If you were watching cartoons back when you had to turn this thing called a “knob” on the television set, then you remember The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show, which typically featured the adventures of Mr. Peabody and Sherman. The cartoon featured a boy and his dog, where the dog was the smarter of the two, and also had the ability to time travel when necessary given a crisis of the day. Now fast forward to the present, where watching cartoons is possible 24/7 if you have a smart phone. It seems Mr. Peabody & Sherman are now not only going to be in movie theaters next March, but also in an IDW Publishing four-issue mini-series that ties into the film from Dreamworks. Writer of the series, Sholly Fisch, took some time to talk to us about the upcoming book, which will be in stores up until the month before the movie hits a theater near you.
PREVIEWSworld: How did you get involved in Mr. Peabody & Sherman (SEP130373)? Are you a fan of the original late 1950s and early 1960s television animated cartoon that appeared in the Rocky and His Friends and The Rocky Bullwinkle Show?
Sholly Fisch: Oh, I’m a huge Mr. Peabody & Sherman fan – always have been. As a kid, I loved the cartoons. As an adult, my wife and I collected the Rocky and Bullwinkle videos. In fact, even thirtyish years after the fact, I still regret that the t-shirt store near my college used to have a really cool Mr. Peabody and Sherman shirt for sale, but they never had it in my size.
So, with all of that in mind, I was sitting on a bus, coming home from Washington with two of my kids, when I got an e-mail from editor Sarah Gaydos asking if I’d be interested in pitching ideas for the series. My kids heard me gasp and asked what was going on, so I showed them the e-mail. They both immediately got these huge grins on their faces and said, “You have to do it!” The problem was that my plate was already ‘way too full with work, but I just couldn’t turn down Mr. Peabody & Sherman. So I haven’t really slept since June, but I’m having fun.
PREVIEWSworld: Mr. Peabody and Sherman is probably an alien concept for today's kids that are growing up in a Ben 10 generation. How do you think Mr. Peabody & Sherman will appeal to the young YouTuber's out there? Did you find it challenging to bring this retro property into the 21st century?
Sholly Fisch: As funny as it is to think of a time-travel series as “retro,” you’re obviously right that many kids today (and even some terribly culturally deprived adults) aren’t familiar with Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Hopefully, the publicity around the upcoming Dreamworks movie will help with that. But, either way, the whole Jay Ward style of adventure and humor – Rocky and Bullwinkle, Mr. Peabody & Sherman, Dudley Do-Right, and so on – is pretty timeless. So, once a kid opens the cover I think we’ll be fine. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with a time-traveling genius dog and his pet boy...especially when they’re running into cavemen and pirates.
As for updating things, we’re working hard to make the comic book fit with both the classic cartoons and the upcoming movie. There are indeed some contemporary touches that longtime fans will probably notice, not the least of which is the all-new, streamlined WABAC machine that takes our heroes on their jaunts through time. But, even updated for the 21st Century, the series still has all of the high adventure, historical hijinks, and painful puns that Mr. Peabody & Sherman fans have come to expect. If I’ve done my job right, reading the comic book should feel just like watching one of the cartoons – but a brand new cartoon, produced in 2013. How’s that for time travel?
PREVIEWSworld: Without giving too much away, how would you summarize the scope of this 4-issue series? What are the obstacle courses that lie ahead, and do Mr. Peabody and Sherman already come armed with a GPS, or are they somehow less equipped with the trouble that lies ahead?
Sholly Fisch: The scope’s easy: it’s the whole tapestry of human history! The series spans everything from prehistoric times to roughly five minutes before the French Revolution. Anytime, anywhere, Mr. Peabody and Sherman are on the spot to make sure things turn out the way they should, whether that means curing Shakespeare’s writer’s block, tangling with Blackbeard, dropping apples on Isaac Newton’s head, or even singing opera.
Their time-hopping WABAC machine may not be equipped with a standard-issue GPS (unless, of course, it stands for “Get Peabody Somewhere”). But they do have a knack for showing up in the right place at the right time. And, as the world’s greatest canine genius, Mr. Peabody can always come up with a brilliant, MacGyver-like solution to pretty much any situation that blows up in their faces.
PREVIEWSworld: Kids comics from publishers like IDW Publishing have bigger shelf space in many stores across the country. What do you think is going on with the surge of kids comics that are coming out today, which would include titles from everything like the new Ben 10 to My Little Pony? Why the sudden popularity? And do you think it's long overdue because of the benefit to parents?
Sholly Fisch: Personally, I’m thrilled that we’re seeing a resurgence of kids’ comics nowadays – and not just because I write so many of them. You’ve actually hit on one of my favorite soapboxes. I’ve long felt that one of the reasons why the comics industry more or less collapsed about 15 years ago is that, during the 1990s, everyone was so busy trying to prove that “comics aren’t for kids” that we all forgot that what we should have been proving was that “comics aren’t only for kids.” When virtually no kids’ comics were published for ten years, we lost an entire generation of readers. I think the current diversity of content is a lot healthier for the industry in the long run.
At the same time, it’s great for kids too. In my day job, I’m a developmental psychologist who helps make educational TV shows, online games, and other stuff for kids – things like Sesame Street, Cyberchase, and the PBS series The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That. Lots of research studies (both my own and others) show that kids can learn all sorts of things from well-crafted, age-appropriate educational TV and games. Why wouldn’t the same be true for comics?
When I was a kid, I learned vocabulary, science facts, all sorts of things from comics. If a kid walks away from Mr. Peabody & Sherman knowing a little bit about the Mayan calendar or Anna Renzi (go ahead, Google her – I’ll wait), well, let’s just consider that my way of paying it forward.
PREVIEWSworld: If you had the opportunity to visit a classroom and talk about Mr. Peabody & Sherman what would you say to the class? What would you want for them to get out of your visit? How would you get them excited to read the new series that you're writing?
Sholly Fisch: Hmm… I’d probably say something like, “If you buy every copy of this comic book that you can find, you’ll get A’s in all your classes, your face will clear up, and that really cute boy/girl in the third row will fall madly in love with you.” Then, I’d skip town before they come looking for me.
Actually, because of what I do for a living, I visit classrooms pretty often and spend a lot of time around kids. Somehow, I suspect that by the time I got as far as “Well, there’s this time-traveling dog and his pet boy…,” I wouldn’t get to finish the sentence, because they’d already be racing off to the comics shop.