October 22, 2011

ToughPigs at NYCC 2011

Filed under: Feature,Reports — Tags: , — Joe Hennes @ 10:52 am

Let’s get this part straight first: We are nerds.

Yes, your pals from ToughPigs own the Star Wars DVDs, we have an opinion on whether Kirk or Picard was the better captain, one of us actually cosplayed recently, and we read comic books.  If that doesn’t give us the right to wave our geek flags, then I don’t know what would.

So of course, we attended this year’s New York Comic Con, because if there’s anything nerds like, it’s being in a convention center with 100,000 other nerds.

As we posted last week, there were lots of Muppet-related happenings, panels, and people at the Con.  And guessing that a few of you out there didn’t make it to Comic Con, we’ve got lots to say about what we did, who we met, and what exactly went down.

We attended the Con for all four days (including the press-only day, because apparently we’re press), and one of the recurring highlights was the Archaia Comics booth.  They had a constant stream of writers and artists signing autographs, drawing sketches, and meeting their fans.  Among the people we got a chance to talk to were David Petersen, Grace Randolph, Joe LeFavi, Tim Beedle, Nichol Ashworth, Chandra Free, Jeff Stokely, and Ross Campbell, all of whom worked on the Fraggle Rock comic book.

Also at the Archaia booth were the new Fraggle Rock v.2 hardcover and the upcoming Storyteller graphic novel, which looks absolutely gorgeous. (Our review of which coming soon!  We promise.)

A few other Muppet/Fraggle artists were in attendance, though they had their very own tables located in “Artists’ Alley”.  Katie Cook, Amy Mebberson, and James Silvani were there, creating sketches and selling a lot more.  We ended up getting a Muppet/Doctor Who mashup from Amy and Katie Cook’s awesome (and adorable) new Gronk book.

Over at the Mighty Fine (aka welovefine.com) booth, they were selling a bunch of awesome Sesame Street t-shirts (all of which you can see/buy here).  In case you weren’t in a spendy mood, they were also giving away these nifty Cookie Monster crowns!  It was a little surreal to spot so many Cookie Monsters around the Con, and even moreso to see them attending panels.

Attached to the Mighty Fine booth was a poser Oscar the Grouch, which was a popular photo op destination.  We missed seeing Evan Cheng, who was sketching on Friday, but we did catch up with Muppeteer Eric Jacobson on Saturday and illustrator Louis Henry Mitchell on Sunday.  Eric is in “no comment” mode until the new Muppet movie comes out, but he seemed to be pretty excited and optimistic about it.  And Louis made my day by drawing me a sketch of Bert (he said it was his only Bert of the day, having drawn dozens of Elmos, Abbys, Grovers, and Cookie Monsters).  “Happy Bert or angry Bert?” he asked me.  “Angry Bert!” I replied.  “Good,” said Louis, “That’s how I was going to draw him anyway.”  Score.

Two other Muppet celebrities made some unscheduled appearances, though not at any booth.  We spotted Joey Mazzarino (Murray Monster) and Peter Linz (The Muppets’ Walter) just walking around the Con like they were normal people!  Joey was in the midst of promoting Sesame Street’s current anti-bullying campaign and took a break to see what all the geekery was about.  Peter was accompanying his daughter and her friends, and he took a few minutes to tell us about how he thinks that Muppet fanatics like you and me are really going to love the new movie.  And if you can’t trust Walter, who can you trust??

For the first time ever, I tried my hand at cosplaying at this year’s con.  My girlfriend and I decided to dress as Zuul and Vinz Clortho (aka the Gatekeeper and Keymaster from Ghostbusters).  It was a lot of fun, and we probably had our pictures taken about 50 times.  In any case, cosplayers have been expanding their options beyond comic book and anime characters in recent years to include anyone and anything from pop culture (hence our Ghostbuster theme).  So of course, a few Muppets are bound to make an appearance.  We spotted a homemade Big Bird and Labyrinth’s Jareth, and we heard rumblings of a Swedish Chef and Yip Yip Martians walking the Con floor too.  No word on whether or not any of them were Justin Timberlake though.

But there was more to Comic Con than getting autographs and randomly bumping into celebrities!  We attended a bunch of panels as well!  In a desperate plea for more Muppet comics, I went to the Disney/Marvel panel, which was almost entirely about Marvel’s new line of all-ages picture books.  When the Q&A portion came, I had the opportunity to ask about the future of Muppet comics, aside from the Boom Comics reprints.  After an awkward pause from the panel, I added, “What I’m trying to say is: Please make more Muppet comics,” which got some applause from the audience.  My question got a quick blow-off with a yarn about the pages for the other reprint books coming over from Thailand, followed immediately by a non-sequitor about who would win in a fight between Thor and the Hulk.  So, I’m pretty sure my question was answered there.

I was unfortunately unable to attend the Drew Struzan panel, which had Caroll Spinney as a speaker.  Luckily, ToughPigs’ own Ryan did attend, and here’s his recap of the event:

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was a panel hosted by the filmmakers behind the upcoming documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster, about the prolific movie poster artist Drew Struzan. Struzan has painted the Muppets numerous times, but I was curious to see why Caroll Spinney was on the panel, as its description didn’t explain his presence alongside the director and producer. Is he a friend of Struzan? Did they work together on some kind of art project? As it turned out, Caroll is one of the many, many notable people who were interviewed for the documentary… Basically, he’s just a fan of Struzan’s work. And I’m pretty sure the real reason he was there was that Caroll Spinney is awesome and they knew he would bring folks to the panel.

