Part 1 – Part 2
Previously on ToughPigs, we were talking with Rebecca Taylor and Cameron Chittock, the editor and assistant editor of the Henson line of comics at Archaia Comics. Today, that discussion continues with talks of The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow, Fraggle Rock: Journey to the Everspring, and what they see in for the future of Henson comics.
Rebecca Taylor: Yay!
ToughPigs: So you were involved with that one from the start?
Rebecca: We started working on that one right around the time we came to BOOM!. Stephen Christy was involved and he’s still involved with all the archival stuff. He was the one that facilitated getting the treatment for that TV special Jim and Jerry wrote as our next big archival project. Then he passed it off to us and we were lucky enough to get Roger Langridge on it who is … just the best. He is the best. He’s the best.
ToughPigs: Was Roger your first choice?
Cameron Chittock: Yeah! He was the only guy we ever went out to. He had this award-winning, beloved run on The Muppet Show comic book, so in terms of getting somebody that Henson fans would be excited about, he was perfect. For people who read Turkey Hollow or have read Muppet Show but haven’t read his series Snarked! that BOOM! published, you should because it’s brilliant.
ToughPigs: Snarked! is fantastic.
Cameron: It’s so good. So he was always the guy. As soon as he was locked in, you knew what it was going to be. With these archival things there’s that nervousness until you know how it’s going to look and how it’s going to feel and as soon as we got Roger on you knew exactly how it was going look and feel, and yet he still constantly one-upped our expectations every step of the way. The way he translated the puppets, the monsters, into comic book form is just amazing. They feel so Henson-y and so funny. That was part of the fun, just watching him challenge himself in how to take photos of these puppets that exist and make them work for comics.
Rebecca: When he sent us the character designs we just lost it. They’re just so cute! And every time he’d send in new pages we’d look at every panel and make sure we knew where every monster was because you never knew what the monster was going to be doing, ’cause he’d always have them doing something ridiculous. Even if they didn’t have a place in the scene he’d have them doing something wacky in the background. It’s so cute, it’s like a Where’s Waldo? book.
ToughPigs: And that’s – Roger gets that totally. ‘Cause that was a big thing when Muppets started, all those puppeteers, if they were in the background of the shot they were doing something. They weren’t just watching Kermit, they were doing something in the background and trying to steal the spotlight and always trying to one-up each other, and that whatever’s going on in the foreground you were still watching the background. And Roger gets that so well.
Cameron: Roger one-hundred percent understands Jim not just through his properties and characters, but as a creative person. That’s why Roger did all the hand lettering, he did it all by hand with ink, which I’m sure added many, many hours to his workload and made the ridiculous deadlines we gave him just that much harder. But he knew that it’s a Henson thing and it needs to be made by hand, because that’s how Jim would have done it. That’s very much in the aesthetic and creative vibe of Jim Henson. Roger’s storytelling, if you read any of his stuff, he’s able to capture the heart of characters and scenes and moments, which I think is such a difficult thing to do, and that’s one of the things I admire most about Jim and Jerry as storytellers. No matter what you’re watching by those guys, it just has a ton of heart. And Roger has that in his art and in his writing and his personality. I mean, the guy is one of the nicest, most fun people to work with ever.
Rebecca: None of the monsters speak, they all make musical sounds which you can’t even really hear in a comic, but we use color and sound effects to translate it, and it doesn’t even matter because Roger’s character acting is so amazing. The way he draws, he can have five main characters who never say a word the entire book and you know exactly what they’re thinking, exactly what they’re feeling, exactly what they’re trying to do or communicate the entire time because they just move, they’re alive. They’re great.
Cameron: He has these ridiculous spreads where the monsters are all over the place a lot of over-the-top moments. And yet there’s a few panels where nothing exciting happens, it’s just a character, and the way Roger is able to convey emotion and what the character is thinking or feeling with his art style is so cool. When I think of the book after the initial laughing over Shoop and Bowb and their goofiness, it’s how much emotion he can convey in a tiny little square that never ceases to amaze me.
Rebecca: When Krcch takes the guitar pick is one of my favorite moments. (takes out book, points to panel) This one. It’s my favorite moment, Timmy passing him the guitar pick, promising that he’ll come back.
Cameron: One of the fun challenges of it was that it’s the Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow, so you can’t avoid the fact that this was something that was supposed to have music. If you saw the Comic Con preview issue that we did, it has the note of introduction that Jim and Jerry wrote, and it talks about what they had in mind for the music and why it’s such a big part of the story. In comics there’s no music, that’s not a thing. So how do we use the tools of comics to make music work? It was a lot of spitballing with Roger and with Ian Herring, who was the colorist and also colored Tale of Sand, and those guys just came up with a way of using musical notes, sound effects, and color, and these sweeping ink strokes to visually show music. I think if you read that introduction, the way that Jim and Jerry describe music, it almost feels like you would have to do it through color, through visuals, because they’re describing music in a way that’s more of a feeling than sound.
