• ECCC 2015: CouchCrusader's Retrospective

    I'm a Georgia boy born and bred -- I hold doors open for folks, find nothing wrong with chewy contractions like "y'all'll've"; I will move heaven and earth for a good chicken biscuit.

    If you ask me to leave the Pacific Northwest, I will shoot you down in a heartbeat. I love Seattle more than I can say. As it turned out, a chance to attend Emerald City Comic-Con fell into my lap this year, so of course I had to go. "Big" Jim Miller, co-showrunner for Season 4, was in attendance with Tabitha St. Germain and Rainbow Rocks storyboard revisionist Katrina Hadley, as well as a whole mess of folks from the comics series!

    ITT: A digest of the main MLP panel this past Saturday, one-on-ones with some of the staff, and a few things they would like us bronies to know going forward. Hit the break!

    Panel Prestidigitations

    The tricky part with reporting on convention panels is that, outside of San Diego Comic-Con, there's not a lot the staff get to reveal about unreleased episodes. Indeed, questions about Season 5 peppered Jim and company on the stage of Hall A this past Saturday, and they couldn't even confirm or deny any details. With the season coming to us tomorrow, it's finally time to relax. "The excitement [of waiting] is the fun part," said Jim. "Wait a bit."

    Nevertheless, it got fun watching them dance around some of the questions they got. A little girl asked Jim point-blank how he would design Apple Bloom's cutie mark, drawing howling applause from the audience. He and Tabitha collaborated, and suggested it'd be an apple... bloom.

    Even an innocent question about background pony characterization in the upcoming season was straight-up tabled. I want to say the literal panelist table buckled from the force of that putdown, but we're professionals here and we never exaggerate anything for a cheap laugh.

    The main draw of the panel for me was getting to know Katrina a little more. In response to a question about her favorite pony generation, she explained how MLP was her favorite toy growing up, and that it was so cool to grow up and work on the show she loved as a kid. She'd been in the animation industry before G4, so when a question came up about her reaction to the fandom, she shared how Friendship is Magic led to a direct increase in female animators finding a platform for stories that suited their sensibilities (not that she ever regretted boarding fart jokes, because those are awesome).Coming from Rainbow Rocks, she nominated Sunset Shimmer as her favorite character.

    The others cited G4 as their favorite generations as well, but for different reasons -- Tabitha noted the previous gens were "without the... extreme depth and relevance to society" G4 offers, and admitted the older generations were "kid stuff, and we're different kids now." Jim built on that, confirming that this generation of MLP is indeed targeted for all audiences (against a few claims I've made on this site myself!) and that's why he loves it.

    Several fans noted an increase in world-building, fantasy-action stories from Season 1 to Season 4, asking if Season 5 would shift toward the former even more. That's something of a complex question with many different influences. Everyone was on board saying they enjoyed a balance of the slice-of-life and the fisticuffs -- I believe Tabitha mentioned that the original projected 11-minute episode format of the show would leave absolutely no time for those character moments we treasure. Jim noted that action-oriented stories became more possible as the animation crew learned new ways to use Flash and AfterEffects to their fullest -- compare the staging of Twilight's battle with Tirek with Rainbow Dash's Sonic Rainboom in Season 1, and the evolution becomes apparent.

    The staff have said this before, but very little in the show is a response to the brony fandom -- in fact, they try to actively avoid catering to it. Delays between production and airing have led to coincidences with fandom events past staff had no way of forecasting, but other than that, they try to keep the show as close to Lauren Faust's original vision as they can.

    Nevertheless, they are cognizant of their interactions with the fandom. Some of you might remember the rumors of BlackGryphon landing a role on the show wound up coming true. The only reason Jim didn't know about that was because said fandom musician had only worked with Daniel as a background choir member, a far cry from whatever featured appearance the fandom had anticipated.

    The staff anticipate less "Licious"-ness in Season 5, as well.

    They know how to poke fun at themselves. Jim admitted Discord's biggest draw for him was stuffing him into dumb costumes, and that Iron Will was his favorite non-pony character because Johnny Bravo-muscle flexing will never be not funny. When asked about a character quality he wished he had, he asked for AJ's honesty -- something about telling the truth when it came to season release dates.

    For the most part, the panel went off fine with a minimum of fowl play. I'll just leave a gentle reminder here for convention goers to be mindful of others' time when approaching the mike, and understanding that Q & A time involves asking the panelists, well, actual Qs.

    About thirty minutes after the panel got out, I found myself at Westlake Mall eating curry across from Jim and Katrina.

    No Gods, No Kings (but Important Nevertheless)

    Before I go on about how Katrina and I agreed that crappy food court Chinese was a severely underrated pillar of modern Western cuisine, yeah, I probably wouldn't have been there if I wasn't a member of EqD. And even then, I probably wouldn't have bothered had LeekFish, SteveStreza, and OtakuSquirrel hadn't been there to act as mutuals. The staff get handlers at brony conventions so they don't get mobbed, so folks like me always feel a little uneasy trying to strike up a conversation even if it's with M. A. Larson.

