Sean Jara & Matt Ferguson Interview – Mysticons
By: Beatriz Mourad
When director Matt Ferguson joined the development team of Mysticons in 2015, the not-yet-released animated television show centered around four boys from the suburbs protecting their home from evil forces in Dungeons & Dragons-inspired adventures. A few months later, Ferguson got a call from the producers. They wanted the show to go in a different direction. Instead of making a show for boys, they wanted one for girls. Ferguson was thrilled, but one comment made him pause: “We haven’t talked to Sean.”
Sean Jara, Mysticons’ creator, spent four years developing the series. To start over would mean throwing away characters and stories he based on his own childhood. In the end, Jara agreed to create the Mysticons of today – Arkayna, Zarya, Em and Piper fearlessly defending their realm, finding friendship and love along the way. When I spoke to Jara and Ferguson on a recent Skype call, we talked about that decision, and how making Mysticons changed how they tell stories.
Why was the switch to female characters a good thing?
JARA: When [the show] flipped, the girl’s version happened so quickly… It was a week. And we re-envisioned it together – it was Matt, myself and one producer. We had no time and that doesn’t allow you to overthink things by sheer physics.
And how important was it to have a predominantly female writers’ room?
JARA: For me, it was very important. In Toronto… there weren’t a lot of women with actual experience in half-hour action shows.
So what did you do?
JARA: I just had to find junior writers. Some more senior than others, for sure, but the learning curve was so steep and all of the women learned quickly, as anybody who’s good at what they do.
How were things on the animation side?
FERGUSON: When I started out, there were really very few women in the animation. And it’s really, really changed, which is so exciting to see. If you go to any graduating class show now for Sheridan or Cal Arts, or any of these animation schools, a lot of the classes now are mostly women graduating in animation.
Speaking of progress, Mysticons has joined the way-too-small club of animated shows that have LGBT representation. What’s the history behind Zarya and Kitty’s relationship?
FERGUSON: I don’t remember when it started, but we were thinking about it for a long time. It became pretty clearly obvious pretty early on. It was almost like the characters just told us. And then it became a question of, “Well, now how do we reveal it and how do we develop that relationship in a place that’s going to feel natural and not like we just kind of stuck something in?”
JARA: It dawned on me when we were writing the script, and it was just a line. It was when Kitty says, “Are you just going to stand there looking pretty or are you going to release me?” That was the first official flirtation, I guess. And we were like, “Oh, okay.” And then, we treated it like all the other relationships in the show.
Were you nervous of any potential backlash from the audience or people behind-the-scenes?
JARA: Once we realized that we wanted to pursue this, I was nervous because I’d worked on a number of shows where this had come up before. And I was very aware of the roadblocks it would face, and part of me was tired of those battles. I’ve done it when I didn’t have a team, and it’s tough… I’m glad we pursued it, but I will say that Matt was a big part of convincing me to continue pursuing it. And also, my writing team. We were all like, “Okay we can do it.”
Had the Steven Universe wedding episode, had Adventure Time’s finale aired before Mysticons even began going into production, would we have seen a more explicit confirmation of their relationship?
FERGUSON: It’s not always as easy as you might think to present a concrete example and say, “Here, look. It’s been done, and the world didn’t blow up.” There’s more pushback than you would think. The pushback doesn’t come from evil people or people who think any of these things in their personal lives, right? It’s people who are trying to do the best job at their particular job. It’s definitely good, but I don’t think any of those kind of events mean… it makes it easier to do it again, but it probably doesn’t make it as automatic as you might think.
Final question, my most selfish: Would Tazma have gotten a redemption? Was Tazma-demption a thing?
JARA: We debated it a lot. Originally, I was trying to redeem her, but [Matt was] like, “Let’s keep her in the shadows a bit.”
FERGUSON: I think she was on the road to redemption. And that was part of the reason of bringing in Proxima. Because if we redeem Tazma, who do we have?
Is that a yes?
FERGUSON: She’s out there in the world, somewhere, and she’ll… whatever’s in your heart.
This interview has been edited and condensed from an hour-long conversation.
Listen to the full interview below!