Steven’s There To Fix Their Family Unit: Jeremy Sorese & Coleman Engle Talk ‘Steven Universe’ Comic
With books like Adventure Time, Regular Show and more, Boom! Studios has been doing a pretty solid job of adapting Cartoon Network’s hit shows into comic books. This week, they added another one to their roster in the form of Steven Universe, with writer Jeremy Sorese and artist Coleman Engle taking on the story of, well, Steven Universe, a kid being raised by the heroic Crystal Gems, who protected the world from monsters alongside his mother until she died bringing him into the world.
To find out more about where they intend to go with the comic, we spoke to Sorese and Engel about what they intend to do with the book, the surprising darkness behind the “cotton candy exterior” of Steven’s universe, and, perhaps most importantly, their feelings about Sailor Moon Crystal.
ComicsAlliance: How did you get involved with Steven Universe? Were you fans from the start?
Jeremy Sorese: Coleman and I had been working with Boom! for about a year before the comic, and they sort of wanted to keep it in-house. We both auditioned for different parts, and lucky enough, they settled on the two of us. Most of the Boom! crew at this point are all friends or classmates, like our editor, Whitney Leopard, went to school with us, so she’s an old classmate and a good friend of ours. We weren’t plucked out of the sky, we were very lucky to be part of the family as this project was coming out.
CA: Had you worked together before?
JS: No, this is the first time that we’ve worked together. We’re good friends, we’ve known each other for a very long time now.
Coleman Engle: A very long time.
JS: Like since we were 17.
CE: I was 18.
CA: It’s very unusual in comics to find an artist and writer who have known each other that long but haven’t worked together before.
CE: When we went to school together, it was good because we’d be in classes together. That’s kind of like working together. It’s not a crazy jump.
JS: That’s true. It’s not formal, though. We haven’t worked on any previous Boom! comics or anything, but we started out coming from a very similar influence basis. We’re all interested in the same things, we sort of grew up in the same sort of pool of friends and influences. When I write for him it doesn’t feel like I’m grasping at straws, I know where he’s coming from in certain ways.
CA: How did you first encounter the show?
JS: I’ve known Rebecca Sugar for a long time now though the Internet, and Coleman and I are friends with a good number of people who work on the show, so we knew it was coming, and when it came out we were ecstatic. We both feel lucky to work on something that we both genuinely enjoy. It doesn’t feel like a job most often. I would love to work on this regardless — we would probably be drawing stuff about the show even if we weren’t working on it.
CE: Just fan art, all the time.
JS: I don’t want to use the word “fan art,” I was trying to think of a classier way to say it.
CE: What else is it?
CA: That’s interesting, because I’ve seen a lot of professional artists who are really reluctant to us the term “fan art,” and then others who are totally cool with it. Like “yeah, it’s just a drawing of something I like.” Is that a tricky distinction for you?
JS: I haven’t really thought about it. I feel like I’m not really entrenched in a lot of fan cultures. I’m not someone who gets really excited about Sailor Moon. Maybe this is the first instance where there’s a property that I really do love that I’m working on, and that’s why I’m really reluctant to use that word. Maybe now that there’s actually a property that I do genuinely adore, the word doesn’t have that stigma attached to it. I’ve crossed the other side. I’ve seen the light!
CA: I’m very upset that you said you can’t get excited about Sailor Moon.
JS: Well I’m not going to kill someone over it.
CA: I think there’s a middle ground between “not getting excited” and “murder!”
JS: Hyperbole aside, I won’t get into a Twitter argument about it.
CE: It’s so polarizing now. I feel like Sailor Moon is the dividing thing on Twitter.
JS: I’ve just been stuck in so many party conversations where people are pissed about Sailor Moon, and I have no opinion.
CA: Crystal is pitting brother against brother.
CE: Do you like it?
CA: I do. The animation isn’t great, but I like what they’re attempting to do, although I think it’s worse than the original anime.
CE: I don’t know if an attempt can sell something.
CE: It was his words!
JS: I know, it was just really cutting.
CE: No, I mean, I think Crystal is great. I think it’s really fun and the pacing is incredible and the comedic timing is really good, but I don’t have a strong opinion about it. There are other people who have all these attachments to it, and they’re blurring that line. This is a new property. It’s hard to divide yourself between what you enjoyed as a kid and now, when it’s for a totally new audience.
CA: I’m watching every episode, but I think it has flaws that could easily be avoided.
CA: So, Steven Universe!
CA: It’s interesting, though, because you’re doing a project that’s based on a TV show that kids watch, but that’s made for at least a slightly different audience. You’re in a similar boat, even if there’s no nostalgia attached. There’s a comparison between those two versions. Is it daunting?
JS: It’s certainly new. I’ve never worked on something like this before. We were both at San Diego, and I kept being approached by people who would ask me if the story was “canon.” It never crossed my mind that that was something we should even consider. I asked Rebecca, like “are we actually canon?” and she said “Yes, of course, duh,” but it was still something so brand new for me. I think, lucky for us, the Steven Universe fans are so nice. They’re really so excited and on board with everything that comes out, so I don’t think we’ll have the same problem of people burning down our houses and chasing us down because we’ve skewed it. There’s also a good safety net for both of us. Boom!’s very on board, Rebecca’s very hands-on. There’s a lot of corrections that go on, so we can’t really go too off-the-rails, so to speak.
