January 12, 2009

Muppet Comics: A Chat with the Writer/Artist

Filed under: Interviews — Tags: , , , , — Joe Hennes @ 11:15 am


Last month, we had the unique opportunity to speak with Paul Morrissey at BOOM! Studios about the upcoming Muppet Show comic books. Seeing as the comic is still en route to your local Android’s Dungeon & Baseball Card Shop, we decided to reach out to the man himself, Roger Langridge, to talk all things Muppet.

Roger is a London-based cartoonist, best known for his strip, “Fred the Clown.” Feel free to peruse his wares at his website by clicking here. He was also responsible for the one-page Muppet comic from the last issue of Disney Adventures magazine.

Let’s check in with Roger and see what he’s got to say. Roger?

ToughPigs: What is your relationship with Muppets Studios (Disney) for the creation of the comic? Do they have to approve of all of the character designs? Plot elements?

Roger Langridge: I deal with Paul Morrissey at Boom Studios directly. Paul passes all plot outlines, finished scripts, pencils and presumably finished art on to Disney (I’m still inking issue #1 at this writing), who then send it back to Paul, who sends it back to me, and I make any changes that might be requested. I know my work is looked over by Jesse Post at Disney and Jim Lewis at Henson, and no doubt by others I’m not aware of. Mr Lewis, in particular, is very generous with notes, gags, character bits and so forth – many of the gags in issue #1 are his!

TP: What went into making the decision to make the Muppets more caricaturized, as opposed to something more photo-realistic?

RL: I should probably explain a little about where this particular incarnation of Muppet comics came from. A couple of years ago, I was approached by the now-defunct Disney Adventures Magazine to do a Muppet strip for them. They’d been running a version of Mickey Mouse and Goofy drawn in a completely off-model, undergroundish kind of style, and this had proven to be very popular, so they were looking to do more of the same with some other Disney properties. The staff at Disney Adventures knew my comics work and liked it, and I think were particularly taken with the vaudeville elements and oddball, Monty-Pythonesque humour I like to play around with in my own comics, so they thought I’d be a good fit for the Muppets. I was somewhat concerned to begin with, because I’m not that great at drawing on-model, but they mentioned the Mickey strips and said they wanted me to use my own stylistic approach on the Muppets material, so I thought I’d give it a try – not going completely underground-y, but leaning towards that aesthetic a little bit, which seemed to be what they wanted. As it turned out, of the fifteen or so pages I drew, only one was used before the magazine was cancelled (although a few more of them ended up in the San Diego Comic Con preview booklet eventually), so that was that… I thought! While I was resigning myself to never getting a chance to work with the Muppets, my work was being shown to people at Disney and Boom, and several months later things started rolling again. With the Boom incarnation, essentially my instructions have been to keep doing what I was doing on Disney Adventures… so there’s your long, roundabout answer as to why the strip looks the way it does. I’m refining things as I go, though – fixing stuff that I felt looked wrong, making changes as requested by Disney and the aforementioned Mr Lewis, and generally trying to make it look as good as I can. I expect there’ll be a settling-in period as I get the hang of it!

On a more general note, my feeling is that drawing all the characters precisely on-model would be to do them a disservice, as paradoxical as that sounds. On the screen, they have vibrant, eccentric, nuanced vocal characterizations to carry their personalities; on the printed page, the absence of those voices has to be compensated for visually. So my solution to that dilemma is to make the faces more expressive and more cartoony. I’m resigned to the fact that this will not please everybody, but my job is to make a good comic, and this is the approach that my instincts and experience point me towards in order to achieve that. It’s a balancing act, to be sure; I’m walking a tightrope between authenticity and expressiveness, and no doubt I’ll fall off occasionally. But I’ll keep trying to get it right!
TP: I noticed some Easter eggs in the preview comic, like background characters that might or might not be Bert, Big Bird, Mildred, and Thog. Will you continue to throw a few bones to the fans like this? If so, can you give us an idea of what to expect?

RL: I’m sure there’ll be things that pop up as we go along — I’m not really thinking of them as Easter Eggs, more as part of the necessary texture required to evoke the Muppet Show we all remember. I don’t really have a big list of obscure characters I’m trying to shoehorn in there, but I’m throwing things in as the opportunity arises… and as the whim takes me! Nothing planned enough to tell you what’s coming up, I’m afraid. I’ll be as surprised as you are.

TP: Given that this is a “Muppet Show” comic, will the characters be exclusively from The Muppet Show, or can we expect to see characters from The Jim Henson Hour and Muppets Tonight? Pepe, for example, is a much more recent character, and he appears on the cover to the preview comic.

