Welcome back to another rousing edition of TRS Round Table! In this edition, we open up the latest issue of the My Little Pony comics by IDW, the first part of the two-part “Zen and the Art of Gazebo Repair.” TRS Round Table is our group analysis and chat about the book, and maybe you’ll learn something new or look at it in a different light. Joining the Round Table today are Wayoshi, Wylie, Mr. Big, Captain Kirk, The Doctor, Perpetual Lurker, Marimo and KefkaFloyd. Find out our thoughts beyond the cut.
Do be warned that this review will take a detailed look at the events and details in the book. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum, but if you want to read the book blind, turn away now. You can find the comic book at your favorite local comic book store, online retailers like Things From Another World, or digital distributors like iTunes or Comixology.
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KefkaFloyd: So with #9, Katie Cook and Andy Price are back in the saddle as the creative team. This arc won’t be a big four part epic, but rather a two-part story. I think this serves as a good palate cleanser after the epic tales of Chrysalis and Nightmarity.
Marimo: It’s a nice change of pace. The show this comic is based off of is known for juggling both adventure and slice of life stories, so it’s good to see those in the main series, even if the micros have been doing stories in that area while the main series has been doing adventures.
Wayoshi: Given that almost everyone has How Rarity Got Her Groovy Back as the top Micro comic of the Mane 6 (and may stand up as the best Micro period, we’ll see how long it lasts), I certainly think more low-key situations is just fine – that is what pony is most of the time. It helped that Nightmarity kinda flamed out (too overambitious), I think #9-12 being another adventure arc would have made me feel a bit burned out. Even #13-14 (pirates) will be a silly adventure I think, not as serious. I’m sure we’ll return to a serious arc at some point, but there’s no rush.
The Doctor: I actually had to read this twice before I “got it”. My first time I kept thinking it was way too goofy and full of pop culture jokes. Then Spike’s little bit at the end reminded me that this is a two issue comic about Big Macintosh buying nails. It was supposed to be fun. And once I realized it wasn’t supposed to be as serious as the previous two arc, I really enjoyed it as a change of pace.
Perpetual Lurker: It’s absolutely great to get a chance to just laugh at something without having any huge stakes looming over the whole story. During her panel at Bronycon this past weekend, Katie said that she “just wanted to make a funny-book” after how heavy the past arcs were, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Comics have room for all types of stories. Given the style of the comics to begin with, I even think pure comedy stories work a lot better here than they do in the show proper (i.e. MMMMystery on the Friendship Express or Games Ponies Play).
Wylie: After the more adventurous first two arcs, it’s certainly a change of pace to see a two-issue arc that’s essentially about nothing but exploring Ponyville and the characters in it. Big Mac is perfect as a focus character here; he’s as much an observer of life in Ponyville as we are. The closest analogue I can think of to how Big Mac was handled in this issue is Rorschach- a man of few words, but unending internal monologue. If Katie “just wanted to make a funny-book,” then it’s certainly what she accomplished here, because I found something to laugh at on just about every page.
Captain Kirk: I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this may just be the best, and most pony-like issue to date. It had a very light-hearted and fun feel, with an innocence that the previous story arcs had lacked. I laughed out loud at least once per page, and because of this lighter feel it never felt inappropriate to the gravitas of the situation. Using Big Mac was definitely the right choice, as he makes for an ideal combination of narrator and (mostly) silent protagonist. Hearing his exasperation with the more… colorful residents of Ponyville all while he keeps an at times somewhat strained smile on his face makes for some of the funniest gags in the issue. Doing this in 2 parts rather than 4 is the right move however, as I can’t imagine how it could be stretched out that long without getting tiring.
The Doctor: Nothing wrong with a two volume arc. I’m also glad they chose that. Funny as this issue is, it would have gotten old had they continued. I am also glad they didn’t turn this into some epic journey, with Big Macintosh being pulled into a wormhole or something and becoming a hero or something. The basic story of this arc is simple, and I’m glad it seems to be staying that way.
(Also, -5 points for misspelling “accidentally” there! )
Captain Kirk: So that was retconned from happening harder than “All Good Things…” . A lovely bit of silliness in that page. Didn’t catch the typo on first reading though!
The Doctor: Tongue and cheek reference to Equestria Girls there?
Mr. Big: This is a refreshing change after the two “epic” arcs (and man, it felt like FOREVER since the last issue, due to the delay). The first 8 issues didn’t really have much in regards to characters other than the Mane 6, so this time, they went all the way focusing on every pony except them. They’re pretty much making fun of it by featuring them as little as possible, the only thing connected being a giant bee of some sort.
