It sure seems like ToughPigs has been around forever, doesn’t it? But for every Grover there’s a Fuzzyface. For every Gonzo there’s a Cigar Box Frackle. For every Sesame Workshop there’s a CTW. And for ToughPigs, there’s MuppetZine.
Starting in the summer of 1992 and running for the next five years, Danny Horn self-published four issues of MuppetZine per year. In many ways, it was the proto-ToughPigs, containing commentaries and news updates, but it also served as the basis for the Muppet Wiki, with episode guides, merchandise lists, and other minute details which previously had no other home. Because remember, kiddies, this was still in the early days of the World Wide Web. We still relied on the US Post Office and real paper and staples and stuff.
Another amazing result of MuppetZine was the talent that came from those early issues. Chris “Smig” Smigliano, who later designed all of the artwork on ToughPigs, started out sketching for Danny, as well as creating not one but two logos for the ‘zine. Contributors included Muppet blogger D.W. McKim, Muppet Central founder Phil Chapman, lots of Muppet fans who are still on the message boards today, and even your old pals Joe and Ryan. It was a veritable Who’s Who of Muppet fandom before anybody was anyone!
Over the next week, we’ll be writing about all 20 issues of MuppetZine, spotlighting the innovative stuff as well as the silly. It’ll be like you had a subscription of your own! Except shipping costs a little less.
The first thing you would notice if you had this issue in front of you is that it’s incredibly flimsy. Danny upped the paper budget eventually, but I feel like I’m going to rip it every time I turn the page. Anyway.
The front cover, as you can see, announces the two big stories of 1992 that you probably missed since you didn’t have Twitter yet. “Richard Hunt dies, New Muppet film in 92.” So imagine getting the very first MuppetZine in the mail, and you’re so excited to read the only bit of Muppet fandom in the publishing world, and then the first thing you see is that Richard Hunt is dead. Way to start on a down-note.
The disclaimer on the first page reads, “MUPPETZine is published irregularly, maybe four times a year and maybe not. Submissions are blatantly encouraged.” Despite his trepidation, Danny kept to that schedule, and reader submissions would become a huge portion of the ‘zine. The next sentence reveals Danny’s then home address, which is awfully trusting considering he was sending it out to crazies like you and me.
Page two is a Letter From the Editor, explaining why this issue is free, and why you should send him your submissions (also for free). It also explains that yes, it’s very sad that Jim Henson and Richard Hunt have passed away, but don’t worry because there’s bound to be good news too! And it’s a good thing he said that, because the headline on the next page shouts in all caps, “RICHARD HUNT DIES”. My copy of MuppetZine #1 is riddled with tear stains.
But don’t worry, there really is good stuff. The other news updates include announcements for The Muppet Christmas Carol, Dog City, Pinocchio, the second season of Dinosaurs, The Muppets at Walt Disney World, and Mother Goose Stories (okay, so they’re not all good news). There’s also a little bit about how Sesame Street has no plans to kill off Ernie in the wake of Jim’s death. And believe me, that was an important piece of information to have, since nobody really knew anything about anything back in 1992.
The rest of the issue consists of a transcript of a scene from the Señor Wences episode of The Muppet Show, a biography on Brian Henson, a review of the first season of Dinosaurs, and a list of some Muppet, Dinosaurs, and Muppet Babies merchandise Danny found while shopping around (but no pictures, so you’ll just have to use your imagination). And after just 12 pages, the first issue of MuppetZine comes to a humble close with a promise to revisit in three months.
Smig Art: None! Come back next issue!
The sophomore issue of MuppetZine starts with a momentous occasion: The very first printed Muppet illustrations by Smig. As you’ll see below, Smig took aim at Gonzo, Oscar, The Trash Heap, Bunsen, and Beaker. Little did he know that almost 20 years later, he’d still be doodling Muppets for us. (Only a few more decades left in your contact, Smig! Now get me three pages of Lew Zealand by Friday!)
Now that the free issue has come and gone, Danny starts asking for a whopping $1.50 per issue for future MuppetZine installments. Because as everyone knows, Muppet fans are made of dollars and fifty-cent pieces.
In the next Letter From the Editor, Danny shares his excitement that yes, there are other Muppet fans across the country (again, how would we know that without the all-knowing internet??), and at least 80 of them have already subscribed to MuppetZine. And with that, Muppet fandom is off the ground and running!
The news in this issue include some updates on the previously mentioned Muppet Christmas Carol, Dog City, and Dinosaurs. There are announcements of books like this Jim Henson guide, this unreleased Jim Henson biography, and this StoryTeller book (which, strangely enough, was released in 1988). There’s a bit about the Jim Henson museum in Leland, Mississippi, and lots more about photo-less merchandise.
After republishing a New York Times article about the Hensons suing the Wilkins Coffee Company over their attempt at merchandising Wilkins and Wontkins (Seriously? We almost had Wilkins merch???) and a short review on the first episode of Dog City, Danny begins a project that will take up the next few issues of MuppetZine and set the basis for the Muppet Wiki. It’s part one of The Muppet Show Episode Guide.
I remember being young and seeing episode guides for classic TV shows at the book store, and remembering how I wanted every one of them for… I have no idea why. For reference? To justify the ungodly amount of television I watched? In any case, this was the first time I’d ever seen a Muppet Show episode guide, and it was sorely overdue.
What’s also interesting is the missing information. Danny didn’t know original air dates, and he didn’t have all of the information for episodes he didn’t own. And he shouldn’t’ve needed to, but now that we live in a world where the Muppet Wiki contains 24,000 articles and hundreds of contributors, there’s no dearth of Muppet knowledge to be had. What I’m saying is, we’re totally spoiled living here in the future.
