Launched in August, 2001, ToughPigs is celebrating its 15th year of existence! That’s a decade-and-a-half of interviews, newsbits, silly commentaries, complaints, observations, and witticisms all about the Muppets. Thanks to all of you for a great 15 years, and here’s to 15 more!
From 1992 to 1997, Danny Horn self-published MuppetZine, the Muppet magazine for fans, by fans. Recently, we shared every issue of MuppetZine here on ToughPigs, and a nostalgia-filled Danny decided to write his memories and commentary on each one. As you read his notes, feel free to read along with the MuppetZine issues!
As an added bonus, Danny provided the scans of a special MuppetZine issue from 2001 that introduced ToughPigs.com. You can read it here, and it’s included in his commentary below!
It was the summer of ’92, and I’d just graduated from college. I had a summer job in New York, and then I was going to move to Philadelphia with my boyfriend, and I really had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I was an English lit major, which meant I had no observable skills, and nothing in particular in mind. I figured something would turn up. It did, eventually.
Meanwhile, two things happened at the start of the summer that were very significant to me at the time. First, a friend of mine who worked at a comic book store gave me a toy dealer trade magazine, which had two news items about the Muppets: #1: They were making a new film called A Muppet Christmas Carol, and #2: Richard Hunt had died. The other thing was that I found a movie memorabilia shop in New York City that sold old 8×10 photos for $3.50 a pop, and they had a lot of Muppet photos. PS. I was working in New York that summer, and they paid me in money.
The most important thing about this whole story is that there wasn’t an internet yet. That’s the monster at the end of this particular book, the thing that chewed up print and bookstores and loneliness.
Right now, in summer 1992, when I have important Muppet news and really cool photos, and I want to share them with all the other Muppet fans in the world, the only way to do that was to make a pretend magazine and photocopy it at my office, and then find people to mail it to. That was seriously the only way to do it.
I gave this issue away for free, twelve pages of ten-point Courier and a cover. I only knew two places to promote it — on the rec.arts.muppets newsgroup, which I no longer had access to because I wasn’t in college anymore, and running a classified ad in the Comics Buyer’s Guide, a weekly newspaper about comics stores that sometimes ran ads about goofy small-print zines. And then I would just wait for word of mouth to spread, or for the internet to be invented, whichever came first.
I don’t remember how many of these I actually sold. I think my print runs for the later issues were around 300, but I never paid much attention to the financial end, much to my boyfriend’s despair. Starting with issue #2, I sold them for $2.50 each, which didn’t really cover the cost of printing and mailing them. I probably could have charged more money for them; nobody ever complained that it was too expensive. I don’t know why I didn’t just charge more money. Why didn’t I do that?
Well, I guess it was because it wasn’t really a magazine; it was just a weird hobby that took up most of my time. I didn’t have desktop publishing software or a scanner or anything. I had whatever computer I was using at my summer job, and then I had Microsoft Word and double-stick tape. The entire magazine, for the entire run, was made out of little scraps of paper that I stuck down with double-stick tape. Even the page numbers. MuppetZine was an utterly ridiculous thing to do, and I loved it so fiercely.
The big thing that happened after issue #1 was that I got a letter from Chris Smigliano, who’d seen the classified ad in the Comics Buyer’s Guide. He sent me a couple sketches — Gonzo reading MuppetZine and saying, “Gosh!! This is weird!! Even sick!!”, and Bunsen trying to push an issue on a terrified Beaker. This was exactly one hundred percent what I needed. I put both drawings in the issue, and Chris and I became friends. These drawings were a counterpoint to my cheerful incompetence — self-deprecating humor that tied directly into the Muppet Show sensibility.
Late 1992 was actually an encouraging time to be a Muppet fan. You would have expected that after Jim’s death, the Muppets would just fall apart, and we’d never see them again. But Brian and the kids kept the company going, and by now, there were a number of projects in flight.
Christmas Carol was coming in December, Dog City premiered in September, and Dinosaurs was starting a third season. There was a regular trickle of Muppet merchandise showing up in stores, and things were in flight.There’s a two-page article in this issue about “Untangling the Henson/Disney Deal” which is basically an explanation for why MuppetZine needed to exist. The story I was telling took place over a period of two and a half years, all in daily newspapers and weekly magazines. It was a little library research project, getting all the information and piecing together what happened. Nobody else was doing that.
