggle Rock comic book writers and artists! Well, you’re probably more interested in the answers than the questions, but we’ll take whatever enthusiasm we can get.

Continuing our mission of interviewing everyone who’s worked on the comics, today we’re chatting with writer Jake T. Forbes and artist Mark Simmons, the creative team behind the “Boober and the Ghastly Stain” story in the latest issue. Let’s see what those blokes have to say for themselves, shall we?

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ToughPigs: How did you first become a Fraggle Rock fan? And what form does your fandom take today?

Jake T. Forbes: I was a Fraggle watcher from the series?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ original airing on HBO. The show was my first foray into the worlds of Jim Henson and my first TV memory. When the Fraggles went animated, I watched them too. I wouldn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t say I was a ?¢‚Ǩ?ìfan?¢‚Ǩ¬ù for Fraggles, in the same way my pre-teen self was for Star Wars and Transformers, to the point where I was collecting merch and recreating adventures in my back yard, but the show had a major impact on me in two ways. First, it got me excited about puppetry and the world of Jim Henson so that when the Dark Crystal and Labyrinth and Storyteller came out, I saw them in the context of an artistic vision and I developed an appreciation for craft. Second, Fraggle Rock is a show about real relationships and emotions, and against the largely vapid landscape of 80s kids entertainment. When I wax nostalgic about my favorite childhood shows, I can only remember snippets of what He-Man or Optimus Prime did, but with Fraggle Rock, I remember who Gobo, Wembley, etc. are. Once I became interested in telling my own stories, I realized that I would much rather create characters like the Fraggles than any other sort.

In my collecting heyday of my early 20s, I bought all the Fraggle Rock episodes on Video, more out of the desire to curate my childhood than a compulsion to rewatch at that time. I ended up giving the tapes to my 6 year old cousin, which was the best decision I could have made. He got into the Fraggles, then I got him the complete Muppet Show, which he loved even more.

TP: What sort of research did you do in preparation to write for the Fraggle Rock universe?

JTF: Netflix made it easy to refresh myself on the Rock when they made the whole series available on demand. In rewatching the series for the first time in about 10 years, I was amazed how vivid certain memories were ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú especially song lyrics ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú and I was surprised by how scary some moments were, even as a grown up.

f2TP: How has your game designing skills helped you to prepare for writing Fraggle Rock stories?

JTF: I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t know that working in game design helped me approach Fraggle Rock, but Fraggles certain influence my aspirations as a game maker. In video games, the dominant genres lean far too heavily on violence for my tastes. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s not just blood and gore (I like that too, at times) but games, especially console games, have evolved in such a way that our interaction with virtual worlds so often hinges on kills and lives. Morality, when it shows up, is framed by good and evil, heroes and villains. Fraggle Rock, and the works of Jim Henson in general, are inspiring as they show how compelling, accessible and FUN ?¢‚Ǩ?ìhuman?¢‚Ǩ¬ù drama can be without resorting to violence and moral duality.

TP: Who are your favorite characters? Least favorite?

JTF: Boober and Wembley were definitely my favorites of the Fraggle Five, but the Uncle Traveling Matt bits were my favorite part of the show as a kid. I also have a soft spot for Sprocket and for the haunting songs of Cantus. Least favorite?¢‚Ǩ¬¶? As a kid, I was a little freaked out by Madame Trashheap, but not so much anymore.

TP: Which characters have been the most difficult to write for?

JTF: My story is pretty short and features mostly Boober. The other four mains have just a line or two. Of the five, it was probably hardest to sum up Mokey with one innocuous line. Red, Wembley and Boober are probably easiest, then Gobo, but Mokey is a lot more subtle in her quirks. If I do another Fraggle Story, the one I have in mind is a Mokey one, so I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll have to spend more time figuring her out.

TP: What has the response to your work from Archaia and The Jim Henson Company been like?

JTF: This story is my first time working with Archaia, but so many of the faces, from editor Tim Beetle to advisor Joe LeFavi, worked on Return to Labyrinth, that it felt very familiar. The response for the first Fraggle Rock volume has been phenomenal, and rightly so ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a gorgeous and utterly charming collection. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s been exciting to see the new series that my story is a part of so anticipated and warmly received in the previews.

f3TP: Return to Labyrinth was a phenomenal experience. The series was a great success and creatively, I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m very happy with how it worked out. It was a huge joy, this past Comic-Con, to meet so many readers face-to-face and talk about the movie and the books. Return to Labyrinth is a pretty substantial story ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú 700 pages of comics with a cast of about a dozen main characters. Working on such with such a beloved property is a tough proposition, especially because the fandom for Labyrinth was so hungry for new stories with these characters. Some readers embraced Return to Labyrinth for the story it was, while others are still waiting for another happy ending. In the end, I think we told a story that does right by the spirit of the Jim Henson Company. Should the opportunity arise, I would love to work in the Labyrinth sandbox again, not on a sequel but a stand-alone story.

TP: Can you give us a tease of what to expect from your story?

JTF: Boober washes a shirt. And it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a musical.