Next up is two full pages explaining the Disney/Henson merger, which didn’t happen. What a ridiculous idea that was, Disney owning the Muppets! Why, I guffaw at you, 1992! Guffaw, guffaw!
The issue ends with the first “Wanted” segment, in which readers could post ads for pieces of Muppet merchandise they’re looking for. For example, Scott R. is looking for a Scooter doll or any other Scooter toy! 19 years later, I hope Scott has managed to sate his appetite for Scooter merchandise over and over again.
The third issue begins with one of my favorite Muppet Show jokes (which may have been inspired by MAD Magazine?), which Danny and Smig brought along to the ‘zine: MuppetZine sucks. No, not really. But I think it’s hilarious to say so, and then embrace the suckiness. The Muppets have always been funniest when they acknowledge that they’re failures at putting on a good show (despite the fact that the show is brilliant). Replace “The Muppets” with “MuppetZine”, and you’ve got half of the comics from Smig in these issues. (Note: See the Sam the Eagle cartoon below to see the comic in question.)
The Muppet Christmas Carol was released between issues #2 and #3, so Danny recaps the response from the critics and fans (same thing, really). He says that the movie had mixed reviews (which is crazy, since it’s so fondly remembered today) and that it opened at #6, behind A Few Good Men, Home Alone 2, The Bodyguard, Aladdin, and The Distinguished Gentlemen. (Remember any of those? Me neither.) He then quotes a few misinformed reviewers, including one who was perplexed as to why Oscar the Grouch didn’t play the part of Scrooge. Yes, Virginia, people are idiots.
Next up is a list of upcoming Henson projects, none of which ever happened: Into the Woods, Pests, Lili, Borgel, Gorey Island, and a movie based on the Dinosaurs TV show. I’ll let your imaginations run wild on what some of those might’ve been. There’s also a rumor report about the expansion of Sesame Street.
The next segment contains the first Muppet insider to have worked with MuppetZine. Muppet Babies storyboard artist Scott Shaw (creator of Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew) wrote an article about his experiences working on the show. And in Googling Scott Shaw just now, I learned that he has the balls to spell his name with an exclamation point: “Scott Shaw!” Good on ya, Shaw!
In keeping with the Muppet Babies theme, Danny recaps the episode “Noisy Neighbors“, which of course is the best Muppet Babies episode because it’s the one where Gonzo becomes “Super Gonzo”, inflated biceps and all.
This is also the first issue featuring “The Balcony”, short opinion pieces written by MuppetZine readers. There are only two entries here (by Nikki Gustas and Ron Hogan… are you guys still out there??), both of which offer reviews of The Muppet Christmas Carol. Neither of them loved the movie, but they didn’t hate it either. Statler and Waldorf would be insulted at the lack of enthusiasm.
After three more Muppet Christmas Carol reviews (!), issue #3 comes to a close, and I still have no idea whether or not I liked the movie.
MuppetZine must’ve been a big hit by this point, because the paper quality just went up a few notches. And now I feel comfortable enough to take it on the subway without fear of getting grease stains on it! (Note: This is not true. I avoid taking my MuppetZines out of their protective vinyl polyurethane baggies at all costs.)
The issue begins with the first instance of fan letters, although there are only two (one of which is from Smig). The news section includes a bit about Kermit, Gonzo, and Rizzo appearing at Bill Clinton’s inaugural celebration (ah, the 90s!), rumors about the cancellation of Dinosaurs, a report that City Kids filmed its pilot episode, and the debut of everyone’s favorite annoying bird H. Ross Parrot.
Continuing the previous issue’s Henson/Disney saga, the next few pages chronicle the Muppets history with the Disney theme parks, including details on MuppetVision 3D and the creepy big-headed live Muppet shows. This section was particularly notable for me, since I hadn’t been to Disney World in three years in 1993, which happened to be just a few months before the Muppets made their Disney debut. And as of this writing, I still haven’t been back, so it’s still a poignant article to me. Let’s all take a break from reading to have a good cry about it.
One interesting segment is “Pigs in Space: The Next Generation”, written by Chris Aylott. (Note: Remember, this was long before Deep Dish Nine ruined Muppet sci-fi parodies for everyone.) It’s a short story about the Muppets on some sort of Federation-class starship. But what’s surprising is that it’s fanfic, something I believe Danny was not an advocate of. It may be some people’s cup of tea, but it rarely made its way to MuppetZine or ToughPigs. So of course, it’s as out of place here as a Klingon in a bubble bath.
The MuppetZine Trivia Contest debuts in this issue, offering three prizes (Fraggle Rock toys, a Miss Piggy doll, and two issues of Muppet Magazine) to anyone who can name the human guest stars who appeared in both a Muppet movie and The Muppet Show. If you have a guess, send in your answers by June 30, 1993 to be eligible to win!
Next up is my favorite article of the issue: “Speculations: The Fraggle Life Cycle”. It analyzes the idea that Fraggle life spans may not be as long (or as short) as we think. Obviously this is a subject worth discussing to death. I mean, not literally. Unless Fraggles really don’t live that long. Then, y’know. Yeah.
The issue ends with the next part of The Muppet Show episode guide and another New York Times article reprint, thus bringing MuppetZine’s first year to a close and beginning the anticipation for the next.
Head on back soon for part two, when we spotlight Miss Piggy, Sesame Street, The Jim Henson Hour, and merchandising!
Click here to self-publish on the ToughPigs forum!
by Joe Hennes – Joe@ToughPigs.com