A lot of this commentary is probably going to be Old Man Danny, talking about how different life was before the internet, but it really was different. Now, we’re used to the idea that you can basically find any news article that you want, even on obscure subjects, from multiple sources, within minutes and without standing up. MuppetZine came from a world where the opposite was true. If you didn’t happen to come across an article in whatever newspaper you happened to read, there was no instantly-updated search engine to help you stay informed. I didn’t even have an email address until issue #3.
The Merchandise Report in issue #2 is the perfect example of how slow the world used to be. The last paragraph on page 17 talks about “Jim Henson: A Sesame Street Celebration”, a compilation of Henson songs released as a tribute after his death. The tape came out in 1991, and apparently I’d just found out about it in Fall 1992, because Joe Walker found it and wrote me a letter about it. I don’t remember who Joe Walker was, I just know that because it says “Thanks to Joe Walker for the info.” Apparently he was my analog Amazon Recommendations service. So this news item is already a year and a half late by the time I receive it in the mail, and then it has to wait a couple months until I mail out the zine. And then, it says “You can probably find it in the children’s section of bookstores, although it’s in a white box, and not yellow like the other Golden tapes.” That paragraph is my entire life, Fall 1992.
This was the post-Muppet Christmas Carol issue, with six pages on the new movie kind of sprinkled randomly around the pages. This looks funny to me now — I can’t believe I didn’t make a bigger deal about a new Muppet movie. The equivalent for Muppet Treasure Island was issue #16, which has 21 pages on the new movie and just manages to squeeze in a few news pages.
But the big deal for this issue was the article by Scott Shaw!, a cartoonist who worked on Muppet Babies. I wasn’t crazy about Muppet Babies, but a reader hooked me up with Scott, and it was the first time I’d corresponded with anybody who’d actually worked on a Muppet production. There’s a paragraph in Scott’s piece about Little Muppet Monsters that’s pure gold — there were sixteen unaired episodes, and Jim didn’t like it either! I was super excited about bringing these little-known facts to light. That’s a big part of what MuppetZine was, for me — it was Muppet Wiki, but on paper, twelve years early, and in the wrong order.
In the Newsflash section, this is when I started tracking projects that Jim Henson Productions said they were working on, a sport that Muppet fans play to this day. There are six projects mentioned on page 4, and the only one that even got close was the live-action Pinocchio, which used a Creature Shop puppet but was produced by other people.
With hindsight, the most important thing in this issue was the debut of “The Balcony”, printing Muppet fans’ opinions about The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s only one page in this issue, but look, I invented forums.
This issue has another couple proto-Muppet Wiki articles. There’s an article about Muppet*Vision 3D and the Muppet live shows at Walt Disney World, and a synopsis of the 1975 Sex and Violence pilot, which I watched at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York while taking furious notes.
There’s also two pages of fan fiction, which I really agonized over. A friend asked if I was interested in his “Pigs in Space: The Next Generation” story, and I kind of gritted my teeth and said sure, because I wanted to encourage any kind of submissions I could get. So he sent it to me, and I instantly realized that I didn’t want to print it. It’s very cute, and I appreciate that he wrote it and sent it to me, but it includes a moment where Kermit massages Miss Piggy’s shoulders, and it just wasn’t the MuppetZine style. I’d promised to print it, so there it is, but I never did that again.
There’s a two-page article about how great it is to look for Muppet junk at drug stores and flea markets, which is utterly tragic. Ditto for the two-page Toybox section about some cool toys that I owned, badly photographed and barely recognizable.
This issue started the tradition of putting a Chris Smigliano cartoon on the back cover with Muppet characters hating on MuppetZine. There was usually one on the contents page, too, and I loved them, every single one. The back cover of issue #4 is a special favorite, because it’s got obscure monsters and it’s funny. Chris would sit at home and draw weird cartoons about how terrible my magazine was, and then he would send them to me, and I would print them, and we were just as happy as we could be about it.
