Interview: The Writers Behind THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, Haley Mancini & Jake Goldman
Sugar. Spice. And everything nice. The newly relaunched series smashes and bashes super-heroics, comedy, and girl power together into a charmingly manic concoction of animated adventure. With a first season of The Powerpuff Girls nearly wrapped and an ongoing comic book series from IDW Publishing going strong, we sat down for a good old-fashioned fireside Google chat with the writers of both: Haley Mancini (also the voice actor for Princess Morbucks), and Jake Goldman to talk comics, influences, process, and lessons learned. You can also check out a clip from the newest episode, “Snow Month” included below.
Alex Mansfield for All-Comic: Thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us about The Powerpuff Girls! Full disclosure: Haley is a college friend, so let my ethics in journalism be noted towards bias. Jake, we’ve never met, but Haley assures me you’re a Simpsons aficionado, so that’s a strong start. How’s life with The Powerpuff Girls going? I believe it’s just been renewed for a second season and we’re about four issues deep on the comic books, yeah?
Haley Mancini: Yes! Everything is great; we’re a really tight team at PPG, even the other shows at Cartoon Network comment on it!
Jake Goldman: We have a habit of roaming through the halls of Cartoon Network and shaking down the other shows for lunch money.
AC: Mmmm, lunch.
HM: Second season renewed, lots of surprises are coming your way, and Jake and I just got great news about the comics that I’m not sure we can disclose yet?
JG: We can disclose that we have Issues #5 and #6 on the way. Plus, some super-secret other stuff planned
HM: And those are really fun.
AC: What’s the comic writing experience been like for the two of you? Have you had to learn a whole new language, craft-wise, or did you both feel pretty well versed going in? Were either of you fans of the medium growing up?
JG: I think I get pegged as the comic book guy on the show a lot. I would mostly stick to the Marvel Comics stuff when I was young. My first job ever was actually in a comic book shop back in New York.
AC: Oh yeah? Can you say which shop?
JG: Bullseye Comics it was called back then. Last time I checked I think it sadly closed or moved locations.
HM: Jake is a total comic aficionado, and I am happy to say I’ve learned a lot from him in the comic world. So it was newer to me in a way, but it wasn’t totally foreign. I was a fan of really simple comics growing up and bought all the books of my favorite newspaper strips. But I never followed to the extent Jake did; I wasn’t really exposed to it in my neighborhood.
JG: But for me, comics have always been a very big influence. I set my watch to the Grant Morrisons and Geoff Johns of the world.
AC: Nice! How did those influence your writing for either television or, now, for comics?
JG: For me, they really affected my approach to long term storytelling.
AC: I think one of the things I’m most curious about is what makes a Powerpuff Girls story better suited for a comic book issue versus a television episode? How do you approach each one differently? Or are they more similar than you might have thought in regards to structure?
JG: Haley and I can write with a lot more freedom on a comic, mostly because we don’t have to animate a new background or character. In fact, issue #2 of the series started out as a TV episode.
HM: Literally our second comic, the one about the girls getting turned into chickens, was a pitch for the show. It made it all the way through outline, but it just didn’t work as an episode. Too many logistics to handle, but as a comic, it worked perfectly.
AC: Yeah, I really enjoyed that issue, actually. I think one of the things that works well and comes across really strongly is the absurdity of circumstance on the show and the comic. Like, things just happen *because* and the focus is so much more on the action and humor. The weird details being thrown in at random times is played for laughs and not an oversight. Like in Issue #1, we get to something like the fifteenth page before it’s just: Oh yeah, by the way there’s a gold shortage, so all these awards are made from meteorite because they just are!
HM: Lol yep.
JG: That’s definitely Haley’s influence. She is the expert on making the random work.
HM: Let’s just say my love of comics has grown exponentially since realizing that random can just happen. And Jake’s comic book knowledge really comes into play on the show. He can make really complicated and intense storylines work. It makes us a great team. And a great time! At your next birthday or bar mitzvah!
JG: Haley’s right. My pitches often look like something out of “A Beautiful Mind.” Lots of post-it notes and string.
HM: Our string budget is through the roof.
AC: In comics, it’s something that happened a lot in the Silver Age, for instance when Superman gets a lion’s head for a head or other science-y randomness for the sake of just throwing it all out there. But the difference here being your awareness of it. What’s the collaboration like between the two of you and the artist of the first four issues, Derek Charm? Do you guys do a “Marvel style” script where it’s more outlines for Derek and then you go back and add dialogue, or is it a fully finished script you send his way?
HM: Fully dialogued. Derek is AMAZING! We do that format because that was what our terrific IDW editor Sarah Gaydos kind of laid out. But MAN Derek’s work makes me giggle.
JG: Derek is amazing. That guy knows how to plus a joke.
HM: That sasquatch panel in issue #3 still makes me laugh.
AC: I am a very big fan of the waffle racket in particular.
JG: Me too.