Caroll was among several famous folks who appeared in the preview video the filmmakers showed, talking about Struzan’s work and career, including his Muppet movie posters. (Though I couldn’t help but notice that Caroll wasn’t really involved in any of those movies, not counting very brief cameos). After the video, the moderator asked the panel several Drew Struzan-related questions, but he also asked Caroll a few non-Struzan questions, because that’s what you do when you have a television legend in the room. Caroll talked about working with Jim, and Jim’s habit of saying “Lovely!” or “Hmmm…” to indicate whether or not he liked something. He also recounted a story I hadn’t heard before, in which Jim, Caroll, and Caroll’s wife were going to dinner at a nice restaurant in the late 70s and they happened to walk past Liza Minelli’s table. Jim stopped, expecting to chat with her, but after glancing up at him, she completely ignored him and went back to her conversation. (Dang, Liza! That’s cold.) Fortunately, the evening was salvaged when Jim spotted Alice Cooper and John Entwhistle at a nearby table and hobnobbed with them instead.

When asked about “how Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch came about,” Caroll went back in time and told some stories familiar to Sesame fans: The ambitious puppet show gone awry when Jim Henson was in the audience, the cab driver who said “Where to, Mac?” in a voice Caroll would appropriate for Oscar, and the evolution of Big Bird from a dumb guy to a child. I’d heard all this before, but it’s always charming to hear Caroll tell it, and of course there were probably several people in the audience who had never heard it.

After the conclusion of the panel, I approached Caroll and talked to him for a few minutes… When the subject of the new season came up, he mentioned the episode “The Good Birds Club,” in which Big Bird gets bullied, and said it’s one of his favorite Big Bird episodes in years. (You can watch it here.) He stayed around to talk to everyone else who wanted to meet him, and even signed some autographs. It was a good time for everyone, from the diehard Drew Struzan fans who also happen to like Sesame Street, to the people who had never heard of Struzan before but just wanted to see the guy who plays Oscar.

Thanks Ryan!

The final all-important Muppet-related panel was the joint panel presented by Archaia Comics and The Jim Henson Company.  Panelists included Archaia Editor in Chief Stephen Christy, Jim Henson Company Archivist Karen Falk, and Archaia Marketing Manager Mel Caylo (who is known for being the “nicest guy in the comics business”, and it’s true).

Karen Falk began the panel with a video presentation, showcasing some of Jim Henson’s early non-Muppet work.  The first video was an example of Jim’s surreal animations set to jazz music, which ended with this lovely bit of video of Jim at his animating desk.  Next was Time Piece, which I’ve seen a dozen times, but never get tired of (and I seem to find something else to appreciate in it with every viewing).  Then came another surreal video titled “Ripples“, back-t0-back with the Bufferin commercial (featuring the voice, but not the face, of Jim) that it was inspired by. Finally, they showed a clip from The Cube, which never ceases to disturb.

After that, Stephen Christy took the lead and introduced Archaia’s upcoming collaboration with The Jim Henson Company, “A Tale of Sand”.  The book, written by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, is illustrated by Ramon Perez who was supposed to be attending the panel as well.  Unfortunately, Perez has to back out at the last minute, as he was putting the finishing touches on his artwork.  So while we didn’t get to meet him, we’re happy to know that the art is officially finished, and the books will be in our hands soon.

According to Christy, “A Tale of Sand” is Archaia’s “love letter to Jim”.  They showed the first 50 (out of 160) pages of the book via projector, and I’m pleased to say that the artwork is absolutely gorgeous.  It’s both stylized and grounded in reality, which is very much like a lot of Jim’s directorial work. The information given about the book came rapidly, and here’s what we know:

* When writing, Jim conceived of the visuals and sound effects while Jerry Juhl was the “wordsmith”.

* There were three drafts written between 1967 and 1974.

* Certain scenes from the original script were adapted to be included in The Muppet Movie, notably the desert scenes and the final showdown.

* Pieces of the script (with Jim and Jerry’s hand-written notes) will appear in the introduction to the book.

* The main character’s name is “Mac”. The story involves Mac in a race across the desert, being chased by an eyepatched villain named “Patch”.

* There is a big focus on sound effects (like “Sploosh” and “Tamp Tamp Tamp”).

* There is a brief (and obscure) Muppet Movie reference: When Mac enters a ghost town, he passes by a still-standing horse skeleton.

* Jim and Jerry both make illustrated cameos in the story.

* The font used for the dialog balloons was created from samples of Jim’s own handwriting.  (Seriously, how cool is that???)

* The book will have an elastic band attached to it, much like a journal.

* Tale of Sand will be in stores this December.

After the impressive Tale of Sand demonstration, Christy also teased Archaia’s upcoming Dark Crystal comic book.  Volume 1 of “The Dark Crystal: Creation Myths” will be in stores on November 22, 2011, with the following two books in the series debuting roughly once per year.  The books will tell the story of Aughra and the UrSkeks before they got split into Skeksis and Mystics.

Aughra’s goofy-eyed son, “Ronip”, will play a major role in the story (that’s him on the cover on your left).  Ronip was created entirely by Brian Froud, who also served as concept designer and consultant for the book.

Speaking of Brian Froud, he is also hard at work on the Labyrinth graphic novels, which Archaia teased at the panel.  The prequel will feature a young man named Jareth, who is taken into the Labyrinth by a witch.  Excited yet???

Thanks to everyone at Archaia Comics, former Boom Studios staff, Muppeteers, Karen Falk, and all the Muppet fans at NYCC who attended all of these events!  Here’s to another great year for Muppet-related comic books!

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by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com



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