The zine got longer and longer over the first four issues — from 12 pages to 18, and then 24. This issue hit 28 pages, and it stayed there for the rest of the run. I didn’t change the price at all, which is amazing. Oh, I lost so much money.
This issue was very special to me, because it was the first time I really felt like I knew what MuppetZine was supposed to be. It was a big theme issue about my favorite character, pulling information and pictures together from a bunch of different sources, and it felt like a coherent whole. Also, either I got a new version of Microsoft Word or I finally figured out how to use the version I had, because all of a sudden the pages look better. There’s little stars and shaded boxes and pull-out quotes, and I don’t know if anybody else could tell the difference, but I thought it was great.
I was also really happy with the excerpts from early-80s Miss Piggy interviews, and the Toybox pictures came out okay, and three people sent in comments for the Balcony, and there were a ton of new videotapes and albums to review in the Merchandise Report, and I just really like this issue a lot.
This was the first issue that I started just randomly sending copies to people at Jim Henson Productions, whether they wanted it or not. This had very little impact on anything, but I kept on doing it anyway.
The original version of this issue had something that’s probably my biggest regret — an off-color cartoon by Chris of Gonzo and Camilla cuddling in bed together. Gonzo’s smoking a cigarette and saying, “Was it weird for you too?” and I’m really sorry.
It’s not Chris’ fault at all — we’d both been getting more confident about the zine, because it was fun and we got lots of positive feedback, and we both enjoyed pushing the taste boundary here and there. He sent me the cartoon, I thought it was funny, and it went into this issue on page 16.
Then I got a very angry letter from a reader — probably the only one I ever got — saying that he was offended by the Gonzo cartoon, and he wanted his subscription money back. In the letter, he said that we should remember that we don’t own these characters, and these aren’t our boundaries to push. He was right, and I felt terrible, and I sent his money back with a sincere apology. When I reprinted this issue later, I replaced that page with the “Batman and Robin” cartoon that you see in the Tough Pigs collection. It felt like an appropriate replacement, because it actually calls out how lame (and tame) the joke is.
More regrets from this issue: There’s a whole page of this issue devoted to the original Muppet Show airdates in the Philadelphia market, which is absolutely pointless. They were aired in a different order on every station for some reason, and I knew that, so why I thought people would be interested in the Philadelphia running order I really can’t say. There’s also a two-page transcript of me talking about the Muppets on a local kids’ radio show which is pretty self-aggrandizing. Issue #6 was tough on me.
On the positive side — “The Sesame Street Backlash” was another proto-Muppet Wiki research project, digging into the library archives to find early critiques of Sesame Street’s educational goals. There’s a paragraph at the top of page 10 with a perfectly absurd quote from The Atlantic, which I was especially pleased about unearthing.
The Jim Henson Hour article was another research project that involved some library work, and several trips to the Museum of Television & Radio. This was a relatively unknown story at the time, and I considered it an achievement in the field of Muppet fan scholarship.
This issue also has a tragic piece on page 3 headlined “MuppetZine Goes Digital! A cool new offer from DigitalPopcorn”. This was an early-web BBS service, and the guy who was running it was a Muppet fan, so he offered to post back issues online and set up a MuppetZine bulletin board, so we could talk to other Muppet fans and share news. This would have been a huge deal — a Muppet fan forum, four years before Phil Chapman set up Muppet Central — but it never actually happened. The guy from DigitalPopcorn stopped writing back to me after a while, and I think they’d already gone out of business by the time I mailed this issue out.
A weird thing that I tried out in this issue was printing excerpts from a Kermit and Miss Piggy appearance on Larry King Live across the bottom of every page. It didn’t really work, and I never did it again. By issue #12, I finally started a regular feature of Muppet interview transcripts on the last couple pages of each issue. I have no idea why that took me so long to figure out.
One thing that strikes me, looking through these old issues again, is how little there is of the Tough Pigs style. There are a lot of places where I can see a direct through-line between this and my work on Muppet Wiki — the MT&R seminar transcript, the Muppet Show episode guide, a page that lists all of Dave Goelz’s characters — all of it solid, nutritious information that needed to be catalogued and preserved.
