Erm . . . err . . . excuse me! I get very excited talking about Boom! Studios’ Muppet Show comics, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to interview artist Amy Mebberson for Kids Comics Month! Read on to learn about her favorite characters (she helped bring back Skeeter!) and why she loves the Muppets so much.
TFAW.com: Hi Amy, thanks for “meeting” with us for the interview! So what’s your “origin story”–how did you break into comics?
Amy Mebberson: I’ve drawn comics for fun almost my entire life, but I didn’t start doing them professionally until 2006. I was lucky in that I got to segue quite smoothly into comics from my former career in animation at Walt Disney Animation Australia. Our studio was shut down in the great 2D purge, and I was fortunate to win a spot in Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga contest in 2005. That resulted in being approached to do a graphic novel series with writer T Campbell. So basically as soon as Disney Sydney closed down, I sat down at my desk at home and started creating Divalicious! with Campbell, which ran to two volumes.
TFAW.com: What’s it like moving from animation to drawing comics? What particular advantages/disadvantages does that pose?
AM: Well, certain aspects of the animation process certainly have a lot in common with sequential comic art. Storyboarding is, in my opinion, an obvious cousin to comics. I think working in animation helps with comics because when doing traditional drawn animation, you have to have a really solid grasp on how people, animals and objects are constructed and work from all angles. If an animation character is not logically well-constructed and drawn, it will not move or act convincingly.
Of course I’m referring mostly to full-movement, non-limited animation in the classic Disney/WB styles, but most mainstream comic books, especially action comics, have a style rooted still very much in a “real” world based on realistic organic construction. It’s pretty easy to tell if a comic artist really doesn’t know how human anatomy works. *laughs*
As for disadvantages, well as a former character animation artist, the learning curve can be a little steep jumping from just drawing characters to drawing full sets, props and effects as well.
The premium posed by limited page space means that many times I can’t draw detailed character acting because there just isn’t room to draw multiple nuanced panels. It’s often necessary to pare down a character’s pose to just one which best conveys multiple emotions in the few lines of dialogue they might have in that panel.
TFAW.com: What do you like best about drawing kids comics?
AM: Doing comics directly targeted at kids was never really an intentional goal of mine. I consider Disney comics to be universally appealing, not just something for kids. So I don’t really consider myself a “kids” comic artist, even though that’s what most of my titles are branded under. I draw all-ages comics that appeal to me personally and I love cartoons. I kept watching cartoons long after I left childhood–a great source of consternation to my mother, who thought there might be something wrong with me!
TFAW.com: So, how many times have you watched The Muppet Show and various Muppet movies now? Do you have a favorite episode or movie?
AM: Well, I’ve only reacquainted myself with The Muppet Show to the extent of DVD availability, but I certainly have very fond memories of loving the Muppets as a kid. My favourite Muppet movie is definitely the first one. It’s just a movie that goes along at its own pace and the story is pretty much incidental to watching the Muppets just be themselves and be funny.
The “Rainbow Connection” sequence used to play on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corp) between shows after school, so that song is a very powerful memory of my childhood.
As for favourite Muppet Show episode–the Spike Milligan episode, because far too few Americans have ever heard of Spike and it’s so fun watching his anarchic comedy genius. It contains a few things which sadly are a little non-PC nowadays, but I’m a staunch defender of period comedy being allowed to exist and still be appreciated without being judged by modern standards.
TFAW.com: How did you get involved with the Muppet comics and Boom! Studios?
AM: I had heard that Boom! had the Pixar/Muppet comics license from one of my old Tokyopop editors, Tim Beedle, who now works for Archaia on Fraggle Rock.
He put me in touch with then-editor Paul Morrissey and he invited me to submit art to “audition” for Disney. Disney, of course, has final say on all story pitches, scripts, artists and covers for everything they own.
So I submitted model sheets for Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Nemo and got accepted for Monsters Inc. and Nemo. While I was working on MI, Paul knew I wanted a crack at the Muppets, so he invited me to do a variant cover for Muppet Show #1, intended for Midtown Comics in Manhattan. The rest was history. I continued to do variant covers for the regular Muppet Show before I was assigned to Muppet Peter Pan.
TFAW.com: Looking at your Muppet comics and sketches, there’s just such joy radiating out from the page–where does that come from?
AM: The Muppets are pure joy. That was Jim Henson’s biggest dream and legacy–to leave joy behind in the world. There’s no mean-ness or cruelty in the Muppets, even when they bicker amongst themselves. I’m grateful the Muppets hark back to a time before heavy cynicism took over a lot of popular entertainment and comedy. Being a ’70s baby and an ’80s child, I think we were arguably the last generation to grow up in a genuinely more innocent time. Plus, I’m a pretty lofty idealist myself and being happy is kind of my default state
TFAW.com: Do you have a favorite character to draw? I love the way you draw Piggy.
