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'Adventure Time' Writer Rebecca Sugar on 'Steven Universe,' Being Cartoon Network's First Female Show Creator And Why Pop Art Is 'Offensive'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire November 1, 2013 at 12:54PM

Rebecca Sugar might not be a household name, but with the rising popularity of Cartoon Network's "Adventure Time," she's practically achieved the same degree of popularity. With her new program "Steven Universe," she the first female show creator in Cartoon Network's history.
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"Steven Universe."
Cartoon Network "Steven Universe."

So you said that everything you've ever loved in cartoons is the energy you're trying to funnel into the show. Are there specific shows you're thinking about that were very influential to you? Or just specific moments?

I'm really inspired by the show "Future Boy Conan" from the '70s. It's a really beautiful show, and I love shonen anime and shojo anime, and I like the thought of mixing them together. But also American cartoons. Just everything. Everyone on the crew, we don't really have the same set of influences -- it's sort of a melting pot of fandom. I'm also interested in the feeling of when you really love something, you see something in it that wasn't there, and I'm trying to put that into this. That thing that you wanted, but you really just invented -- I'm trying to make that present in this. A sort of intense fan energy.

During your Comic Con panel, these two girls came up to the mic and sang a song they wrote for you. How do you feel about the contrast between young fans you've developed and older viewers interested as well? Which means more to you?

"I want it to be incredibly accessible and fully of secrets for people that want to find them."

I really love both. I loved cartoons growing up too much, so I love the people who love them too much. I want to make things for them, because when you feel that way and you see something that addresses that, it means everything. You worry because you like cartoons too much, but there's something about the fact that these cartoons are for everyone, and you find yourself attached to them in a way that other people aren't.

That doesn't mean that it's not for everyone, either. It's so accessible. That's why I love this art form. I find pop art really offensive because it's taking a piece of popular culture and putting it somewhere where people can't see it. So I want this to be both. I want it to be incredibly accessible and full of secrets for people that want to find them.

When you say "pop art"...

I mean fine art that addresses popular art but sort of segregates it from everyone. It's the idea that there's a vapidness of popular culture that should be addressed and appreciated by a select few who can understand that that is interesting. Really, it's always interesting. The stuff on television, and the way that people can love it, is a lot more beautiful to me than the emptiness.

You had a close-up view of the rise of "Adventure Time" but weren't directly in the spotlight with the fandom associated with that show. Did you learn anything from that that would impact how you want "Steven Universe" to get out there and build its own fanbase?

Sure. I admire "Adventure Time" for being a piece of art in the way that I think art should be. If you want to see it is poetry you can, and if you don't, you can watch a fun cartoon. I think that's amazing. I used to feel that people around me were incredible and storyboarding and writing and drawing, just doing incredibly sophisticated things for "Adventure Time," and I was making this cartoon that I wanted, that had depth, in a really sink-your-teeth-into-it kind of way, which I would have wanted as a fan. But which is maybe a little bit shallower.

The profundity of "Adventure Time" was what, for me, made it feel like a real discovery -- it was reaching for something nobody expected it to reach for. I detected a little bit of that towards the end of "Steven Universe." Do you plan to build the mythology of the show in similar fashion?

Oh yes. A lot happened before Steven existed. And he doesn't know much about it. That's what the show is really about. Every facet of it, fully learning why he exists, has been really fun to think about. All the characters have very particular relationships to what he is. That's been the most fun thing for me going forward into the show, really going into that. It's complicated for them; they all feel that they have an inner life that Steven doesn't always get to see, but is a huge part of.

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Interviews, Rebecca Sugar, Cartoon Network, Steven Universe, Adventure Time







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