But my writing voice in 1994 is really far from the voice I had when I started Tough Pigs in 2001. For example, here’s the conclusion of the “Marketing the Muppets” article:
“I’m confident that the Muppets will keep their integrity as characters, and that they won’t ‘sell out’ their unique attitude for the sake of making more money. Ultimately, it depends on who really buys the merchandise and goes to the movies — if the under-tens are the only ones who are interested, we’ll see more of Billy Bunny and fewer T-shirts in adult sizes. However, if enough college students and adults start thinking that the Muppets are cool, we’ll see more products and TV shows with an adult sensibility.”
And that’s it! That’s the wrap-up for the article. I mean, it’s correct, and it’s a nice little insight, but that’s such an earnest, innocent way of saying it. It doesn’t even end with a joke. I was so serious!
There’s a little flicker of the Tough Pigs style at the start of the Secret Life of Toys review, where I confess that I’m in love with Rugby Tiger, but then it settles into a normal review, with no jokes or weird asides or anything. I really hadn’t figured out how to write yet. This self-analysis is probably way more interesting for me than it is for anybody else.
I did not write a goddamned thing in this issue.
Well, I did write the News Flash at the front and the Merchandise Report at the back, but everything else is either written by contributors or a transcript from something else. It’s lovely to see so many people pitching in for the magazine; I wanted to create a little community of Muppet fans, to the extent that that was possible through the postal system. Rose and Tina and Smig and Karen and Chris V. and Rodney and Tim and Bryan and Hugh… everybody that I met was so nice, and generous, and smart. One of the things that I’m happy about, now that all the issues are up on ToughPigs/DigitalPopcorn, is that all these people get credit again for the awesome stuff that they wrote and drew and helped with.
“Weird Moments in Muppet History” is basically a grab bag of random Muppet quotes that I found funny, but the theme makes it feel like a coherent piece. I should have done that more often.
The “Toys of Mystery” feature is the closest thing to Tough Pigs that I’ve come across so far, a couple pages of sarcastic but loving criticism. Also, on the last page, I confess that I don’t like The Dark Crystal.
This issue is another turning point in the MuppetZine style. The first ten issues were just a pile of pages stapled on the left side, and issue #11 was the first issue printed like a magazine — two halves folded over, and stapled in the middle. I don’t even remember what that’s called, because I suck at making magazines.
I’ve always liked the big five-page analysis of Gonzo and Rizzo in this issue; it felt like I’d reached another level as a zine writer. It brings together a lot of different sources, but it’s not just a list of quotes; I actually thought about the characters’ development and came up with some interesting things to say about them.
The review of “The World of Jim Henson” feels like another step toward the Tough Pigs style — I actually start out by saying, “This isn’t really a review as much as it is a commentary,” which was basically my starting point for everything on Tough Pigs.
My big message for this piece is that the documentaries about Jim Henson don’t spend enough time on all the other writers, performers and designers who worked with him. It includes this unbelievably pretentious sentence: “While it is important to understand the impact of Henson’s vision on the work as a whole, an exclusive focus on Henson as Number One Genius has a chilling effect on the understanding and appreciation of that work.” And I thought so highly of that sentence that I blew it up to pull-quote size and stuck it on the right side of the page. “A chilling effect.” I was so proud of that. I was ridiculous.
Also, I wanted to try out a three-column page layout for that article, just for variety. It’s entirely unreadable. I was going to say that I never did that again, except I just looked at issue #12 and I did it again.
There’s also a feature on “The Future of Muppet Fandom,” with me and four friends trying to figure out how to will the internet into existence, six months early. This was early 1995, just before the general public caught on about the World Wide Web. Amazon and Geocities had just launched, and Google was still a few years away. So our vision of the Future involved getting together in person, and starting fan clubs. I hosted an East Coast Muppet fan party in my apartment in Philadelphia, Rose hosted a West Coast fan party in a rec room on the Stanford University campus, and they were a lot of fun, and we dreamed of a world of Muppet fan friendships that was much, much closer than we realized at the time.
The really adorable part is this quote, from Rose’s report: “In order to reach more people, we decided to advertise future parties on many of the local computer bulletin boards. We’re still looking for non-computer ways to reach people, so if you have any ideas, let me know!”
Yup, this was a world where using computers was obviously less helpful than the much more effective “non-computer ways to reach people”. And then I made a bunch of photocopies and mailed them to my friends.
