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The Mary Sue Exclusive Preview And Interview: BOOM! Studios’ Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1

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Main cover by Ru Xu (Steven Universe).

Steven Universe has been getting waves of praise lately, mostly for its portrayal of diversity in its female characters – and it’s well-deserved praise, every bit. But SU doesn’t leave its male characters in the shallows either. Case in point: Greg Universe, former rock star, current van-dwelling car wash owner, and great dad. With what could have easily been a tired trotting out of the “bumbling Muggle dad” trope, Rebecca Sugar and co. have instead given us a well-rounded, lovable character whose personal struggles never get in the way of being there for his son.

Greg’s gotten some wonderful chances to shine in recent episodes (particularly “The Message” and “Story for Steven”), and BOOM! Studios KaBOOM! imprint is following that up with a special one shot comic dedicated to the character. The comic is anthology-style, featuring work from many talented guest artists: Jeremy Sorese (Artist/Author), Liz Prince (Author), Coleman Engle (Artist/Author), Grace Kraft (Artist/Author), Chrystin Garland (Artist/Author), Kelly Turnbull (Artist), Rachel Dukes (Artist), Ru Xu (cover), and Fellipe Martins (variant covers). Here’s the summary for the issue:

Retailer incentive variant cover by Fellipe Martins (Regular Show).

Retailer incentive variant cover by Fellipe Martins (Regular Show).

Steven Universe and the rest of the Crystal Gems are bonafide heroes, saving Beach City day after day. But you know who else is a hero? Greg Universe! Steven’s dad might not have Crystal Gem powers, but he’s a valuable member of the team, too!  This oversized collection of shorts features father-and-son fun, as Greg teaches Steven some valuable life lessons.

Several of the contributors to this issue were kind enough to answer a few questions about their relationship to Greg and Steven Universe. Check out their answers below, and keep an eye out for the special issue on April 29th!

The Contributors (in Their Own Words)

SU_GregUniverseSpecial_Kraft1Grace Kraft: I always joke that I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen and draw in my high chair.  I’ve always had a passion for art and I could never see myself doing anything else. I’ve been lucky enough to have family, friends and teachers who have been so supportive in my endeavors.  I attended the Rhode Island School of Design and graduated last summer with a BFA in Film/Animation/Video.  I’ve recently begun working as a storyboard artist on Cartoon Network’s Powerpuff Girls reboot.

On my own time I’ve also been working on my own webcomic, Ornithia, as part of a new webcomic collective, The Silent Chord.  Like my Steven Universe guest comics, Ornithia is done entirely in watercolor.  The story is set in a world inhabited by bird people called Ornithians and follows the journey of one, a little kestrel girl named Kia.  She’s a young warrior-in-training and I want the main part of the story to focus on her growth as a person as she travels around meeting new people and discovering new things.  I’ve been very busy lately so I haven’t had the time to update it, but I am very passionate about the world, story, and characters and I can’t wait to progress with it!

Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Grace Kraft: Yes, I’ve done and still draw a lot of fan work for Steven Universe in addition to other works I enjoy.  It’s been interesting starting with fan work and then moving to creating official comics for the same show.  I think a lot about what it is exactly that distinguishes “official” work from “fan” work and I feel I’ve learned a lot through creating both.

When I work on fan work, there’s this freedom to speculate about events that could happen or have happened.  I also tend to draw or write pieces that explore character personalities, histories and relationships in-depth. When I work on official comics, I try to bring some of that same character and story writing but trim it and keep the comics light and fun.

Vrai Kaiser (TMS): What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Kraft: I’ve always loved Greg, though it might not be obvious since I don’t draw him as often as Steven or the Gems. He’s a fantastic character and very important to the show!

I feel I learned a bit more about Greg in scripting the longer comic for the special and that helped me in completing my other comic.  In writing I feel I got a better sense of Greg’s voice and mannerisms, not by thinking too hard about it but more in listening and letting the character acting and words come to me.  It was also my first time scripting a comic that I wasn’t going to draw, so I did my best to paint the scenes in words so they would be clear.