Wylie: That tripped me up at first, too, Mr. Big, because I’m not strong on G1 pony lore, but the Mane 6 all seem to be describing the events of “The End of Flutter Valley,” a 10-episode mini-series from 1986.
Wayoshi: Not a reference I got or will get, but it’s nice for the previously hardcore fans I guess. But it’s weird thinking of these Mane 6 fighting the Smooze…
Captain Kirk: Is that the story Smooze came from? I think I might have to watch “The End of Flutter Valley” now. IIRC, Smooze was quite a good villain.
KefkaFloyd: By putting Big Mac as the focus character, you would think that would be difficult, given his nature as the “stallion of few words.” However, Katie’s given him an internal monologue so we can hear more from his head.
Marimo: This is certainly an interesting chance to get some focus on a character outside of the mane six. In fact, the mane six are only making cameos in the background for once. Normally, the only other characters the show gets to focus on is Spike and the Cutie Mark Crusaders. As for Big Mac’s monologue, it does a good job of showing off his character. He’s quiet and doesn’t like to go out of his way to interact with others, but is still different from someone like Fluttershy. He’s not afraid or nervous, he just prefers a quiet life.
Wayoshi: I was honestly expecting Big Mac to just say his usual Yes/Nope and let everything else tell the rest – Big Mac almost being an audience insert into A Day in Ponyville. And while that is still somewhat true, we get a balance of letting crazy pirates – I mean pyrotechnics – and Lucy Tiara shenanigans occur (to name just a couple) while also characterizing Big Mac subtly. Probably the most underrated aspect of this issue, given that the eye-catchers are fan favorites like Doctor Whooves (again), Derpy, Octavia, even DJ-PON3 briefly, and of course Luna the Blamer of Sisters Dream Girl.
The Doctor: Big Macintosh is a good ‘ol Country boy. I’m glad they didn’t go with the obvious joke of suddenly having Big Mac give a Silent Bob like speech. At the same time, I think it would have been a tad boring if he just did the usual “eyup” and “nope”. The internal monologue was a fantastic way to have him get his thoughts across to the reader without in any way breaking that strong silent character of his.
Perpetual Lurker: They also could have made him become extremely grumpy and downtrodden as the day went on and things continued to go wrong, which probably would have led right into the hypothetical Silent Bob speech, but they avoided that too. He sighs at the weird things that happen around him, but not until the very end of the story does it even seem to phase him for more than a few moments. In fact, we’re shown that he has no problem enjoying himself when the moment arises, given that he more or less samples all that the carnival has to offer as he wanders around (except for Sweetcream Scoops’s kissing booth, of course). He’s even shown to be genuinely having fun being Luna’s partner for the games, up until her overzealous nature and his inability to voice his objections leads to an unwanted pie in the face.
Wylie: I think we’re going to get a lengthy soliloquy out of Big Mac about three pages before the end of the next issue, to be quite honest. You just can’t have the “camera” on him that long without it paying off. His internal monologue was great as well- the show’s shown us that he’s by no means short on intelligence, he just doesn’t say anything until he has something to say. (His entry in the show bible might as well just be “Still waters run deep.”)
The Doctor: I kind of hope we don’t get a big speech from him. Big Mac is a character who can say a lot with just a meaningful look. I can’t really think of any situation where he would have to make one. Though maybe he could give a friendship report to Princess Celestia if she shows up in volume ten to join in the festivities.
Perpetual Lurker: I’m inclined to agree. Big Mac giving an extended speech is a serious thing, at least in the context of the show. We’ve only ever seen him speak much twice: once in Applebuck Season, when he was alone with a family member, and once in Ponyville Confidential, when him speaking was meant to drive home just how awful Gabby Gums had been. The tone of this story is very much “just another day in Ponyville.” Weird things happen, but that’s because it’s Ponyville, not because said weird things are particularly serious or uncommon. In my opinion, Big Mac giving a speech would only become appropriate if the story underwent quite the tonal shift. Not darker necessarily, but certainly more mean-spirited. Something would have to happen that would hurt him enough to prompt him to speak his mind. It could work, in theory, but I don’t see it fitting well with how this story has been presented thus far.
Captain Kirk: I’m actually expecting something in between the two. Something perhaps akin to the Gunslinger’s Farewell before he rides off into the sunset (to fix that Gazebo). Just a few words, yet saying so very much with them. I think that would be quite in his character, calling somewhat back to his lines in Applebuck Season. I’m not exactly certain what he’d say, but I feel that he’ll have words. Not many, but good ones.
