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Exclusive look at original Happy! character sketches

Contributed by
Dec 6, 2017

With everything that Eisner-nominated artist Darick Robertson has accomplished in his 20-plus years in the comics biz — creating Space Beaver as a 17-year-old, penciling for both Marvel and D.C., co-creating beloved works with the likes of Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, and Grant Morrison – it's a wonder that Robertson's creations hadn't already been adapted for TV or movies. But it's better late than never, and that unlikely streak changes with Happy!, the 2012 Image Comics miniseries he created with Morrison, debuting in live action on SYFY Wednesday night.

In this exclusive SYFY WIRE interview, Robertson was much more focused on the far happier experience of seeing Happy! brought to live-action… mostly, aside from the animated parts -- namely the show's namesake, a little girl's imaginary friend, who looks like Shrek mated with a My Little Pony and gave birth to a flying unicorn that talks like Patton Oswalt.

The titular character, a flying unicorn-donkey goofball, Happy, starts out as the imaginary friend of a little girl in New York City. When she's kidnapped, Happy seeks out help, and finds it — kind of — in the form Nick Sax (Chris Meloni), a hard-boiled, hard-living, former stud police detective/current hit man. It creates a uniquely sordid buddy-cop adventure, with plenty of elements lifted from the graphic novel.

Though not officially part of the adaptation process, Robertson has been impressed by what's he's seen, particularly with regards to the critical design of Happy himself — which basically looks the same on the screen as it did in the pages of his Image Comics' four-issue miniseries (you can hear how they did that in our interview below with Morrison, showrunner Patrick MacManus, and writer/EP/director Brian Taylor.)

"They couldn't have done a better job. It took me a little while to actually get to see what'd he look like, and it wasn't until San Diego Comic-Con that I got to see the final design," Robertson told SYFY WIRE over the phone last week. "I was really worried that if Happy didn't look right, then the whole thing would kind of feel… off. And then I wasn't sure which direction they were going to go. So what they ended up doing, and when I finally got to see him, I was very pleased."

If Robertson thought Happy's look was essential to the show getting it right, you can imagine how meticulous he and Morrison were about creating the character originally. At first, Morrison envisioned more of a My Little Pony type.

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An early version of Happy that Morrison and Robertson rejected (via Darick Robertson)

But after coming up with the look above, the creators didn't "feel it." So Morrison and Robertson moved away from ponies and onto donkeys. "The donkey idea really stuck with me, so I started thinking on that, and I came up with the version of Happy that looks pretty much like he does now. As soon as I saw that one on the page, I knew that was the right one," said Roberts. "It just sung to me, the moment I saw him looking back at me from the paper, I was like, 'That's Happy!'"

And then Robertson sketched a series of Happy emoting, which you can see exclusively here (there's some more sketches in the gallery below).

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Darick Robertson's initial emotion sketches of final Happy design. (via Darick Robertson)

So according to Robertson, the show got Happy just right. But what about Chris Meloni as Nick Sax?

"I couldn't be happier with Chris Meloni because when I saw the first production stills, it was like he walked out of my mind and into the screen in front of me. So Meloni's perfect; I would retroactively go back and use him as a model if I needed to."

Upon first learning of the casting decision, Robertson was so pleased that he tweeted out side-to-side pics of the actor, along with some of the other casting choices. "Looking at it side by side, clearly the people putting together the show were looking at the comic. So I'm really happy with it," said Robertson. "I'm very pleased with the whole look of the production. Everything felt very tangible to me, and it's very much in line with what Grant and I originally created."

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While Meloni seemingly comes to life straight from Robertson's sketch pad, the comics character was inspired by some other actors. "He's an amalgam of a few different guys that I liked, in that sort of he's a little Bruce Willis inspired because Bruce Willis would play this kind of role. He kind of just showed up on the page the way I wanted him to look, because I had such a clear vision of what I wanted Nick to look like. "

That's not to say Robertson isn't above borrowing from real life for a little character inspiration, as he did when he was inspired by Simon Pegg for look of Wee Hughie on The Boys, his and Garth Ennis' 72-issue 2006-2012 Dynamite (mostly) series about a supercharged Black Ops team that keeps the world safe from all the out-of-control superheroes flying around, treating the globe like a frat house.

"Simon ended up being really nice, because it was one of those things where I didn't really think he'd ever see it. I didn't think it was going to be on his radar, and as soon as he found out about it, we were put in touch, and he couldn't have been more gracious and more excited about it."

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The Boys is being brought to life by Amazon with showrunner Eric Kripke (Supernatural) along with super-producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the team behind Ennis' other comic-based show, Preacher. As an executive producer on the just-in-development show, The Boys represents Robertson's first television credit.

We'll get into more about that later, in Part II of this exclusive SYFY WIRE interview. And we'll talk Transmetropolitan, too, Robertson's 1997-2002 60-issue gonzo-journalism-in-the-future Vertigo series with Warren Ellis (which is also ripe for an adaptation).

Like those projects, Happy! benefits from Robertson's self-described sick sensibility. "I have a pension for landing on those kind of projects," said Robertson. "I think it's cause I have a dark sense of humor, and ultimately, when I'm creating something, I like to work out my fears and my nightmares through my artwork. It's like stress-reliever / depression-avoider. If I'm putting it on the paper than I can control it, and if I can control it, that takes the fear out of it."

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Yet, as with all his properties, Happy! is totally entertaining, tantalizingly so. Which was partly what attracted Robertson to Morrison's initial Happy! vision, right from the get-go.

"He pitched it to me verbally when we first sat down about it and told me what the overall idea was, and I was on board right away. I loved the contrast of it, so we kind of sat in a room and talked about it when it was first proposed," said Robertson. "And I thought: What a great way to take the crime-noir cop-drama and turn it on its head. And I loved the idea of what Happy represented, and what a clever idea, too, that he's this imaginary friend trying to rescue this little girl. So I just loved it right away."

And you just might too. Check out Robertson's amazing work here and the show it inspired on SYFY tonight.