• FIENDship is Magic #1—Interview with Jeremy Whitley and Brenda Hickey

    Sombra. Despot king of the Crystal Empire. A being so evil that his mere memory causes physical pain to crystal slaves.

    A character whose introductory episodes did almost absolutely nothing with.

    Which is why, out of all five issue in Fiendship is Magic, his issue is the one I'm most excited for.

    A few days ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with both Jeremy Whitley and Brenda Hickey—the writer and artist of this issue respectively—and chat about their involvement in the issue. How they got involved with the project. And most importantly, how they approached this issue that's very different from their previous works on Friendship is Magic.

    Be sure to check it out after the break, and remember…

    Havete ad regem  

    When and how were you both approached to work on the first issue of Fiendship is Magic? 

    Jeremy Whitley: Initially, when I was approached about it, I was still working on one of the other books and I was waiting on approval for another story. I was bothering Bobby [Curnow] about that [approval] and he says, "Oh, I haven't heard back from Hasbro on that but I have this other thing I need to talk to you about. Get back with me when you get a chance."

    I emailed him and he was very, really coy about it. It turns out that he was really coy because he was allowing people to choose what villain they wanted to work on by order how long they had been with the books. We were waiting on other people who had their first choice on those. By the time it got to me, I think, there were only three options and Sombra was an immediate draw for me just because there is so little established in the show [about him].

    That's a playground and I can go almost wherever I want to with that. There's a lot of room to stretch out as opposed to some of the other characters whose history is pretty well established or—in some cases—have appeared in the books. Sombra has yet to be used in anything!

    Brenda Hickey: I was coming to the end of what work I had and I'm like, "Bobby, do you have any more work for me?" because I panicked and that's the way I always come out, "I need ... I've only got one more month of work! What's the next thing?" He came back to me and he was like, "Well, Brenda ... How would you feel about working with Jeremy on the Sombra issue?" and I was like, "Of course I would love that! It was great working with Jeremy on the Discord and CMC issue!"

    I had so much fun working on his script! For the same reasons he was interested in the Sombra character, I was as well. There was so little known about Sombra, as a character, as a villain. Who he was, how he got to be there, and why he is as bad as he is?

    There's a bit of a classiness around him too. Mysteriousness but—because he's a king—it feels like there's this bit of classiness and drama to it. And I just really wanted to draw it because I've mostly done funny, funny illustrations and funny, funny stuff for Pony.

    I'm like, "This will be a chance for me to really show people that I'm not just the Tex Avery of Ponies. I can do more than that." I really put a lot of effort and care into that feeling of drama and excitement. That was super fun for me to do!

    Alright. Very cool. And that leads right into my into my next question. What do you find when it comes to working with a villain—in this case Sombra—as the protagonist of the story that's different than working with a hero—like Fluttershy? 

    JW: I think one of the things that really makes the difference is that I try to format most of my issues to feel as much like an episode of the series as possible. I try to do a little bit of an into at the beginning—a sort of soft launch like Ponies always does. Then, I try to do a friendship monologue at the end like it's always done in the show to give it that same feel. This is one of the first issues where I'm like, "I guess we really don't have to do that."

    It doesn't make a lot of sense to put any lesson about friendship in a story that, obviously, ends not great for Sombra. It's just a drama more than a friendship drama like the Pony issues are. I wanted to do something that was a little more serious and had a little more of a dark tone. I'm expected to keep a lot of this stuff pretty light because I like to think of the target kid audience that's supposed to be reading the books.

    I don't want a parent to pick up something for their kids' and be surprised by the content of it. I felt like taking a villain—a really bad villain that's not even a main character—and do something with the Pony books that we don't usually get to do.

    BH: Yeah, it's similar for me, too. Like I said, I could focus on the drama more than the comedy because the Pony strips that I usually get are funny since the Mane Six are hilarious.

    JW: It was definitely the least funny script I've written. Not a lot of physical comedy in the story.

    BH: Yeah. I think I put one funny face in but was like, "That's, kind of, out of place." Anyway, I really liked being able to work more with blacks. I did a bit more hatching—kind of influenced by Andy Price. He does a lot of hatching in his art and he tries to play with the black and white relations a little bit. I mean, those are all things I could do in the Ponies stories if I really wanted to, but I haven't gotten the opportunity until this one to really, really get into to that because most of them have been pretty light so far.

