Georgia Ball Opens The Littlest Pet Shop Up for Business [Interview]

This May, IDW will continue to develop their range of all-ages titles with The Littlest Pet Shop, from the twin creative teams of Georgia Ball and Nico Pena; and Matt Anderson and Antonio Campo. Based on the Hasbro range-turned cartoon series, the series is about Blythe Baxter, a young girl who can talk and understand the various animals who live in the pet shop where she lives.

I’ve always got an interest in finding out more about all-ages comics, wherever they may appear, and Ball has written a number of really strong comics within that range. Reaching out to her, she spoke candidly about her approach to the series, writing for a younger audience – and her thoughts on the abundance of female writers currently working on all-ages comics. This looks like it’ll be a really entertaining book, and I’m grateful that she took the time out to answer some of my questions.

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Steve: What exactly is the Littlest Pet Shop? What’s the core concept of the series, as you’re approaching it?

Georgia: Through mysterious means that may involve a dumbwaiter, heroine Blythe Baxter can understand the animals in the pet shop below her home. From there, Littlest Pet Shop alternates between stories about a young girl with a single dad trying to survive middle school and her group of quirky friends who spend every day together and need to find ways to entertain themselves without driving each other crazy.

The twist is those friends are also pets in a day camp.

Steve: The series centres around Blythe Baxter, who has the power to talk to animals. What’s she like as a character? What’s her personality like, what’re her motivations, and so on?

Georgia: Blythe is grounded, upbeat, helpful and a self-starter. She’s also prone to anxiety and self-doubt. A lot is made out of her interest in fashion, but at the core of that interest is her unstoppable creative energy. She needs to design and she will find a way to do it, something many girls who drew fanart in their notebooks while growing up can get behind. Although her huge wardrobe and love for all things sparkly identifies her as a “girly-girl,” Hasbro hasn’t objected to my giving her some additional geeky interests, like trading card games and the X-Men.

Steve: Who’ve been your favourite of the animals to write about? Are there any you’ve been surprised to find yourself really latching onto?

Georgia: Vinnie is an easy character to turn into a punchline. He’s not a deep thinker and that offers a lot of opportunities for one-off jokes. Zoe’s issue was fun to write because she can be so self-absorbed. I love writing for the Biskit twins too, I’ve had plenty of catty things said to me over the years and the twins give me an outlet to take that to another level.

Steve: Did you do much research into the series once you came on? Were you already aware of the TV show and the other media adaptations before you started writing?

Georgia: When I’m given the chance to pitch for a new property I spend weeks learning everything I can about it. If there’s a show I watch every episode, if there’s a video game I buy it and play. I knew Littlest Pet Shop was a cartoon show so I bought the first season on Amazon and spent my lunches catching up. I went to the Internet and got a sense of the size of the fandom and what they talk about. I avoided the previous television incarnation because it wasn’t relevant. It would be great to say I was already familiar with the concept and a huge fan of the series, but working in licensing often introduces me to properties I’m unfamiliar with because the creative process has to start so early, the property may not be very far along yet. When I was given the chance to pitch for The Croods I had to come up with stories about characters eight months before their movie was out.

Steve What’re your goals for the series? What do you hope people get out of it?

Georgia: Licensed properties like Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony end with a neatly-declared moral lesson and I did that for three years. Hasbro has given me the opportunity on this series to be much more ambiguous. The Seinfeld philosophy was “No hugging, no learning” because it’s funnier without sentiment. Above all else, I want this series to provide comedy and entertainment.

Steve: Have you found that as you’ve written more and more, you’ve started to refine the comics for a more general audience? Do you tailor the comics so younger readers find them easier to read?

Georgia: I was brand-new to licensed comics when I wrote for Strawberry Shortcake; I dumbed-down the language in the first two issues and I’ve regretted it ever since. I don’t want to talk down to the reader, I want to give younger readers the chance to age and grow with their comics, getting more and more out of them the longer they own them. That’s how it was for me reading Archie and my mother’s old copies of Sugar and Spike, and I think it’s the kind of approach that creates long-term fans.

