Awesomeness and Sparkles: Meet ‘Zodiac Starforce’, Your New Favorite Magical Girl Team [Interview]
Magical Girls are showing up everywhere in comics and cartoons lately; from Steven Universe and Bee and Puppycat to Batgirl and Help Us! Great Warrior, it’s getting easier to find that awesome combo of punching and sparkles every day. The generation that grew up on Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor is now beginning to tell their own stories, each with a very different take, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
The latest addition to the canon, announced today by publisher Dark Horse, is Zodiac Starforce, a brand new all-ages miniseries coming in August from writer Kevin Panetta (The Amazing World of Gumball, Bravest Warriors, Regular Show) and artist Paulina Ganucheau (Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends, TMNT: New Animated Adventures, Bravest Warriors). Both are regular contributors to BOOM! and IDW, and the team has adapted their short-lived webcomic into a four-issue story. We sat down to talk to them about the comic, their influences, and what to expect from this team of high school heroines.
CA: So. Paulina and Kevin, avoiding the typical “it’s X meets X” pitch, tell me a bit about Zodiac Starforce.
Kevin Panetta: Zodiac Starforce is about a group of friends who are magical girls. We kind of come in at the middle of their story. They’ve been out of commission as a team for a couple years. This mini-series is all about how and why they reform their team.
Paulina Ganucheau: Absolutely. Zodiac Starforce is mostly about these girls reforming their bonds of friendship through newfound struggles and teamwork, but also about them kicking tail with their amazing Zodiac powers. This is a story about girls being awesome in all respects. Also with sparkles and magic!
CA: Zodiac Starforce started as a webcomic, then transitioned into a shorter black and white mini-story. Was this when you decided to restructure it as a print series?
KP: When we started the webcomic it was as a break from another project we were developing. We thought “Oh! Let’s do something simple and easy!” Then it got more complicated as we started working on the story and we decided to try to pitch it as something longer.
PG: It’s funny thinking back to when we wanted to make this more like a serial daily comic type thing. After I posted the promo picture on Tumblr it got way more buzz than we expected, so we decided to redo it to more of what it is like today. It snowballed from there.
KP: Haha, we freaked out.
PG: We really did. We didn’t expect anything.
CA: I remember being pretty thrilled to see it, and I’m very happy it’s becoming a print comic. Is it planned for a miniseries or do you have a larger story in mind?
KP: We are starting with a four issue mini-series and we will see how that goes. We definitely have stories planned for after this initial mini!
PG: Tons more stories.
CA: In the initial pages, the girls were in high school. If they’ve reformed, is this series taking place later on?
KP: They are still in high school!
CA: What brought you both to Dark Horse for this project? Like many people, I associate them with darker, more mature stories, like Hellboy. This is definitely a change for them.
PG: I know, I know! It’s very different.
KP: The road to Dark Horse was pretty crazy, actually.
PG: We’ve been trying to pitch it for a couple of years, with the amazing help of our agent, Charlie Olsen.
KP: Yeah, Charlie helped us pitch it to thirteen different places. We pitched it around and reworked it for two years.
PG: It’s been around the block, twice, hahaha.
KP: Dark Horse has been great, though. I think they are very aware that it’s a new kind of book for them, too.
CA: It’s fun to see them branching out with such a fun, vibrant, book. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but it’s all-ages, is it not?
PG: Definitely. One of the main reasons they took on our book was to try and attract the newly growing audience of young girls. The Lumberjanes crowd, as they put it! I seriously couldn’t be happier about it, too. Those are the people I want/need to make comics for!
CA: That’s such an amazing thing to hear, that comics publishers are actively seeking out an audience of young people, and especially girls.
PG: I know, like a breath of fresh air. The little girl that I am inside is screaming with joy.
CA: Now, there’s definitely a heavy influence of Sailor Moon and magical girl anime/manga in Zodiac Starforce. Paulina, I know you’re all about that life. How much fun is it to make your own costumes and accessories?
