Writer: Katie Cook
Artist: Andy Price
Release Date: May 15, 2013
Is it that surprising that a cartoon based on pastel baby toy horses has left such a viral footprint? Maybe. But upon a closer look, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s success is hardly unwarranted. Owner Hasbro hired Lauren Faust as creative director and executive producer for the show’s development and first season, a strategic decision that laid the groundwork for much of the show’s vibrant, unconventional swagger. An animator on The Iron Giant and The Powerpuff Girls, Faust took home an Emmy in 2008 for her work on husband Craig McCracken’s brilliant Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends. For their 2010 Pony venture, Faust and showrunner Jayson Thiessen avoided the Karen Carpenter-ish theme songs and injected a metric ton of sass, spunk, and Chuck Jones-era whimsy into the iterative franchise. Theories abound that Friendship is Magic is a cultural palate cleanser for the economic turmoil and terrorism headlines that dominated the aughties, which may be true, but the show’s popularity probably stems for the fact that it’s produced by very clever people and talented animators. Hey, even Andrew W.K.’s a brony.
In creating a licensed comic for the ponies, IDW made an inspired decision to hire Katie Cook as the book’s writer. Cook’s webcomic Gronk nails the same Venn diagram of all-ages adorable and witty adult insight, and it’s an aproach that does wonders for Friendship is Magic. Her first arc takes Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Fluttershy, Applejack, Dewybugaloo, Pinkie Pie, and Rainbow Dash (one of those may not exist) on an old-school adventure to rescue their younger sisters from an evil queen. For being a story aimed at adolescent girls, Magic borrows a lot of tricks from the boys’ club. Instead of mulling over tea parties and hugathons, these equines navigate a gauntlet of chupacabras, were-bunnies, and bowler-wearing tarantulas on a quest that shares more with the D&D universe than a prepubescent sleepover. No plot beat ever veers into barbaric extremes, though; all monsters eventually slip a diffusing punch line or non sequitur to emphasize the fun over the foreboding.
Like the cartoon’s writers, Cook also scatters an eclectic range of pop culture esoterica throughout the book. Few grade-schoolers have probably seen the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but the first few pages of Magic feature a mustached Donald Sutherland pony reenacting the infamous finger…er hoof-point from that movie’s infamous climax. More telling to the property’s inspiration, one goofy, lumbering troll exclaims “I WIW CAWL DIS ONE GEORGE,” echoing the Looney Tunes parody of the Of Mice and Men quote. Cook invites the parents to their kids’ party with these puns, and she entertains both demographics with capable skill.
Andy Price’s art doesn’t quite match the polished Flash finesse of the cartoon, though. His close-ups nicely capture the exaggerated expressions and madcap energy of the series, but some of the storytelling and distance shots can appear unclear and sketchy. One scene in which the villains attempt to stomp rocks down on the ponies is especially confusing. His best work appears in the sepia-toned, water-colored flashback sequences, which echo the fluid, old-timey work of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic doesn’t scale the heights of what Ryan North has done with Adventure Time in a near-identical situation, but this comic still bustles with passion, fun, and personality despite a few rough edges. Pleasing everyone is no easy feat, but Cook and Price have created a universally cool book for ponies, bronies, and skeptical parents alike.