This December, IDW Publishing goes back to high school for "My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Holiday Special," re-teaming writer Ted Anderson with his "Equestria Girls Annual 2013" artist Tony Fleecs. The two "Equestria Girls" animated films are a spin-off of Hasbro's massively popular "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" series, reimagining the Mane 6 as humans teenagers in high school.
Anderson, who has also written several other "My Little Pony" books for IDW, recently spoke with CBR News about "Equestria Girls Holiday Special," revealing why he decided to tackle the serious subject of cyber-bulling in a holiday issue, what his own high school experience was like and much more.
CBR News: Ted, what's going down in "My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Holiday Special?"
Ted Anderson: First off, "Equestria Girls" is a sort of alternate universe spinoff of "My Little Pony," where the same characters show up, but instead of horses, they're teenagers at Canterlot High. In the first movie, Twilight Sparkle travels from her Equestria (Equestria-A? Equestria-616?) to this world of bipeds and helps stop the sinister Sunset Shimmer from brainwashing the entire school. In the second movie, "Rainbow Rocks," Sunset Shimmer has reformed and is now helping her friends face off against the Sirens, who are trying to hypnotize the world with their magical music.
In this comic, the "Holiday Special," Sunset Shimmer's friends realize that she hasn't had a proper holiday season in a long time, so they set out to give her the family togetherness she's been missing. However, as they do, the girls' secrets start showing up on MyStable (the social network of choice for Canterlot High), and the only possible culprit is Sunset. Has she truly reformed, or is she still set in her wicked ways? Has Sunset really betrayed the only family she has?
Essentially, it's cyberbullying with magical horse-people.
For those who are only familiar with the traditional "My Little Pony" crew, how do the "Equestria Girls" differ from their regular crew counterparts, aside from opposable thumbs?
Well, the opposable thumbs are definitely crucial. By and large, the "EQG" characters are the same as the Equestria-616 versions, but there are two big changes to account for.
First, these characters have definite ages. The regular pony characters exist in this sort of nebulous age-space where they're old enough to own houses and have their own businesses, but also need to learn lessons about friendship that are appropriate for, say, second-graders. Here, they're explicitly high schoolers, which pegs them to a specific level of... maturity? Experience? Ability? It colors how they act and talk, and alters their relationships to other characters.
The other big difference is Sunset Shimmer, the antagonist-turned-protagonist, and how she affects the group. Having a former villain as a major character changes the formula quite a bit and allows for different types of stories. In the holiday special, for example, Sunset is seemingly guilty of these horrible actions, and she has to deal with the image she cultivated and come to terms with the terrible stuff she did do before she can prove she's innocent. At the same time, her friends are reluctant to suspect her of anything wrong; they desperately want to believe that they've made a difference in Sunset's life and changed her for the better. A protagonist who has to admit that, yeah, she made some awful mistakes, but she's trying to improve, changes the dynamic significantly.
Cyber-bullying is a major issue that has led to a not insubstantial amount of tragedy. Were you concerned about approaching the subject in a holiday special, which is often the source of more light-hearted fare?
At first I wasn't sure that I should pitch this story, because I didn't know if I could give the issue a respectful treatment. Cyber-bullying is absolutely a terrible thing, and part of what makes it so pernicious is that a lot of kids who do it don't recognize the severity of what they're doing. It's incredibly easy to share an image or post a message on someone's Facebook wall without considering the consequences; the speed and anonymity of the internet makes it possible to damage someone's life forever with just a few clicks. Putting such a serious topic into a comic about pastel horses (or people) does seem a bit risky.
All that being said, ultimately I'm glad that Hasbro approved the story and that I got to tell it, because, since it is so easy and so damaging, kids need to have a story like this that lays out the consequences of such actions. In the comic, the level of bullying is relatively light compared to what you see in reality -- it's mostly sharing embarrassing personal stories in a public space, not spreading damaging rumors or potentially incriminating photos -- but the effects aren't downplayed. We show what happens to those who have their privacy violated, those who are falsely accused of participating, those who actually commit such acts, and even those who just delight in these stories and spread them without any thought of the consequences. The point is to show the toxic culture that develops when privacy is destroyed -- but, at the same time, it's a holiday story, so we also show how the bonds of family can help keep us together even in such a culture.