This was another huge moment for the zine — Jerry Juhl wrote to me! I can’t even tell you how exciting this was, and at the same time, completely paralyzing. Oh my god I got a letter from Jerry Juhl on a constant loop in my head for a long damn time.
And he didn’t just say that he liked the zine, he also told me who all the main characters were in Muppet Treasure Island AND sent me a photocopy of The Encyclopedia Fragglia, an internal production document that the Fraggle Rock creators put together while they were making the show, with all the air dates, song titles and cast lists. This was totally incredible, another huge “Road to Muppet Wiki” moment for me, and now it’s scanned and posted on the wiki’s Encyclopedia Fragglia page.
Still, it took me a year to work up the nerve to ask him for an interview, because oh my god Jerry Juhl.
Oh, I like everything about this issue. This was a good one.
The big excitement was “The Pig of the Nineties: The Miss Piggy Story That Never Was”, another internal Henson document from 1990 sent to me by a former JHP intern. It was a crazy plan for a multi-stage public relations campaign to remind everybody how much they loved Miss Piggy back in the early 80s, which was shelved after Henson’s death. If you haven’t read this, go and read it now. It’s amazing, and I was really happy about publishing it.
There’s also three pages on “Muppet Might-Have-Beens,” another big research project that I was very proud of.
And then Chris Smigliano — inspired, I think, by Jerry Juhl’s letter in issue #12 — went nuts and sent me all of the awesome drawings of everything ever. He created an awesome new logo, which is beautiful and Muppety, and I couldn’t believe it hadn’t occurred to us before. (I was really not that good at making magazines.)
Plus, he drew a four-page comic book story that takes place backstage at the Muppet Theater, which is phenomenal, and you should go read that too. Remember when I was talking about issue #4, I said that I didn’t want to publish Muppet fan fiction? That didn’t apply to Chris; he could do anything he wanted. Looking at it now, it actually feels a lot like Roger Langridge’s Muppet Show Comic Book — a storyline about salary negotiations, big Muppet crowd scenes with secondary characters, characters making exaggerated facial expressions, and sudden explosions of cartoon violence. So good.
This was the most exciting time in the MuppetZine years, looking forward to Muppet Treasure Island and The New Muppet Show coming in 1996. The show turned out to be Muppets Tonight, which turned out to be not a hit, but this was the issue when everything was a glittering promise up ahead.
The Newsflash was also excited about the Henson/Sony deal, which ultimately turned out to be Buddy and Muppets From Space, and Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, which was unwatchable, and Gulliver’s Travels, which I didn’t even bother to watch, and Big Bag, which gave me headaches and bad dreams.
Now that I think about it, this must have been the beginning of my transition from gushing fanboy Danny, who was excited about absolutely everything the Henson family did, to the more jaded and sarcastic Danny that started Tough Pigs. Still, look at all that merchandise.
Plus: the Internet!!! There’s a two-page spread called “Pigs in Cyberspace!” which is an enthusiastic introduction to the major technological advance that would render MuppetZine entirely useless within the next six issues. I’d forgotten all about this piece until just now, and it’s actually excellent. People really did need to be told what the internet was and where you could find the Muppet parts, and Rose does an amazing job of explaining how everything works.
“Muppet pages from all over the world and in different languages are starting to pop up on the Web, lending an international feel to Muppet fandom. This international flavor is truly in the spirit of Jim Henson’s vision.” How great is that?? Oh, I love MuppetZine so much. Look how beautiful we were.
Wow, there really was a lot of Muppet stuff happening in early ’96. Dig this: Muppet Treasure Island, Muppets Live! (aka Muppets Tonight), Aliens in the Family, The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Big Bag, two CD-ROM games (Muppets Inside and Muppet Treasure Island), a new batch of Muppet Time sketches, a new season of The Animal Show, In the Kitchen with Miss Piggy, Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, and a Kermit the Frog cologne. There’s seven pages of news in this issue!
And then there’s two pages at the back of the issue which is just a transcript of Miss Piggy making fun of Martha Stewart, because I finally figured out that that was I wanted out of life, just to print that and send it to people.