    Yeah, just trying different designs and layouts is a lot of fun.

    So it's Jeremy and Brenda. Dark. 

    BH: *laughs* All my black ink was used up! It was dark!

    JW: Yeah, I feel this is as far as I can get from the Pinkie Pie story. The Pinkie Pie and Luna story I did that is, literally, all physical humor and Pinkie teaching Luna how to be funny. This is as much in the other direction that I can go.

    BH: It's fun, though. Just showing people what you can do. You can be this but you can also be that. You're not just one thing and I like having the chance to show people that.

    JW: Yeah, there's not a whole lot of opportunities to highlight the dark and tortured characters in the Pony world.

    BH: Yeah. We jumped at the opportunity, of course.

    Speaking of the opportunity, were there any special considerations when creating this comic considering that it's the first issue in the new series?

    JW: Not really. I had no idea it was going to be when I wrote it. I don't know how they plan the scheudle out, and I don't know if it was the order they were done in or just some idea that Bobby [Curnow] had about how they should be organized but, yeah, when I wrote it it was just The Sombra Issue.

    Anyway, there's five Wednesdays in April, and there's five major villains being highlighted. So everybody is going to get their own week. We didn't ... I, at least, didn't know what week it would be out, so I was ecstatic to learn that I was going to get to go first! Because then everybody else is going to have to be compared to me but not the other way around! We're not going to have Katie [Cook] and Andy [Price] putting out a book and then us putting out the week after and going, "Wow—

    BH: Yeah, novel.

    JW: "Wow, Katie and Andy, their book was just great."

    BH: They're the big favorite.

    JW: Yeah. I'm happy that Katie has that position because she also gets to catch the flack from it.

    Oh, boy does she catch the flack. 

    JW: Yeah. Yeah—

    It's interesting. Katie and I have had some long conversations. We bumped into each other at San Diego and had a chat about Ponies. That was just as Reflections was starting and boy did she hear about it from a lot of people there!

    BH: Oh, yeah, I met Katie, but she was so busy and because it was San Diego Comic Con—


    BH: I didn't get a chance to really talk to her, and she was the one Pony person that I didn't really get to talk to.

    Anyway, for me, I had no idea it would be number one either. I had no idea how they were going to release Fiendship is Magic either so I was just like, "I'm doing Sombra. I'll figure out later what was going to happen." That's always my attitude. It's not always the best attitude sometimes because it's so beforehand. I tend to go with the flow and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't.

    I found out when the world found out that Fiendship is Magic was going to be a whole month. That every week a new comic was coming out. And that we'd be number one. I was like, "We're number one?" I checked all this on my vouchers and all these documents, I'm like, "Oh, it is number one!" I'm just nose to the drawing desk and I'm not paying attention to the world around me.

    JW: This is weird to say, I had never even looked at the, the actual paperwork of mine. I don't know if mine, actually, said anything about it either because the series was still being planned. I think other people's issues were still being written.

    I tend to write faster than a lot of people, sometimes, unnecessarily so. Partially, because I don't have one hundred other running deadlines. Most of my stuff is creator owned outside of Ponies. So when I get a thing I tend to bear down on it and beat it to death until it's done.
    I think I got the check for that at exactly the same time I got paid for the Spike and Luna story that's out next month.

    Yeah, I had no idea it was number one.

    BH: Yeah, it was like, "They spelled Friendship wrong. Oh!" My light bulb went off. I was starting to get it.

    Yeah, that was a little bit of marketing genius on IDW's part.

    BH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Would you both be willing to return for another installment starring King Sombra?

    JW: Well, let's see, it's ... I don't think that this story, this story I think will ... How can I best say this ... This story is, definitely, pre his appearance in the show so I think doing anything from after that appearance would require a lot more okaying from the Hasbro side of things. Not that I would rule it out but it's much more of a pre-origin type story about his past—to let you know a little bit more about Sombra. I think if we were to do anything else it would require a pitch that I have not had okayed at this point.

    BH: Yeah, I would have to get up the nerve to pitch a story, for one thing. I get nervous with that kind of thing. I don't know, writing scares me. I'm sure I could do it if I tried, if I didn't get spooked. I'm sticking to the art on Ponies for now.