What I found I really like about Greg is that even if he’s not necessarily knowledgeable about the situation at hand, he tries to give the best advice he can based on his own experiences.  And that can range from something simple to something that implies more than what he’s saying at face value.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Kraft: As I’ve done several guest comics for the Steven Universe comics and have experience figuring what works and what doesn’t in them, I was pretty much given free reign as long as the stories were about Greg Universe.  I didn’t have any questions regarding the Greg comics, but for past guest comics I’ve gotten good notes from the creative staff that definitely helped in improving the comics I was working on at the time.

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Kraft: I wasn’t given any restrictions directly but, based on previous comics I’ve pitched and worked on, I had a good idea of what would be acceptable.  Personally, I try my best not to overstep the bounds of what the comic covers and what is going to be unveiled in the show. I want to be respectful of the source material.  Something important like Greg and Rose’s history didn’t feel like something to make a comic about since there’s still a lot regarding it that hasn’t been revealed in the show, yet at least.

Also the ideas that came to me for the guest comics were stories about Greg and Steven’s interactions as I felt that was more the focus of this anthology, though I did include implications of Greg’s love for Rose in both.  I was more interested in writing stories about Greg and Steven’s relationship and showing how the time they spend together is just as valuable as the time Steven spends with the Gems.  In Steven Universe there’s this fascinating balance of magical fantasy and everyday ordinary in Steven’s life, and Greg (along with Connie) bring the ordinary reality half and help Steven grow as a person by being in touch with his humanity.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Kraft: Any of the Crystal Gems or Connie is fully deserving of an anthology of their own.  But if I had to pick, I would love to see an anthology about Amethyst as she’s my personal favorite.  She’s such a fascinating and complicated character, and even though the show has only scratched the surface of her history it’s obviously shaped her present personality and behavior and I would love to write a comic that explores some of that.

But I also feel once we know more about Lapis Lazuli or Rose Quartz I could see an anthology for either of them. Rose Quartz is obviously a central character that ties almost all of the other characters together, while for Lapis we still hardly know anything about her past and her relationship with the Gems and Crystal Gems.  There’s plenty of story potential in them both!

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Liz Prince: I’ve been an autobiographical comics artist for over 15 years, both as a self-publisher and as someone who has been published by comics publishers, book publishers, and anthologies alike.  My first book, Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?, published by Top Shelf Productions, won and Igantz Award in 2005, and my newest book, Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, has been honored on many important library lists for this year.  I have also written & drawn comics for BOOM!’s Adventure Time and Regular Show series, and I am currently writing their new Clarence mini-series which debuts in June!

TMS: Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Prince: I have zero background in Steven Universe other than watching the show! I don’t do a lot of fan art in general, so pretty much anytime I work with a Cartoon Network property (Adventure Time, Regular Show, Clarence), it’s all “official” business.  But I’m probably the least professional comics professional that exists, so the term “official” is used very loosely.

TMS: What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Prince: I’ve always been a fan of Greg Universe if for no other reason than he is voiced by the legendary WFMU Best Show host Tom Sharpling. That’s a lot of indie rock cred there!  It was fun to get to write a story about him, but a little nerve-wracking, because he’s a character that hasn’t had a lot his history explained on the show yet.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Prince: Whitney Leopard, the editor that I worked with on this project, is always incredibly helpful and super friendly.  We were told that the stories should focus on Greg as the main character, and that was basically the only restrictions, but when writing comics for any of BOOM!’s Cartoon Network line, the stories always have to be approved by someone who works on the show, to make sure that you aren’t contradicting an ongoing storyline or something that is canon.

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Prince: I didn’t even go down that road, because I figured that there are probably some pretty specific details about Greg’s past that will be revealed on the show eventually.  My initial idea was that I wanted to focus on Greg’s music career, but there hasn’t been enough about that on the show yet for me to feel comfortable writing about it, so I went with a fun story about the car wash instead.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Prince: I think it would be fun if there was a “Keep Beach City Weird” anthology that focused on paranormal things that happen in Beach City, as told by Ronaldo Fryman.  I don’t know what kind of story I’d do for such a book, but I like things that have to do with ghosts and other spooky stuff like that.

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Coleman Engle: Went to school in Georgia for comics and have been working with BOOM! Studios for two years!

