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Given today’s announcement that Roger Langridge will be appearing at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, it seemed like the ideal time to run my email interview with him regarding his Muppets work at BOOM! Langridge’s industry profile has been elevated by his recent Muppet work, and it was my pleasure to interview him about it. His grasp of the Muppets characters is amazing and given that I’m a longtime fan of the Muppets, I’m truly enthused when he says some of the characters have “hidden depths you could spend a lifetime mining.” I could spend a lifetime reading what Langridge mines, honestly.
Tim O’Shea: Your Muppet work for BOOM! Studios was the first time I saw you work in the Muppet-verse. But you worked with the Muppets back with the Disney Adventures magazine. How much has your Muppet style changed (if at all) between the Disney era work and now?
Roger Langridge: The Disney Adventures stuff was a bit less on-model; they’d been running some Mickey Mouse cartoons by Glenn McCoy that were drawn in a raggedy, undergroundish sort of style and they were popular enough that they were looking for something similar with the Muppets, so I was encouraged to just go with my own style entirely. The BOOM! material, being more in the nature of a piece of official merchandise, is stylistically somewhere between that and the official models: not entirely my own take, although still recognisably “me.”
O’Shea: How did the Muppet assignment come about–did you contact BOOM! or did they seek you out?
Langridge: They found me! I guess the unpublished Disney Adventures material had been circulating behind the scenes, and I suppose somebody liked it well enough to track me down.
O’Shea: What kind of editorial guidance does editor Paul Morrissey give you, or does he pretty much let you have free reign with the characters?
Langridge: Paul is fairly hands-off, but it would be misleading to suggest that that’s the same thing as giving me free reign! There are further layers of approval to jump through with Disney, so Paul’s style seems to be that he knows what’s coming and doesn’t try to complicate things any further. The main editorial mandate I’ve had at BOOM!’s level is to think in terms of four-issue story arcs, which I admit I’m struggling to make work. It’s not the most natural thing for me. I’m more of a three-minute pop song kind of cartoonist.
O’Shea: In issue 2, you had an entire one-pager/one panel traveling song sketch based on the 1905 song, In My Merry Oldsmobile. How did you ever did you come up with that idea for a sketch? And in picking the song, were you aware (as I learned thanks to Wikipedia) that the song was “often used by Carl Stalling, long-time music director for Warner Bros. cartoons”?
Langridge: I wasn’t consciously thinking of Stalling, although I’m a huge fan; got his soundtrack albums and everything. As for coming up with the idea, I think the musical numbers are a crucial part of the show, but in order to do them without making things unnecessarily complicated, I have to either write the songs myself, or dredge up something that’s out of copyright and in the public domain, which is where “In My Merry Oldsmobile” came in. It seemed like a good fit, inasmuch as I could well imagine it appearing on the original Muppet Show pretty much as-is.
O’Shea: While BOOM! is breaking the issues of up in four-issue increments (and numbering), you consider the Muppet Show assignment as an ongoing monthly. How are you adjusting to working the monthly grind, while juggling other assignments and maintaining your online presence with Mugwhump the Great (which recently went on break)?
Langridge: I guess the answer to that is that I’m not coping very well! As you mention, I’ve had to drop Mugwhump for the moment, which kills me, as it’s the only thing I was working on that was really mine. Apart from that, the only regular thing I’m doing right now is a weekly caricature for a British soap-opera gossip magazine called Inside Soap, which I’m clinging onto to stop my bank manager from sending me rude letters. Everything else I’ve got coming out is something I worked on pre-Muppets; this really is a full-time gig, and then some! I work from 5:30am to 11pm every weekday on the book, and even then, each issue slips a little bit further behind, and there goes my weekend – I can’t remember the last time I spent Sunday with my family. We’re looking at doing one-shot fill-ins drawn by another artist between story arcs, so I can stay on top of it. The current pace isn’t sustainable indefinitely. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I’d like to see my kids occasionally!
O’Shea: How did you (and BOOM!) decide upon the concept for the next four-issue arc, The Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson?
