by Joe Bursley
Looking back at the 2010s, it’s amazing how many wonderful cartoons that have graced our screens. With shows like Gravity Falls, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, We Bare Bears, DuckTales (2017), and Over the Garden Wall, this decade has been so great for TV animation that it is easy to forget about trite like Teen Titans GO! (shudders). However, we would be remiss to leave out an important female creator that made waves in the industry on not one, but two great shows. That creator, in case you can’t tell by the article title, is none other than Rebecca Sugar.
Having started as a story writer, storyboard artist, and song writer for Adventure Time, Rebecca Sugar is perhaps more widely known for creating and developing Steven Universe. Both of these shows have been successful for similar reasons, which is what makes Sugar’s impact and legacy so phenomenal.
Before we dive into her works, let’s first get some background on Sugar herself. Sugar’s first dip into the world of professional art was drawing comics for her high school newspaper and winning first place in a Newspaper Individual Writing and Editing contest. Later, she would attend the School of Visual Arts in New York, before joining the Adventure Time team as a storyboard revisionist. After a month, she was promoted to storyboard artist during the second season, before leaving in the fifth to dedicate her time to Steven Universe.
Sugar is often credited for many of the songs in Adventure Time, such as “I’m Just Your Problem,” “Remember You,” and “My Best Friends in the World.” She even returned to write the song “Everything Stays” for the Stakes miniseries while working on Steven Universe. She is also noted for adding some of the more heartfelt and emotional episodes into the series, which helps explain much of the similar appeal behind Steven Universe. When she pitched Steven Universe, she became the first female to independently create a show on Cartoon Network.
Now, why is Steven Universe so appealing as to have over 100 episodes in five seasons spanning five years? Part of that comes from what Rebecca Sugar has carried over from her time at Adventure Time. The series focuses on the Crystal Gems, mystical beings dedicated to protecting Earth from monsters and such. The titular character, Steven, is the youngest and only half-human member of the Crystal Gems, and the show focuses on his adventures with his mystical guardians Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, as well as the diverse and wacky residents of Beach City.
Unlike a typical action/adventure show, Steven Universe goes the extra mile by including heartfelt characters with realistic development, excellent music, and a mysterious backstory that touches on themes of war, identity, and good and evil. All wrapped up in a colorful, imaginative, and seemingly lighthearted cartoon. Y’know, for kids!
Not to get too spoiler-y here, but some of the more “adult” and “sophisticated” themes that Steven Universe and Adventure Time focus on are war and its victims, LGBT+ relationships (Rebecca herself is bisexual), identity and self-definition, mental illness, and the permanence of death. It is really amazing that both of these shows are able to mix these themes with genuine humor and lighthearted stories without looking like it belongs on Adult Swim, such as Bojack Horseman or Rick and Morty.
For instance, despite the main protagonist being a young boy, all of the other Gems in the series, from allies to enemies, have been coded as females. Nearly all of the Gems are strong, powerful, and unique characters with their own story arcs and development, passing both the Bechdel and Mako Mori tests for fiction. Some of the characters also represent the LGBT+ community, such as Garnet who is the embodiment of a lesbian relationship. The show also deals with intimate relationships and consent, using fusion between two gems as a not-so-subtle metaphor for sexual intercourse. In an era when kids’ shows, such as Cartoon Network’s favorite Teen Titans GO! (*shudders*), are one-dimensional, goofy, and generally shallow, Steven Universe’s poignant yet important handling of real-world issues and topics is bold and refreshing.
If you want to explore more about these shows, Adventure Time is currently airing it’s tenth and final season of the series this year. Steven Universe, on the other hand, is in its fifth season, with new episodes scheduled to air April 9th. Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to catch up! After all, we could go on another six month hiatus after the new episodes premiere, just like we did last year! (*laughter turns to violent sobbing*)
Both of these magnificent cartoons have been fully manifested at least in part by Rebecca Sugar, who was named one of Forbes’ “30 under 30 in Entertainment” in 2012, for her outstanding work on both series. It’s been amazing to see her bold creativity these last few years, and personally, I can’t wait to see what she’ll deliver in the future.
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