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SDCC 2017: The “Steven Universe” Panel

Steven Universe Marble Madness

Steven UniverseOnce again, fans lined up overnight to attend the San Diego Comic-Con Steven Universe panel — something I sadly underestimated last year, and ensured would not happen again this year. The panel began with a montage of songs performed live from last year’s panel including the opening song, “We Are the Crystal Gems,” to “It’s Over Isn’t It,” and ending in the crowd favorite, “Stronger Than You.” After the montage, the voice of Steven Universe himself, Zach Callison, introduced himself as the moderator for the panel which was a first for him. He then introduced the rest of the panel which included Michaela Dietz, the voice of Amethyst; Deedee Magno Hall, the voice of Pearl; Estelle, the voice of Garnet; A.J. Michalka, the voice of Stevonnie; and finally, creator Rebecca Sugar.

First, Callison congratulated Sugar on her recent 2017 Emmy nomination for the episode “Mr. Greg.” Callison asked Dietz if she actually used any Amethyst quotes in real life. Dietz said maybe in the morning she might sound like a cracked gem which made incomprehensible sounds which weren’t exactly quotable, and then wondered if she should change her answer to, “Womp! Womp!” (to which Callison answered, “Which way to the baby war?” from the episode “So Many Birthdays”). Next, Callison asked Hall what were her favorite Steven Universe songs to sing around the house, to which Hall answered which Steven Universe songs did she NOT sing around the house would probably be an easier question to answer. Hall said one of her favorites to sing in the shower is “Love Like You,” and while washing dishes, her favorite to sing was “Steven and the Stevens.” Lately though, Hall said her favorite song to hum is “Peace and Love on the Planet Earth.” She also added that her kids are learning to play all the songs on the piano so her whole family has been singing the tunes from the show especially now that the soundtrack is out digitally. Callison then asked Estelle if voicing and singing for Garnet has impacted her music career. Estelle answered it definitely has by opening up a new fan base to her work, many of whom didn’t actually know she had a music career before Steven Universe. Callison added he had grown up jamming to Estelle’s “American Boy” from her album Shine back when he was 11 in 2007.

Steven Universe Alone Together

Callison then asked Michalka how she felt Stevonnie has changed since their first appearance on the show. Michalka said she thinks Stevonnie has grown a lot and that Stevonnie now has a confidence that they didn’t have initially when they first fused on the beach. Michalka felt that Stevonnie was very timid and awkward when they first fused together, which was a reaction that their fusion had actually worked. Now, Stevonnie is very confident together, which Michalka said is the biggest change in Stevonnie. Since Stevonnie was present, the cast did a little read through from “Alone Together” when Stevonnie has their first conversation with Pearl, Amethyst, and Garnet (with the clip projected on-screen). Callison noted that Garnet and Stevonnie’s relationship would change from this first meeting to a different level in “Mindful Education.” Callison added that since this was also Estelle and Michalka’s first appearance together, it would be the perfect time for them to sing “Here Comes a Thought” together, which they did with Sugar playing her ukelele.

After Estelle and Michalka’s breathtaking performance (literally, according to Estelle, who said she really barely had a chance to breathe while singing), Callison asked what was on everyone’s mind to Sugar: “What comes next?” Sugar said in lieu of the huge events of the recent episodes, subsequent plot threads will deal with the fallout and huge consequences from everything that’s happened, and that the rollercoaster of events just rockets forward from there. Sugar said the next episodes were really exciting to make, leading up to a teaser trailer of clips from these new episodes. The clips featured the reaction of Lars’ parents and Sadie about Lars, Lion going missing, the return of Smoky Quartz, and the possibility of another gem war or, at the very least, the wrath of Blue and Yellow Diamond on Earth.

Next came a trailer of the Steven Universe multi-player RPG console system battle game, Save the Light where you can play as any one of several characters from the show, fuse, and battle bosses such as Squaridot (newly created just for the game).