Langridge: It was one of the ideas I submitted when I was asked to pitch some ideas for four-issue story arcs. I was trying to think in terms of subplots that could be running behind the regular Muppet Show shenanigans, so there’d be something to tie each arc together while the show could carry on as usual for the most part.
O’Shea: In working on the book, how much research do you do in order to give the characters the right look?
Langridge: I’ve got huge, groaning ringbinders full of reference. Gradually I’m finding my feet with the main characters, so I rarely need reference now for Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf, Gonzo, Scooter or the band. It’s taken me six months to get to that point! The first couple of issues were a bit of a nightmare as far as getting everyone looking right was concerned. Now I usually only need reference for the more obscure characters. (Obscure characters are a big part of the book, of course!)
O’Shea: Your backgrounds are quite rich with visual gags, do you try to give Digikore Studios (the colorist) certain tips on how to color them in a way that plays the elements up without hitting readers over the head–or do you trust the colorist to make your work look right without any feedback?
Langridge: I’ve been trusting Digikore completely, not only because they’re doing a spectacular job, but also because managing the colouring would be one more drag on my time that would slow me down even further. But I couldn’t be happier with the work they’re doing. Top notch stuff. (And I should mention the lettering by Deron Bennett as well, which serves the material perfectly. They’re all making me look great!)
O’Shea: What’s the biggest challenge of drawing comedy with characters that have such a rich history–a situation where you strike a balance between doing your own comedy while remaining loyal to the source material?
Langridge: I guess I’m lucky in that my own sensibilities and those of the Muppets coincide in many respects. I was already doing stories set in a vaudeville milieu, with absurdist humour, daft characters and made-up poems, before being asked to work on the Muppets; so you could argue that I was halfway there already. As far as writing the characters goes, it’s much the same as writing any character: you try to listen to their needs as characters and not write anything that doesn’t ring true. I’m fortunate to have Disney watching my back there. They’re not shy about telling me if they think I’m getting it wrong. That rarely happens, I’m happy to say!
O’Shea: You clearly love working with the Muppets, what is it about the characters that appeal to you and plays to your storytelling strengths?
Langridge: I like the fact that they’re mostly failures of one sort or another; the Muppet Theatre is like the level they’ve found as they all head their way down the showbiz ladder. That’s very easy to empathise with. I like the heart that underlies the characters; they’ve all got prickly exteriors to a greater or lesser degree, but they have fundamentally generous spirits at the bottom of it all. It’s almost as if that’s the reason they’re failures; they refuse to give up their humanity to achieve success, and it’s this quality that redeems them. I like the fact that they all embrace contradictions within themselves, specially Piggy and Gonzo, who have hidden depths you could spend a lifetime mining. And I love the off-the-wall randomness of so much of the humour. Very much my cup of tea.
O’Shea: What would you say to Muppet fans that don’t normally read comics to entice them to check out the project?
Langridge: I’d probably point out that I’m bending over backwards to make it feel as much like a “lost episode” of the Muppet Show as I can.
O’Shea: Other than the Muppets and the packaged release of the Fin Fang 4 Return stories (which originally ran at Marvel Digital) what else is on the horizon for you in 2009?
Langridge: Not much! I’ve got a few things coming up which I was working on before Muppet Mania consumed my life: a handful of Captain America backup stories in Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes, written by me and drawn by Craig Rousseau, featuring a World War Two version of MODOK; a two-pager that’s just come out in Uncanny X-Men: First Class Giant-Size #1, written by me and drawn by Jeff Parker; a short piece in Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man #50, written by me and drawn by Sonny Liew; a short story called “Venus in Fur” for an anthology called Snow Stories, edited by Mike Getsiv; a short piece in Strange Eggs Jumps the Shark, written by Chris Reilly and drawn by me, published by Slave Labor Graphics; and a “Mugwhump the Great” short story in IDW’s upcoming Act-i-Vate Primer. This is all stuff that’s already been completed, some of it a couple of years ago. Once those come out, I suspect that’ll be my last non-Muppet work for a while. Those guys don’t draw themselves, you know!