TP: What inspired you to write a Boober-centric story? Do you identify with his love of the mundane?

JTF: Honestly, I identify more with Wembley?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s indecisiveness and overly-sensitive nature, but I admire Boober?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s quirky self-confidence. He knows what he likes ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú so what if everyone else thinks he?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s weird or boring?

TP: Where else can readers find your non-Fraggle work?

JTF: Return to Labyrinth is readily in print and if you haven?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t read it, now?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s the perfect time to check it out as you can read the series in its entirety. Right now I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m in an awkward in-between phase where I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have new works to talk about. Lately I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve been working on a few game projects that are still too early-on to talk about. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve also got an original graphic novel project in the works that I hope will find a publisher soon. My website is still www.gobblin.net, but I have been awful about updating for the past 3 months. There?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a short story on the site right now called Parnassus Unbound, about books and technology, that I hope fans of speculative fiction will check out!

TP: Lastly, is there a message you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d like to pass along to the Fraggle Rock fans out there?

JTF: Never take clean laundry for granted.f5


f1ToughPigs: How did you first become a Fraggle Rock fan? And what form does your fandom take today?

Mark Simmons: It’s a shameful admission, but I’d never actually seen any Fraggle Rock until this assignment came up. Fortunately, the entire series was available for instant viewing on Netflix at that point, and so my wife and I spent a very enjoyable week giving ourselves a crash course in Fraggle-ology. So let’s say I’m a late arrival to the party, but I’m glad to be here!

TP: What sort of research did you do in preparation to illustrate for the Fraggle Rock universe?

MS: Editor Tim Beedle sent along some reference images, and gave me access to Henson’s official style guides, but there’s no substitute for watching the actual show. I took a lot of screenshots for set reference and costume details, and I tried to capture some of the body language and personality of the actual puppet characters, as well as the visual sense of humor. Does that sound like a lot of research for a four-page story.

TP: How did you get the job to illustrate for Archaia Comics?

MS: Entirely thanks to the recommendation of writer extraordinaire Jake Forbes. We’ve known each other for a while, but it wasn’t until just recently that he found out I was a comic artist. After Jake recommended me, I had to do some sketches by way of audition, and it was a proud moment when word came back that the Henson folks had approved me.

f6TP: According to your website, you work with mostly mixed media. What method did you use on your Fraggle Rock story? And what other mediums would you have liked to have created Fraggle art in?

MS: I did the Fraggle Rock story with traditional pencil and ink, then colored it in Photoshop. I’m not sure that was the ideal approach, and perhaps digital painting on top of the pencil art would have given it a slightly looser, lighter feeling. But it’s hard to look at all the other beautiful art in the comic and not feel a little inadequate!

TP: Who are your favorite characters? Least favorite?

MS: As fond as I am of Boober, I think Wembley is actually my favorite, while my wife is especially fond of the Trash Heap ensemble. As for least favorite… for some reason, Mokey disturbs me. Maybe it’s those half-lidded eyes.

TP: Which characters have been the most difficult to illustrate?

MS: This is a very silly thing, but after I did the colors, Editor Tim had to make me go back several times and adjust Red’s sweater because it looked too orange. I swear I was trying to stick to the style guides, but it never seemed to be quite red enough.

TP: What has the response to your work from Archaia and The Jim Henson Company been like?

MS: They seemed to like it just fine. I think I’m probably tougher on myself than they were! The artwork in the series has been so great up until now that the self-inflicted pressure of expectations was stronger than any editorial criticism could be.

f7TP: Can you give us a tease of what to expect from your story?

MS: Well, it’s only four pages, so there’s not a lot of daylight between “a tease” and “the whole thing.” I did get to invent a monster, or at least the back end of one…

TP: Are you like Boober: the type to find excitement in the mundane? Or would you rather be the one making the stains for someone else to clean?

MS: I totally identify with fussbudget Boober in this scenario. I hate mess and dirt, and whenever we’re hosting a house party, I can’t wait to slink off into the kitchen and start scrubbing dishes. I guess people like me need a little Gobo in our lives.

TP: Where else can readers find your non-Fraggle work?

MS: I just wrote a short story for Marvel Digital, and I’ve been doing a bunch of storyboard work that I can’t show anybody. For now, the best option would be to check my web sites (www.ultimatemark.com and toysdream.blogspot.com), and when I have more news to share I’ll be sure to post it there. I’d be immensely flattered if people like my Fraggle story enough to seek out more of my work!

TP: Lastly, is there a message you?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢d like to pass along to the Fraggle Rock fans out there?

MS: It’s a little embarrassing that Fraggle Rock has been around for most of my life and I only just got around to discovering it. The fact that it’s still going strong, waiting for latecomers like me to come along and enjoy it, is a testament to the devotion and good taste of its loyal fans. Thanks for keeping this wonderful world alive so that it can welcome a new generation of Fraggle fans, and I hope you feel I’ve done credit to it with my illustrations!f4Many thanks to Jake T. Forbes and Mark Simmons for answering our questions and for their great work on the Fraggle Rock comic book!

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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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