Rebecca: It’s like synesthesia.
Rebecca: (points to another page) This sequence is one of my favorites that Roger ever did, where he has the musical notes and Shoop literally grabs the broken note and bites it and sends it off, and it’s good.
Cameron: He straightens it out. I remember Roger was like, “Well, you know, I don’t know if it’s possible but I’ll give it my best shot.” And then he turns that in and I’m like, “Oh my god, Roger, this is perfect! This is totally better than anything we could’ve come up with.”
Rebecca: Ian brought a lot to it with the way that he colored everything. Each monster has their own color scheme and their sound effect, and then he has the crazy alien swash of colors that goes with Roger’s swirly inks. He also does these panels where he knocks out the background in black, because he was going for that sense of having a black drop over the puppeteers. He wanted to kind-of get that feeling of behind-the-scenes. Even though this doesn’t necessarily translate to that, that was a call-out specifically to the puppeteers and how they were covered. It was just so cool that these guys care so much about Henson and the process.
Cameron: In the end papers, Roger drew a scene from the book but from the other side and drew Jim and Jerry and a bunch of different puppeteers as if the book had been filmed.
Rebecca: Then in the front we had the first photo shoot with the original puppets.
ToughPigs: There was some YouTube video with a tour of the Creature Shop, and they were basing it on these designs but building new versions and they just looked awesome.
Rebecca: It was an amazing experience.
ToughPigs: Does Roger write music? I know he writes all the lyrics.
Cameron: All the songs in here are songs that he wrote and came up with. The main song is called “Sing Me a Rainbow,” and I love how there’s that subtle nod to “Rainbow Connection.” The fun thing about Tale of Sand is that it’s so different than the Henson that we normally see because it was when he was working on these experimental and surrealist projects. Turkey Hollow feels like that classic-era of Jim Henson, and even the songs that Roger put in ties back into that as well.
Rebecca and Cameron: Yay!
ToughPigs: So the first issue is coming out next month, October. [This interview obviously took place a few months ago. — ed.]
Rebecca: October, yes. We’re really excited. We’ve done two Fraggle Rock anthologies of short stories with The Jim Henson Company so far, and then we did some digitally revamped reprints of the old Marvel/Star Fraggle Rock Classics comics done by Marie Severin and Stan Kay. We wanted with this series to do our first longer-form Fraggle story. We wanted to have them go on a Fraggle-tastic adventure. So that’s what this is. It’s a four-issue miniseries called “Journey to the Everspring” where Fraggle Rock runs out of water and they have to go to the source of all water in Fraggle Rock, which is the Everspring, deep down below in the Crystal Caves, and they go off on an adventure to save the drought. It was SO much fun. Fraggles are the best. You can do no wrong with Fraggles.
Cameron: I grew up on Sesame Street and watched all the Muppet movies, but Fraggle Rock I had no connection with prior to the comics. Working with Henson, and Kate Leth and Jake Myler, the writer and artist on the series, they’ve made me fall in love with those guys so much. It’s just been so much fun. We talk about this a lot but there’s something about Henson and his properties that lead to really fun people being fans, so we get these super fun creators and it makes the process of making the books an amazing experience. Working with Kate and Jake has just been the best.
Rebecca: Fraggle in particular. I don’t know what it is about Fraggles but every creator we’ve ever had work on a Fraggle property has just been the most fun human being. They all almost feel like Fraggles. They all are quirky and wacky and enthusiastic. At conventions when we were doing the anthologies, we would have a signing table that was just a rotating table of Fraggle contributors, and that was the party table, man! That was the best place to be. They are the sweetest people and it continued with this. Kate does a lot of work with kaBOOM!, she does some Adventure Time stuff and Bravest Warriors, and with Fraggle she just got it instantly. It really feels like the show. She included songs, which we hadn’t done really before in the anthologies. It really feels like a Fraggle Rock episode.
Cameron: She nails the voices down pat. One of the things we were talking about on our side was trying to find a bigger story that narratively almost felt like a Fraggle movie in that it was longer than just a single issue. Even the way she goes from scene to scene, it feels like you’re watching the show. It’s also a perfect introduction to each character and to Fraggle Rock, so if you were a fan of Fraggle Rock and your kids haven’t watched it yet, or you’re trying to introduce them, that first issue is such a perfect introduction the tone and vibe and spirit of Fraggle Rock. And Jake just draws the prettiest things. When you’re reading Fraggle Rock, you’ve got to read it once and enjoy yourself and have a great time. Then you have to go back and look at the goofy stuff that he puts in it. None of it’s like he’s putting in easter eggs. He just draws these goofy little creatures and bats, some of which we’re just noticing.
Rebecca: He draws all these little creatures and it just has such personality. You talked about the puppeteers always trying to outdo each other in the background, Jake does that with himself. Every time he has a panel, he’s just like, “Ooh, how many living creatures can I put in here? What can they be doing? Ooh, I’m gonna make this one even better!”