Sugar was very involved in developing the game, having previously worked with the developers at Grumpyface Studios on the Steven Universe: Attack the Light! RPG game. There had been so many things Sugar had wanted to do with Attack the Light! but couldn’t due to the limited platform at the time. With a full console game, it was if all Sugar’s dreams had come true. The new game has fusions and new characters, and you can even play with Greg’s guitar as Greg (which was particularly exciting for Sugar). She added that the new battle boss Squaridot came about because many Peridots exist, and obviously, the Peridot we know has changed and grown a lot since she was first introduced to the show. Squaridot has not changed whatsoever from pre-Earth Peridot, and Sugar said it was fun revisiting the old Peridot mindset who hasn’t learned anything at all. Callison ad-libbed the phrase, “Steven Universe: Save the Light: Be there or be Squaridot!” which he was quite proud to say to the laughter of the audience. Callison added that Shelby Rabara, the voice of Peridot and Squaridot, was taking over Cartoon Network’s social media feed throughout Comic-Con while at the Con.

Besides the new artbook, Steven Universe: Art and Origins, Callison also announced exclusively at the panel that there will be a new Steven Universe podcast, a 10-episode series with the cast and crew about the making of the show. The first 2 episodes went live as of Comic-Con, with more available as of this writing. The first episode features Sugar and her brother Steven Sugar. Sugar said it was really fun to actually talk about the show with her brother Steven, who was the inspiration for the show as well as a graphic designer on it. Sugar said she wishes she could just do everything together with Steven like the show itself, which they also built together. Steven was actually in the audience and was given a huge round of applause.

Sugar also noted that the official Steven Universe soundtrack vol. 1 was digitally released on June 2 with a vinyl edition coming out this fall from iam8bit. There was also a limited 3000 copy edition single vinyl with “Stronger than You” and “Love Like You” that was released during Comic-Con which has already sold out. A few lucky fans got to play the name-that-Steven-Universe-song game for copies of said single vinyl as prizes. To celebrate the release of the soundtrack, Estelle and Cartoon Network invited fans to a special sing-along on Sunday, July 23, at San Diego’s Horton Plaza of “Stronger than You.” The footage from the sing-along would be used in the official music video.

Next was a clip from an upcoming episode, “Lars of the Stars,” featuring Steven and Connie venturing through Lion’s mane to visit Lars, who is now dressed like space pirate Captain Harlock while flying a stolen spaceship with the other Off Colors as his crew, pursued by the ship’s original owner, Emerald.

Next came a very short Q&A, for which people had lined up for at the very beginning of the panel. The first question was for Sugar about Fluorite representing a polyamorous relationship and what inspired her creation. Sugar replied that about a year ago, she got to visit The LGBT Center in Long Beach, CA, and discussed with kids there about things they loved seeing on the show, and a polyamorous relationship was something they wanted to see. The second question was about fan theories and whether they actually influenced Sugar in writing the show, or if she already has some master plan in place. Sugar answered that even though she loved fan theories, the schedule means they are usually working a lot further ahead in the show than what’s being aired. When fan theories emerge after the airing of a show, they have usually already completed the storyline that the theory addressed. However, she added that fan theories are a good way to gauge if people have figured out key points of the show. Sugar said she loved reading the fan theories posted after “The Trial” aired. Callison added that he has read Reddit comments that have gone in funky directions at times, so one never knows.

Steven UniverseSince Steven has Rose in him, would we see Rainbow Quartz again or at least some version of her? Sugar said Rainbow Quartz would invariably be different with Steven, but, without giving any spoilers, Sugar then said to forget she said that and added that it was a very good question.

How old is Lion, and what is the extent of his powers? Sugar was a bit of a loss for words from the previous question and wanted to word her answer carefully, saying eventually that she can’t say exactly, but the episode “Buddy’s Book” hints at when Rose was spending a lot of time with 7 lions, which would give a good estimate of Lion’s age. Sugar added that we haven’t seen the full extent of all of Lion’s powers.

