Jeremy Whitley knows a thing or two about all-ages comics as the writer/creator of the Eisner-nominated fantasy series Princeless from Action Lab Entertainment. Now, he’s taking on another beloved all-ages property with the second issue of My Little Pony: Friends Forever from IDW.
In Whitley’s story, the Cutie Mark Crusaders – the young ponies still searching for the unique skills that will give them their cutie marks – find a new way to seek their talent with some magical help from Discord, the John “Q from Star Trek” de Lancie-voiced trickster. Horror is likely to follow.
We spoke with Whitley about his story, MLP fandom, his other projects, and more.
Newsarama: Jeremy, how did this story come about?
Jeremy Whitley: It was kind of roundabout. I had been trying to get some work at IDW off and on for a while, but my timing was always a little bit off. Then, this year at Denver Comic-Con I met Tony Fleecs, who was working on the Pony books and it turned out was a fan of my creator-owned book Princeless at Action Lab.
Tony asked me if I'd ever thought about working on My Little Pony and of course my answer was “yes.” He put in a good word for me, and as it turned out, they were just starting to put together plans for the new series. I pitched some ideas and found a few that were winners.
Nrama: What's fun about writing these Crusaders, along with Discord?
Whitley: Discord is fun because he is a creature of pure chaos. When he's around, anything can happen and usually does. Almost nothing is off the table with him.
As for the Cutie Mark Crusaders, they make a fun natural fit, because they're always looking to plug themselves into new situations. They are looking to experience everything and with Discord, that can actually happen.
Nrama: Surely, the Cutie Mark Crusaders must inevitably fail in their attempt to earn their hind-defining branding in this tale, as their goals are unlikely to be achieved in a tie-in book. What then are the great challenges in crafting a tale that cannot end in the desired triumph?
Whitley: Well, that's true of pretty much every Cutie Mark Crusaders story, isn't it? If they go their cutie marks, they wouldn't be the Cutie Mark Crusaders any more. I'm of the same school as Katie Cook on this question – I kinda hope they never get their cutie marks.
The thing is, the story is not about achieving their goal, but how the trial of it changes them and how they change the world and characters around them. This may be my experience as a father of a two year old speaking, but watching kids in your life grow often teaches you as much about yourself as they learn about themselves. Also, kids rarely actually get what they want, but they're always ready for the next thing.
Nrama: What's it been like working with IDW/Hasbro on this project?
Whitley: It's been amazing and, dare I say, easy. My editor, Bobby, knows the brand really well and has a great feeling for what Hasbro wants and doesn't want. We did some early editing on the pitch and script level and the final product sailed through approval from Hasbro. I couldn't even think of anything to complain about if I wanted to.
Nrama: And tell us about your artist Tony Fleeces – what does he bring to this project?
Whitley: Tony's got it all. He's got skill. He's got enthusiasm. Heck, he brought me into this and then asked to work with me. Anybody who's seen his work knows I'd be a fool to pass up a chance like that.
And you'd be hard pressed to find an artist more on top of his pony game than Tony. The man knows his stuff. He's not a bad looker either.
Nrama: Why do you feel My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has made such a major impression in popular culture the last few years?
Whitley: I think, against all odds, it's what the culture wanted and needed. It started as a way to relaunch a toy line, but what it's become is something so much greater. It's a show that both adults and kids can enjoy. It has something for everyone. It's positive without being dumbed down.
But the real great thing about it is that it's a series that meets young girls where they are and speaks an important message through the very existence of its characters. The Mane 6, as they're known, have girls of every type from sporty to bookish to fashionable to hard working.
It gives the message that there is no right or wrong way to be a girl and that it's more important to be yourself and that when you do that, friends will find you. And beyond that, you can be friends with all sorts of people, whether they're just like you or not.
Nrama: Please, for the love of God, explain the “Bronies” to me. I went out last summer with a “Pegasister” and I saw some fan art that...that...(breaks down)...I can't unsee! I mean, it's unnatural! These are grown men! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my Adventure Time art collection.
Whitley: I think it's important to separate the perception of “Bronies” from the actual bronies. These are guys who like a cartoon which is, ostensibly, made for children. A lot of us, and I would argue the more mature ones of us, are all right with liking things that are made for kids.
For instance, there's this weird little British sci-fi show about an alien who travels through time and space in a phone booth with his buddies and solves mysteries. I don't know if you're familiar with it, but people are pretty into that show.
You take away the argument that it's for kids and the only issue left is that the characters are pink and purple and (some) Bronies can grow a beard. Personally, I'm against the idea of gendered entertainment and I think people of any age should be able to like what they like regardless of what colors it comes in.
Now, the fan art is a different issue. Any fandom has a certain ten percent of fans who are outspoken, eccentric, and often express their love for a thing in troubling ways. Rule 34 is very real. VERY REAL. Don't Google it. So, if you can't enjoy a thing just because there is disturbing images of it out there, we're all out of luck.
Nrama: Also, it's been bothering me for years how the ponies have been able to dress themselves and construct complex machinery without opposable thumbs. Admittedly, there is a subculture of telekinetic unicorns in this society, but what of this rest? This line of thinking has also ruined Cars for me.
Whitley: Two things. My one learning experience when working on this script was that the machinery can't be too complex. My plan for a Days of Thunder reference got scrapped by the non-existence of cars in Equestria.
The other thing is Velociraptors. Think of all the trouble they caused without opposable thumbs. You can ask Robert Muldoon what happens when you underestimate Velociraptors...no wait, you can't!
Nrama: Do tell us of the plans for the new edition of Princeless and what is coming on up with that series.
Whitley: The brand spanking new January Previews (for March releases) has a preview for our beautiful new collected edition of Volume 1. You get all four issues of the first series, at full size, with a gorgeous new cover by M. Goodwin. It would make the perfect Christmas gift! Unfortunately it's coming out in March, so you'll have to buy it for someone for Easter.
Not long behind that, you'll be seeing info about the new volume! Princeless Book 3: The Pirate Princess will be hitting stores in the spring with art by the amazing Soojin Paek and the continuation of last year’s epic Free Comic Book Day story! It is going to be a great time!
Nrama: What else is coming up for you?
Whitley: Well, I have another issue of My Little Pony: Friends Forever in the pipeline as well as several more pony pitches in the early stages. I also have pitches in progress for a big fantasy story with one of my Princeless Short Stories contributors, Jessi Sheron and I'm working on my first actual superhero story with my frequent collaborator Jason Strutz.
I'm also working on a spy book, a book about luchadores, and I have another pitch in at Oni that I'm waiting to hear back on. Right now, I'm ready for anything, it's just a question of which companies want to publish my books!
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Whitley: Yeah, where on Earth is Iron Fist? That's one of my favorite characters and he doesn't have a book coming out right now. And now with Fearless Defenders being wrapped up, Misty Knight is off the shelf too. If Marvel is just waiting for somebody to write a Danny and Misty book, I'm available for that. I'd really like to see those two make a comeback.
Or did you mean about stuff I'm doing? Oh, no, that about covers it for now. But seriously, I'm gonna need for that book to happen.
Check out Whitley’s My Little Pony: Friends Forever story in February from IDW.