Wayoshi: The show kinda already did this gag with Ponyville Confidential as mentioned. I know it’s different here because frustration will have built up personally with Big Mac for the entire arc, but I feel like it would be a bit stale if he goes and vents. Then again, if the gazebo is blown up by the CMC… can we blame him?
KefkaFloyd: Another notable first in this issue is some background favorites getting their first shot at dialogue and character. Octavia, Scratch, even Doctor Whooves gets in on the fun.
Wayoshi: Although Octavia is linked by CMC stealing her wagon, nothing at all happens with her and Big Mac. This is the one time it was on the wrong side of fanservice… Doctor & Derpy were in the background for one panel, same with DJ-PON3, but this took up half a page. Meanwhile Luna and even Fleetfoot (probably the most random character here, and of course the most memorable with a full page) get meaningful Big Mac interaction (even if it’s only in Fleetfoot’s thoughts). I’m interested in Octavia’s bad day, but it leaves as quickly as it comes and leaves no impression.
The Doctor: The is coming off a bit like “21 Short Stories About Ponyville”. Where the first two arcs were about our mane cast, this one was about a character that never talks, going on the seemingly mundane task of buying some nails. The background characters were needed to fill the story. For me it is working very well as as fun side story. I also liked that it stuck to being about Big Macintosh and not shoehorning in the mane cast. It’s nice to see a story working, and really does showcase what a lively world Equestria is.
Perpetual Lurker: I agree that Octavia is the only real thing that stuck out like a sore thumb in terms of panel usage and pacing, but on the other hand the whole scene just screams Chekhov’s Gun for Issue #10, so I’m going to wait and see how it plays out before passing judgement entirely.
Wylie: I didn’t mind Octavia’s appearance at all, maybe I’m still carrying the scars of lugging oversized musical instruments around for most of my childhood. The Family Circus page and, of course, that incredible Fleetfoot dream sequence were both simply beautiful examples of Katie and Andy just having a ton of fun drawing ponies. I rather enjoyed Derpy’s “Do I know you?” to Time Turner, as well as Diamond Tiara giving Lyra “sit like a pony” advice at her booth- both did a good job of poking fun at popular fan themes without interrupting the flow of Big Mac’s whirlwind tour of Ponyville.
Captain Kirk: I too did not mind Octavia’s appearance. It establishes that the other characters are living complete days off-panel, as well as staying true to Octavia’s character. Fleetfoot’s cameo was brilliant, and to be honest I’m hoping to see a still-concussed and confused Fleetfoot cause a little more mischief in part 2. Horsepower’s bit was great as well. He gets all worked up into the workout zone, then immediately drops back to being polite. Of course, Big Mac’s reactions were hilariously straight-man. I got a giggle out of Price’s cameo as well. Luna’s shirt I mostly didn’t understand, I’m sorry to say (for what should I blame her sister?). Of course, I did notice she’s a member of Starfleet. Does a Princess outrank a Starship Captain?
Marimo: Speaking of background ponies, funny enough that while some of them got to be more in the spotlight, the mane six have been reduced to only background roles for this arc. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie, and Rarity make appearances in this issue, retelling a story about bees and a Sun Stone that G1 fans will recognize as the plot of a story from the first cartoon called The End of Flutter Valley, and Twilight, Applejack, and Fluttershy will likely be appearing in issue 10 to continue this story.
Captain Kirk: It is nice to see references to previous generations in the comics. Longtime fans deserve shoutouts and references too, after all. I also liked seeing the Mane Six in the background for once. It was kinda like in Just For Sidekicks, which was tons of fun to me.
KefkaFloyd: Katie appears to be setting up all of these plot lines that center around Big Mac into a big climax next issue. What could go wrong for our silent stallion?
Marimo: Too much reliance or focus on in-jokes. An important thing to remember is that these comics aren’t just made for the bronies, but for fans of all ages, and should not require knowledge of popular memes and such. A good use of them would be to put them in the background, where those who don’t get the joke can gloss over them and not find them distracting, or handle them in a way that someone unfamiliar with the fandom can still understand the jokes and find them funny. Fortunately, I think Cook has a good grasp on how to handle these things.
The Doctor: I would say too many pop culture jokes could backfire. However there were tons of them in this issue, and so long as most of them remain as easter eggs in the background, I don’t think it will be much of an issue. Being a side story and intentionally a big goofy that all parties involved seemed to have a blast making this. Tossing little things in the background make this a fun issue to reread because there’s a ton going from recent things like the “Plasmids and Vigors” booth to something older like Big Mac’s Binford Tool box.
Wylie: Even a couple weeks after first reading this issue, I still am finding new little touches – I just now noticed Charlie Brown’s kite stuck in the tree behind Diamond Tiara’s advice booth. Like some of the best episodes of the show, this issue really rewards re-reading and taking your time really letting all the art sink in.
