Welcoming the Muppets Back to Comics

Welcoming the Muppets Back to Comics

The Muppet Show #1, cover B

BOOM! Studios aims to make a splash in all-ages comics this March.

We already talked to Mark Waid about The Incredibles: Family Matters, and now we’ve got Roger Langridge on bringing one of the best-known all-ages concepts ever to comics – The Muppet Show.

First known for Fred the Clown, Langridge has become a fan favorite in recent years for such works as Marvel’s Fing Fang Four . Now, he’s writing and drawing a full book of Muppets for readers every month that revives many of the classic characters and gags from the original show. Not only did he talk with us about this new book, but let’s just say he went above and beyond the call of duty in answering our questions. Read on to see…

Newsarama: Roger, how did you become involved with this book?

Roger Langridge: A couple of years ago, I was approached by the now-defunct Disney Adventures Magazine to do a Muppet strip for them. They'd been running a version of Mickey Mouse and Goofy drawn in a completely off-model, underground-ish kind of style, and this had proven to be very popular, so they were looking to do more of the same with some other Disney properties.

The staff at Disney Adventures knew my comics work and liked it, and I think were particularly taken with the vaudeville elements and oddball, Monty-Pythonesque humor I like to play around with in my own comics, so they thought I'd be a good fit for the Muppets. As it turned out, of the 15or so pages I drew, only one was used before the magazine was cancelled, so that was that... I thought!

While I was resigning myself to never getting a chance to work with the Muppets, my work was being shown to people at Disney and BOOM!, and several months later things started rolling again. It was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time, and my work being seen by the right people... pure dumb luck, in other words.

NRAMA: Now, describe how your comic will work. Bonus points if you do it to the tune of the old Muppet Show theme….

RL:

There's going to be a story

With skits, too, don't you know --

Each book will be a little

Like a missing Muppet Show.

The first four stand alone now,

Spotlights on Fozzie Bear,

On Kermit and on Gonzo

And Miss Piggy will be there.

Then after that the stories

Will run for issues four;

They'll still be kind of stand-alone,

But add up to something more.

So look for Planet Koozebane,

Bear Patrol and Sweetum's face,

There'll be the Swedish Chef,

Muppet Labs and Pigs in Space!

NRAMA: I…I was joking…

Wow.

Okay, back to the serious stuf. Who are your favorite Muppets to write and/or draw?

RL: Writing: probably Gonzo, although I'm writing the Miss Piggy spotlight issue at the moment and she's lots of fun too. Both those characters have layers like an onion. Fozzie's constant anxiety resonates with me. Heck, I like all of 'em!

The Muppet Show #1, cover A

Drawing: Fozzie, probably. Statler and Waldorf are fun too. Miss Piggy's probably the hardest because she has to be just right or the likeness collapses completely. Most of the others allow a bit more flexibility.

That said, I'm enjoying working on Pigs in Space on just about every level.

NRAMA: Who doesn’t love Pigs in Space?

Have you gotten to work with the Henson family on this book?

RL: No Henson has been directly involved as far as I'm aware. The nearest we've got is Jim Lewis at the Jim Henson company, who goes over everything I write and then puts in his own gags, the cheeky scamp!

NRAMA: Will there be any celebrity guest hosts?

RL: I'd love to do guest stars down the line. One idea I had was to do characters from history or literature, to avoid that difficult we're-going-to-have-to-pay-you-to-use-your-likeness-aren't-we moment. For the first four issues, though, the spotlight will be on the Muppets themselves.

NRAMA: As long as one day we’ll get a replica of that creepy version of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler...”

You've worked on a number of all-ages properties -- what do you feel makes the Muppets unique among these types of characters?

RL: One of the things that resonate for me is the fact that they have one foot in the past and one foot in the present. They have a kind of modern-feeling dysfunctional family dynamic, which predates the Simpsons by quite a few years; but, on the other hand, they're rooted to the showbiz traditions of a bygone age - they're in a vaudeville theatre, for crying out loud - and a part of that milieu is the sense of everyone pulling together for the greater good of the show. There's tension, but also heart.

