Big In The Marines: Artist Andy Price On ‘My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic’ [Interview]
Andy Price has brought joy to licensed comics. His work on IDW’s My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic necessarily follows the established look of the animated TV series, but Price’s playfulness and skill enliven every page: imaginative lettering, dramatically lit villains, too many background gags to count. The most recently completed arc of the series, ‘Reflections,’ encompasses an alternate universe, doomed love, some truly intense crosshatching, and a general willingness to play with the characters in a way licensed comics typically avoid.
Along with writer Katie Cook, Price has developed Hasbro’s land of pastel ponies into something a little wilder and a little weirder, yet ensured that it remains enormously compelling to kids and adults alike. ComicsAlliance sat down with Price at San Diego Comic-Con to discuss how he and Cook pulled this off, his thoughts on Brony fandom, and, of course, his pick for best pony.
ComicsAlliance: So, how did you get started doing My Little Pony?
Andy Price: Well, it was really because of Katie Cook, the writer. I had just started watching the show about a month beforehand, and Katie came up to me at a show that we were at together — we’ve known each other years — and she had just gotten the job doing the writing, and she came to me and said, “Would you like to draw ponies?” and I was like “Well, yes, I would like to draw ponies.” And so the rest is history.
CA: What you do on My Little Pony is very different than a lot of the work you’ve done prior — a lot of it tends to be a little pin-up-y. So what has it been like working on such a different property? Have there been any unexpected joys to doing it?
AP: The whole thing is a joy. It’s really nice. One of the reasons is that the art is extremely organic. I mean, you know, if you watch the show, even their buildings are a little wonky. Nothing’s straight lines. Nothing’s very set in stone, so I get to have a lot of fun with lines and textures. And with our comic book, we’re even different from the show itself. I wanted it to look specifically like comic book artwork, because that is my history, that is my background, and Hasbro is very happy with the results. The whole thing has been a joy. The fans have been great. The response has been great. The sales have been great. So the whole thing’s been fun.
CA: One of the things that I really enjoy about your art on this series is that it obviously has the style of the show, but it’s definitely yours. It actually reminds me a little bit of woodcuts, in some ways. The way you shape eyelids in particular, I always notice that, and the way you do Celestia’s hair, and just all of the detail that goes in the background. And all your lettering, like the, “How Rarity got her groove back” splash. What was it like adapting to a specific style and having to emulate something that isn’t yours?
AP: Well, I go back and forth from realistic art, to more cartoony art. I’ve always kind of flipped back and forth, so that wasn’t a big problem. I’ve always enjoyed the cartoon look. So it took me just a little bit to really figure out their shapes and their forms. But it was actually fairly easy to slip into.
And like you said, the woodcut look and the different textures. I like to do things that, just separate it out a little bit, make it a little bit more unique, make it more me. I didn’t want to do just model shots, which a lot of licensed comics unfortunately resort to. And I think it helped us to stand out. And my editors have been very happy, the fans have been very happy with the look. So, I’m very pleased with the response. You like me! You really like me!
CA: Did you have any history with the My Little Pony franchise, before this current generation? What was your awareness of it?
AP: My only really real awareness was when the first generation came out, my niece played with the toys. And beyond it, that was really it. I’ve known about its presence. It’s been around for 33 years now. So I’ve known about it, but this is the first time I’ve interacted with it.
CA: How much can you and Katie really do in terms of story? You’ve been taking the characters into some complex plots — you go a little further than the show or other licensed comics go. It seems like you can really experiment with character combinations. You can tell stories like, “Celestia goes to an alternate universe and falls in love with an alternate universe villain.” What kind of freedom do you guys have in creating the stories you do?
AP: We’ve got a fair amount of freedom. Hasbro’s actually very good with us. When it comes to the comic book, they realize that there is a bit of a broader audience that it’s aimed at. I mean we aim for kids. Katie and I specifically work towards kids. But, we know that there’s a lot of older people out there reading it as well. And so, they give us a little bit more slack with the leash, as to broader concepts than you can do on the show. Especially than you can do in 22 minutes on a show.
One of the advantages that we have over the show is that we’re not restricted by budget. We’re not restricted by toy licensing, things like that. So, whereas, on the show, if they say, “Well we want to do this big plot. … Well we’ve only got 22 minutes to do it in,” then its got to be sheared down. We came up with the same idea, “We want to do this plot”; we’ve got four issues to do it in. So we get more play room.
And we work hard on staying in continuity with the show. We work with people on the show. They work with us to make sure that everything’s copacetic. Every once in a while, we pull something out where Hasbro is like, “What are you doing?” But even then they’re like, “Alright, let’s see where it goes.” I think the most recent arc, the ‘Reflections’ arc, scared them to death. But they were like, “Okay, okay, fine. But we’re scared. It’s scary.” But they were pretty happy.
CA: So, here’s the inevitable question. Bronies. Thoughts?
AP: [Laughs] Actually I think they’re great. Bronies get a lot of flak, but they’re just the new kids on the block. You know, twenty years ago Trekkie was a dirty word, so Bronies are still coming into their own, but they do…. I think they’re great. They do phenomenal charity work. I mean, just look in the news. You know, a kid gets bullied for a backpack, and the community rallies around him. And it’s all because of a little cartoon show. The embracing that they do of the ideas of harmony and kindness and honesty, I mean, we could use that all around, not just in the Brony community. So I think they’re pretty good. You know, there is that 2%, but there’s that 2% in any fandom.