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 Ball has previously worked on a number of other IDW titles, including My Little Pony issue with Amy Mebberson

Steve: Looking back through your career thus far, I believe you’ve written entirely all-ages comics, from Scooby Doo to My Little Pony. Did you jump into comics with that specific goal in mind – that you’d try and focus on writing comics that everybody can read?

Georgia: That would imply that I had other choices. If you look at how few women are working in traditionally published comics, especially as writers, you’ll see many of them in the all-ages genre because it’s a newly invigorated market and that’s where the opportunities are.

I recently watched a podcast of a group of male writers telling their story about how they got in.  All of them thought they began writing comics in completely different ways, but their stories were all some variation of: “I was a fan and I hung around an editor until I convinced them that my love for superhero comics was strong enough to merit sending him a pitch.” None of them broke in because they were part of an under-represented group and the editor needed someone who could speak to that group.

I was brought in to write a comic for young girls because I was writing a funny webcomic with a woman in it. I jumped at any chance to prove I had more range than that and I’ve been fortunate to have established people in the industry recommend my work since then. I read a lot of horror and crime comics and would gladly pitch for those types of stories given the chance.

That said, I am a strong supporter of all-ages comics because I want to see the industry offer something for everyone and still be around thirty years from now.

Steve: You aren’t the only writer on the series – Matt Anderson will be writing back-up shorts for each issue. In fact, am I right in thinking it was Matt who suggested you for the project in the first place?  I know you’ve worked together in the past.

Georgia: Matt was my first editor in the industry. He invited me to work on Strawberry Shortcake and I took our project kick-off call from my maternity bed after giving birth to my daughter three years ago. But we eventually moved on to separate projects; our editor on Littlest Pet Shop, David Hedgecock, was in charge of the books we worked on for Ape Entertainment and he chose us individually.

David prefers to divide up all-ages comics into long and shorter stories to give more value for the purchase. David always liked that I was able to make him laugh while writing a comic as cautious as Strawberry Shortcake, and I’m very grateful to have someone like him in my corner.

Steve: Nico Pena and Antonio Campo will be drawing the series. How’ve you found working alongside them? What’s the collaborative process been like?

Georgia: I haven’t had much interaction with Antonio because he’s drawing for Matt’s stories, but I’ve had a high regard for his work since he did Scouts with my husband. This is my first project with Nico Pena and I’ve only seen final art for the first issue but I was blown away by it. Nico has added an element of modernism and geometry to the original show designs that makes the comic version look like something I really haven’t seen before.

Sometimes we’ve had language mix-ups with humorous results. His first email after he read issue #1 was titled “I have doubts,” which nearly gave me a heart attack. He meant “I have questions,” not realizing “doubts” has much more serious implications in English. When Nico isn’t sure about something, he emails and we work it out.

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Art by Sara Richard

Steve: Are you hoping to be on the series for the long-term? How far ahead are you planning your story?

Georgia: We’ve been given direction to encapsulate the stories, but while I have one lead that begins and ends in every issue, I did plan out when I was going to have Blythe and the pets go through the plot together, when I was going to give them and A/B storyline, and when I was going to start giving individual pets a starring role. The characters don’t have amnesia about what they’ve done on the show or in previous comics.

Both Matt and I would love to see the series get extended but that will depend on the sales numbers. Given the success of My Little Pony, we hope retailers will take a chance on it and digital readers will subscribe.

Steve: What else are you working on at the moment? Where can people find you online?

Georgia: I have three issues of Scooby Doo, Where Are You? coming out this year and I’m pitching for other things like always.  I’m also giving a lot of time to putting a package together for the creator-owned series I’ve developed with husband Scott, Follipops, an all-ages adventure story about a con-artist and her living-sock-puppet assistant Dudu who want to fit in with a new town but end up working for the bad guy.

Scott was the artist on our webcomic Scooter and Ferret and we’re ready to do another project together. Our official website is here, but the best way to see concept art for Follipops and hear about other issues coming out is to follow me at my tumblr blog: askmaridee.tumblr.com.

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Many thanks to Georgia for her time. The Littlest Pet Shop starts this May. You can also find her, alongside the links above, over on Twitter!

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