1 The Muppet Mindset: Muppet Peter Pan Artist Amy Mebberson Interview

Sep 8, 2009

Muppet Peter Pan Artist Amy Mebberson Interview

Ryan Dosier - Amy Mebberson has been involved with the Muppet comics since the first issue of "The Muppet Show Comic Book" was released in March of this year. Amy drew a fantastic variant cover for Midtown Comics and her career with the Muppets and BOOM! Studios snow-balled from there. She is now the artist for "Muppet Peter Pan" (released next month) and has drawn variant covers for all of "The Muppet Show Comic Book" issues except one.

The Muppet Mindset had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Amy before "Muppet Peter Pan" was released. She gave us great insight into her career, art, and "Muppet Peter Pan."

RYAN: First of all, Amy, thank you so much for agreeing to do an interview with The Muppet Mindset. It means a lot to a brand new blog like us.

AMY: Not at all, Brian. Cheque's in the mail, right?

RYAN: Umm... Right. Before we get started on the real questions, I just have to go right out and say that I have your variant cover for The Muppet Show Comic Book #2—“The Tragicomical Tale of Fozzie Beare”—framed and hanging on my wall above my Palisades figures. It’s gorgeous. So is your Miss Piggy variant cover. Actually, this segues nicely into my first question: Where can I buy your Miss Piggy variant?

AMY: As far as I know, all the Muppet variants I have done end up with Ultimate Comics. The only exception was my very first one, 'Muppets Take Midtown' for Midtown Comics.

RYAN: How did you get involved in the Muppet comics? Did they start by asking you to illustrate Muppet Peter Pan? Or did it start with your Midtown Comics cover and snowball from there?

AMY: Yes, the Midtown cover acted as kind of my 'audition' for Disney as a Muppet artist. Generally, an artist has to do some model sheets and a page of sequential to show they can both draw the characters well and make them 'act'. If Disney are happy with them, that artist is then approved for that particular series. But seeing as I was already working on Monsters Inc. and had also done some Nemo covers, I guess they figured I was kosher. The snowballing manifested itself in my relentless emails pestering my editor to let me take a crack at the Muppets, because I'm just THAT much of a glutton for punishment!

RYAN: You’re illustrating Peter Pan and Grace Randolph is writing it. How does this work? Does she submit you a script and you draw it, framing it how you want it? Or does Grace have a vision of how she wants the framing to go as well as the dialogue?

AMY: Usually all comic writers will have an idea of how they want the framing and the pacing to go, so they'll break their script up into panels as a guide. Of course, what's on paper may not necessarily translate to actual drawing, so that's where the artist will often adapt or change things to create a better visual flow. Ideally it's a very collaborative thing and flexibility is very important when you have Disney also chiming in with notes and suggestions which we have to do our best to accomodate. Gotta please the client, after all!

RYAN: Have you worked with Grace before? Do you enjoy working with her? Is it close work or do you just get the script in the mail and start drawing?

AMY: No, I've never worked with Grace before. I NEVER just draw what I'm given ;) I wouldn't be working on a series if I wasn't a big fan with my own (very) strong opinions on how to make an awesome comic out of it. Disney are being very careful with how the Muppets are presented and thus we've had a few headaches getting the plot to everyone's satisfaction, but it's going to be great when it's all done.

RYAN: If you, the artist, disagreed with the writer’s casting/dialogue/actions are you able to pose a query about it and try to get it changed? Or is what the writer wrote entirely up to them (and the editor)?

AMY: Well I can't speak for other artists, but me personally? Heck yeah, my editor is going to hear about it. If my editor thinks the comment is valid, he'll weigh it up and arbitrate a decision. If not, he'll tell me to shut up and get back to work ;) If something in a script isn't sitting right with me as an artist, then naturally I'm not going to enjoy drawing it as much and that doesn't make for good comics. Many artists are more than happy to just draw what they get and offer no suggestions at all and that's fine, but I'm not one of those.

RYAN: As a woman yourself, how do you feel about the lack of female characters within the Muppet universe? Do you see this as a case of Muppet chauvinism? Or are females simply naturally less insane than males?

