The second issue of Muppet Robin Hood will be released this week (See our review of #1 here). Today, we’ve got a Q&A with writer Tim Beedle.
TOUGH PIGS: The obvious first question: How did you get the Muppet Robin Hood job? Were you approached by Boom!, or did you seek it out?
TIM BEEDLE: Actually, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m very fortunate in that I worked alongside Paul Morrissey, the editor overseeing all of BOOM!?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Muppet and Pixar titles, when he was at TOKYOPOP. I was the editor on both Return to Labyrinth and Legends of The Dark Crystal, so Paul knew of my love and admiration for Jim Henson?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s work, as well as my complete obsession when it came to the Muppets. When Paul landed at BOOM! and learned he would be editing Muppet comics, I imagine I was one of the first writers he approached. Most likely because he knew he?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d never hear the end of it from me if I wasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t.
TP: Whose idea was it to do Robin Hood as the first Muppet adaptation comic?
TB: Well, I believe Paul made the decision to launch BOOM!?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s line of adaptations with Muppet Robin Hood rather than any of the other ones that had been pitched, but the idea of adapting that particular legend was mine. When Paul approached me about pitching ideas, he told me that BOOM! wanted to do a line of Muppet parodies in the vein of Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, so I thought about some stories that might make sense for a line of comics like that. We wanted the adaptations to be based on classics and I wanted to take advantage of the fact that these were comics rather than films, so budget and sets weren?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t an issue. We could do something epic if we wanted to.
At the same time, I wanted to do something that felt appropriate for the Muppets. For example, I thought briefly of adapting a Jules Verne book like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but that just didn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t feel like a natural fit for the Muppets. Robin Hood just struck me as something we could have a lot of fun with, and it offered a big enough cast and story to include not only the really popular Muppets everyone knows and loves, but some of the more obscure ones as well.
Plus, it was an action story, so we could have swordfights, archery and Muppets riding on horses, without having to stress over how it could be done technically with puppets. Finally, in my opinion, Robin Hood is a legend that hasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t been appropriately skewered yet. Yes, there?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Robin Hood: Men in Tights, but as much as I love Mel Brooks, I don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t think that?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s one of his better movies. I figured the Muppets could do a much better job of parodying it.
TP: When you started working on the comic, were you aware that the Muppets had done the Robin Hood story on an episode of The Muppet Show? Have you seen the episode, and if so, did it influence your writing in any way?
TB: I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve seen the episode, but I don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t consider it a full-on adaptation any more than I consider the Mark Hamill episode to be ?¢‚Ç¨?ìMuppet Star Wars.?¢‚Ç¨¬ù I see that version of Robin Hood as more of an extended skit performed on the show. After all, the real story that drives that particular episode is Piggy?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s anger at losing out on the role of Maid Marian to Lynn Redgrave. The Robin Hood story was just the onstage texture.
That said, I think it?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a really great episode that came along when the classic Muppets were in their prime. Because of that, I deliberately avoided rewatching it until after I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d gotten well underway in scripting the comic since it would?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve been tempting to lean on the casting choices and humor of the episode a bit too much. All things considered, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d say that particular episode really wasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t much of an influence on my writing. However, I do include a small shout-out to the episode in the third issue. A character shows up briefly in our story that fans of the episode will recognize.
TP: How did you decide which Muppet would play which character from the Robin Hood story? Were any of the parts especially challenging to cast?
TB: Some of them seemed obvious to me, but others were more challenging. Clearly, Robin and Marian were pretty obvious (with all due respect to Ms. Redgrave). Little John was a bit of a challenge, but once the thought of Sweetums taking on the role entered my mind, I couldn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t let it go. Fozzie shows up as Friar Tuck in the second issue, and that seemed like a pretty clear choice to me as well, though for a reason that won?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t be completely obvious until you read the issue (let?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s just say that Friar Tuck plays a much different role in this version of Robin Hood than he usually plays).