Perpetual Lurker: In essence, these mini-plots are all single, long-form jokes, and there is definitely potential for the punchlines to fall flat. If too many endings are crammed into too little space, or if too many things are left dangling, the book would suffer. None of that is necessarily more likely to happen than not in this story, though. It simply has the same potential to be mishandled as any story.
Wylie: I worry that they might run out of steam sometime around the halfway mark of the next issue. Katie and Andy’s style is so visually dense that they can chew through references rather quickly. They did a good job with this issue, though, so I’m pretty confident that they have things planned out pretty well.
Captain Kirk: I could see them either going too overboard with the jokes, or the climactic joke falling relatively flat. Just like I didn’t get some of Luna’s shirts, whatever climactic joke they make could go right over my, and possibly other’s, heads. I’m not particularly worried about such a possibility, but it nevertheless exists.
KefkaFloyd: With Andy Price back, what new and cool things art-wise did you see in this issue?
Marimo: Big Macintosh wandering through the fairgrounds ala Family Circus. An excellent use of the medium and chock-full of gags, including another appearance by Big Mac’s admirer Sweetcream Scoops (who has made quite a fortune at her kissing booth).
Wayoshi: A lot of effort put into this page, including a full path of other things that happen offscreen (or off-page). Always love a bunch of little things coming together, not meant to be the most grandiose page of this issue but still nearly as much depth.
The Doctor: Go for the obvious and say the Fleetfoot’s dream page was stunning. Just so much going on in that, and so much told in just one page. I also really liked the first CMC explosions. From the delighted look on Sweetie Belle’s face as she lights the fuse to them using the letters in “BOOM” for support. Andy’s love for Princess Luna was also on full display and the moments with her and Big Mac were great. Great to see Luna letting her hair down a bit and having fun.
Mr. Big: The artwork is always the best part of Cook/Price collaborations. He really knows how to take advantage of the comic book layout, and they convey the characters’ emotions very well, which helps “punch up” Katie Cook’s scripts. I love how flexible he is, like Diamond Tiara is drawn Charles Schulz style, which is something that can only work in comics. Then there’s the “realistic horse” portrait drawn for Big Macintosh, which creeped him out. The 10th page is also well-done. It conveys the “Family Circus” style thing where Billy goes around town with dots following him. And I’m saying this as a compliment.
The show always has neat things going on in backgrounds, but it’s more of a bigger advantage with comic books since you can take the time to look at individual panels at your own time.
Perpetual Lurker: I have to agree with Luna being one of the artistic highlights of the book. Andy has gone on record saying that she is his favorite pony to draw, and it’s easy to see why. Her boisterous personality combined with her unique design lends itself easily to exciting panels for such mundane actions as running and eating. Her magical gag-shirt was just icing on the already delicious cake. Aside from that, the background of almost every panel was a treat, since even if there wasn’t some neat reference to pick up, the various background ponies all went about their daily business and reacted to events around them in ways that made everything seem more “real” or “alive”.
Wylie: Andy has pretty much defined MLP’s comic style by himself- it’s definitely not the show’s style, which we’ve seen several artists try to emulate with varying levels of success in the Micro series. It’s no great coincidence that the first arc and Rarity’s micro are all among the most popular issues so far. Luna, in particular, was simply a joy to behold- it’s easy to see how much Andy enjoys drawing her, and Katie’s take on her partaking of some good, old-fashioned “fun” gave him plenty of chances to show off. It’s interesting that you said she “let her hair down,” The Doctor- because the first thing she did after conscripting Big Mac as her partner was to put her hair up- in a ponytail, of course.
Captain Kirk: I would agree that everything about Price’s art is fantastic. I think, however, that his facial expressions are what really nail most of the jokes, especially the background gags. They’re very expressive, with plenty of elasticity for goofy grins and hell-bent-for-leather scowls alike. The faces in the Fleetfoot page alone are a perfect demonstration of this. In fact, her concussed expressions on the next page are even more hilarious.
KefkaFloyd: Besides Andy and Katie, the usual second half of the team is back, with Heather Breckel providing the colors and Neil Uyetake doing the lettering. What of their contributions stood out to you?
The Doctor: There was some great coloring and shading in this issue. The explosion scenes in particular were great. I also really liked the look and coloring of Big McLargehuge, very reminiscent of Ren and Stimpy’s, Mr. Horse. This was a very colorful issue with so much going on in the background and a parade of background ponies on every page.
