This really shouldn’t work.
A comic book.
About the Muppet Show.
I mean, after all, the charm of The Muppet Show is the Muppets, isn’t it? The marginally maneuverable puppets, their uniquely fuzzy craftsmanship, the performances by their handlers Jim Henson, Frank Oz, Richard Hunt, et. al., this is where the appeal is, no? And if The Muppet Show wasn’t just about the Muppets then did not the celebrity guests they had on every week make it kind of like Saturday Night Live sketch-comedy/variety show for a family audience?
Well, yes, to all, but celebrity guests weren’t everything. Performances and appearances were not the show’s only appeal. Over five seasons, followed by a slew of movies, TV specials, revivals, repeats and successful DVD collection, The Muppets and The Muppet Show became iconic, deservedly gaining a legion of fans with not just an accessible sense of humor, but by also building characters, relationships, a family dynamic that continues to welcome in new viewers. So it’s not inconceivable that the Muppets could translate into comics (and they did, once before, via the cartoon Muppet Babies), but the actual Muppet Show? How could that possibly work?
It really shouldn’t.
And yet, in the hands of Roger Langridge, it does. Subtracting the elements of performance, celebrity guests, and the visual aesthetic of real Muppets, Langridge somehow manages to channel acutely each and every major character he uses, and even outside of Kermit and Gonzo, he’s able to, like the show, introduce one-time-use sketch performing Muppets. I’m not sure if Langridge is a lifelong fan like I am, but he carries it off as if he were. Not only that, he has obviously studied the program, and is aware of how it moves, the rhythms of the show, and he’s more able to translate that into the comic.
The Muppet Show comic features the irreverent humor of the show, one foot in old Vaudevillian sensibilities, one foot in the modern day, and a third alien Muppet foot in the 1970’s when the show aired. From sketch to backstage, Langridge moves the comic at a comparable pace to the show, getting in actual laugh-out-loud moments in the sketches with some of the more familial dynamics of the back-stage assembly. He even strings the sketch performers through the background of the backstage just like the TV show. He gets it. He just gets it.
Artistically recreating the Muppets is a challenge for any artist. Three-dimensional, limited-motion, hands-up-their-backs puppets weren’t meant for comics, yet Langridge’s cartooning style has put them on the page not as photo referenced, but as accurate and vibrant stylized representations of their real-world counterparts. They sure look like who they need to look like (not enough credit can be given to Digikore Studios for their incredible coloring), but Langridge isn’t drawing them as photo-referenced Muppets but as characters, letting them move and breathe as they need to on the page while still giving their facial expressions and sense of movement that Muppet feel. What Langridge captures best is the “camera angle” and staging, how the characters fit in the panel and how they appear to the reader is almost exactly like they would appear on the show, primarily from the waist up, with sets designed to hide the puppeteers.
I have been watching the Muppets my entire life, they are a large part of the foundation of my sense of humor. I’m not a fanatic but I am a fan, and I thought for certain this would be at best a valiant but unsuccessful effort at reviving the Muppet Show, but by the time Langridge knocks out the perfect comic book iteration of the Swedish Chef, I realized I was already laughing and having a good time. When’s the last time you said that about a comic book? It’s absolutely charming for fans of all ages, old and new.
The Muppet Show #1 from Boom Studios is out in comic book stores this Wednesday.