Too Crazy For The Show: Derek Charm On Drawing ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ In Comics
The city of Townsville is home to three of pop culture's greatest superheroines, and with their return to television with a new series last year, it was only a matter of time before The Powerpuff Girls made it back to comics. Now the newly redesigned Blossom, Bubbles, and Buttercup are taking center stage in comics once again in a new series from show writers Haley Mancini and Jake Goldman, and artist Derek Charm.
But with a show that's been as visually driven as PPG, there are a lot of challenges to bringing it to the page. I spoke to Charm about his connection with the show, the challenges of what he's drawing, and how the comics are coming from a much stranger place than the show.
ComicsAlliance: I remember a few years back that you told me that you loved working with hot pink in your art because you didn’t get to do it too much in your day job. Now that you’ve done so much with Powerpuff Girls, am I correct in assuming that’s not a problem anymore?
Derek Charm: If anything, I think my time on Powerpuff Girls has made me want to use it more. It’s all over Starfleet Academy and Jughead too. I guess it’s settled into being a regular thing for me, but I don’t have to hold back at all when it comes to Powerpuff.
CA: Yeah, you're definitely staying busy these days. But as an artist who's working on a couple of different books in your own style, does it feel like a shift to go back to Powerpuff Girls, where you have to stick to someone else's models and designs?
DC: It’s actually really nice to be able to do both. It’s like giving different parts of your brain a rest, which helps when you’re doing two books a month.
CA: What’s your history with the show? Were you a fan of the original run back in the late ‘90s?
DC: Yeah, I mean, I was a fan of the original. It really stood out because you could see that it was made by artists, in the same way a lot of those old Cartoon Network shows were. I was a teenager when it came out, so I was more drawn to the experimental, weird side of it.
CA: Was there a particular episode that you remember standing out for the weird stuff, or a moment where the artist-oriented nature of it clicked for you?
DC: I always think of the episode with Mr. Mime, where he goes around stealing color and sound from Townsville, and everything starts to look like Guernica. It’s one of those cases where you can tell the visual idea led the story.
CA: That was actually the exact episode I was thinking of when you talked about the show being art driven. Are there any tricks you like to throw in your own stuff to keep that idea in the mix, even when you're not writing the story yourself?
DC: Less so with this series, just because this version doesn’t seem to be as much about that. With this one, I was really trying to focus on matching the bright, pastel colors from the new show.
CA: The other big thing that comes to mind in terms of the visuals is, of course, all the different designs for the villains. I think Mojo's abstract brain-pattern helmet that's actually covering a giant brain is the big one, but are there any other bad guys on the show that you have an attachment to, whether artistically or just liking them a lot?
DC: The bad guys are all super fun to draw. So many to choose from. I really love the design of Fuzzy Lumpkins and was able to work him into a Super Smash Up issue, but my favorite is probably the Gangreen Gang. Their design and the contrast of character shapes is so cool, somehow I’ve never ended up using them.
CA: What was it about the Powerpuff Girls that kept you coming back?
DC: They don’t have fingers and that goes a long way when I have pages due. Honestly, I like drawing those big shapes and bright colors. I really love working with editor Sarah Gaydos as well. We’ve worked together on three Powerpuff series now and kind of know what to do. I was really into the idea of working with show writers Jake Goldman and Haley Mancini this time around, too. Their scripts are super funny and fresh. Issue two is the craziest thing I’ve ever drawn.
CA: You've written your share of PPG comics, with Super Smash-Up, too. What's the conversation like when a new script comes in from Goldman and Mancini?
DC: Since Haley and Jake work on the show (Haley is also the voice of Princess Morbucks) I just go with whatever they want to do. I want to respect that this Powerpuff Girls is a new thing. I really enjoy how fun and silly their stories are, and we’ve gotten to create a few new characters too, which was kind of off the table back when I was writing.
CA: Yeah, I noticed that the villain for #2 was a new character. How do you separate those ideas out from what's on the show? Is there ever a moment of "oh, this is too good, they'll want to save that for the primary medium," or do you just go for it?
DC: Well, issue two was apparently pitched by Haley and Jake as an episode of the show and deemed too crazy, so here were are.
It’s definitely up there as one of the weirder licensed stories I’ve ever worked on. I think having show writers do this book allows us get away with a lot more in terms of going “off road.” Another cool thing about issue two is it guest stars real-life band Tacocat, which is such a Hanna-Barbera tradition I was super into it. Tacocat did the theme song for the new show and it just so happens that their publicist is our mutual friend Jason Baxter. Him and Sarah set the whole thing up.
CA: In terms of being too crazy, #2 involves the Powerpuff Girls being turned into chicken people. How'd that come about, and was it easy for you to do that kind of tweak to the design? Just throw on some feathers and beaks and be done with it?
DC: Pretty much! I was actually not sure about how far I could go with that. It’s the second issue of a new version of these characters! But Cartoon Network were all about it. I wanted to keep them recognizably Powerpuff Girls while still being chickens, so honestly yeah, just threw some beaks on them.
CA: What was the adjustment like when you had to switch over to the new designs? Did you catch yourself drawing the older ones?
DC: Luckily, the Girls look pretty much the same, just thinner lines. The hardest thing to figure out was the background characters, before it was very Hanna-Barbera/UPA but now it’s a little more of a modern CN house style. I finally got it down by issue four, but that’s my last issue, so…
CA: So what's next?
DC: Well, I’m still finishing up my last issue of PPG (#4) which features Him— who I’ve somehow never done as a main villain, so that’s fun. The book will keep going though, and I’ll be keeping busy on Jughead with Ryan North, and a guest issue of Generation Zero with Fred Van Lente for Valiant. That one’s cool because it’s more in-line with a traditional super hero comic, but starring teens. So it’s sort of combining stuff I’ve learned from Jughead and Powerpuff Girls.
CA: Given how much you love over-the-top villains, Him does seem like an obvious choice. Is that a character you've wanted to work on for a while now?
DC: Yeah for sure. I was actually just thinking about this the other day, my very first cover ever was for Powerpuff Girls #5 a few years ago which featured Him’s shadow looming over the people of Townsville.
So for him to finally show up in this issue is, like full circle or something. He’s great and weirdly natural for me to draw. If they wanted to give Him a spin-off where he’s on every page, I’d be all about it.
Powerpuff Girls #2 is available at comic shops and digitally today.