Perpetual Lurker: I’m not exactly qualified to comment on the lettering or coloring on a technical level, but Andy’s hand-lettered effects are great, as per usual. Also, something about the style and shading simply makes the more complexly designed characters “pop” more, for lack of a better word, as opposed the the simpler designs of the majority of the background ponies. It’s most obvious in characters like Zecora, Luna, and Mr. Muscle Horse (as mentioned above) who have some really appealing shading on them in their close-ups to help accentuate their unique colors, textures, and accessories. Massive props to Andy and Heather all around.
Wylie: There is an art to lettering. I may not know art, but I know what I like, and I like Andy’s hand-lettered titles and sound effects. There’s not another artist drawing for either the main series or the Micros that has Andy’s flair for stylish lettering.
Captain Kirk: The coloring is excellent, as usual. Bright, vibrant, and perfectly evocative of the tone and setting of the story. It really feels like a warm summer day when I’m reading it, and that isn’t easy to do to me. As for lettering, I also don’t know much about it, but I didn’t have any trouble telling who was saying what, or what was being said. I also was able to keep a great internal voice track while reading. So I suppose it was a success in that regard.
KefkaFloyd: All of that said, what do you think we can look forward to in #10, and where will it go from here?
The Doctor: Again, I really enjoyed this issue. It was a fun break from the epic arcs, and it’s good to know they can do simple stories and still make them entertaining. I think it would get a bit old if it just kept going with 4 issue epics. While we know they’re returning, it’s nice to know we’ll get breaks in between. As for volume ten, I’ll be shocked if the gazebo isn’t taken out by another pyrotechnics demonstration by the CMC. Other than that I’m not too sure. They made an entire issue about him just going to the hardware store, who knows where they’ll take it now that he needs to find another nail source. I don’t imagine we’ve seen the last of Princess Luna either. I imagine she will be most displeased that Big Macintosh abandoned the scavenger hunt. Perhaps his actions lead to a taller, more brightly colored Princess to take victory in the scavenger hunt.
Wayoshi: What shirt would Luna wear if Celestia steals the victory away? “Curse cherry pies”?
Wylie: I think you’ve got it about right there, Doctor. This was a great little tour of Ponyville, and I hope two things happen next time: 1) Big Mac has to confess to Granny he couldn’t fix the gazebo for want of a nail, and she just happens to have them- “All ya had to do was ask, sonny!” And 2) Won’t someone throw Winona’s ball for her?
Captain Kirk: I agree, this was a much needed break from the epic stories. It was in danger of going Monster of the Week, or whatever the comic equivalent of that is. I also have no idea what part two may consist of, but I’m betting that the destruction of the hardware store by Mac’s lil’ sis won’t go unacknowledged by the town… Indeed, perhaps Apple Bloom is the one was the nails? After all, they DID build that catapult contraption; had to get those nails from somewhere. I’d be willing to bet apples to nails that they’ve got at least a few left over.
Marimo: I’m expecting things to get even more chaotic. After setting up and introducing all these characters, I could see some of them coming back for more. And I have a feeling that Big Mac’s For Want Of Brand Nails, a reference to the proverb in which the lack of a nail leads to a chain of events that ends with a kingdom being lost, was foreshadowing more than just Big Macintosh being forced to interact with a bunch of ponies.
Perpetual Lurker: In terms of broad plot, Big Mac’s course of action is pretty well laid out. Still stuck to the door of the wrecked hardware store was a sign saying that the proprietor was out enjoying the festival, and that ponies should come find him in the crowd if they needed anything. Even if the store hadn’t been destroyed, Big Mac still wouldn’t have been able to get any nails there. He was still going to have to hunt down the owner either way. I think we can expect all of the various background events of the comic coming together in some incredibly over the top, climactic way, probably punctuated by yet another explosion of fireworks (where do those fillies keep getting those, anyway?). And yet, oddly enough, I’m somehow anxious to find out if Big Mac ever will be able to fix that squeaky board in the gazebo. All of this crazy stuff is going on, and I still care about the incredibly mundane goal of the main character. It’s definitely a sign of good writing, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Wayoshi: Huh, I never considered that… if they actually link up random off-threads like Octavia together into something big, I’m going to be surprised… but maybe I should expect it, given this team. That would be pretty cool and void my complaint about her.
Captain Kirk: That would be pretty neat, linking up all the background appearances. I would be interested to see how that would work out. I doubt all the background ponies will figure into it, but maybe Octavia, Zecora, Fleetfoot, and one or two others may.
Also, I will be incredibly disappointed if they do not make any sort of reference to The Dread Gazebo.
KefkaFloyd: And that’s it for this edition of the TRS Round Table! Join us next time for more discussion and analysis of everyone’s favorite miniature colored equines! ■