Alex de Campi And Carla Speed McNeil Talk ‘My Little Pony: Friends Forever’ [Interview]
Last week, we brought you the news that IDW was launching My Little Pony: Friends Forever, an all-new, all-pony team-up series kicking off in January. The idea behind the new ongoing title is to pair up two members of the MLP cast for new adventures, and things are starting off in the first issue with a team up that's even more interesting than Pinkie Pie and Applejack having a bake-off: writer Alex de Campi and artist Carla Speed McNeil.
This week, I spoke to de Campi and McNeil to find out more about their approach to the characters, their favorite moments from the show and their ideal plans for Rainbow Dash -- which I can assure you are awesome.
CA: It's an obvious first question, but how did you both become interested in My Little Pony? Was it through the show or the comics?
CSM: Through theMy Little Pony: Friendship is Magic animated series. I'm a big fan of Lauren Faust. I was the least girly girl that ever walked the earth as a child, and what she says about her goals for girls' entertainment struck a chord with me. Several chords.
AdC: I had a couple of the original toys way back when, but I was just getting too old for such toys when they became really big first time round. (I had a ton of Breyers horses, though, of several different sizes. Even a Breyers unicorn because obviously.) Then my own daughter, who's about to turn 3, latched on to the animated series. I have watched some episodes about 100 times, it feels like... certainly "Baby Cakes" (Season 2) I have almost memorized. But the series is so well done, from story to animation to voice acting to music/SFX, I don't get stabby even on rewatch #101. That's pretty amazing in and of itself.
CA: Do you have a favorite episode, or a moment that you watched and were like "that's what's great about this show?"
AdC: Oh, gosh, there are so many great moments in the show. The musical numbers -- which, let's face it, could be awful -- are in fact fantastic and there isn't a one that wasn't stuck in my head (in a good way) for days later. The voice acting is tremendous. I can't believe the same actress voices, for example, Pinkie and Fluttershy. Every so often there are really cramazing (crazy + amazing) visual moments... the staring eyes in "Hurricane Fluttershy," the anime-style title/hero shots when the team heads out for the showdown in "Dragonshy." I have seen "Baby Cakes" about 100 times because it's my daughter's favorite episode. And I clapped with delight all through "Best Night Ever" because, dear reader, I have been to that party. The bit at the end when Princess Celestia is like, "yeah, this party stinks every year," OH ALL THE FEELS, PRINCESS CELESTIA.
CSM: "Suited For Success," definitely. Any freelancer who's said 'yes' to fourteen projects with all the same deadline (that is to say: all freelancers!) should be able to see themselves in Rarity when she goes nuts and tries to make all of her friends dresses (twice!) in one go. I love Rarity, even though I never wear make-up and I am not a perfectionist, because she's a working artist and a businesswoman! The cute reading glasses don't hurt, either.
"Putting Your Hoof Down" really gets me too, because Fluttershy finally does it RIGHT. I was more of a Rainbow Dash at a younger age. Tact, who cares? I never wanted to be bothered with manners, and had few friends. I realized that I could still be honest and plain-spoken without being blunt and rude. But it took some time, and I can certainly relate to Fluttershy's having come to the same place from the opposite direction!
My "that's what's great" is always in the character interactions. I really have no pony I can point to and say "that's me." I'm a terrible know-it-all, book nerd, and Wikipedia addict, but terribly disorganized and messy. I was a tomboy, but not an athlete. I love to cook and I've got a goofy sense of humor, but I'm not as gregarious as Pinkie. None of them is "my pony," but I can see enough of myself in each one that putting different ones together is like talking to different parts of my own mind. And the Cutie Mark Crusaders, since I have kids, it's such fun (and so painful!) to watch them veer around, having a really good time trying anything and everything while never yet hitting their stride...
And Daring-Do. She so needs her own series. Ho yes.
CA: As far as characters, why Pinkie Pie and Applejack? They haven't had too much interaction in the show, but I imagine that could be appealing since nothing had really been defined.
AdC: Well, precisely. But they are both cooks. The only time they really cooked together was back in "Applebuck Season," for one brief (but epic) scene. So they have a common interest/passion, and it's the one thing Pinkie is probably super competitive about. And the one thing AJ might *not* be super-competitive about.
CSM: That's the fascinating thing about the way the basic ensemble cast has been written-- you can put any two of them together, even the two who are most alike, and they're different and vivid enough that they can make good stories. One of the really cool messages the show contains is that you can be very different from your best bud.
CA: Were there other characters you thought about working on and then discarded in favor of these two?
CSM: Oh, Rarity for sure! I love Rarity. We were firing out all kinds of ideas, though. Poor [IDW editor] Bobby Curnow, it must have been like trying to drink from a firehose.
AdC: We both definitely have a soft spot for Rarity, because of the opportunity for crazy fashions, and how easily she gets into trouble trying to be helpful/good/the perfect friend to everyone. And maybe it's the Stockholm Syndrome speaking, but I'd have fun writing the Cake kids. I really love all the Mane 6, and the CMC... so much has already been done with Fluttershy in the series, but I would love to write her. And Rainbow Dash. And... and... We did get rather over-excited when IDW was interested in getting a pitch from us, and, oh, we deluged our poor editor.