I think the relative oddness and surreality of a lot of the humor goes a long way towards making them stand out, too.

And then there's the strength and complexity of the characters themselves, like the aforementioned Miss Piggy and Gonzo - they embrace contradictions. And there's an indefinable chemistry between the various characters, which you can't manufacture - I suspect that partly arises from the Muppeteers having such a wonderful time making the show.

NRAMA: What's the most difficult aspect of working on these characters?

RL: Getting the scripts knocked into a shape that both Disney and I are happy with. I think the sensibilities of the Muppets broadly correspond with my own; if you drew a Venn diagram where one circle represented my sensibilities and one circle represented those of the Muppets, there'd be a huge area of overlap, with a little crust either side - on the Muppet side, the bit that wouldn't overlap is the outer edge of extreme sentimentality; on my side, there's a bit of darkness that doesn't really fit into the world of the Muppets.

That still leaves me a huge amount of room to play in. I'm having to adjust to leaving out all my jokes about suicidal comedians while at the same time gently resisting any pressure from Disney to include too many group hugs. (Although I've nothing against an occasional hug!)

NRAMA: What are some of your favorite moments from the original The Muppet Show?

RL: I love pretty much the entire Spike Milligan episode - Milligan is a big influence on my own sense of humor. There's a bit in there where he drops his trousers and reveals his Union Jack undies, then they cut to Statler and Waldorf, and Waldorf drops his trousers out of sight (with the same sound effect Milligan had used moments earlier) while Statler says, "I didn't know you were Lithuanian."

Link Hogthrob and friends dressed as vikings, singing "In the Navy". Aside from confirming everything you ever suspected about Link Hogthrob, my son Thomas (3) and I like to reel around the living room dancing to it. Thomas' appreciation for that particular song is something we'll wait a few years to tell his grandfather, I think - right around the time we tell him he also likes to dress as Cinderella.

And there's something I love about Chris Langham pretending to be an owl.

NRAMA: Tell us about some of your other projects.

RL: Right! Well, Newsarama have already covered a couple of them in recent months: the Fin Fang Four for Marvel Digital, co-written with my pal Scott Gray, and my weekly strip at Act-i-Vate.com, Mugwhump the Great.

Aside from those, I've been doing some freelance writing for the Marvel Adventures all-ages line: a series of Captain America backups set in World War II for Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes, beautifully drawn by Craig Rousseau (the lead stories being scripted by Scott Gray - that man gets everywhere!); and an eight-pager for the 50th issue of Spider-Man Adventures, hopefully to be drawn by the stunningly talented Sonny Liew, in which Spider-Man battles as many villains as I could squeeze in, all the while trying not to drop his groceries.

Coming up soon in Nickelodeon Magazine, there'll be an eight-page Back to the Barnyard story drawn by me. It might be the last thing Nickelodeon get out of me for a while, unfortunately - these Muppets take up a whole lot of time!

Just finished a one-off illustration for a prose anthology called Machine of Death, co-edited by David Malki! of Wondermark fame. The story I'm illustrating is by one of my favorite writers, Shaenon K. Garrity, who I've worked with before -- both for Marvel and on her own web strip, Smithson.

And in the mail this very morning I received the gorgeous Beasts! II, published by Fantagraphics, featuring (buried among many far more spectacular things) my interpretation of Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of Old London Town.

NRAMA: Whew! Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?

RL: Yes. If anybody has any ideas on how to get a three-year-old to eat his peas I'm all ears.

It’s an all-ages comic,

With jokes both broad and arch!

At $2.99 it’s economic,

It’s The Muppet Show in March!

…wow, we’re not as good at this as Langridge. Sorry.

Related:

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Editor Paul Morrisey Talks BOOM/Disney-Pixar Deal

Animated Shorts: Disney's 'Cars Toons' Team

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