Steven Universe has appeared in comic books, but never like this.
On March 16, BOOM! Studios' kicks off the first full-length Steven Universe series titled, aptly enough Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems. Written by Josceline Fenton and art by Chrystin Garland, both huge Steven fans, Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems departs from the anthology format and concentrates more on a single linear plot involving campfire, smores, and spooks.
Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe is one of the network’s most popular show, creating a whole generation of fans in the span of only a few years. It’s heavily praised for the level of queer visibility and strong storytelling that grips both adults and children and everyone in between. BOOM!’s Steven Universe various titles expanded on this animated world that helped fill the void when the show would go on hiatus, and now fans are getting another dose with their latest mini-series Steven Universe and the Crystal Gems.
Newsarama caught up with Fenton and Garland about the mini-series, out March 16th, and what is about about this world that resonates with them so well. BOOM! also supplied Newsarama with an exclusive first look of Garland’s interiors.
Newsarama: So, Josceline and Chrystin, the Steven Universe franchise is expanding with this mini-series. How does it differ from the previous installment?
Chrystin Garland: Besides the amazing artwork of Coleman Engle? The last installment was more zine-influenced, with multiple shorts every issue, while this series is focused on one major story.
Josceline Fenton: The previous comics were mostly single-issue stories, but the new mini-series has one continuing story. This lets us get a little more detailed with the plot and take our time exploring things.
Nrama: Josceline, you were a guest artist on the regular series, but now taking over the writer's seat. Was there any sort of transitional shift or hurdle you felt like you had to get through before you were comfortable?
Fenton: It’s the first time I’ve written scripts for someone else to draw. For comics I’m writing and drawing, I’ll mainly concentrate on dialogue, so I had to get used to being a lot more specific with my descriptions. When you’re more of an artist than a writer, it can be a little tough to let go of the vision in your head and restrain yourself from writing big paragraphs of directions, but I’ve worked from other writers’ scripts before too so I knew I had to give Chrystin the freedom to do her thing!
Nrama: And Chrystin, you're no stranger to the series as well, how does it feel stepping back into this world?
Garland: Absolutely fantastic! I'm a huge fan of Steven Universe's art direction, so getting the opportunity to play around in such a beautifully developed world is a real treat. That, and Josceline's scripts are so vivid and exciting. I'm having a total blast drawing every comic panel.
Nrama: With this being a mini-series, what kind of story are you going to tell is such a short amount of time?
Fenton: I like to describe it as “a horror story for kids.” I wanted this mini-series to feel like an episode of the show, albeit a self-contained one. Each issue picks up straight from the place we left off in the last. Since the guest comics I did were never more than six pages, a four-issue series felt like I had tons of room to play with; it didn’t feel short at all!
Garland: You'd be surprised how much you can pack into a 20-page issue! Each script I receive from Josceline completely blows me away. She's really good at intermixing a bit of comedy between points of high action and tension. A perfect writing style for a scary story...
Nrama: Working with Cartoon Network and one of their biggest licenses, did you find them too restraining or did they trust you and BOOM! enough to have some fun? I guess I should say, was there anything off limits?
Fenton: There’s never anything they specifically say you can’t do, but it does get tricky if you want to do something that messes with or tries to build on the lore. Chrystin and I only know as much as everyone else watching the show, so there might be things in future episodes we don’t know about that cause Cartoon Network to reject an idea.
For example, way back when the comic and show first started, I was going to pitch a short back-up comic about the gems wondering what was under Garnet’s visor, but then that question was answered in “Arcade Mania.”
Garland: Most major story edits are already made by the time I receive the script, so all I really focus on is making sure the pages are drawn in the same spirit as the show. It was a little intimidating designing the comics-only character, however, Cartoon Network was very gracious and gave me a lot of room to explore. Any notes I did receive were all for continuity's sake, which I didn't find restraining at all! I believe we're all working hard to make the best content possible, so it's nice to receive critiques that would only help elevate the comic.
Nrama: What are your favorite things about Steven Universe that you love working on? What resonates the most with you both?
Garland: I love drawing all of the characters pulling exaggerated faces! Especially Steven. He reacts to everything so broadly, I really enjoy squashing and stretching his features. It brings me back to when I was a kid reading manga like CLAMP's Magic Knight Rayearth and Hitoshi Okuda's No Need For Tenchi! because their characters always made such hilarious expressions whenever they were shocked or angry. Both series really influenced me as a child because they featured fun characters and captivating story lines that I, at the tender age of 12, had never experienced before. I get that same feeling from Steven Universe, which is why I feel so lucky to be working on this amazing series.
Fenton:For me it hits a lot of nostalgic notes and reminds me of cartoons I watched as a kid. Things like Sailor Moon, Jem and the Holograms, and Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders--or Starla and the Jewel Riders as I knew it here in the UK. Plus, every kid thinks gemstones are cool. That’s what drew me in first when the pilot was released, but the lore that’s slowly being revealed and the character-driven storytelling is what keeps me addicted to the show, and it’s really great to be allowed to be part of that with the comics.
Nrama: Would you consider this series a Steven story or more of a Gem-centric story?
Fenton: I think it’s more of a Steven story. It already was, and I hope I’m allowed to say this, but one of the notes we had from Cartoon Network was a reminder that everything needed to be from Steven’s point of view. It never really hit me that the entire show is either from his view or his view of things being narrated to him until that note, which either speaks highly of the show’s storytelling techniques or very poorly of me, haha!
Garland: Although Steven is the main character, I read it as a bit of both. Steven and the Gems are experiencing something pretty new together, and they're going to need to rely on each other a lot to overcome this particular threat. I could be wrong though!
Nrama: Where in the timeline does this story take place? Are we post-Jailbreak here?
Garland: We're definitely post-“Jailbreak,” but sometime before “Catch and Release.” Either that, or I've completely overlooked something in the script again, ha ha!
Fenton: We won’t be seeing any homeworld gems this time, though there may be mentions of them.
Nrama: Lastly, what can fans expect from this mini-series? What do you want them to get most out of it?
Garland: Some things will get a little creepy in this series, but if you're a fan of horror (like I am) then you're going to have a lot of fun. I hope readers find this story entertaining...and maybe get a few ideas of scary stories to tell in the future??
Fenton: In amongst the humour, fans can expect things to get a little more serious in this mini-series. Steven and the gems are facing a new kind of threat they don’t know how to deal with. I just hope everyone will enjoy it and that it lives up to the show!