AM: I love drawing old-school glamour girls, so Piggy just comes very naturally to me. But for favourite character, it’s definitely the frog. Kermit’s face squishing up in that myriad of expressions under Jim’s amazing talent–I love it.
TFAW.com: You’re also known for your love of the Muppet Babies‘ Skeeter–you actually were the driving factor to bring her into the Muppet “universe” proper. What is it about her that you like?
AM: I was a rabid Muppet Babies fan back in the day, but oddly, Skeeter wasn’t my favourite character then. I just loved them all. So I always carried that little bit of perturbment as to why Skeeter never made the transition to the adult cast, even in Muppets Tonight. While working ideas for further Muppet Classics, my editor and I would often lament that there weren’t enough women in the Muppet gang to cast roles in! What I loved about Skeeter was that from the start, she was deliberately created to be the opposite of Piggy and to provide balance for the main female protagonist.
Piggy’s a diva, Janice is a flower child and Skeeter is a tomboy. Someone has to make teasing the Pig a full-time hobby!
TFAW.com: How did you determine her grown-up look?
AM: That came absolutely without thinking. Scooter and Skeeter are twins, but were also written in Muppet Babies to be opposites–Scooter the computer geek and Skeeter the athlete. So it made perfect sense that she’d wear clothes that looked like she both slept in them and did an hour of parkour in them. Scooter is Kermit’s devoted gofer and does what the boss says, so Skeeter would be the runaway who joined the circus. Her green stripey leggings are of course a nod to their beloved Nanny, who was only ever seen from the knees down.
I sketched her once and knew she looked just right. Luckily, Disney agreed with me.
TFAW.com: Besides the regular Muppet Show comic, you’ve worked on a lot of the Muppet “adaptations” of other stories: Muppet Peter Pan, King Arthur, and now Sherlock Holmes. What is it like to have to draw these characters in all of these different costumes and settings?
AM: Drawing period settings is always a blast for me, because I love history and costume design. Muppet Sherlock Holmes is a crazy mishmash of anachronistic gags, but I kept the look firmly in late Victorian London. I discovered that any Muppet is immediately funnier when you add facial hair.
TFAW.com: What kind of feedback do you get from Disney?
AM: The Muppet Team at Disney have been fantastic and I’m proud that I have never actually been asked to change anything in my art. Disney are naturally very particular about the way their characters are presented, but with the Muppets, they were more focused on the writing side rather than the art. While getting the characters right is important in any licensed comic story, it’s very important with the Muppets.
It’s testament to Jerry Juhl’s skill as chief Muppet writer for so long that they remain very hard to write. Roger Langridge and Jesse Blaze Snider were our two standout Muppet writers and I’d love to work with either of them in the future. But as far as art goes, Disney have been very generous in allowing different styles, which is why we have seen my very on-model art existing happily alongside the super-toon styles of Langridge and James Silvani (Muppet King Arthur and Darkwing Duck).
TFAW.com: There’s been a big push lately, with Boom! and with other publishers, in kids comics. Do you feel like kids are responding to these books?
AM: I’m not really qualified to comment on how well the comics have done generally, but we had fantastic response from kids and parents at the Cons we did throughout 2010. When we have comics based on hugely successful movies/franchises like Cars and Toy Story, kids’ heads are going to turn when they see the huge Lightning McQueen banner at our booth!
Monsters Inc. was very popular with little girls–well, what little girl doesn’t want to be Boo and have a big blue cuddly monster take care of her? Parents were very drawn to the Muppet Classics, probably because a familiar fairy tale retold by funny animals is always a safe, fun bet. I had several parents tell me they’d read Muppet Peter Pan to their kids doing all the voices, which is just awesome.
TFAW.com: What would you say to a parent who’s on the fence about his or her child reading comics?
AM: Let the kid read comics. Go into any comic store and ask and there will always be something safe for kids to read.
I grew up reading George Herriman’s Krazy Kat and I turned out okay! Why’s everyone looking at me . . . ?
TFAW.com: If you could *poof!* pick any other comic that’s currently being published to draw, what would you choose?
AM: There are a couple of comics I would love to draw, unfortunately neither of them exist: Jem and the Holograms and She-Ra, Princess of Power. Someone do something about this!
But for the serious answer: Top of the list would be Doctor Who. Even though I have never drawn serious sci-fi, I’d love the challenge to draw it on a show I love.
I’d also jump to do any further Disney comics that may be in the pipeline in the wake of the success of Darkwing Duck. I’ve done quite a few covers for Darkwing and Rescue Rangers, and they bring my animation background back full circle!
TFAW.com: What else do you have coming up?
AM: I have a couple of projects in gestation, but unfortunately I can’t talk about any of them yet! Most vexing.
Our thanks to Amy for the interview! While you’re here, scope out our Muppet comics and graphic novels for the little readers in your life–or even yourself (we won’t tell!). You can also check out Amy’s cover art for Donald Duck & Friends and Mickey Mouse & Friends.
Have you checked out our Kids Comics Month page? What kids comics are you following right now? Post your comments below!