Magic, Girl Power & Humor Combine to Create "Zodiac Starforce"

"Sailor Moon" may be nearly 25 years old, but the iconic manga/anime's impact on magical girl stories is as strong as ever, with Natasha Allegri, creator of "Bee and Puppycat," going as far as to call her hit cartoon series "a love letter" to Naoko Takeuchi's creation. Now, a new gang of magical girls is set to carry the tradition forward in a new monthly comic from Dark Horse.

Created by artist Paulina Ganucheau and writer Kevin Panetta, "Zodiac Starforce" follows a team of high school girls as they navigate teenage problems and fight ultimate evil. Ganucheau, known for her work as an illustrator from product design to children's books, and Ganucheau spoke with CBR News about their new series, from its origins as a Tumblr-based comic to the world of print, what they learned from their time on kaBOOM!'s "Bravest Warriors" series, their favorite magical girl tropes -- and the importance of being able to use the term "butt farts" in the story. Plus, they've provided CBR with an exclusive look at the first page of the new series, which makes its way into stores in August.

CBR News: There are already some pages and stories up on your Tumblr, and you had a printed "Zodiac Starforce Adventures" book at SPX. When the monthly series debuts, how will it differ from the online strips and "Adventures?"

Kevin Panetta: With the Tumblr, we had a loose story figured out and we just started doing pages. "Zodiac Starforce Adventures" was more of a cute side story. It was super fun, but it was a lot lighter than what we are doing now. Going into the main series, we really wanted to tell a big story and figure out the real world consequences of being a magical girl.

Paulina Ganucheau: For sure. Our number one goal with the monthly series was to show that yes these girls are magical, yes they're powerful, but they exist in a real world where not all problems can be solved with magic.

Panetta: It's definitely still fun, though! I mean -- I fought pretty hard to use the phrase "butt farts" twice on the same page, sooo --

Each "Zodiac Starforce" girl gets power from one of the signs of the zodiac -- how did you match up character personalities with the constellations?

Panetta: It probably seems crazy, but when I first started writing the story I didn't even think about matching up their personalities with their zodiac signs. I know it seems so obvious, but I am a dummy. [Laughs] Once I got past my own dummy-ness, though, the personality traits of the zodiac signs really helped me define the characters! Emma's duality as a Gemini ended up playing a huge part in the story.

Ganucheau: For sure. Kim is stubborn, as a Taurus would be, Savanna is a caring Pisces, and Molly is the fiery Aries warrior of the team.

"Zodiac Starforce" is about a group of heroes, not just a single individual. What inspired you to write about a group rather than focusing on one hero?

Ganucheau: Well, for me it's obvious why I would want to do a team magical girl book: "Sailor Moon." I don't think there's another story that's affected me as much as that. It's just all about teamwork and being better together. Their love triumphs over evil, and they look fabulous at the same time.

Panetta: I'm kind of obsessed with ensemble stories! When I look at my favorite shows and comics, it's always stuff like "Avatar: The Last Airbender," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and [Jack] Kirby's "Fantastic Four." I love anything with a big cast of characters interacting with each other.

You've both worked on "Bravest Warriors," as well as all kinds of independent projects and short stories. What has been different about working on "Zodiac Starforce"?

Panetta: I think the big difference between this and writing something like "Regular Show" or "Bravest Warriors" is all the world building. I actually love working on licensed properties because you have such a great world already laid out for you, but for "Zodiac Starforce," we had to build all of that stuff from the ground up. It's terrifying, but also immensely rewarding.

Ganucheau: That's my favorite part about working on a creator-owned project rather than licenses: the chance to build something from scratch. Create your own set of characters, your own costumes, your own everything! Ugh, it's all so thrilling to me. I've been making up comics since I was a wee lady. Did you know my first comic was a magical girl comic? It was called "Star Girl." It was so bad.

Panetta: Oh, man. I really want to read that.

How did the two of you come together to work on this?

Panetta: I was hosting a weekly live video game music podcast called "Magnet Beam," and we had a small but awesome group of listeners. We would all chat and we all became fast friends! Who was it? Paulina, Coleman Engle, Brooke Allen, Lamar Abrams. All of these ridiculously talented people just being dummies in a chat room.

Ganucheau: Damn, that was a fun time.

Panetta: So, Paulina and I became buds and then started working on this project called "Cadets," and "Zodiac Starforce" was actually a TV show that the characters in that comic watched.

Ganucheau: We started developing "Zodiac Starforce" a little bit more, and we were like, "Dang, we like this more. Let's do this."

Panetta: Cut to two years later, and now it's a real life comic that's going to be in real life comic book stores!

What are your other favorite magical girl series, and what are your favorite tropes or cliches from the genre?

Ganucheau: "SAILOR MOON!!!" Okay, sorry for yelling, but -- I love magical girls! So -- "Sailor Moon," obviously, "Cardcaptor Sakura," "Magic Knight Rayearth," "Angelic Layer," "Princess Tutu," to name a few. [Laughs] Want me to keep going?!

Panetta: What is a "Princess Tutu"?

Ganucheau: I'm disappointed in you.

Panetta: [Laughs] Obviously, Paulina is the magical girl expert. I love "Sailor Moon," "Rayearth," and "Cardcaptor," but I feel like a magical girl poser compared to her. I will say that one of my biggest influences was an anime called "Beyond the Boundary." Does that qualify as a magical girl story? She's a girl and she has magical powers.

Ganucheau: We watched that together, it's so good. And yeah, I would say it kinda does?

Panetta: Good enough for me! As far as tropes and cliches, I think we avoided some, but we embraced a few, as well. We definitely have transformation sequences and matching costumes, but the first issue doesn't start with Emma running with a piece of toast in her mouth, or anything like that.

Ganucheau: The real question is -- can we start the next issue like that?

Which "Zodiac Starforce" character are you most like?

Panetta: Kim! She is probably a little more hardheaded than me, but we definitely like all the same stuff. I want to hang out with Kim and look at her Godzilla toys and watch "MST3K."

Ganucheau: Emma for me, I think. She's creative and supportive and sweet, but she's got some issues she deals with, whether it's doubting herself or just dealing with anxiety in general. I think it's really important to show characters going through the same life issues that a lot of people suffer with. She's also a huge dork. I'm a huge dork, you guys.

Panetta: It's funny. I'm a Capricorn and Paulina is a Scorpio, but we haven't seen magical girl versions of these zodiac signs, yet. Hmmm...

"Zodiac Starforce" #1 will be on sale in August from Dark Horse.

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