AMY: To be honest, I never really noticed it and even being aware of it now, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. Jerry Juhl & co. wrote what was comfortable for them and I certainly don't think there was any implied sexism or political correctness. There may not be many prominent gals in the Muppetverse, but who would dare try and share space with Miss Piggy anyway?

RYAN: Most of the cast for Peter Pan has been revealed through the various cover arts (Kermit as Peter Pan, Miss Piggy as TinkerPig, Scooter, Janice, and Bean Bunny as the Darling Children, Gonzo as Captain Hook, Rizzo as Mr. Smee, Fozzie, Pepe, Rowlf, and Animal as Lost Boys, Bunsen, Beaker, and Sweetums as Pirates). What was your biggest challenge when drawing some of these characters? Were some harder than you expected? I must say that each and every drawing you’ve done of them is impeccable.

AMY: Aw, ta. My biggest challenge when drawing the Muppets (and admittedly, it's a self-imposed one), is bringing their acting and personalities over without their iconic voices. Muppet facial acting has its own set of distinct limitations, like eyes that don't open, blink or change direction. I stick very strictly to those limitations, because that's part of their intrinsic visual appeal. So you will not see pupils on Janice or teeth on Kermit. If the original Muppet couldn't do it, it's off-limits in my book.

But these limitations are definitely a good kind of challenge because I LOVE drawing them.

PiggyTink is easily the most labour-intensive because of her glossy hair, twinkly little outfits, translucent wings and her 'Piggydust', of course ;)

RYAN
: What are our chances of seeing Angus McGonagle, the gargling argyle gargoyle, show up?

AMY
: You'd have to ask Grace that one. Personally, I don't really believe in slipping in very obscure character cameos unless they have a good reason to be there. It's all pencil mileage, after all ;)

RYAN: Where do you find you draw your inspiration from? (Pun definitely intended.) I remember reading somewhere that you said your art inspirations came from your Palisades figures. I think that’s so cool and can easily be seen on your variant for The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson #1.

AMY: Well, any animator will tell you that it helps to have a maquette to help you visualise those tricky angles. That's exactly what I use my Palisades figures as, because they were so painstakingly sculpted to be accurate. As for other inspiration, I devour any Michael Frith artwork I can get my hands on, especially his Piggy artwork. The best Muppet artwork, in my opinion, has a more book illustration quality. Any wonder Brian Froud was such a natural choice to design Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. My general attitude to drawing the Muppets is to respect the character's design and take a 2D animation approach of solid drawing and acting.

RYAN: Recently, your cover for Peter Pan issue 4 was revealed with Kermit/Peter cradling Piggy Tink in his hands. This is an amazing piece of artwork and speaks so beautifully to the relationship of the frog and the pig. What is your opinion on Kermit and Piggy’s relationship? Married, not married, together, not together, in love, in court?

AMY: Piggy and Kermit are like an old married couple who just sidestepped the honeymoon. I don't know about other fans, but it's always been clear to me that for all his avoidance of her advances and wry cracks about the Pig, Kermit does care for Piggy very much. She's just there and she will ALWAYS be there for her frog and sometimes you don't know what you have until you lose it. What better scene sums that up than Peter Pan losing Tinker Bell?

RYAN: And what about simply Piggy? Your variant cover for “The Muppet Show Comic Book” #4 that showcased her in all of her karate glory was incredible. It showed all the wonderful sides of her simply in her facial expressions. What do you think is the most important thing about Miss Piggy’s character? Her sex-appeal? Her diva-tude? Her hair?

AMY: Piggy is all about presence - a truly formidable woman framed in maribou and pearl strands. Everything about Piggy is awesome for me, but then, I'm a sucker for old-school glamour. Her eyes are actually the hardest part of her to draw because like many Muppets, they don't move. Her emotional state totally changes depending on the tilt of her head and the set of her jaw. In the hands of Frank Oz, it's a key part of her enigma.

RYAN: While we’re sort of on the subject, what is your opinion of recent Muppet ventures through Disney? Do you think they’ve been going down the right path as of late?