CA: Was it difficult to get a grasp on the characters? Did you have conversations like “Hey, what’s Pearl’s deal?” where your ideas didn’t match up with Rebecca Sugar’s, or did you just get it immediately?
JS: It comes and goes. I think with each script, there’s a process of pacing around the house for half a day that I go through, just to get myself into the mindset of the characters and find the emotional connection, the way that my life lines up, to help me work my way through and feel out each character. There are some characters that are easier for me to get into the mindset of, like Greg or Pearl or Connie. I feel like I could write them with more ease, but some of the other characters, like Garnet, who’s cold and austere and very different from who I am, take a little more time to sort of wiggle into place. But I think the show does a really good job of being very crystal clear about who is who and what is what for the emotional basis. I wasn’t trying to decode a serialized drama, it’s very coherent and easy to slide myself in once I get in that mindset.
CA: You mentioned corrections. Is there anything you can mention as to what had to be changed?
JS: With Steven, they’re building a very large universe very slowly, and there’s certain that I wanted to talk about where Rebecca was like “That’s great that you wanted to talk about that, but the show’s going to get around to it in a little bit of time, so maybe don’t bring that stuff up in issue #2.” Like the fact that Rose Quartz, Steven’s mother, is gone, is something that I’m very interested in, just in that a TV show for kids is tackling such a difficult subject, but there is time to discuss that, and it doesn’t need to come up in #2. It’s a slow burn, and getting into the mindset of taking my time and enjoying the characters for who they are and not trying to jump to the end or jump to the exciting stuff to early and let it build naturally, that takes some getting used to.
CA: Along the same lines, as an artist, how much leeway do you feel like you have? One of the interesting things about Steven Universe as a comic is that there’s a showcase of different art styles, with three backup stories in this first issue. In the main story, do you feel compelled to be as “on-model” as you can?
CE: I talked to Rebecca and Ian about this at San Diego, and they mentioned that they really enjoy off-model goofiness. I just try to be as faithful as I can while still being comfortable in my own style. I try to have a nice balance of the two. I really like the disconnect. You know when you have show properties, and then you have, like, toy packaging, and everything’s a little off? You can tell that in-house artists didn’t draw it, but it’s still kind of cool. I kinda want to have that vibe, but still be respectful to the show.
CA: So in this first episode, you’ve got a very simple adventure with Steven and the Gems, which feels like a nice way to get started. I’m curious as to how it came together, and whether you wanted to do a story like this to get a firm establishment of things before you moved on?
JS: Truth be told, Boom! wanted something simple. My first script is actually #3 now. I immediately wanted, right off the bat, to do a story about Greg at Open Mic Night, which is very specific. So they wanted something more simple, more traditional, a dungeon crawl with a single monster to defeat, and with this job, there’s definitely a process of trying to fit my own interests into Steven Universe. The comics that I do by myself are very emotional and very specific, and I don’t do many stories that are offhand or casual. For this, it’s really nice to have someone to say “no, Jeremy, you don’t have to pull out all the bells and whistles. You don’t have to immediately talk about Greg as the father and coping with being a single parent and these other parental figures in his life. You can just start off and be in the temple, and that’s nice. It’s a nice day out.” It’s a learning process that I’m excited about.
CA: As a big Tom Scharpling fan, I am really interested in seeing Greg Universe at an open mic.
JS: It’s at the Big Donut. I’m very excited about it. It’s #3.
CA: Is there anything else coming up that you don’t mind sharing?
JS: The preview synopsis for the second issue is out.
CE: The bike race?
JS: The bike race! That one’s about Steven being very excited about the annual bike race in Beach City, and the Crystal Gems are very nervous about him entering. There’s the idea that they’re not used to mortality or people getting hurt, and they really don’t want him to enter, so they conspire to help him out and it gets out of hand that way. The fourth issue is about a taxicab service that Steven starts with Lion.
CA: That certainly sounds like one of those heavy subjects.
JS: Yeah! That’s the beauty of the show, I think. It’s a cotton-candy exterior, but Rose is gone. She’s the first instance where the Gems have experienced losing someone dear to them, in the way that humans are more used to. Steven is there to fix the family unit, he’s there with his never-ending joy to help everyone, he’s the glue that’s keeping the family together again, even though there’s Greg, his now-single dad. The Gems are dealing with the fact that their leader isn’t there anymore, and they’re grasping at straws and fighting amongst themselves as the power dynamic shifts. That’s something the show is really amazing at doing. You feel so much for these characters and for Steven and his relations, but it’s in this adorable, fun, complicated, beautiful packaging. You just love it so much because of it. I want to keep up that level of emotion, and not downplay what the show’s strengths are.
CE: I really like the issues because Jeremy’s writing them with very specific times of day in mind, which makes it automatically very moody, and it flows very well. I’m excited about colors, so I think it’ll be fun. Can we talk about the two-issue arc? I think Jeremy wants to write a two-issue arc of Connie wanting to get a library card, and then they get transported to this temple… I’m very excited about that.
JS: After the initial run of the first four issues, the rest of them are either going to be really, really short, like two stories in fourteen pages, or multiple issue arcs. Eventually they’ll build up to a four-issue arc, which I’m very intimidated about writing, but I think I can pull it off.
CE: It’s just going to be four issues of Greg on OKCupid.
CA: I would read that.
JS: That’s too real. I kept joking at Comic-Con that I’d get to an issue where Steven has to apply for a student loan or Greg has to start worrying about Steven going to college, which no one thought was funny. “Steven, you’re going to owe money for a long time!”