Sunday at Comic-Con International in San Diego is traditionally Kids Day, so CBR started the day at a very kid-friendly panel, BOOM Kids! "The Muppet Show" focus featuring the author and artist himself, Roger Langridge.
Mark Waid opened the proceedings by apologizing for the panel's delayed start, but he had priorities; "Rank has it's privileges - I'm currently forcing Roger to do a sketch for me." The audience laughed, and Waid went on to suggest that the audience later head down to the BOOM Kids!! booth for their own sketches and other giveaways. When Roger was finished - yes, he was actually sketching - he showed the crowd his surreal drawing of Kermit the Frog dressed as Doctor Who.
Roger began by explaining his childhood appreciation of "The Muppet Show." "The original 'Muppet Show' came out when I was just the right age to get into it, and the sense of humor clicked with me, because it was really inspired by British musical hall and vaudeville. The kind of comedy that I'm into is of that era, like W.C. Fields, or people who work through that kind of genre, like Spike Milligan. Like everyone at that time, I was watching. You know, I thought I was a big fan until I started writing the book, then I realized that I was paddling in the shallow end."
Langridge continued by explaining that getting into comic books wasn't what his family had planned for him; "My father is one of these self-made businessmen, who couldn't see the point in getting involved in comics. I was strongly encouraged to get a 'real job.'" In 1990 Roger Langridge moved to London and "that pretty much of liberated me from any sort of family pressures." He was very clear that he moved there to work on comic books, as the comic industry didn't really exist back then. While America might have been more appropriate, as a New Zealander, "I could work legally in Britain, whereas [America] was a bit more of tricky proposition. [In London] I was able to get work, there was a bit of a boom, I got my foot in. My first actual, professional book was a book for Fantagraphics called 'Art Deco.'" The first paid professional work LAngridge landed in London was a in the comic book magazine "Deadline," then "A1" and a little bit of work in "Judge Dredd." (Some early work, like "Family of Sex," "Diabolical Liberty" and "Dr. Sputnik" can be seen on Langridge's website, hotelfred.com.) In 1993, Langridge moved to London permanently, and looking back, he noted that he hasn't had a full time job since he started working in comic books.
Waid then asked Langridge, "Whose work were you looking at as you were growing up and who hands-on mentored you?"
Roger described some of the British weekly humor magazines that he read as a shilled and teen, including "Dandy" and "The Beano." Work like Ken Reid's eye's popping, physical humor and Leo Baxendale's (creator of "The Bash Street Kids") panels were packed with information, they were frenetic and busy. In other ways, creators like Will Elder and Carl Barks. "In terms of mentoring, I suppose my brother. His attitude to writing...he put a lot into it, making it a rich reading experience. Artistically, I was sharing a studio with guy called Martin Emond who taught me how to paint, in a time when that's where British comic books were going. He thought commercially in a way that I never have been able to do."
More work followed, and then Langridge began his time on "Disney Adventure Magazine" where he was asked to create an "undergroundey style" comic.
The first "Muppet Show" comic book that Roger Langridge finally did was a Fozzy Bear story where he tried different ways to stretch the medium "I did want to exploit the comics medium. Otherwise, why do a comic, why not watch a video?"
Waid asked him to elaborate on what he meant; "Talk to me specifically about using the comics medium."
Langridge explained that, as much as possible to get away from simply transcribing TV show, he instead tried to do things that would be impossible outside of a comic book. For one example, he described drawing a scene in "Disney Adventure Magazine," the Muppet ballroom, from above, so that you could see all of the Muppets and read all of the jokes that they were telling them, explaining that being able to show all of the dialogue simultaneously would never work outside of comics.
Another difference between "The Muppet Show" TV show and the comic book is the 4-issue story arcs of the comic. "You've got to have character arcs, which is not really an issue on the TV show. So a lot of what I do is take the characters to places they can come back from."
Initially, Roger Langridge was hired for double duty, both writing and drawing "The Muppet Show," but every once in a while he teams up to write for other artists. He explained, "It definitely uses a different part of my brain, just trying to think of what the artist's strengths are. [Working with Amy Mebberson,] she knows the Muppets a lot better than I do. She suggested Skeeter," Langridge explained, "[I find myself] going a little bit further with some of the characterizations, knowing there's another set of eyes that was going to pull me back if I'm going a little bit wrong."
There are plans to release "The Muppet Show" and other BOOM Kids! comic books digitally, but at present, since it is all licensed material, it is going to take a while longer to work out legally.
As for the future, Roger Langridge is writing an all-ages book for Marvel. He described it as what he does in the morning, "before I start working on the Muppets. I got really lucky with the artist, because he's absolutely fabulous, I really like him. It's like using a different set of writing muscles than I do on the Muppets. I feel like I'm learning something."
An audience member had an interesting - if not in the spirit of Kids Day - question, as to whether Langridge has ever been tempted to let of steam by doing a Tijuana Bible version of Miss Piggy, which elicited much laughter. Langridge explained that "If I want to do something that I can't put into the Muppet show, I have other work I can put that into. But just doing that, it's not really my bag."
One audience member paid Roger a compliment, stating that "What Floyd Gottferson is to "Mickey Mouse," what Carl Barks is to "Donald Duck," you are to the Muppets" and then wondered "Do you ever write over an eight year old's head?" Langridge explained "I'm aware that I'm talking to two audiences, and I try to keep them both in my head as much as I can." Mark Waid added "The Muppets has always been something that worked on two levels. Roger clearly has a firm handle on it."
Up next for Langridge's "The Muppet Show" will be a series of monster-themed issues, including a mummy story, a vampire and a Frankenstein issue. After that will be a series of seasonally themed issues, but these are very much still in the pre-writing phase, so readers will have to wait and see how much this idea changes from initial inception to final production.
Roger closed the panel with a heartfelt message for his "Muppet Show" readers "I want to thank everyone for buying the book and taking it to heart."