A little heavy for a holiday issue? Maybe! But I wanted to tell a story that had some serious conflict at its heart, and potential for good character interactions, and if it also convinces even one reader not to reblog the latest scandalous rumor ... well, then it's done its job.
You've been working on "My Little Pony" for a little while now. How did you land the holiday special?
I've been working on the "My Little Pony" books for, sheesh, over a year now -- my first issue was in June of 2013. I've done multiple issues since then with various characters, and in particular, I worked on the 2013 Annual, which was also an Equestria Girls story -- in that case, it was a prequel to the first movie. So because of my past experience working with the EQG world specifically, I was asked if I wanted to pitch any ideas for a holiday special, and naturally I jumped at the chance. Writing for the regular ponies is fun, but it's also nice to shake things up and write for a different set of characters with different restrictions on the kind of story I can tell.
In addition to your work on the comics, what's your history as a viewer of the "My Little Pony" franchise? Have you always been a fan?
I only got into the franchise with the most recent iteration, in 2011, so unfortunately I'm one of those brony-come-latelys who didn't grow up with the original series. (I think my older sister owned a few of the dolls, but I had zero interest at the time -- that was a girls' show, after all!) As it was for a lot of the recent fans, Lauren Faust's involvement was what drew me in; her work on "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" remains part of my formative childhood years, and even though she's left this show, her creative stamp remains.
I have tried watching some of the older series, and although they're not really my bag, I try to keep them in mind as I write these comics. I'm just the latest generation of fans of this franchise, after all, and I want to treat everyone who loves ponies with respect, no matter when they started watching.
What's it like work with artist Tony Fleecs again?
Tony is a stand-up guy and an amazing artist whom I've only had the pleasure of meeting in person exactly once, for a handshake at NYCC 2013. I worked with him on the previous "Equestria Girls" issue, the 2013 annual, and his art has only gotten better since then. He's always gone the extra mile in accommodating whatever crazy layout idea I have -- unless it's too crazy, in which case he tells me so and figures out a simple way to fix it. He's great, and one day I'm going to do a Pony issue with him that has actual ponies in it.
One of the great things about doing the "My Little Pony" books is that this is my very first professional comicking job, so I get to work with artists who already have plenty of experience. It's been a blast, and a great learning experience, and I can't imagine a better way to start writing comics.
"Equestria Girls" takes place in a high school. What was high school like for you? Are you drawing on any of those experiences for this story?
High school was, well, not the greatest, but like a lot of people I eventually found my tribe and it got better. Like any sort of enforced society, high school becomes much more bearable when you're surrounded by people who are on the same wavelength -- not necessarily sharing the same interests, but at least with compatible attitudes. Which, hey, is kind of the message of "Equestria Girls": we're all in this together, so why not find a way to get along?
As for whether any of my high school life influenced these comics -- surprisingly, no! At least, not consciously. I went to high school just before social media was really a thing -- we used to make fun of people who had cell phones, because who's vain enough to have a cell phone in high school? -- So the milieu is different enough that none of my experiences are really relevant any more.
Come to think of it, maybe I should've used some of my life in this comic. It would've been interesting to see Pinkie Pie play the trombone in the pit orchestra for "Pirates of Penzance," at least.
Do you have any other "My Little Pony" comics on the horizon?
Always. I've got future issues planned in both the main "My Little Pony" series and the "Friends Forever" side series, and I plan to keep on pitching more ideas as long I can come up with them! I've got issues coming out in March and April, and probably more after that.
Finally, do you have any other notable projects coming up outside "My Little Pony?"
I've been working with a talented artist by the name of Alex Law on a pitch for a series of superhero OGNs aimed specifically at grade-school girls -- the elevator pitch is "Ramona Quimby joins the X-Men." The project is called "Spark" -- we've already produced a sample comic and we're shopping the pitch around to publishers right now.
I'm also working on some original graphic novel pitches, and a friend of mine keeps threatening to make a webcomic with me. We'll see what happens.
"My Little Pony: Equestria Girls Holiday Special" is available this December from IDW Publishing.