Interview with Rebecca Sugar, 'Steven Universe'

'Steven Universe

Rebecca Sugar and her brother, Steven Sugar.
Rebecca Sugar and her brother, Steven Sugar. Cartoon Network

Rebecca Sugar is excited, and she has every reason to be. Her cartoon, , will premiere on Cartoon Network on November 4, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. ET. Steven Universe is about a little boy who inherits a powerful belly button gem. He learns to use his powers with the help of the Crystal Gems, a group of women who have their own weapons.

Not only is Rebecca Sugar bringing a new cartoon to the network, but she's also the first woman to head up her own animated series for Cartoon Network.

The animated TV industry, really animation is general, is jam-packed with men. Only in the last decade have women started rising in the ranks, becoming storyboard artists and producers.

But Sugar isn't focused on being a role model for other female artists and animators. She, along with her team, is concentrating on making the best cartoon possible. When I interviewed her about the premiere of her new series, she said, "I'm working with so many people. The whole crew is making this show with me. It's really hard to think about myself when I'm working with all of these really talented people and watching them put this thing together. I want to make as good a show as possible. I think that's my primary pressure right now."

"I just love this medium," Sugar explained. "I definitely had super huge ambitions to do this and I would think about it all the time. I didn't think it would happen to me so soon but I always wanted to be able to make a cartoon show.

See also: Animation Techniques 101

"I could see that the people who get to [make cartoons] are people that write and draw and just conceptualize whole things, whole films, whole comic books. So that became my goal, to write and draw so much that when it came time, that I would maybe have to write and draw something like this, that I would be able to do it.

If you put the work in, just the huge amount of work of making stuff and this thing, I think anybody could do it. It's just a lot of time and work that comes with getting to do it."

One of the members of her talented team is her brother, Steven Sugar, on whom Rebecca based . How does Steven feel about the world watching his cartoon doppelganger? "I made sure he was comfortable with it before I went through with it," said Sugar. "He's a background artist on the show, so I can always make sure that it's not going too far for him because he's here and he sees all of it. It's really inspiring to have him around."

Cartoon Steven is chubby, baring his round belly when he wields the power of the gem in his belly button. When so many cartoon heroes are designed with broad shoulders and six-pack abs, sending an unrealistic message to kids, I wondered if Rebecca Sugar made a conscious choice to design a chubby hero. Again, I was creating a complicated agenda for Sugar where there was none. "We both looked like that when we were young. I really like drawing those rounder characters. I've always really liked to do them. It just made sense. I like short, chubby characters in general."

Speaking of childhood, were the Crystal Gems based on anyone or any character who inspired her when she was young?

"One of them is based off of a friend of mine, but they're all a little bit me," she said. "Pearl is, sort of, the person that I am and Garnet is the person that I want to be and Amethyst is the way I am around Steven because I don't care what he thinks."

These personality traits also extend to her co-workers. "Everybody on the crew is one of them. You're either uptight, or you're a slob, or you're in charge. Once you know which one you are, they grow a lot because everybody has their version of being that way when they write them."

Rebecca Sugar is a talented visual artist, natch, but she is also a gifted musician. She wrote almost twenty songs for Adventure Time, where she worked as an Emmy-nominated storyboard artist. Her instrument of choice is the ukulele, as she demonstrated at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con.

"It's super easy to play and from there, once the chorus exists, people can take it and do with it what they will."

Rebecca said that although every episode won't have a musical number, "Steven in particular, is prone to bursting into song, so that comes up often." Look for songs to mark an important scene. "We do them as often as they feel right. We try to set it up so they're not mandatory but they can come out when the characters are really feeling in that place where they want to sing. I believe in this Bob Fosse philosophy of characters, that if you can't express yourself by talking then you have to sing and, and if that's not enough then you have to dance."

Sugar has plenty to look forward to, but taking a look back, she misses working on Adventure Time. One of her favorite storylines from Adventure Time is "Too Young," which centers on Finn's feelings for Princess Bubblegum, when she wishes to be eighteen so she can take back her kingdom from the Earl of Lemongrab. She gushed about Tom Herpich and Jesse Moynihan, the writers and storyboard artists for that episode. "His writing, it's incredible, his lines are incredible. I think he's incredible and was so honored to be working with him and Jesse.

"Everybody on that show is brilliant. I miss all the people, although they are right downstairs, I run around doing my stuff and I see them and all I want to do is talk to them forever and I can't."

Successful cartoons usually spawn a line of merchandise. For fun, Rebecca imagined what kind of merchandise would be inspired by .

"Everyone's weapons. I want Garnet's gauntlet, Pearl's spear. If kids could hit each other with that stuff it would be fun. Make them soft so that they can punch and whip. But every one wants Garnet's Hulk hands pretty much. Everyone is like, when are we going to get that? I really want that to happen."