TMS: Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Engle: I made a LOT of Digimon fan comics in middle school! I’ve always loved fan art so working with BOOM! Studios the past few years has been really nice.

TMS: What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Engle: Greg is definitely one of my favorite characters from Steven Universe, I think he is a really good representation of a single parent. Being raised by my mom, who did anything and everything to support my sister and me growing up, it’s incredible to see that in a children’s show.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Engle: Whitney enjoyed my first pitch so creatively this project was very smooth. Other than having a few grammar mistakes, the script remained unchanged.

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Engle: Working on the issues with Jeremy helped me understand what was acceptable within the realms of the comic, so I knew if I just kept it with information that was already on the show and nothing else it’d be alright.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Engle: I’d LOVE to see some comics about the “cool kids” (Jenny, Buck Dewey, and Sour Cream), they have a fun dynamic. They also care about Steven and aren’t shown as troublemakers or nuisances, like a lot of teenagers are in media.

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Jeremy Sorese: I’m a full time illustrator based out of Brooklyn, New York. I went to SCAD for a degree in sequential art and was a resident in Angoulême, France at a comics program called La Maison des Auteurs. Currently I’m finishing up a massive science fiction graphic novel called Curveball which will be published with Nobrow sometime this fall.

TMS: Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Sorese: I’m actually the writer for the monthly comic that’s been published by BOOM! for the past year. Personally, the line between ‘fan’ works and my actual job with BOOM! is very blurry and this comic is no exception.

TMS: What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Sorese: I’ve been a huge fan of Greg since the beginning. Let Me Drive My Van Into Your Heart is easily one of my top three favorite songs to sing in the shower.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Sorese: When I first was hired to write the Steven Universe comic I had a terrifying phone conference with the creative team behind Steven Universe over at Cartoon Network. Terrifying as in I was nervous and overwhelmed but they have been incredibly generous and supportive the entire time. The show is so rich and complex and engaging that the guidelines felt so intuitive rather quickly. The problem for me now is to choose which story out of all the possible stories within the Steven Universe universe to write about.

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Sorese: Yes, of course. But frankly, I’m totally alright with this. Steven Universe is Rebecca Sugar’s show, the baby of everyone who works on it and the last thing I would ever want to do is step on their creative toes. I’d much rather watch what their depictions of these stories are than speculate on what I think would have happened in their world. And it’s nice to play with their toys so to speak when I’m writing Steven Universe stories and still get to be a massive fan of the show each week.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Sorese: I think an anthology about the residents of Beach City would be nice. Their relationships are all interwoven so well that there’s a lot you could talk about without ever having to dip into the Crystal Gem’s antics. And I would definitely write about Sadie realizing she is better off without Lars as she comes into her own as a more confident person.

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Kelly Turnbull: I graduated Sheridan’s Animation program in 2009 and have been working in the industry pretty consistently since. I started on Ugly Americans for Comedy Central that year and within two weeks of the contract ending on that job I was heading down to Los Angeles to work for Six Point Harness on the show Good Vibes for MTV. I’ve been down here ever since with the fortune to work on a number of different projects for wildly different clients with different styles and audiences. Some of the more recent projects I’ve been involved with have been the 2D animated sequences in Fox’s Cosmos reboot and the Monster High webseries for Mattel. I’ve also been running the webcomic Manly Guys Doing Manly Things for about five years now, as well as a second much newer and more story-based comic called Platinum Black.

TMS: Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Turnbull: Not Steven Universe specifically, but I do draw quite a lot of video game comics poking fun at whatever game I’m into that week. Sometimes I feel like being really involved with the fan community for something you want to do official work for can be tricky, because there’s kind of a muddy ground about creators being influenced by fan work and perhaps inadvertently bringing too much of that influence to the table. I dunno, it’s hard to explain. I am by no means trying to speak ill of fan work, it’s just a personal thing I keep in mind when an IP comes from an industry I’m a part of and I could conceivably end up doing official work for so I don’t need to worry about stepping over any boundaries I shouldn’t have.