Which Off Color do you relate to the most, and why? Sugar answered Rhodonite. Callison said Padparadscha is his favorite because whenever he loses his train of thought in a sentence, he knows he’s not alone. Hall also answered Padparadscha in a bit of a Padparadscha moment herself.

Steven Universe Mr. GregSugar said that the biggest challenge in creating music for the show is that they don’t get any extra time for writing songs for episodes that have songs vs. episodes that don’t have them, so if a song is included, they have to find the time to write it. Sugar thought the most challenging song episode was “Mr. Greg” since that episode had 7 songs in 11 minutes, and they didn’t have any more time than usual to complete the episode. Because of that, they ended up working weekends and nights on the music for that episode to be completed in time. Everything was a race against time for that episode, Sugar added. Callison noted that he’s glad the Emmys recognized all the extra hours for that particular episode with a nomination. Callison also added that when his voice was changing, it was difficult for him to sing some of the songs since he had lost control of his instrument, and Sugar had helped him find ways for him to sing more comfortably. Even now, Callison said it’s very difficult for him to sing some of the earlier songs in the original key. Callison said puberty is a thing, and that he was 14 when the show started, and he’s 19 now, so things happened between.

Sugar said she would love for the show to be released on Blu-ray or DVD (beyond the single-disc collections available in the US now), and that the best way for it to happen is for fans to express interest at a public venue like Comic-Con.

What inspired Sugar to create a show about gems and rocks? Sugar said it was an aesthetic choice, and she thought it would look good to have characters with gems embedded in them. Since then though, Sugar has learned a lot about gem mythos, using some of what she learned in developing Smoky Quartz (which is associated with confidence and positivity). The mythos behind Smoky Quartz supported the sibling-like bond between Amethyst and Steven perfectly. In the beginning though, Sugar just thought characters with gems would look cool. Estelle added that amethysts, pearls, and garnets are very pretty which is already a good enough reason to have a show about them. Callison also added the show has so much color, and he loves the artwork.

Steven Universe Estelle Stronger Than YouHow often is a song created first then an episode built around it vs. creating songs to fit an episode? Sugar said it depends. She added if there’s a huge character story, a song might come to them naturally, citing “Stronger Than You” as an example where they felt lines should be sung instead of spoken. Sugar admitted they did build the episode “Jailbreak” around Garnet fighting and singing at the same time, and that she wrote the song while writing the episode. Sugar also said there were times when the idea for a song came just before the episode itself, such as when she wanted to write a song that would teach children about basic cognitive behavioral therapy in the form of meditation. I’m guessing Sugar was talking about the song “Here Comes a Thought” for the episode “Mindful Education.”

How do you gauge what’s going to be popular on the show like Padparadscha? Sugar said they really concentrate on loving what they make and not how popular something is going to be, and they were actually surprised to see how popular some things turn out. Sugar thought that some of the things that really catch on are usually things that the team comes up with together spur-of-the-moment. For example, she said that someone had pitched the idea that Padparadscha would be a Sapphire that sees the past, and they all thought of jokes around the idea as well as how sweet that would be. Sugar added she was excited by the concept too since she always thought of Sapphire as Zelda-esque, so Padparadscha would be like Princess Peach to compliment that. This is also why Padparadscha has a little crown shape in her hair. Sugar thought the most popular things on the show are things that the whole team had an input in making.

Was Lars always intended to become a major character in the show, or did his role just change during the development of the show? Sugar said Lars’ role just grew naturally since he was one of the oldest characters she had developed. Sugar said she started drawing Lars back in college, and drew little strip comics with him and Sadie which pre-date Steven Universe. Sugar said Lars and Sadie were always going to be very important since they have such a special place in her heart. Callison added that Lars always played a pivotal role in the pilot bullying Steven with a bunch of names.

With that question, the panel ended. Almost nothing was given away on what’s to come, so we’ll just have to watch for ourselves on what will happen.