Hey, look who shows up in the zine for the first time — young Joe Hennes, who has some opinions about Muppet Treasure Island.
“I think that Brian Henson is trying too hard to fill his father’s shoes,” writes Joe. “With Gonzo, he has been taking his act like any other generic Muppet would, except in a few parts which is when you can tell that the writers realize what they were doing and fixed it.” So there’s that.
This issue has eight pages of fan opinions about Muppet Treasure Island, as MuppetZine continues its inevitable transition into an online forum. It’s actually hard to express how cool this was, putting all these fan commentaries together. When The Muppet Christmas Carol came out, I didn’t really have a readership yet, and I hadn’t figured out how to get people involved. By this point, it’s become a little community.
And I finally asked Jerry Juhl to do an interview about Muppet Treasure Island, which was just the most exciting thing in the world.
There’s another four-page comics story by Chris, which is now a thing that MuppetZine does. This one is a Mad Magazine-style retelling of Muppet Treasure Island, and it’s wordy and complicated and brilliant. He would just send me things like this.
Also, my review of the Muppets CD-ROM game ends with, “This is the game that makes buying a computer worthwhile.” So it’s good that we’ve got that covered, at last.
Good lord, I made a lot of these. By now, the pieces are fitting together like clockwork — an interview with Jim Lewis, a bunch of news pages, a Balcony section of fan commentary on Muppets Tonight, another Smigliano comics epic, and four pages of Miss Piggy fighting with every talk show she can find.
There’s also my first really negative review: “Big Bag is nearly unwatchable.” True dat.
There’s another Ghost of Christmas Future in this issue — young Ryan Roe, who says, “Muppets Tonight is better than anything else on TV, but it just needs a little fine tuning.” He also says, “Clifford as the host is okey-dokey with me, but it has pretty much destroyed his former laid-back, easy-going personality.” He will take over my website someday.
And here’s where I actually got a real job, and the gaps started appearing in the MuppetZine publishing schedule. I started the zine the summer after I graduated from college, and moved to Philly with my boyfriend and not a super clear idea what I was going to do for a living. So I was a temp secretary for a while, and then I went to grad school, and then I was a temp secretary again. That left me a lot of free time to screw around and publish magazines. In fact, a lot of MuppetZine actually got written while I was at work, pretending to type other people’s letters.
Then the impossible happened — I got a real job at a non-profit LGBT health center, which was interesting and fun and difficult, and all of a sudden, I didn’t have as much free time for zine-making. So I only published two issues in 1997, and that was the end.
On the plus side, they were really good issues. This one has my first and only real interview, conducted over the phone with a live human being, Bill Barretta. It was long and rambly and really fun, and I decided to just transcribe the whole thing as it was, rather than try to be professional and pretend that I knew what I was doing. It turned out great.
The writing sounds more like my real voice, too; I think I was growing up, and getting more confident. The Newsflash pages are starting to sound like Tough Pigs at last.
“Hey, remember when there was this show called Muppets Tonight? It used to be on ABC and it had the Muppets in it.”
“Is there any justice in this universe? Muppets Tonight was pulled off the air after a handful of episodes, but Cartoon Network’s Big Bag has been renewed for another season.”
“Muppets have been all over the dial this winter, with disastrous results for everyone.”
“And we all remember what ‘in development’ means, right, kids? It probably won’t ever get made. But if they ever do get made, Jim Henson Pictures is going to be the busiest movie studio ever.”
Also, there’s an article called “Elmo Destroys Christmas,” about the amazing Christmas chaos generated by Tickle Me Elmo, which includes the quote, “The crotch was yanked out of my brand-new jeans.” It was just that kind of year.
So this is it, the last MuppetZine, the issue so good that I couldn’t top it. There are two really strong pieces in this issue about productions that hardly anyone had seen — The Great Santa Claus Switch, and the Muppet Meeting Films — and it felt like real Muppet journalism, at last.
But the end was obviously nigh, and getting nigh-er every day. Last issue, I mentioned Amazon for the first time, and in this issue, there’s a section in the Newsflash called “The Net”, where I write about the exciting new “Web-sites” that apparently all just opened five minutes ago. Henson.com and Sesamestreet.com both came online, and all of a sudden, there were official sources for Muppet photos, news and video clips. Plus, super exciting for me, there was the fabulous Jim Henson Company Store, which offered all of the latest Muppet merchandise, so I could stop driving around to toy stores and flea markets.
