When BOOM! Studios first acquired the rights to publish comics based on Jim Henson’s “The Muppet Show,” the publisher tapped cartoonist Roger Langridge to write and illustrate the adventures of Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and company. The artist’s history with the Muppets dates back to the strips he created for “Disney Adventures” magazine, and his work on the BOOM! series has received acclaim for its humor and charm, first in two four-issue miniseries and now in an ongoing monthly comic. Issue #2 is on sale now, and CBR News caught up with Langridge to discuss “The Muppet Show” and his other upcoming projects.
After two miniseries, “The Muppet Show” is now officially an ongoing. From Langridge’s end, however, not much has changed except the packaging. “The series has always been treated as an ongoing one from a scheduling point-of-view; one mini-series would lead into the next without pausing for breath. So it hasn’t really changed as far as my schedule is concerned,” the cartoonist said. “The main difference is that I get to stick with a single title for an extended period of time, so I look less like an unreliable flake.”
From the first issue of the first mini, each issue has been essentially a self-contained, done-in-one story, with the four-issue arc structure serving primarily as backdrop. “I did want to keep each issue self-contained as far as possible, right from the very beginning,” Langridge told CBR. “In fact, when BOOM! initially asked me to think in terms of four-issue story arcs, I almost panicked and ran. I’ve found ways to make it work, usually by thinking in terms of a theme to hold the arcs together, rather than an overarching plot. There’s also the consideration that a Muppet Show comic is more likely to appeal to readers outside of the usual weekly super-hero comic store crowd; it’s probably wise to assume that those readers won’t be getting every single issue, just picking up one here and there whenever they come across it. So there’s that as well. I certainly prefer self-contained comics as a reader that reason – I’m not a comic shop regular by any means.”
The current arc (or adhesive theme) takes the Muppets on the road, after the events of the “Treasure of Peg-leg Wilson” miniseries caused serious damage to their theatre, necessitating extensive repairs. “It’s an ongoing game I play with myself – how far can I bend the Muppet Show format without breaking it?” Langridge said of the title’s new direction. “With a book that relies on a consistent scenario that doesn’t really vary (Muppets try to put on a show, encounter setbacks, then pull victory from the brink of disaster at the last minute, except when they don’t), there’s a constant possibility of repetition – so I try to throw new elements into the mix constantly, to keep it fresh. Not just for the readers, but for me as well. It’s not so much a matter of opening up story possibilities – if anything, it’s about imposing limitations on myself and then finding ways to make them work. This keeps me on my toes and stops me from getting bored, and I operate on the assumption that if I’m not bored, the readers won’t be either.”
One staple of “The Muppet Show” on television was its musical numbers, including the memorable opening theme. Issue #1 had an opening number, amended for the Muppets’ current circumstances, and the road show so far has quite a lot of lyrical sketches. But Langridge said these are “not quite songs, really.” “Actual song lyrics on the page would work quite differently from the doggerel I trot out. Songs allow for more repetition, you can fudge the rhythm more and let the instrumentation carry it to a certain extent. On the page, you need an almost metronomic rhythmic consistency. So those considerations all come into play,” the cartoonist explained. “As far as action hitting the right beats, I don’t know if rhyming dialogue is significantly different than regular dialogue in that respect – there’s an underlying rhythm to the way one paces things, that has to be respected, regardless of whether the words rhyme or don’t rhyme or even if there are no words at all.”
Though Langridge is still writing every issue, he is also working with artists Amy Mebberson and Shelli Paroline on occasion. Paroline, who will also be drawing “Muppet Snow White” beginning in April, illustrated issue #0 of the ongoing series, while Mebberson, who was the artist on “Muppet Peter Pan,” will be on board for #4. Langridge said that he does adapt his storytelling style depending on whether he or another artist will be executing his script. “I tend to avoid twelve-panel pages when I’m writing for them, for a start,” he joked. “I have visions of one of them sending me a mutilated Kermit doll in the post if I cross that line too often. Most distressing. So yes, I try not to be too much of a stinker in that regard.” And, as Langridge’s pages often include a fair amount of stage business filling out the background, he said that in his collaborations he mixes a bit of his own take with the artist’s. “As far as background gags go, what I usually do is ask for the artist’s input in the script, and then I’ll make suggestions of the sort of thing I’m after, making it clear that the artist is free to ignore my suggestions or improve on them if they want to,” Langridge said. “On the one hand, I don’t want to waste the artist’s creative input if it’s there for the asking, but I know (having drawn a few comics in my time) that, when a writer asks you to pull wacky stuff out of the air, it’s often not the easiest thing in the world to do if you’re having an off day or your cat’s just died or something. So I like to give the artists something to fall back on. I think that’s the best compromise.
“While we’re on the subject, I should mention that I was thrilled with Shelli’s ‘Pigs in Space’ issue, and the stuff I’ve seen of Amy’s so far is making me look really good. I’m extremely lucky to be working with them.”
Spending such a significant amount of time with these characters, CBR asked Langridge whether he’d started to think in Muppet-gags. “I think I’m fortunate in that I kind of think in those terms anyway. I’m a lifelong fan of the ‘Goon Show’ and ‘Monty Python’ and that whole absurdist strain of British comedy, which itself grew out of music hall, variety and the influence of early ex-Vaudevillean film performers like Buster Keaton, W.C. Fields and the Mark Brothers,” he said. “So I’m kind of wired like that already. My four-year-old son was off on some flight of fancy this morning about polar bears and mice, and I immediately thought of a mouse on the frozen tundra bringing down a seal. I can’t help myself!
With the regular Muppets gig and illustration work for non-comics venues, it is perhaps surprising that Langridge is able to venture out into other projects, yet he still finds time for his own “Mugwhump the Great” and assorted strips for Marvel and “Doctor Who Magazine.” “Apart from ‘Mugwhump’ on ACT-I-VATE.com (which I’m about to take another short break from once the current chapter is finished – taking periodic holidays seems to be the only way I can sustain the pace enough to see that story through to its conclusion), I’ve been writing the odd thing here and there for Marvel – a few backup stories for Marvel Adventures, a Hulk one-off story, this and that. I’m drawing a Doctor Who ten-pager for ‘Doctor Who Magazine’ in a couple of months (my first crack at the Eleventh Doctor! Most exciting!), and I’m about to start writing a new monthly title for Marvel which I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about just yet!
“I think it’s important to try not to let my other projects fall by the wayside – ‘The Muppet Show’ is a great thing to be working on, but nothing lasts forever, especially in the world of licensed comics. I have a constant feeling of standing on shaky ground. That said, I’m hoping to work on ‘the Muppet Show’ comic for some time to come – if they’ll have me!”