    Jim and Katrina had no such handling at a more general-purpose convention like ECCC. Equipped with "Saturday Only" attendee badges, they passed large numbers of bronies in pony shirts who never stopped to realize who walked among them. So while I'd caution most of you not to expect a random staff member to accept your company if they don't know you, they're likely to be more accessible at non-brony conventions. And they're always open to hearing about how the impact their work has made on your life.

    A few bites in, it was easy for me to forget I was talking with one of the foremost decision-makers working on Friendship is Magic. What you don't hear when the staff answer questions about how to get into the industry (voice acting, animation, etc.) I got to hear from these people, as people. The hours are insanely long -- despite all the errors LittleShy pokes at in his videos, Jim will have caught far, far more in his tens of viewings before any given episode ships to Hasbro. And even with a position as rarified as his, he and Katrina sometimes throw in boards for other, throwaway 4 A.M. cartoons to cover any unpaid stretches ponies don't. Some of us may gripe about only having two weeks' PTO at our jobs. Jim estimated he hasn't had a break since the interval between Season 3 and Equestria Girls.

    Convention weekends don't necessarily count toward that, either. He receives a moderate amount of attention he doesn't regret, but is fine with not having more. When it comes to selling passes and filling seats, voice actors take the cake. They're the performers, the primary gateways to their characters. Interested as I am in the show's workings and ensuring everyone I can talk to knows how much I appreciate their work, the largest contingent of the MLP fandom is happy enough watching the show.

    I got to find out a few more answers to lingering questions of mine. Remember when those Colts fans showed up in that Super Bowl ad? That wasn't DHX reaching out to the NFL; the NFL approached DHX (some sports fans are bronies. Who knew?). Season 3 was 13 episodes long so Hasbro could most economically syndicate it (65 episodes being the magic number) -- what you may not have known was that they had to greenlight it while Season 1 was still airing. And though the writers have discussed the teaser + 3 act structure of your given 22-minute episode, that structure gets plugged into a minute-by-minute timeline almost from the get-go so as to minimize the amount of unused vocals, boards, and animations that would bump the episode even a single second over.

    I think the most illuminating conversation I had that day sprang from a question regarding the reconciliation of canon between the show and the comics. The comics take leads from the show, but it turns out that DHX doesn't even get copies of the comics to read. The more important issue here, though, is something Jim said at the panel and repeated in a little more detail with me: the show is there as a profit center for Hasbro. A universally consistent canon is a "nice to have" (my words), but given that the show is a toy commercial first, telling good stories one at a time is the higher objective. This isn't to discourage any of you from continuing to wrestle with the material -- fan canon is just as valid in purpose as actual canon -- but there's no point in mounting a militant campaign for consistency. I'm sure there are plenty of you who would volunteer, unpaid, to be a continuity regulator for the franchise, but there just isn't any room or purpose for one in the pipeline.

    TL;DR: If trying to reconcile comics with episodes, or books with comics, or toys to whatever becomes a chore and starts souring your primary enjoyment of the franchise, Elsa of Arendelle that shit. Over sixty people handle the Mane 6 and entourage on the journey from script to screen -- sixty people with different experiences, beliefs, and drives that filter into the characters and setting -- and it'd be insulting to argue they've failed to provide a high-quality, reasonably consistent product. Step back. See the forest behind the trees. It's been almost a year since Twilight fought Tirek off, and we're all still here.

    Cleaning Up

    I'd like to close with a few other moments I had at ECCC this year. I got to speak with Georgia Ball, writer of Celestia's micro-comic issue, for about a half hour -- not necessarily about her work on MLP or LPS, but as mutual denizens of the Seattle metro area. The rent situation stinks and is only getting stinkier, and we both dislike our commutes, but we want to stay here.

    Later that day, I got to Agnes Garbowska's table to thank her for her work on the comics -- and a gentleman there admitted he had no clue what bronies saw in the show. Cue fifteen minutes of the two of us tag-teaming the guy encouraging him to watch it with his daughter, and that bronies on the whole are well-meaning people who are comfortable liking something society thinks is odd for them to like. J.P., if you're reading this, I hope you're giving the show a shot.

    I also got to meet Ted Anderson.

    Stop. If you know who he is, let me say this before you blow up my comment section (or his accounts). I fundamentally disagree with (what I perceive is) his perception of what bronies are and have issues with the way he presents himself online. I can definitely understand why some of you may not hold a high opinion of him.

    The man I met on the show floor definitely hesitated a bit when I introduced myself as a pony fan, but that ice broke quickly. For the most part, I like his stories. He likes writing them. And we both like ponies and the show around them. All I did to find this out was be civil with him, and we parted on terms of respect. I love a good internet fight as much as the next person, but God that recent blow-up with the Steven Universe fandom was preventable on both sides.

    Friendship is Magic, guys. As we get ready to dive into Season 5, debating its highs and lows within and without the fandom, let's prove the doubters wrong. There's nothing bad about being the kind person first.

    See you all on Sunday for the first Episode Followup of the season.