For a while, I kept up the pretense that I was going to keep making print zines, that I was busy with my job and I was going to make another issue as soon as I had time. But when the official sites opened in fall 1997, I knew that my news section was probably going to become a repeat of whatever they posted on the Henson and Sesame sites, but on paper and three months after everybody had already seen it. The merchandise was all available on Amazon and the Henson Company Store, so people didn’t need my lists of 1-800 numbers anyore. So the only reason to keep MuppetZine going was to connect all the Muppet fans together…
And then it was January 1998, and there was Muppet Central, a for-real Muppet fan website with news and reviews and a forum, and lots of my MuppetZine friends were there. There was the world that I’d been wishing for, where Muppet fans could talk and share news and make friends with each other. We didn’t really need a zine anymore; we had each other. And now, here we are.
Except… I got tired of Muppet Central, because Muppet Central is tiring. I wrote a bunch of articles and reviews, which got edited in ways that I wasn’t happy with, especially when Phil cut out a mention of my boyfriend, because he wasn’t comfortable with me talking about being gay on a Muppet fan site. I tried to explain to him that all Muppet fans are gay, because being a Muppet fan is an extremely gay thing to be, but I didn’t really get anywhere. Besides, the forum was getting taken over by annoying little kids, and also, I just wanted to make things again!
It was four years since the last MuppetZine, and I was sick of writing for somebody else’s site. I felt rebellious and pissed off, and I wanted to make a weird avant-garde Muppet site where I could write funny, rambling stream of consciousness reviews of Bear in the Big Blue House episodes that never actually said whether I thought they were good or not. (They were okay.) I wanted my new site to be entirely black and white, and entirely illustrated with pen-scratchy drawings of real animals dressed up like Muppets. I wanted to be ironic and self-consciously old-fashioned and use a lot of unnecessary periods.
If it helps, I was reading a lot of McSweeney’s at the time. Seriously, that was actually what I was doing. I was making a McSweeney’s for Muppet fans. That is the website that you’re looking at right now.Therefore, there was only one way to announce Tough Pigs’ launch, and that was to make a zine. A weird, ironic, old-fashioned, stream of consciousness black-and-white McSweeney’s for Dummies. It was eight pages long, with articles that I never posted online, and I’m glad that I didn’t, because now this is a special thing that I can share with you.
There’s an article called “MY THEORY ABOUT MUPPETS FROM SPACE and its possible ADVERSE EFFECTS ON SPACE AND TIME.” which is pretty much just what it sounds like. There’s a review of the best Muppet fansite that ever existed, SesameSeventies.com, and the worst Muppet fansite that ever existed, MuppetWorld.com. The MuppetWorld review has footnotes, and it’s one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written. And then there’s a sweet one-pager on “What I Learned from The Magic Cookie,” which is personal and sentimental, and tries out a new style of writing that I’d never used before.
So that was Tough Pigs, weird and sharp and confessional and different, and I did that for five years, and I loved it just as much as I loved MuppetZine. And then I kind of hit a wall, where I couldn’t think of anything new to say, and I had to go off and start a new thing. So that was Muppet Wiki, which got me involved in a whole new kind of writing and thinking, and now I work at Wikipedia, where I build features that help people to write and curate the most important website in the world that isn’t entirely about the Muppets.
And then I started another big crazy writing project, because that is what I do. It’s called Dark Shadows Every Day, and it’s a four-year daily blog about a 1960s vampire soap opera. It’s not about the Muppets, so I know, how good could it be, but if you’ve read this far then you probably think I’m funny, and Dark Shadows Every Day is a very funny thing that you should check out. And once I’m done with Dark Shadows, then I’m probably going to start writing about superheroes, because apparently I still have more things to say.
Anyway, MuppetZine. It’s almost twenty-five years now, since I graduated from college and decided that I wanted to make a magazine. Somehow, that’s turned into three websites, and a lot of friends, and a million memories.
Click here to buy a pig wig for $14.95 on the ToughPigs forum!
by Danny Horn