The Creative Team Behind FIENDdship is Magic: Tirek, Tony Fleecs and Christina Rice, Discuss Their Inspirations

In anticipation of the exciting first ever My Little Pony mini-series event, FIENDship is Magic , we are featuring a weekly creator-interviewing-creator series. This week the creative team behind TIREK (releasing 4/8) Christina Rice and Tony Fleecs dish!

Tony-FleecsTony Fleecs Interviewed by Christina Rice

 You’re doing the art for two of the five Fiendship is Magic issues, and the only artist doing more than one issue. How did your participation come about?

Well, Pony Editor, Bobby Curnow usually lets me know what’s coming up next when I get about halfway done with whatever issue I’m currently working on– We’d talked about the Villains Month (that’s what it was being called) at one convention or another– And then later he emailed and gave me a list of villains and writers to choose from and since we’re longtime friends and you mercifully write me the least amount of panels per page– I chose you and Tirek. Then right before I started he asked if I could handle another issue and because I can’t say no I said, “Sure!” and that’s how I ended up on Nightmare Moon with another friend, Heather Nuhfer.

For Tirek, the landscape and most of the characters have never been seen before. Was that a welcome challenge and how did you go about designing this world? (Without giving too much away!)

It was actually really fun– since this issue takes place so far before the events that introduce Tirek to the Friendship is Magic universe in Season 4, I designed some younger versions of characters we know and I got to make up a few characters and locations almost from scratch. But also I took a lot of design cues from the Tirek and Scorpan we all know and even some stuff from  OG Tirek’s first appearance in “My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle.” Then amazing colorist Heather Breckel came in and just crushed it. This one looks like no other MLP issue. It’s really cool.

This issue is much darker than the other issues of the comic you’ve drawn. Was that an easy adjustment to make?

Yeah– It wasn’t too tough to go dark and EEEvil… The landscape in this one was just so rocky and barren that it made it easy to bring in a lot of scratchy rendering and more jagged, rougher lines– more blacks. The content of the issue is so dark that there’s really no other way to draw it.

We’ve known each other for almost a decade (which is crazy). Is there much difference working off the script of someone you know well versus someone you’re only acquainted with or don’t know at all?

Yeah I really like working with friends. It’s just nice to have the lines of communication open and to already have a level of trust in eachother’s skills and commitment, you know? It’s also nice to know that the person writing the script knows my wife and knows what it’s like to be the spouse of another workaholic comic creator. I feel like subconsciously that makes you throw me an easy page here or there. Ten Years, wow! I feel like we should do a giant sized annual together or something to commemorate the first 10 years.

 Not that it will make any difference, but are you irritated or delighted that my daughter calls you Uncle Pony?

Closer to delighted. I’m just glad that it was a 5 year old who finally figured out that “Tony” and “Pony” rhyme. Just so long as it doesn’t catch on.

C-RiceChristina Rice Interviewed by Tony Fleecs

Clearly I’m your favorite Pony artist to work with. Why is that? Feel free to get emotional. 

I would say it has something to do with your boyish wonder of the world around you, especially when magicians are near. Plus, you’re still on speaking terms with me after I wrote that pony-filled Apple Con double page spread for you to draw. Also, I can make demands like cameos for Slash and myself, and you do as you’re told.

I should add that Agnes Garbowska is also awesome and has way better hair than you.

Being a pony writer AND a mother of an adorable MLP super fan, do you feel any extra pressure to write stories that will impress your daughter? And are there any MLP scenarios that Gable has asked you to include that you haven’t been able to yet? 

My daughter is only 4, so at this point she’s pretty easy to please. Just being able to show off Pony comics with Mom’s name has given her a lot of street cred with the pre-K set. Her favorite pony is Pinkie Pie, so I am sure she would love for me to write a Pinkie-centric issue. I will admit that maintaining Pinkie’s energy for 22 pages is a bit intimidating, so I haven’t tried to go there yet.

Ponies are your first major comic book work, your previous writing being a probing, exhaustive and entertaining historical Hollywood biography… What are the similarities between these two types of writing? What are the differences?

Even though Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel (University Press of Kentucky, 2013) is non-fiction, it’s still storytelling. Both types require research before the writing can ever begin, and I have an obligation to be true to the characters. With Ann, it was presenting as accurate portrayal of who she was as a person, based on the primary sources I had tracked down, as opposed to portraying a person I may have wanted her to be at times. With Ponies, I try very hard to remain true to the voice and characterizations that have already been established for each character.

The most obvious difference is that I am able to exercise much more creativity with Ponies since it’s fiction, than with the biography, which was based on sourced facts. The other huge difference between the two is that the book was a very solitary and sometimes lonely endeavor whereas comics are truly a collaboration, which is a change I have really enjoyed. It’s great to write something, which in my head looks a certain way, but to then see the artist, colorist, and letterer turn those words into something more amazing than I could have ever imagined.

One of the concerns I had with the Tirek issue is that the landscape, as reflected in Season 4, is very barren which I thought might look boring. When I saw how you and Heather Breckel presented that landscape, I was blown away that the art could convey that barrenness but at the same time be fascinating and actually quite beautiful.

Another very welcome difference is that while I had to break my neck promoting the Ann Dvorak book, Ponies have such an amazing fan-base that there is a built-in readership of 15,000+ people. It’s wonderful to know that something I am writing is reaching so many people of all ages and backgrounds and I’ve had a lot of fun interacting with them at the signings I have done so far.

You also work as a research librarian, what sort of research did you do into Tirek and Scorpan and their world? How deep did you dig into My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle? 

Unlike the Ann Dvorak bio which took over 10 years to research, Ponies are a bit less intense. I mostly relied on those last two episodes of Season 4. However, in re-watching Celestia’s telling of Tirek’s previous visit to Equestria there wasn’t too much to go on, so I felt like I had some leeway in the world-building which was nice. I also got to draw upon my dysfunctional relationship with my older brother in writing Scorpan and Tirek, so that should make my mother proud.  As for Rescue at Midnight Castle…um, will I be strung up by my toes if I admit that I’ve never seen it? Was it required viewing?? If so, I blame Bobby.

What’s next for you in Ponies? And do I get to draw it?

My first 2 issue arc for the “mane” series was just announced and starts in May, which is very exciting and incorporates my love of historic walking tours, and pie. Agnes is drawing that one and has been sending in pages which look fantastic. I have two issues of “Friends Forever” completely written and in the pipeline somewhere, and I just started working on another 2 issue arc for “Friendship is Magic.” Hopefully, there will continue to be Ponies in my life, as I have had a great time working on these comics.

I’m sure if you make sad puppy-dog eyes at Bobby, he might let you draw more of my issues, which quite frankly would be awesome.