CA: When the show first came out, I heard more and more people talking about it, and I thought it would be like the Avatar series over on Nickelodeon, or like Adventure Time, where it would be popular because it had really intense plots, and dealt with intrigue or politics, or it had really absurdist humor. And My Little Pony really doesn’t have either. I mean, you guys with the comics have more freedom with the plots, but really, it’s a very earnest cartoon. And I’m curious — why do you think its become a phenomenon?
AP: I think there’s a couple of different factors. And overall I couldn’t tell you exactly one thing, but I think part of it is it does not talk down to kids. So that makes it more attractive to an older audience. It does have smart humor. For example, the episode that hooked me on the show, you know, I watched one or two episodes, I was like “Well this is cute”. And then the third episode I watched, the whole episode is a veiled David Bowie reference.
CA: Oh! That one!
AP: And I was like “That’s it! This is brilliant!”. They’ve had Benny Hill jokes. They’ve had Trainspotting jokes. You know, things like that, that a kid might giggle at but they don’t necessarily know what it is, but the older audience is like, “I know what you did there!” So I think that’s part of it, another part of it is nostalgia. People that grew up with My Little Pony, you know, 30 years ago, now have kids and it’s something that they recognize, “Oh I know what My Little Pony is”. So it’s something that they can share with kids.
And again, the messages of honesty and kindness is a universal thing that everybody would like to grasp, whether they say so or not. In fact, its very big in the military community, especially the Marines.
AP: Yes. Because that is something that they stand for. Integrity, honesty, you know, protecting one another. And that’s what the show is about. So I think it’s got some great messages, it just happened to find the right combination of colors, talents, voice work, that just really hit the target. I’m not sure what one thing did it, but it did it.
CA: What kind of lasting impression, what kind of legacy do you think My Little Pony and the whole Brony phenomenon will leave on fandom? Do you think you’ll see more properties like this becoming popular with adults, with adult men, things like that? Or do you think it’s a flash in the pan?
AP: I don’t think it’s a flash in the pan, but I don’t know yet what kind of legacy it’s going to leave. That’s actually a question that we were pondering just the other night. Where is it going to go, how long is it going to last, we don’t know. Because the show’s been going on for four years, they’re going on five. It’s getting stronger and stronger and stronger. The show is on in different places around the world. Our comic is now in different places around the world. We’re now in Italy, we’re in Spain, we just started publishing in Japan. So if it can leave a legacy and get a couple more people a little happier, a little bit more humorous, a little bit nicer, then I’d say it did its job. But right now lets wait and see.
CA: Do you have any favorite memories or experiences related to the comic? Like, fan interactions, accolades, stuff like that?
AP: My overall favorite is not one specific thing, because I’ve run into this a couple times. But parents come up to me, and they say, you know, like, the dad will come up and say, “I go and get my G.I. Joe and my Hellboy, and whatever. And I can’t take my kids into the comic shop because there’s nothing for kids to buy.” And when you really think about that, that is a horrible thing to say, that a kid can’t go into a comic shop.
And I’ve had parents come up to us and say, “Now that there’s something for my kid, I can take them in, and I enjoy it too. I enjoy reading it with them.” I’ve had parents come up and say “My kids are learning to read on your comic book”. That is an incredibly wonderful feeling, to know that somebody’s getting into, first off, reading, but second, that they’re getting into the industry that I fell in love with as a kid. You know, we’ve planted the seed for the next generation. We will live on. So that is a wonderful thing.
CA: Do you have a favorite arc or storyline among the ones you’ve done so far? Or favorite pages to illustrate?
AP: Oh I’ve had a lot of favorite pages. The debut of Chrysalis in the comic, the big reveal of Chrysalis was a big favorite. I really regret that I sold that page. The one page that I kept for me was the showdown between Chrysalis and Twilight, the big battle scene. That one is mine. And I may have to end up keeping the showdown scene between Celestia and Alternate Celestia, cause that was a big thing to me. ‘The Reflections’ was a very big, very meaningful arc to me. We fought for that a lot, we did a lot of work on it.
CA: I have to say I really love when Celestia activated her sun powers. That was really cool!
AP: Yes, that is something I’ve wanted to do since I took this job. If you look at issue one, on the cover, she’s glowing orange, right behind twilight. I wanted her to really come into power. I wanted her to be like, you know, we’ve seen her on the show and she’s all nice and friendly, but she’s the sun. I want to see the sun take somebody out. So I was very happy that Hasbro let us do it. They were a little nervous. They were like, “OK, looks good. Go ahead.” So I was very good with that.
CA: So here’s the last question and it’s the biggest one. Who is your favorite pony?
AP: Luna! [Laughs]
CA: I mean I have to show, you know, journalistic objectivity. But, yeah!
AP: Yeah. My best princess is Luna. Best of the mane six is Applejack.
CA: Thank you. Isn’t she? So marginalized.
AP: And my favorite of the bad guys is Chrysalis of course. Although, Alternate Celestia may come a very close second now.