Cameron: It’s not easy taking puppet designs and making them still feel like they have the movement and personality that’s so distinct in how the puppeteers move those characters. Translating that to comics is not an easy thing to do because so much of our idea of Henson and Fraggle Rock is how those puppets work and move. Jake has an amazing ability to make that translate.
Rebecca: My favorite is how he does what I like to call “Muppet Arms.” When Kermit goes, “Ah-la-la-la-la!” Well he is able to do that! In a comic! So whenever Boober is freaking out, Jake has a specific way to doing arm motion that makes it feel like a Fraggle puppet movement. I don’t know how he does that but it’s amazing.
ToughPigs: I think it’s interesting because most of these properties are based on existing puppets, so you have to have an artist who doesn’t make it feel like there’s a hand up there, but at the same time still kind-of does.
Rebecca: Yeah, they do a good job. And Henson does a good job working with us and the artists to make sure that that is true. They trust the artists a lot to have their own style and to bring a different voice and life to Henson and to the Fraggles. But at the same time they’re also really good at making sure that no matter how we draw it, it still looks like Gobo.
Cameron: It’s weird how the mind works but there are little elements that are such a big part of the essence of each character and that’s what’s so fun about working with Henson is figuring out what those are and making sure those always translate no matter which series you’re working on.
Rebecca: I know the one that Jake has the most fun with is Boober’s hat. Boober has to wear his hat and his hair always covers his eyes. Jake always likes to get Boober into situations where the hat is somehow flying off. It’s his own personal game that he plays.
Cameron: I don’t know if he did it intentionally or if we just realized by the time he got to the fourth cover, but for the first three covers, in each cover, he’s losing his hat. In the first one he’s swinging on a vine, it’s falling off. The second one he’s running and it’s falling off. And in the third one they’re leaning over this edge and his hat is falling and Boober is reaching for it like he just dropped it. So finally, I told him when we were doing the fourth one, “Dude, you’ve gotta make sure that his hat is off!” I think he has Boober taking it off and cheering like he’s in the ’30s. It’s fantastic.
ToughPigs: That is so great. So the story for “Journey to the Everspring,” was that story developed by Kate?
Rebecca: Yeah, that was Kate. She pitched a couple ideas and that was our favorite and Henson’s favorite and that’s the one we ended up rolling with. She had a couple of really great ideas that we loved. But the Everspring was the winner.
Cameron: It was a fun challenge finding a way to tell a bigger Fraggle story, and I think the obvious and easiest way is, “Oh, they leave Fraggle Rock and they’re out in outer space.” She had this really smart way of expanding it and making it feel big while actually taking the characters in the exact opposite direction. When we were reading it we went, “Oh, this is brilliant!” Especially for Fraggle fans, the way she ties it all together is such great fan service while also just being the best storytelling option.
ToughPigs: So are there any kind of undeveloped things that you guys have heard about in the archives that you’re excited to maybe, possibly explore? I know you guys have read his biography. Was there anything in it that jumped out at you?
Cameron: There are more TV specials that never got made that I think would be fun to see.
Rebecca: I think there’s stuff that didn’t get incorporated into the Muppets from The Jim Henson Hour, a lot of segments on that that could be fun to expand on, properties to build on. But that’s the great thing about the archives is you never know. There’s always more things in there that you didn’t even know existed. Karen’s always got something up her sleeve.
ToughPigs: She must have the hardest job in the world, especially now because it’s divided between the three companies, to figure out what she can pitch to each one. Well, other than that, is there anything you wanna say to the readers at ToughPigs?
Rebecca: Just that we hope that they enjoy the new books! Everybody seems to be responding very well to the archival work that’s come out so far this year. But with Storyteller, Fraggle Rock, and The Musical Monsters of Turkey Hollow, which even though it is archival it is brand new for most people, we really hope that they get excited about the new stories and the new artists. It’s fun to have so many creators that we believe in and who are genuinely good people. Everyone who worked on these Henson books are fun, wonderful people and we hope the fans react to that in the same way that we did, which was just pure joy.
Cameron: Working with the Henson Company is just the best. And I think part of what makes it so much fun is that everybody, whether it’s the people at the Henson Company or the people here at BOOM! or the people making the books are just huge fans of Jim and Jerry and all the other collaborators that he worked with. The best part of the job is not just that we’re making this stuff but that we get to share it with fans. It is this universally celebrated thing that everyone loves getting their hands on and the fact that we get to help out, is a lot of fun and really rewarding.
ToughPigs: Well thank you both so much! Like you said, it’s great to see that involved here are fans and that really shines through in everything you do. We all love it.
Our extreme thanks to Rebecca Taylor, Cameron Chittock, Mel Caylo, and everyone at Archaia and Boom! Comics!
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by Matt Wilkie