sueprheroesWell, better late than never, I hope! Due to some unforeseen computer issues, I’m a few weeks late on a San Diego Comic Con 2013 update. I am very sorry about that, folks. So while at this point it’s no surprise that D23 was the place to be for Muppets Most Wanted related news this year, I’ve still got a few tidbits to tell you all about that took place this July. Wanna hear ’em? I thought you’d say, “Yes!” Read on!

As stated above, the Muppets weren’t too heavily featured at this year’s SDCC. In fact, I couldn’t even really find 11 Muppety things to include here. I mean, I probably could have if I had stretched it out a lot, but I’m not gonna do that to you guys. I like you too much. Instead I’ll give you a quick piece or two of info and then dive right into the big panel for Henson-ites this year, “Dark Crystal Author Quest: All You Need To Know.”
While we’re still waiting to hear when the next Sesame Street comic book will be hitting shelves, one thing we know for sure is that Amy Mebberson will not be a part of it. She’s a little too busy with My Little Pony right now, but has expressed interest in one day returning to Sesame Street. Once someone tells her how to get, how to get there, that is. Amy’s sometimes-partner-in-crime James Silvani also talked to ToughPigs at Comic Con International and told us that he’s got another Muppets storybook comic out soon, this one titled Bunsen and Beaker Save the Show. It’s scheduled for release on September 24th, so maybe that’ll be the extra item you add for Super Saver Shipping with Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson biography.  James also teased us about another Muppets storybook but it’s just a little too soon to announce what that will be. I also heard reports of Funko Pop‘s Muppet figures and Wacky Wobblers being big sellers and spotted quite a few attendees with boxes of shiny Animals and Kermits walking the floor.
319px-Fraggle_rock_classicsWith their recent merger with Boom! Studios, Archaia is focusing on titles that were already in development. This means that there aren’t too many announcements of Jim Henson-related properties right now, but there will be another volume of “Fraggle Rock Classics” coming in October and the softcover version of “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller Volume 1” is available now.
Speaking of Archaia (and clever segues), their Vice President of Development, Stephen Christy, was the moderator for “Dark Crystal Author Quest: All You Need To Know.” A self-proclaimed Dark Crystal fanboy, Christy was the perfect person to host the discussion about all things Gelfling. And there was quite a bit to discuss. Cheryl Henson, Jim’s daughter and President of The Jim Henson Foundation who sits on the Board of Directors for The Jim Henson Company, began the panel by saying how important the film was to her.  How important? Well, she came dressed in a homemade Jen costume, so you tell me.
So what exactly is this contest all about? Expanding much more on the initial announcement that The Jim Henson Company made, the July 20th panel went into greater detail about what they are looking for in the winning entry. Francesco Sedita, President and Publisher of Grosset & Dunlap, proudly admitted to seeing the film 117 times and having a Fizgig doll of his own. Grosset & Dunlap, by the way, is an imprint of Penguin and hosts the Penguins Young Readers leveled reading program and will publish the finished novel. Also from Grosset & Dunlap, Rob Valois is a Senior Editor who has a long history with The Jim Henson Company. He helped bring graphic novels of Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, and Mirrormask to Tokyopop and also served as Director of Development for Feature Films at JHC. Also on hand was Lisa Henson, CEO and Head of Production for The Jim Henson Company, who talked about how important franchises and legacies are to the company. She reinforced that they are interested in the old and the new while growing and developing properties like The Dark Crystal.
All of this led to a lively discussion of what The Dark Crystal is all about and what the panel hoped to see in their search for a new author. As stated on the beautiful website, which was meticulously designed by Anna Jordan-Douglas, Interactive Producer for The Jim Henson Company, the novel will take place during the era of the Gelfling Gathering. This is a new time period with new characters that have yet to be explored in previous Dark Crystal publications. The panelists feel like this is a truly Henson-esque approach to give back to the fanbase by creating this brand-new opportunity as it is the first new novel in Dark Crystal history and the first story set in this time period.
hom_large_3In short: The Gelfling Gathering occurred in the time between the second Great Conjunction and the creation of the Wall of Destiny. A Gelfling guard named Rian discovered that the great Crystal was cracked, and that the Skeksis had not only cracked the Crystal, but made it dark. He learned that the Skeksis were bending the power of the Dark Crystal to serve their wicked aims. During the Gelfling Gathering, the seven Gelfling clans aimed to form a united front to defeat the Skeksis and heal their divided world. Lisa Henson noted that this is set way before the genocide of the Gelflings and that the Gelfling Gathering is when they knew Skesis were after the life force. Before this occurrence, no one knew that the Skesis were “evil,” nor did they know that the Mystics were “good.” Both groups went into their own version of seclusion. The culture of the Gelflings is also an open area, one that a good writer would do well to develop that aspect. As a refresher, they showed a clip from The Dark Crystal, the scene in the Ruins of the House of the Old Ones. “Pay attention to the Wall of Destiny and the female on the throne, which hints towards a matriarchal society,” we were advised. Lisa also encouraged participants to take note of the philosophical message of the film – good and bad are connected, which is why people thought it was a strange ending during the original release of the film. There are many parts of a whole, unlike superheroes. The myth of The Dark Crystal incorporates different ways of philosophical thinking, which was why it was such a personal and important project for Jim.