CA: Why Rarity? Just the fashion, or the challenge of getting that Mid-Atlantic accent to work in print?
AdC: Yeah, I think it's a fashion thing. I love also that Rarity's parents -- who we only see for two nanoseconds in "Sisterhooves Special" -- have a totally different accent. It's those little touches!
CA: How did the approach from IDW happen? Did you just get a call one day that was like "hey, we're doing My Little Pony Team-Up," or was it something you actively pursued?
CSM: That was all Alex. When she mentioned the possibility, though, the active pursuit was definitely on.
AdC: Ah, I wish I were at the stage in my career where editors would call me up out of the blue, and offer me money to do amazingly cool projects like Friends Forever. Sadly I'm still at the "panhandling on the hard shoulder of the information superhighway" stage where I have to email editors and hope that the week I email them is a week in which they are accepting pitches. Frankly we were just lucky with timing with IDW. And they've been wonderful to work with.
CA: Alex, you've already got a track record of all-ages books with Kat & Mouse, even though I doubt that Pinkie Pie and Applejack are going to investigate any crimes -- although now that I've written that, I really want to see it. How does that affect your approach to something like this, where you're writing for a younger audience?
AdC: Hey hey! Pinkie and Twilight had a super detective team-up in "Mystery on the Friendship Express!" But back to your question... I've actually done a chapter book series too, and a bunch of episodes of a (fairly minor) animated TV series, Dive Olly Dive. I love writing for kids. Comedy is fun to write (and hard!). I suppose I feel what I've learned from most is having a little kid of my very own, and I can watch what she reacts to, and what delights her... what she understands, and what goes over her head. I was so happy that my daughter could recognize everything going on in our issue, and which pony was which, just by looking at Carla's rough pencils.
CA: Carla, you're kind of in the opposite boat. I could not be more excited about seeing you draw a My Little Pony book, but it's definitely a departure from what I've seen of your work before. Was it something you were eager to try your hand at?
CSM: Oh, definitely. I have a rarely-seen cartoony style that I developed just for fun, and use for birthday cards and letters home, also I scrawl it on the outsides of mail-orders when the line at the post office is long. A little bit Simpsons, a little bit rubber-hose, all the kids are cute and the adults are hideous. Well, mainly me. It's loads of fun, and was some preparation for such a radical change in style. I have to say, the ponies are put together very differently than I thought they were before I really sat down and analyzed them! They're brilliantly designed. Their short bodies, long legs, and big heads permit the artist or animator to use quadrupedal characters as if they were human, while still keeping all the little 'horse' signifiers that make them fun. Very satisfying to draw, and extremely complex! All the crazy 'take' exaggerations are loads of fun too; the animators aren't confined either by the flash-style animation or the dictum of cuteness-- though they are very, very cute and appealing.
CA: Horses are pretty notorious for being something comic book artists tend to hate drawing. Does it make a difference when they're cartoony or do all the big bubblegum curls and cutie marks just add to the hassle?
CSM: Nah, it's cake. The swirls and swoops and heavily graphic style is a lot of fun to draw. It takes concentration, but not a kind I find stressful. In comics, since the panels have to have room for the words, I haven't had much room for pretty backgrounds. The sets and background art in MLP:FIM are pure pleasure. And as for horses being hard to draw, well, the ponies are both easier and harder to draw than more detailed horses. Easier, because I don't have to pull down my Breyers models to remind myself of the articulation of hoof and hock-- I just have to suggest it, without making it too complicated. Harder, because they're so short-bodied that their trot and gallop poses have to be rather different from those of more realistically depicted horses, or else they look really strange. But, there, the work has already been done for me-- the show has worked all that out already. I just have to turn on an episode and go "Aha!"
All that said, my line isn't really clean enough to perfectly replicate the look of the show, and, for the first time, I wish I was drawing on a tablet, so I could use some of those fancy wingbangs to fix that. Oh well.
CA: You're doing the first issue, but the book's going to have a rotating cast of creators. Do you have plans to come back and do more stories? Are there other MLP characters you'd like to take on?
CSM: Alex and I have a lot of pots on the boil. We seem to be in the early stages of what promises to be a very productive creative friendship of our own. I would love to come back and try my hand at Rarity at the beach. If not Fluttershy with an entire cast of rabbits. Or Rainbow Dash attempting the first circumnavigation of Equestria, around-the-world-in-eighty-days fashion. Twilight having fits in the Midnight Library, where all the books that were never written are kept (but you can't check anything out!) Don't get me started on the secondary cast. I got more.
AdC: We really want to be back! I need to get off my duff and send in some new pitches. Carla's pretty much covered the things we're interested in doing, but yeah, oh my God, the "Around Equestria in 80 Days" idea. Oh, who could we stick with Rainbow Dash that would annoy the daylights out of her and maybe sink the whole endeavour? Hmmmm.