I had a lot more trouble with the villains than the heroes because the only Muppets that stand out as ?¢‚Ç¨?ìvillainous?¢‚Ç¨¬ù are pretty obscure, like J.P. Grosse. In the movies, this problem was usually addressed by casting a human actor as the chief villain (Michael Caine in Muppet Christmas Carol and Tim Curry in Muppet Robin Hood), and when it came time to put together the cast list, I suddenly understood why. Fans who grew up with the original show tend to think of all of the Muppets as being part of a close family of performers and it just doesn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t feel natural to imagine them doing harsh things to each other.
On top of that, I wanted to provide substantial roles to as many Muppets as I could, so we actually have three main villains in our story: Prince John, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy of Gisbourne. Finding Muppets to play all three was hard.
Prince John hasn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t shown up yet and I don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t want to give him away, but when I hit on the idea of using this particular Muppet in the role, I got excited because it just felt fun. Plus, for some reason, he?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a Muppet you don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t see as being particularly close to most of the others, so he works well as a villain.
However, the Sheriff and Guy went through a bit of recasting. Originally, I had Gonzo playing the Sheriff and Rizzo as Guy, but Disney really seemed to like the idea of Sam as the Sheriff. So Rizzo became a Merry Man, Gonzo became Guy and Sam?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùwho I was originally going to use as Will Scarlet?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùbecame the Sheriff. And I think it?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s worked out really well. Sam and Gonzo are so utterly different that I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve been having a blast teaming them up. They?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢re the oddest couple imaginable.
TP: We were pretty surprised to see Hilda make an appearance. What inspired you to include such an obscure character? Will we see any other similarly little-known Muppets in later issues?
TB: Absolutely. As I said, part of the appeal of doing Robin Hood is it has a big cast. I knew from the start that I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d be able to feature all sorts of cameos within the structure of the story. Plus, since this is a comic book and not a film or TV special, we don?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t need to worry about whether the original puppeteers would be available or how the characters would come off with a different performer if not. In other words, the sky?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s the limit for what characters you may see! I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve unofficially branded issue #3 the ?¢‚Ç¨?ìcameo issue,?¢‚Ç¨¬ù so expect to see a bunch of familiar faces in that one. However, we have a couple fun ones in issue #2 as well.
As for why I used Hilda, one of the unfortunate truths about the Muppets is that there are only two female Muppets who are particularly well known: Piggy and Janice. That means you need to be a little creative when it comes to casting female characters. I wanted Marian to have a few female companions so that she?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d always have someone to interact with when she?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s away from Robin, and Hilda is such a great early Muppet. She definitely seemed to fit the role of the dressmaker to me. I think that may be Hilda?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s only appearance, though. Marian has a slightly younger companion in the next couple of issues. I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll let your readers speculate as to who that might be. *smiles*
TP: How close are you sticking to the source material? How are you deciding what to include and what to leave out? Have you studied any other adaptations (e.g. the Disney animated movie) as part of your preparation for the comic?
TB: I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m very familiar with most of the better known adaptations?¢‚Ç¨‚Äùthe classic Errol Flynn movie, the Disney version, Kevin Costner?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Prince of Thieves, even Robin McKinley?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s Outlaws of Sherwood. I still think the Flynn version is best if anyone?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s looking to watch the legend brought to life on screen.
However, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not really concerning myself too much with any of those, or with staying too faithful to the legend. My thoughts are that anyone who wants to experience the story of Robin Hood probably isn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t going to start with this comic. Rather, I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m writing this story for Muppet fans, and as such, the legend is just a loose framework. I certainly haven?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t thrown it out entirely. All the famous elements and characters are there. But we?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢re clearly taking some big liberties with it, and they only get bigger as we go on. In fact, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is more of an influence on the way I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m approaching this adaptation than any Robin Hood film or book. I think that movie?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s one of the strongest examples of how to use a famous story as framework for absurd comedy.
TP: How much input did you have regarding the choice of artist for the book?