AMY: To be honest, I haven't paid much attention to Muppet goings-on since Jim's death. I'm definitely more a Henson fan than a fan of everything Muppety. For me, the 70's and 80's was the Golden Age. I can't really comment on most Muppet ventures from 90's-now because I simply wasn't all that interested in them.

RYAN: Who is your favorite Muppet? What about Muppeteer? Muppet production? How did you become a fan?

AMY: Favourite Muppet, hmmm. I'm going to be boring and say Kermit and Piggy. Their dynamic is the stuff of legend and I think they'll never be the same without Jim and Frank below them. Frank Oz is definitely my favourite Muppeteer for sheer range alone. The original Muppet movie is probably my favourite production outside of the original Muppet Show - it was a movie that just carried you along, didn't try to be complicated and was bookended by a classic song. As I said, I don't really consider myself a capital-F Muppet Fan. I grew up on 70's Sesame Street and the Muppets were just a natural extension of that.

RYAN: Along with Muppet Peter Pan, within BOOM! you also do the artwork for the Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo comics, correct?

AMY: I draw Monsters Inc. completely and only do covers for Nemo right now. I'm supposed to be drawing a Nemo arc somewhere down the line, but no details yet. They have their own set of challenges because of course Pixar fandom is relatively new. Like the Muppets though, you're working with VERY high-profile properties who set the bar for their genres so the pressure is about the same *laugh*.

RYAN: But they’re not as fun as the Muppets, right?

AMY: Oh now, I enjoy drawing both equally. The guys at Pixar are my idols and I'm absolutely honoured to get to work on both Pixar and Muppet stuff - even if it DOES cost me sleep ;)

RYAN: What about your work with TokyoPop? Are you doing any illustrating for them as well?

AMY: Not any more, no. There was a big change in Tokyopop's company strategy a few years back which pretty much killed most of the original manga series we were producing. I was slated to draw a Labyrinth anthology for them (as distinct from the Return to Labyrinth 'sequel' manga) which I was really looking forward to, but oh well. These things happen. What I'm doing now is much more exciting, though.

RYAN: What are the chances of seeing some of your variant covers as wall-sized posters that I could hang in my room?

AMY: That is totally for Boom! to decide, although I've certainly suggested the idea to them based on the requests I've had from Muppet fans. Your best bet would be to contact Boom! and if enough fans pester them, they may rustle something up.

RYAN: What are your future plans? More Muppets? I know many Muppet fans, myself included, would love to see your art utilized more within the Muppetverse.

AMY: My editor and I are nutting over my projects for next year and the Muppets will absolutely have a presence, at the very least in cover art. I'm definitely doing covers on the next Muppet adaptation after Pan (you'll find out in due course). I've made it loud and clear I'd love to work with Roger Langridge sometime as I LOVE his Muppet Show writing. He gets it, totally. There are Pixar properties they're getting ready as well, so I really can't give any more details than that right now.

RYAN: Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring Muppet fan-artists or just artists in general who might want to work in the comic book industry?

AMY: It's clear from a lot of Muppet fanart that everyone is going to have a different interpretation of them. That's possibly a good thing because it indicates that different facets of the characters resonate with different people. Roger Langridge and Dave Alvarez emphasize their zaniness in their art, I go more for the heart and subtle comedy while Dave Petersen takes a timeless storybook approach. But ultimately you have to enjoy what you draw. If what you're drawing has no emotional resonance with you at all, then it's going to be flat and charmless.

Another HUGE thank you to Amy Mebberson for the interview with The Muppet Mindset! Be on the lookout for "Muppet Peter Pan," in stores next month! If you'd like a piece of Amy's artwork sooner than that, her B-Cover of "Muppet Robin Hood" is released on Wednesday!

1 comment:

  1. Can I just say...That Amy seems one of the most dedicated and stunning Muppet artists out there? Such utter devotion to the Muppet design that Janice's eyes will not be opening, and Piggy's eyes will not be moving! I am delighted and amazed. Well done! I cannot WAIT to see and hear more of what you have planned!

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