PG: It’s honestly beyond words how much fun it is. If you follow me on Tumblr or Twitter, you know I live and breathe magical girl everything, haha. So this chance to do this comic is literally every single one of my dreams come true.
KP: The amount of thought and care that Paulina puts into the costuming is incredible. I think we had a four hour chat about what kind of stones they have in their necklaces one day.
PG: It’s so great to take what I love and piecemeal it into what I want to see on a magical girl character. And yeah, yeah we did. I had poured hours into going through all the stones.
KP: She sent me this big list with 10 options for each character!
CA: The thing I love about not just the costumes but the characters themselves is the diversity. You’ve got a magical girl team where every member has a different body type, style and ethnicity, something we rarely saw in the manga/anime we grew up on. Was that an important factor right from the start?
PG: Yes yes yes yes forever yes.
KP: I think it’s something we both knew was important.
PG: That was my one major gripe with most of the magical girl culture. Lack of diversity.
KP: I think now, though, you look at comics like Agents of the Realm or Balderdash and that’s really changing.
CA: Both of those comics are so good.
PG: I absolutely adore both of them too.
KP: I know. I love them. When I’m writing my scripts I’m like “I hope I can be as good as this….”
PG: I’m so happy to see the tides changing with most western renditions of the magical girl genre.
CA: Creators like yourselves, Mildred Louis, Victoria Grace Elliot, Natasha Allegri, Rebecca Sugar… It seems like there’s almost a movement of people who grew up on magical girls creating work inspired by them, taking the good elements and giving them new life.
PG: I think the magical girl genre has slowly been slinking into western entertainment since Sailor Moon first showed up in the 90s, but yeah, it’s in full force right now. All those little girls that grew up loving that bunhead are now grown and ready to share that magic with the rest of the world.
KP: We want to do a Bunheads comic, too. Are we talking about that now?
PG: Stay on topic, Kevin. We know you love Bunheads.
CA: Okay. The fun stuff: Tell us a bit about our main characters and their powers. What can people expect from the heroes of ZS?
PG: If you could see me right now I’m rubbing my hands together and smiling like an idiot, ‘cause I’m so excited for everybody to see these girls.
KP: Emma, or Gemini, is our main character. She has a big energy sword and she can split into two. There’s Kim, Taurus. She’s the protector of the team. She has a shield she throws and can also create force fields. I think Kim might be my favorite.
PG: I’m partial to Emma; she’s complicated and also kind of a dork.
KP: Well, Emma’s personality is based on you so that makes sense. Did you know that?
PG: Now I do. I love myself, I guess.
KP: Then we’ve got Savanna, Pisces. She is the healer of the team and she has a staff. And Molly, Aries. She’s kind of a hot head and she has energy guns. Wait. Maybe Molly is my favorite.
PG: I have a crush on Molly.
KP: Oh, and Molly can open and close portals.
PG: She’s a badass. The muscle of the team. She’s good at volleyball.
CA: Can you tell us anything about what kind of monsters or otherwise Big Bads we’ll see the team facing in these first few issues?
KP: So, when issue #1 starts, it’s been a while since they’ve seen ANY monsters, but a big ol’ monster shows up at the beginning and he’s kind of all blackness and teeth.
PG: Shadowy, spooky baddie.
KP: And some of the kids at their school are also acting really weird and awful. Basically like the ultimate mean girls.
CA: So they’re dealing with monsters both teenaged and demonic!
PG: Mean girls powered by ancient dark power. So they’re jerks for sure.
KP: Yep! It goes up much higher than that, though. Zodiac Starforce are soldiers in a war fought by ancient gods!
CA: So cool. Now, before I let you both get back to your mountains of work, are there any last things we should know about ZS?
PG: Yeah that’s A.
KP: Sorry, but I get excited every time I think about it. I really want everyone to know that I’m so excited for this comic to come out. Working with Paulina has been amazing and I love this story and these characters!
PG: Zodiac Starforce isn’t your average Magical Girl story. More is at stake. More is said socially. It’s deep, it’s beautiful and it has real world consequences. It’s a story for everyone.
With some sparkles on top.