A New Take On Henson’s Classic Creations
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Scott Braden gives us his latest in his series of features on comic stories or series that never happened. This week it’s the turn of Thom Zahler’s The Muppets…
Thom Zahler’s The Muppets
Thom Zahler is known for his popular work on properties as varied as My Little Pony and Star Trek. But what many readers don’t know is that he almost had his hand in bringing Jim Henson’s Muppets back to the four-color medium of comics via BOOM! Studios.
What made Zahler decide to pitch Muppet Show comics to BOOM! Studios?
“When BOOM! announced it had the Pixar and Muppets licenses, I contacted them about pitching on both. There was more interest in my doing a Muppets pitch. Roger Landridge was doing the ‘main’ Muppets book, but they were also doing a series of Muppet adaptations. I started doing that, but wound up pitching the main book, too, with the idea that they might look to give Roger a cycle off.
What were the various Muppet Show comic book ideas he pitched to BOOM!?
“On the adaptation front,” the cartoonist said, “I remember pitching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Hamlet. They liked Midsummer’s, and were interested in Dr. Jekyll, where I think I had Kermit turning into Animal. The one they passed on was Hamlet, which I was very disappointed in. My solution to so many of the deaths in that story was that Miss Piggy read ahead, saw Ophelia died in Act Four and freaked out. There was no way they were getting rid of her. So, she rewrote the play so that Ophelia saved everyone.
“Then there were the main series pitches. I took some of-the-moment concepts and applied them to the Muppets. I think a lot of times people overthink the Muppets. The concept of them running a theatre with guests is just so evergreen why not explore it? I always liked the guest stars, so I came up with one where a pastiche of Tom Cruise came on the show, fresh off his couch-jumping antics. The Muppets could get him because his stock had fallen with people thinking he was crazy. There was one where, and keep in mind this was 2008 or so, I had the Muppets becoming the house act at a Trump-pastiche’s Las Vegas casino. The idea of the Swedish Chef doing meals with Emeril and Gonzo recreating Evel Knievel’s Snake River jump seemed too good to pass up. The last one had the Muppets become a reality show, with characters being voted off as the show goes. Eventually, Kermit has to finish the show alone.”
Of all the pitches Zahler made, which ones were leaning towards the approval stage?
He said: “Midsummer’s Night Dream and the three main series pitches went the farthest. I think the Vegas one had the most interest. But then they stalled.”
Who is the cartoonist’s favourite Muppet character – and would he or she have starred in his Muppet Show stories?
“Man, I like them all,” said Zahler. “I think Kermit’s always been my touchstone, and he obviously would have starred in all of them. Beyond him, I’ve always liked Gonzo and the Swedish Chef. My favorite sketch was always Pigs in Space, so I knew I was going to work that in, too.”
Why did the comic(s) never come to fruition?
“I’m not sure,” Zahler admitted. “I think basically it was near the end of the license. Plans kept changing and then eventually there weren’t Muppets comics to be done anymore. Have you ever revisited these ideas in other projects? Not that I’m aware of. So much of it was specific to the Muppets. I guess the only thing I have taken from it is the pastiche character idea. I know you can’t necessarily get the likeness rights for Tom Cruise or whoever, but it’s not hard to create a character who stands in for them. I’ve had a Tom Cavanaugh type character in Warning Label, and a Jason Momoa one in Cupid’s Arrows.
What creators have inspired Zahler and his style over the years?
“Darwyn Cooke has always been a big influence. He managed to create a style that worked for everything, and he was just so darn talented. I also always dug Kurt Schaffenberger and Curt Swan, that crisp storytelling. And Carl Barks. His comics were a big influence in to how to tell something other than superhero stories.”
What does the future hold for Zahler?
“I’m still doing Cupid’s Arrows for LINE Webtoon every week” Zahler explained. “I’ve worked on a Star Trek project with IDW, with hopefully more to come. I just turned in another My Little Pony script, and the one wrote previous comes out next month. And something I wrote for Netflix will come out in a couple of weeks, but I can’t say what until it actually happens.”
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