TMS: What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Turnbull: Greg is great, I am a big fan of stories with dads who are positive, love their kids, and encourage their quirks. He’s a bit of a goof and he lives in a van but he loves Steven and supports him even though he’s worried about what could happen. I think that’s one of the most humanizing things about Greg, he’s obviously uncomfortable with magic and afraid of the worst happening to Steven, but he tries really hard to put on a brave face for him because he knows how happy and fulfilled it makes him.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Turnbull: Ah, I was brought into the project a little blindly, they just asked me if I wanted to pitch some stories their way. It was really early on in development so we were still working out what my role could potentially be, whether writing, drawing, or both. I didn’t get much direction on what tone to aim for so I figured they were casting some lines to see what they felt worked best for the collection. I pitched a couple ideas that were more action/comedy oriented but I think in the end they wanted something more sentimental and heartfelt. They ended up sending a really cute script by Grace Kraft my way that was an absolute blast to draw, so I didn’t really do any writing in the end.

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Turnbull: When I was pitching ideas I tried to avoid anything that would be too backstory heavy, particularly involving Rose too much because I felt like it would be a bit presumptuous to try to insert my own ideas about their history in when the show writers clearly have big things planned. They didn’t ask me to avoid anything, but it wasn’t ground I personally felt comfortable treading without working directly with other people involved in the series who would be a little more in the know.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Turnbull: Garnet’s probably my number one favorite character in the main cast so I always root for anything that involves more Garnet stories, but all of the characters are so fun to work with that there are barely any that I WOULDN’T want to see in their own specials. A Rose Quartz book would be amazing if they were willing to let the comics build that many stories around her. If they announced a special that involved Jasper I’d be looking for who I would have to mail cupcakes to for a chance to work on it, she’s one of my favorite designs and I’d love a chance to draw her a bunch. Just like, something silly about Jasper and Peridot annoying each other the whole way to earth or something. Maybe a fusions special would be a cool idea for a book, all the stories would revolve around the various fusion characters that have been in the show and their hijinks.

SU_GregUniverseSpecial_Garland1Chrystin Garland: I got my start in comics by working with Kazu Kibuishi on his Amulet and Explorer series. Since then, I’ve been freelancing for BOOM! Studios, creating several variant covers for Adventure Time and a few Bee and PuppyCat shorts. It’s been a ton of fun!

This summer, I’ll finally be taking the plunge and release my very first webcomic. Please look forward to it!

TMS: Do you have a background in doing fanworks for SU or in general? Does that change how you approach doing “official” material?

Garland: Not really. I like to doodle Steven Universe characters in my sketchbook from time to time, but I haven’t shared those with anyone. (They’re so sloppy!) When approaching a variant cover or a short, I like to focus on depicting the established world through my own lens.

TMS: What did you think of Greg before you started this? Did that change while you were working on the comic?

Garland: Ha ha! I’ll be honest, when I first saw Greg, I wrote him off as a “goofy dad” archetype. However, as the series progressed, Greg’s character really surprised me. He’s just a genuine, chill dude, who loves and supports his son. I respected that, and definitely tried to include some of his good nature in my short.

TMS: Were you given any kind of guidelines for writing the characters, or was any of the creative staff available to ask questions of?

Garland: Is it sad that I never considered reaching out until just now? Collaborating with any one of those fabulous folks would have been a dream!

TMS: Since SU has a lot of still unrevealed lore, were there things you were restricted in writing about (Rose and Greg’s history, for example)?

Garland: Nothing in particular. Though, I wish I could get a peek at those upcoming scripts! I imagine they are locked deep in an underground vault somewhere.

TMS: Which SU character would you like to see get their own anthology next (have an idea what kind of story you’d write)?

Garland: Oh man, I would love an anthology all about gem fusions! It would be fun to see Stevonnie and the rest of the giant women running around and causing havoc again.

BOOM! Studios’ Steven Universe: Greg Universe Special #1 hits comic stands and online retailers on April 29th!

Vrai is a queer author and pop culture blogger; they totally remember to take breaks from typing and cartoons – mostly when their eyeballs begin shriveling and crying in their sockets. You can read more essays and find out about their fiction at Fashionable Tinfoil Accessories, or remind them of the existence of Tweets.

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