Monday, April 21, 2014

Little bro's nutty, cosmic capers

(April 4, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

The new animated series “Steven Universe” looks like the trippy amalgam of 1970s anime and ’90s oddball comedy cartoons, with disparate-looking characters mingling comfortably in one kooky world.

The bright, colorful brainchild of Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” centers on a chubby young protagonist, the titular kid who goes off on cosmic capers and wields  a powerful gem.

Sugar, a former storyboard artist and writer for Cartoon Network’s hit show “Adventure Time,” said in an exclusive e-mail interview with the Inquirer that she learned “a lot” from her previous high-profile project.

“I really got a better understanding of how a show needs to be universal,” she volunteered. “You can make it for this younger audience, or you can make it for a younger audience and other people who will enjoy it.”

She added: “You can build those layers into it. I got to a place where I was trying to tie every joke to something meaningful so you almost couldn’t separate them … you could enjoy it on different levels simultaneously and not just shift around, which I think ‘Adventure Time’ does incredibly well.” 

As for the creation of “Steven Universe,” she revealed that a close relative served as inspiration for the young adventurer: “The show is based on my younger brother, Steven. I’ve been drawing pictures of him for forever. Actually, a lot of my comics are inspired by him.”

Her brother Steven is background artist for the animated series “Bravest Warriors”; Steven the character is the “little brother” to a few older women, the heroic mentor-teammates from the Crystal Gems.

“I wanted to make it a pastiche of all the things that I really like … I wanted to have a magical girl element and characters that are interesting and adult. A lot of them are like women who go through adult problems, [experiencing] anxieties that Steven can’t understand. It is interesting because I don’t know how much this is represented in kids’ cartoons,” she said.

The first female creator of a Cartoon Network-produced show, Sugar said cartoons and comics with a mix of “regular life and extreme fantasy” appeal to her, and that she keeps introducing a similar dichotomy to the series.

“Shows help reconcile the ‘boring-ness’ of your own life with the ‘fantastic-ness,’ of entertainment,” Sugar explained. “I wanted to have huge fantasy elements for my show, but also down-to-earth storylines.”

She noted that “Steven Universe” has qualities that people of various ages could  relate to. “I have definitely tried to put enough layers into the show so that it can be watched by different age groups—it is interesting to try to be subversive in a positive way,” Sugar said. “That is my goal. I want everyone to internalize this show.” 

That focus on being unique is an especially welcome challenge, Sugar disclosed, and it’s what makes “Steven” distinct in the network’s current roster of shows.

“We’re trying to do a real comedy-action show in a way that, hopefully, has  never been done before, that it’s going to be something so cool that it’s funny, and [vice versa]—something that you can take seriously and laugh at, and none of those things will conflict. I think we’ve done that,” she said.

(“Steven Universe airs on Cartoon Network, Mondays at 6 p.m.)

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