RL: I didn’t have anything to do with the cover of the preview comic, but my gut feeling is that I should stick with the old Muppet Show cast and format as much as possible, although that doesn’t rule out cameo appearances, just for the fun of it. And Rizzo the Rat will pop up a bit – I think he’s a later character, but there were a lot of anonymous rodents in the old show, so I sort of lump him in with them!
TP: Speaking of the covers, will you be providing the covers as well as the interior art? Or will we be seeing more photo covers? If so, will they be comprised of stock art or new photos? And is there any chance of guest artists providing covers to your work?

RL: At the moment, Boom have asked me to draw the covers. I don’t know what their plans are down the line, but I for one would love to see some guest artists take a crack at it. Their standard approach at the moment seems to be multiple covers on everything, so there’s plenty of room for other artists.

TP: As Paul Morrissey mentioned in our previous interview, each issue of the first miniseries will focus on a different character. Will there be a continuing storyline going through the series, or will each stand alone as its own “episode”?

RL: When Boom first approached me, they asked me to pitch ideas for four-issue story arcs, which initially threw me somewhat – I had trouble imagining the comic working any other way apart from self-contained stories. I think I’ve found ways to make it work, with ongoing subplots tying largely stand-alone stories together. The first four issues – which I guess is now a miniseries (which nobody’s mentioned to me!) – were added as an afterthought, at Disney’s request; they’re all completely self-contained, which is probably best as people get used to it. Then we’ll jump into slightly longer stories, though each issue should work on its own as well.
TP: In the preview comic, we saw elements such as Pigs In Space and At The Dance. Will the first miniseries have more of this? Can we expect to see one-to-two page Veterinarian’s Hospital or the Swedish Chef skits? How about the more obscure bits like the Talking Houses and Muppet
Sports
?

RL: There will definitely be plenty of skits! My goal is to try to make each issue seem like an undiscovered episode of the Muppet Show, and the skits are an essential part of that. The first issue will feature the Swedish Chef, Pigs in Space and the Planet Koozebane for starters. Plenty more on the way! On the topic of Pigs in Space, I’m trying to get one of those into every issue. Whenever I mention that I’m working on a Muppet comic to my friends, they all say, “Pigs in Space! Lots of Pigs in Space!”

TP: What goes in to your research for writing the series? Did Disney provide him with complete series of The Muppet Show on DVD? Are you aware of the Muppet Wiki? If so, is it a part of your in-depth research?

RL: I don’t have a complete set of DVDs by any means, though I’m gradually acquiring them when I can afford them. I have a “Best Of” set, a few books (including the excellent Muppet Show Book from 1978 or thereabouts, full of lavish colour illustrations), a ringbinder full of photo reference, character sheets, the “Muppet Bible” which Disney Adventures sent me way back when I did the strips for them, and images scavenged from the internet – including the Muppet Wiki. I’m adding to the pile all the time. And a lot of stuff is coming from my creaky old memory! That’s usually where the initial spark comes from; then I’ll research the things I recall and which I think would be fun to do, and sometimes that leads to other ideas as I stumble across other items or characters I’d forgotten. It’s kind of an organic process in that way.
TP: Lastly, there’s been some concern on our forum about the character designs for Gonzo and, to a lesser extent, Kermit. Were there any formal discussions about why you chose to go with those designs? Was there any concern from Disney or the fans? (On the other hand, most of the designs are spot-on, like Sweetums and Bunsen Honeydew)

RL: Well, as I’ve mentioned, the character designs in the preview are from the material produced for Disney Adventures, in which drawing the characters off-model was not only tolerated, but actively encouraged. The new comic is still being drawn in my own style, and I’ve been encouraged to stick with that approach to a large extent, but as I mentioned, there’ll be tweaks and refinements. And no doubt I’ll improve with practice! At the moment I’m in the deep end, really – trying to keep on schedule and learn all the characters’ physical nuances at the same time. I hope it’ll get easier! So far, the only art comment I’ve had from Disney is regarding Gonzo’s nose, which I was basing on the version in the Muppet Show Book – pointier, more gnarled-looking than the current version – so I’ve had another look at Gonzo all round, and I hope the fans will be pleased with how he looks in the first issue. Beyond that, all I can say is I hope I improve with practice!
Special thanks to Roger Langridge for answering a few pressing questions for us!

The Muppet Show Comic Book will hit stores March 25, 2009!

Click here to talk about the specifics of a weirdo’s nose on the ToughPigs forum!

joe.toughpigs@gmail.com



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