    JW: Yeah, I think if we're going to do another one I'd absolutely want to have Brenda with me on this because I think this one turned out fantastic. We've seen all of the pages at this point.

    BH: Yeah, Heather [Breckel] did a fantastic job coloring it. There was one part where there was sunlight coming in the window and she colored little sunspots, like, the flecks of dust in the sunbeam. I was like, "Wow! That's major detail there, Heather. That's amazing!"

    JW: Yes. It's pretty insane working with you guys because I write a script and it, kind of, disappears for a month and then all of the sudden I get an email that has the most beautiful pencils attached. I'm like, "Yes, that's exactly what I wanted!" Then, months later, the colors start showing up, I'm like, "Wow! This is even better. How did it get better?" For the most part, I just get to hang back and watch that happen and occasionally go, "Eh, this doesn't really work."

    The funny thing is when you guys do all of this stuff that I've written, I can't possibly guess what exactly it's going to look like. Then I get a finished product and obviously say, "Is there anything that needs to change? Anything that needs to move around?"

    All of the suggestions that I have to make are about my stuff because I look at it and I go, "Well, my dialogue is, kind of, crap in this panel. This needs to change, I want to take this out, or I want to change around the wording here." I guess it's a pretty weird experience, but it's a fantastic experience.

    I've been doing comics for five years at this point. I never tire of getting pages back. Whether they are my stuff or for hire stuff. I've gotten to work with some tremendous artists. Brenda is by far not the least of which. It's really, really good.

    BH: Yeah, I remember getting a script from Bobby once—this is when I was pregnant with my little boy—and I was getting to the point where I didn't want to work anymore. So I read it and months later, the issue eventually came out but drawn by Amy Mebberson. She had drawn it in the end, so there was a similar feeling to that but more intense. You have the script and then you see the artwork done months later by someone else.

    JW: When I did my first two issues of Friendship is Magic, Amy was drawing the pet centered issue and you were drawing the Discord Time Travel issue.I was getting beamed for both of those at the same time and I was like, "Wow! I'm so crazy lucky, here!"

    At that point, I had just finished issue seven for Friends Forever with Tony [Fleecs] and it was just another one of those things which was fantastic. I have yet to work with an artist in My Little Pony that I didn't just love working with and just amazed by their styles.

    I think people will enjoy our entry, and I'm sure they'll enjoy the other entries that will be coming out that month. It will give us a nice little change of pace and I think there's a lot of good stuff coming out [in the next few months].

    I'm not just saying that because a lot of it's mine.  *laughs*


    BH: *laughs* Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing the other issues. What's more fun than reading the villain's point of view?

    Not much.

    JW: Those had always been my favorite super hero comics growing up. I always liked the stuff that centered around Dr. Doom, or Magneto, or Lex Luthor and getting into their heads instead of the hero's. Pony stories are a lot like that.

    It's a lot about coming up with situations and you already know how the characters are going to react. There's not a lot of question about what Twilight, or Rarity, or Fluttershy are going to do when they're facing some sort of situation—whether it be dire or just an average friendship episode—but having that other point of view and getting to know the inside of the villain's head is pretty fun.

    BH: Yeah. Very good read.

    JW: Especially since I got to write the inside of Sombra's head because he has, what, five lines in all of Pony continuity to this point.


    JW: "My crystal slaves."

    Yeah, what I found pretty interesting about Sombra is that he actually did have a little bit of characterization in the Crystal Empire, but to see it you had to sit down and really look at his episodes. Sombra didn't burn down the Crystal Empire library like any good tyrant should do. He has an unhealthy obsession with stairs.  And for some reason, he likes torturing ponies within their own minds.

    JW: Yeah ... The one thing that I had to cut from this story—which killed me—is [REDACTED]. That's what Sombra does to people. He has these powers and he uses it to get into people's heads and screw with them.

    BH: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

    Well, thank you both for your time. It's been a lot of fun.

    JW: Thank you.

    BH: Yep.

    Can't wait to see how the issue turns out on the first week of April.

    BH: I hope you guys enjoy it.

    JW: Me too.

    Alright, take care. 

    BH: You too.