Flying pigs, enchanted swamps, and a healthy dose of Muppet madness land in comic stores this week with the first issue of "Muppet Peter Pan," a four-issue miniseries from Boom! Studios. Written by Grace Randolph and illustrated by Amy Mebberson, the series was created in the tradition of Muppet movies reinterpreting classic stories and features Kermit the Frog in the role of Peter Pan, with Miss Piggy co-starring—*ahem*—starring as Tinkerbell. CBR News caught up with Randolph and Mebberson to discuss the project.
Randolph began by offering hints as to ways her story would differ from the traditional Peter Pan--aside, of course, from the comic's cast of Muppets. "Set phasers to 'tease!'" she joked, not wanting to give the game away. "Both NeverSWAMP and NeverLAND exist here, but with one crucial difference! Does Captain Hook have another enemy besides Peter Pan? As Wendy, Janice will have more lines than EVER BEFORE! Can you spot my Muppet Whatnot, who's named Josh? (Thanks for including him, Amy!) Around Thanksgiving last year, when they had just opened the Muppet Whatnot Workshop at FAO Schwartz in New York City, I made myself one! I wasn't sure what to name him, but my sister had the excellent idea of naming him after the guy who made him at the Workshop. Thus the name Josh. At the first, the guy thought I was a little weird because I wanted to know his name, but then when I told him what it was for he was honored."
Randolph's background in performance, both as host of internet movie review show Beyond the Trailer and as a sketch comic at Upright Citizens Brigade, informs her approach to writing the Muppets. "Everyone knows the Muppets in action, not on paper," the writer said. "So when people read 'Muppet Peter Pan,' it's different from reading other comics. We all know how the characters sound and how they act going in, so in a way I'm not just writing a comic but a comedy show. A Muppet comedy show. One that everybody will see in their heads as they read, and which they instantly need to recognize as the Muppets know and love. It's not my job to reinvent the Muppets, but to take them on a new adventure that lives up to their stellar reputation. Yes, when people pick up that first issue they have high expectations, and I hope that 'Muppet Peter Pan' not only meets them but exceeds them. And I suppose it's that pressure to perform - it's showtime! - and realizing the audience is king that a comedy performer like myself really understands. Also, the Muppets themselves are comedy performers, and a lot of their humor comes from the mentality and predicaments of comedy performers. It takes one to know one...and to write one!"
Both Randolph and Amy Mebberson, the "Muppet Peter Pan" artist, list Tokyopop among their early professional comic book experiences, though Mebberson had also spent five years working for Disneytoons Studios in Sydney in her native Australia. "I applied there as a trainee Inbetweener and worked my way up to kind of an uncredited animator and assistant animator by the time Burbank shut down the studio during the great 2D layoffs a few years ago," she recalled. "After the layoff, I moved to America and worked for Tokyopop for a while drawing a couple of graphic novels. Then, after Tokyopop's management shift in 2007, I worked freelance at LAIKA studios for a while before I found out about Boom!'s acquisition of a Pixar/Muppet license. So, so far it's been rather a back-and-forth pattern between comics and animation, but this is the first time the two have actually combined! "I'd always drawn Disney fanart just for my own amusement, and some of it got a bit of an online following, so I'm mostly known for my Disney work online anyway," Mebberson continued. "Working on Disney comics is a pretty natural job for me. I'd still like to do animation character design some time; that, or storyboarding. Animation pre-production is hard to break into, but that's where some of the most magnificent art is produced."
Randolph was a success story from Tokyopop's talent recruitment program. "I was just getting started as a writer in comics when an editor suggested I send some pitches to Tokyopop. Luckily my pitch caught the eye of an assistant editor there and was accepted into Tokyopop's Pilot Program. 'Nemesis: Who Me?' was the first to be published in that program and - I'm happy to say - was the most viewed of all the pilots," Randolph said of her earliest project, noting that she later wrote other manga for Tokyopop as well as an issue of "Justice League Unlimted" for DC Comics. "The head editor of the Pilot Program was Paul Morrissey, who later landed the sweet gig at BOOM! Studios of editing the Muppet books, and he asked me to pitch some stuff. I pitched. Paul liked it. Disney liked it. 'Muppet Peter Pan' was born!"
"I would like to add that Paul has recently passed the editorial torch to Aaron Sparrow," Randolph continued, "and Aaron has taken that torch and run with it with such gusto that I have a great time running alongside him! We're in it to win it! *ahem* Here, winning is putting out a great book that we're all proud of and that YOU enjoy."
Both creators expressed a love of the Muppets dating back to childhood. "I think the cool thing about the Muppets is that EVERYONE has a personal history with them," Randolph said. "I've been watching the Muppets since I was a kid, from their movies to Muppet Babies to their theme park ride! And what I feel really clicks with audiences, young and old, is that even though the Muppets are 'characters,' they don't just make kid jokes. The Muppets appeal to all ages because they crack jokes for all ages. Obviously, I don't mean that every single joke plays with every single person, but that Muppet comedy is a potpourri of humor. And because of that, one can enjoy the Muppets as a kid, a teenager, and an adult, which is what makes these long personal histories with the characters possible." She also described "A Muppet Christmas Carol" as "my Rosetta Stone."
Mebberson, for her part, considers herself more of a fan of Jim Henson than of the Muppets in and of themselves. "I'm very staunchly old-school in my Muppet preferences. My personal Muppet canon is the original tv series and the first 3 movies - basically everything up until Jim's death," she said. "The Muppets were a fond part of my childhood, obviously, because of their role in 'Sesame Street,' but I was particularly obsessed with 'Muppet Babies.' Gosh, I adored that cartoon. It's such a shame that the liberal borrowing of footage from other shows and movies makes a DVD release rather prohibitively difficult. I'd love to see those again."