But the rest is wide open! The P.O.V. is optional, it can be Gelflings, Mystics, or Skesis. Panelists stressed that the point of view will be one of the most important factors in considering a winner. Francesco Sedita said that “an original voice enormously connected to the world with a unique P.O.V.” is key to landing the gig. He also joked that if you write it from Fizgig’s POV, you got it! Although Stephen Christy also suggested a Fizgig graphic novel so you may want to steer clear of that idea. In fact, I would suggest avoiding Fizgig altogether, at least not that specific creature. The species itself is open to interpretation but the audience was constantly reminded that this was a prequel set many, many years prior and should be treated as such. However one character from the film, Augra, should factor into your story. Lisa mentioned that in “Creation Myths,” Augra is immortal so she would definitely be in the book. Aside from that, though, “Nothing from our world is in their world,” Lisa said. Cheryl added that the skies are different; they used triangular building blocks; there are unclear lines between animal, vegetable, and mineral. The world was created before characters and the script came last so always keep that in the forefront of your mind.
Dc2Everyone agreed that the best writer out there is one that they haven’t met yet. They’re hoping to get magic with this contest and find the perfect fan who understands the world of The Dark Crystal and help them express their vision. The contest is open to absolutely everybody (any age/skill level/etc.), but Lisa did make mention that it is not a contest for children. They are looking for a sophisticated Y.A. novel. However, if you’re a young writer who can capture that tone and voice, she encourages you to apply. Rob Valois said that the most important elements are a strong voice this is not just retelling the same stories. They want something new, fresh, and exciting, focused on character development and a story seen through a new set of eyes. They want new characters that will hopefully live forever. This work will be canon and hopefully serve as inspiration for the next twenty years. “Nothing is too far out there,” he said.
Lisa instructed everyone to look at Tokyopop/Archaia for inspiration. The website has everything you could need and there’s no need to buy the books. But of course Stephen Christy would love it if you do. The site is a labor of love, with every important event and every character categorized, as well as biographies of the creators who brought the world to life. When talks of this contest began, they looked to the Great Conjunction and overwhelmed Brian Froud with questions in meetings. They plotted out all of the mythological points and created a franchise bible that served as a foundation of the website. Rob said that while there is much information on the site, good story should come first, and they’ll work with the author to edit later. Entrants shouldn’t worry about what may or may not happen in future volumes of “Creation Myths” and focus on the current canon as of today.
318px-Poster.darkcrystalOnly five finalists will work with Rob Valois and Grossett & Dunlap. While the website has a community feature to toss out ideas and submit writings, only those five will be public and voted upon. The rest are private and creator-owned. Writing partners are okay, all that’s needed is to put one name on the submission and make mention of a writing partner in the application. The winning author will receive a Work-to-Hire Contract, where they are paid a flat fee and JHC retains the rights, and the contract is for a single novel. They stressed that this is the exact same contract they would offer if they hired someone without a contest. “It is your book,” Rob said. Cheryl said that Wendy Froud will be reading the five finalists, as well as Lisa and Cheryl, and selected Grosset & Dunlap and Henson Employees. Lisa also noted that, “Pseudonyms are encouraged but not required. If you know we know you, it’d be best to use one so that everyone knows that your work is judged fairly.” The actual publishing is not rushed. Once the winner has been chosen, Grosset & Dunlap will work with the author to help finish, edit, and polish the book before it’s sent to press. They are also not looking for art yet. Any art notes should just be quick descriptions in the text.
To wrap up the panel, Stephen asked “What was one thing Jim Henson wanted people to take away from The Dark Crystal? Lisa suggested the creativity it took and has since inspired. “I actually look at your homemade Skesis and Halloween costumes!” she excitedly told the audience. And Cheryl said that Jim loved the music, the sense of awe, and the fact that this was not our world. It was imbued with a differentness, and the importance of interconnectedness ran throughout it.
So while the Muppets weren’t as heavily featured at SDCC this year, I hope that panel has encouraged a few of you to enter the contest and become the next big thing in fantasy stories. And since no good Comic Con wrap-up would be complete without a good mash-up, here’s the Swedish Chef … sort-of. Børg børg børg!
Click here to dress like a Gelfling on the ToughPigs forum!
by Matt Wilkie

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