HM: YA! We love that issue. Jake and I joke that Donny and Bubbles are like my best friend Brandon and I because we always get out of control. But seriously, Derek reminds me of the greats behind Seasons 4-8 of The Simpsons. This really simple, easy, funny style that makes you want to print screenshots and paste them onto your notebooks. He can draw acting so well. Like in “King Size Homer” when Homer is shopping for a muumuu and he’s just standing there wall-eyed as the salesman explains the place, and that one shot makes you laugh; that’s the equivalent of what Derek does with his panels.
AC: Yeah, it’s very straightforward storytelling that’s just loaded with palpable animation. He has a real economy of line; never draws more than is necessary to get the message across.
AC: How has everything been received at some of the conventions you’ve been to? What’s the fan base been like?
HM: So great and positive. At SDCC it was mostly kids and at NYCC it was mostly adults, but it was all so positive. Jake and I did a panel for the comics at SDCC, and it was all little kids who loved comics. Our grinchly hearts grew three sizes that day.
JG: I was genuinely blown away by the fans. There’s something spectacular about seeing a group of kids dressed as the Girls and all they want to do is talk to you about their favorite monster. Or having them show you stuff that they’ve drawn. I actually had to take a photo of something one girl drew because it was based off one of the designs that our storyboarder Jay Hasrajani brought to the show. Sometimes, in our cynical Los Angeles lives, it’s easy to forget who this show is for and when you see a family at the convention together, all in costume, delighted to just see the girls, it reminds you.
HM: Yeah, and this little 5-year-old girl dressed as Wonder Woman at the comic’s panel asked us “If the Powerpuff Girls were going into 1st grade?” And we asked if she was, and she said she was, so we said, “Yep! The girls are going into 1st grade!” She had her mom help her email me to say thanks for answering her question and now I’m dead and living on a cloud in the sky, Alex.
AC: It’s great to hear there’s such a mix, and I would hope that there’s a strong contingent of younger girls that are really embracing it. Also, everything you two just said is adorable.
HM: Absolutely. And speaking of Jay, we should shout out all them artists on the show. They are so terrific and hilarious and talented. It’s really inspiring, and we’ve learned a ton from them.
AC: Yeah, totally. Let’s talk a bit about the show too and what the staff is like. How’s the environment, what’s a typical “day in the life” of putting together an episode?
HM: The environment on our show is unlike any show I’ve ever worked on. Everyone is so, so tight with each other, and it’s really incredible. It makes the process a blast. In terms of making an episode, it’s a long process that involves everyone really giving it their all and plussing each other.
JG: Given that it takes roughly nine months just to make one episode of The Powerpuff Girls, Haley and I are always bouncing around on multiple episodes a day. Each one at a different stage of development. Some days, we’ll start with our storyboard artists, going over their latest pitch, and then rush into editing to plus up a record script, and then back again, to write our next episodes or have a story meeting. You get used to working on 10 ideas at once.
HM: Timing-wise, from coming up with a premise to a fully-fleshed out outline is about 3 weeks. The board artists then board the episode (plus clean-ups) in 5 weeks. A few weeks later is the voice record. Then the showrunners, Nick Jennings and Bob Boyle, set the animatic, the art department rocks the BGs, props, and character designs, and our animation studio in S. Korea takes it away! Plus, music from our awesome composer Mike Reagan. We are story-board driven, so Jake and I write outlines with a fair amount of joke and dialogue pitches, and then the board artists bring it to life and add their spin! You can see it in an upcoming episode “Snow Month”, really well.
AC: What were some of the challenges you weren’t expecting when taking on this franchise and what have some of those experiences taught you going forward into a second season?
HM: As with anything, your eyes are bigger than your stomach. So you really have to think about how to write action sequences that fit what you’re able to do as a show.
JG: I definitely tried to write episodes that were “too busy.”
HM: Yeah, I tried to write really crazy action stuff that was impossible.
JG: As well as making sure your story has a strong emotional core. “Snow Month”, is a great example of this. We can have the craziness of the Yuppie Yetis, but it’s really carried by Blossom’s emotional journey.
HM: Yeah! And “Snow Month” is the first appearance of a character Jake voices!!! Both of us are voices on the show! It’s a really cute story about Blossom dealing with a boy liking her semi-autobiographical to Bob Boyle and I Who both had similar experiences with being asked out and panicking because you’re not ready! And that’s okay. Kyle Neswald and Ben Carow, the board artists, added this sled race that is one of my favorite things in the show so far.
AC: Sounds like “Snow Month” encapsulates a lot of what you’ve been honing the show’s voice for. That emotional core you mentioned, Jake, is really important and something that’s hard to betray. What would you two, and the whole team really, say is the “mission statement” of your current run on the show?
JG: I’m a firm believer in “If you can see it, then you can do it.” I hope that when kids watch this show, first off that they think it’s fun, but after that, if maybe an episode reminds them of a problem in their life, be it big or small, they can say to themselves: “I saw Blossom get through this, so I can get through this too.” I always looked up to Peter Parker that way, at least.
HM: I want kids to just know that they can be whatever they want to be and that even if they get knocked down, they can get right back up and save the day. Especially for little girls. I think that’s so, so important because, to be honest, we’re not really taught that so much by society. And little boys aren’t taught enough that they can be superheroes and have feelings, too, and I hope we help show them that, too. So I guess it’s just summed up in “Be the best version of yourself!”