TB: On just about any licensed comic book project, the writer is going to have very little say in who the artist is. I think you pretty much know that going in. However, Paul did ask me if I had any thoughts or suggestions. I offered up a couple of names, but it was Paul who suggested Armand Villavert, Jr. I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve known Armand for a few years, so I was thrilled for this chance to work with him. He?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a good guy and a big fan of the Muppets. The minute I saw his sample pages, I knew he?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d be a great fit.
A project like this is really pretty difficult for an artist when you think about it. Not only does an artist have to accurately reproduce dozens of distinct characters in a way that pleases the fans, but he or she has to draw them doing elaborate actions that there really isn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t any precedent for. I mean, as far as I know, the Muppets have never had a staff fight over a river. If you think about it, that?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s a difficult thing to draw, especially considering the two combatants are Kermit and Sweetums. Sweetums is at least five times the size of Kermit! Any staff that Kermit could reasonably wield would be little more than a twig for Sweetums. How could he possibly stand a chance in that fight? The cool thing about Armand is he can pull stuff like that off in such a way that you never ask those kinds of questions. He makes that staff fight look like the most natural thing imaginable.
One last little thing I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ll add is that while I can?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t take credit for Armand, one of the names I suggested to Paul was Amy Mebberson. Paul was already familiar with Amy?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s work and was speaking to her about the Pixar comics, so I can?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t claim to have fully gotten that ball rolling, though I do believe that I was the first person to get behind the idea of having her draw the Muppets. Amy has such a natural gift for comedic timing. It?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s one of the best I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve ever seen. I can?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t wait to see what she does with Muppet Peter Pan. Seriously, Amy Mebberson and Grace Randolph? I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m telling you guys now, that book is going to be AWESOME!!!
TP: What kind of notes or feedback have you gotten from the Disney people?
TB: Disney?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s notes have been very constructive and helpful, and they?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve made some great suggestions. As you know, we have Jim Lewis approving each of these comics and his feedback has been invaluable. Giving credit where it?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s due, it was Jim who suggested using Louis Kazagger for the sports announcer in the first issue. I had completely overlooked that character when writing that scene, but Louis was the perfect choice.
The character suggestions we?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve gotten from Jim Lewis and Disney have been great, but they?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve also been really helpful when it comes to figuring out the balance between character and role. That?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s trickier than you may think. After all, Robin Hood as a character is much different than Kermit the Frog, so how much ?¢‚Ç¨?ìKermit?¢‚Ç¨¬ù can we bring to the role? There?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s been a fair bit of back-and-forth between me, Paul and Disney on those sorts of things.
TP: Are there any plans for you to work on future Muppet comics after Robin Hood wraps up? Are there any ideas that you’re itching to do?
TB: I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢d love to do more with the Muppets, but nothing?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s set in stone at this point. If BOOM! asks me to write another series, I certainly wouldn?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢t turn them down. I suppose whether or not I get the opportunity probably depends a lot on how well Muppet Robin Hood performs. So far it seems to be doing okay, so my fingers are crossed!
I do have a second pitch in at BOOM! for another Muppet adaptation. I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢m not sure I should reveal it here since it may or may not happen, but it?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s another large-scale adventure story that also has great opportunities for humor. I think could be PERFECT for the Muppets. In fact, just between us, it was actually my favorite of my two initial pitches. As proud as I am of Muppet Robin Hood, I think this other one could be even better.
TP: The age-old question: Who?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢s your favorite Muppet?
TB: You know, this question was a lot simpler before I started writing Muppet comics. I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve noticed that I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve become really fond of some Muppets who I never gave much thought to before when I discovered what a blast they are to write. Janice is one example of this. She has easily become one of my favorite characters in Muppet Robin Hood.
As for my favorite Muppet all around?¢‚Ç¨¬¶well, can I choose two? My favorite on the show was always the Swedish Chef. His segments still crack me up no matter how often I?¢‚Ç¨‚Ñ¢ve seen them. However, I also really like Rowlf. I always admired how he could play the straight man as well as the clown. And he narrated Dog City, which I thought was a lot of fun!
Our thanks to Tim Beedle for sharing his answers with us! Click here to talk about Muppet Robin Hood and other Muppet comic books on the Tough Pigs forum!