NYCC 2008: Bouncing Off the Walls at "The Mighty B!" Panel
Two of the three creators of Nickelodeon’s The Mighty B! were on hand at New York Comic Con to discuss their new show. Artist Erik Wiese and writer Cyntha True were joined by moderator Megan Casey from Nickelodeon to talk about their creations: young Bessie Higgenbottom and her friends. Unfortunately, the third member of the trio that created The Mighty B! wasn’t able to attend the panel — comedian Amy Poehler, who provides the voice of Bessie, wasn’t able to join the panel due to promotional efforts for her other debut later this week.
|(l to r) Cynthia True, Erik Wiese, and Megan Casey|
The panel began with a sneak peek at the opening credits and then a segment titled “Sweet Sixteenth,” which is about Bessie’s efforts to get onto a roller coaster when the “You Must Be This Tall to Ride” ruler says she’s still 1/16th of an inch too short. It was appropriately crazy and hyperactive, and had some absolutely marvelous uses of squash and stretch for comedic effect paired with good old-fashioned cartoon logic and physics, such as what happens when Bessie gets run through a taffy pulling machine to make herself taller. There were rather long stretches of silence in the audience, which didn’t seem like a good sign, and it also seemed that the adults were laughing more than the kids in the audience. However, the laughs came a little bit later with some of the pencil test animation and other preview work that was screened for attendees.
One thing that sets The Mighty B! apart from many other shows is that it is a 2-D, hand-drawn show. The hand-made, slightly imperfect, and very organic look was something that was very important to Wiese, to the point where there are even sequences that are animated here in America before being shipped to the overseas animation studios. He was also insistent on doing hand-painted backgrounds for the show as well, wanting to deliberately avoid the slickness of most modern animation. The hope is that since everyone’s currently looking for the slick, CGI look, going backwards in time to do animation the old-fashioned way will make it look new to newer audiences. The old animation fans in the audience (including a surprising number of younger kids) didn’t seem to mind it so much, either. In response to a question during the Q&A, Wiese said that he’ll do a Flash-based cartoon eventually because he loves it also, but that going hand-drawn on this series was something he was very excited about.
The show has also recruited an impressive list of talent; in addition to Wiese himself (whose resume includes work on Disney’s Aladdin and The Lion King and Nick’s Ren & Stimpy and SpongeBob SquarePants), Bill Wray (Ren & Stimpy) has been doing a lot of backgrounds, and Seonna Hong (My Life as a Teenage Robot) and many other alums from SpongeBob and Ren and Stimpy are working on the show as well. Wiese commented that people who have seen the show have said “you can kind of see where you’ve been,” as far as the development of his sense of humor, animation theories, and timing.
A PowerPoint presentation with artwork and notes played in the background as True mentioned that they had started working on the series in 2004 (“animation takes a long, long time to do”) from an idea that started with a photo of True in a Girl Scout uniform as a child. True was also a fan of Amy Poehler, who did a girl scout character as part of a stage act. Combining these two elements were the real start of what produced The Mighty B!
Next, Casey showed several pencil tests and animatics that were done for the show to give the audience an idea of how an animated show is put together. The tests were marvelous, with many of the little throwaway bits generating enormous laughs from the audience. The pencil tests were often done in response to a particularly outstanding performance by one of the voice actors, such as Poehler or Andy Richter (who plays Bessie’s younger brother). Wiese revealed that Ian Graham was borrowed from Avatar the Last Airbender to storyboard a ping-pong match that would be the show’s tribute to Dragon Ball Z and The Matrix.
In response to a question from the audience, True discussed the origins of some of Bessie’s supporting cast, focusing on her brother Ben and her dog Happy. True described Ben as a real noodge of a character 4 years younger than his sister. He idolizes his big sister, though, and she’s quick to enlist his help while also looking down her nose at her kid brother. Happy, on the other hand, is a rescue dog (named after a pet True had when she was younger), but that the introduction of Happy triggers a sibling rivalry between the two.
One other young audience member asked where the title came from. Wiese revealed that the original title of the show was Super Scout. True added that the central plot of the show is Bessie’s quest to win all the Honeybee troop Bee Badges in the world, believing that if she does it, she’ll become a superhero. The Mighty B! came out of trying to come up with a title that addressed that and summed up the energy of her character.
One audience member noted that Bessie is a unique character for animated TV, being a kind of homely and crazy character in a role that’s traditionally been male. True said that this was something the crew was very conscious of, and that all the writers felt it was very important to do the show as a result. She said that there was a concerted effort to make a show with a female lead that isn’t just a “girl’s” show. It’s rare to see a goofy, crazy, funny female lead in children’s animation, since the girls normally act as reflectors for the male characters or play the straight-man role.
With so much comedic talent in the recording booth, some accommodations had to be made for riffing and improvisation. True said that they try to ensure that there’s at least one storyboard artist in the recording studio whenever lines are being read to make sure that someone’s ready to catch the moment and find a way to integrate it into the animation. They all try to record the actors together to maximize the potential for comedic interplay. Wiese added that lots of comedies deliver their lines in a very processed, set-up kind of way, and that they were aiming to record the show so that it sounded more natural.
One particularly astute child in the audience said that the show combined the visual style and the humor of SpongeBob SquarePants and Ren & Stimpy. We’ll soon see if The Mighty B! has the same staying power of its forerunners.
The Mighty B! premieres on Saturday, April 26, 2008, at 10:30 AM on Nickelodeon.
(Return to Toon Zone’s New York Comic Con 2008 Complete Coverage)