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Steven Universe ended its seven-season run earlier this year, with a final batch of episodes from the Cartoon Network limited series, Steven Universe Future, which focused on wrapping up its titular young hero's emotional and physical journey as he looked toward his, well, future.
In Steven Universe: End of an Era, author Chris McDonnell looks to do the same. The upcoming art book is a followup to 2017's Steven Universe: Art and Origins, which first gave fans a glimpse into the creative process for the series, as it showcased never-before-seen concept art and sketches from creator Rebecca Sugar and the rest of the show's creative team, as well as commentary on the show's lore and some of their choices.
End of an Era picks up from that, exploring and documenting the many developments that took place on the series since, as it reveals not only Sugar's long-term storytelling plans for the series, as well as the work the creative team had to put in to execute them. McDonnell, who has worked on art books for other popular animated series like Netflix's BoJack Horseman and Cartoon Network's Adventure Time (another series Sugar worked on), notes that this is the first time he's been tasked with creating a second book for the same series.
"I was fascinated by the design theories and process that Rebecca described in the first book, about how they arrived at the designs of the main cast. There was so much thought put into the shape language behind each character, and how that even stemmed from theories that Rebecca had read about and studied in college herself at art school," McDonnell told SYFY WIRE. "One of the most intriguing things about this book is these never-before-seen charts that Rebecca and crew used to keep just the massive storyline in check and know that they're moving every puzzle piece along according to the big picture. ... I really tried to put everything that I could into the first book, and then the crew just generated another handful of seasons' worth of materials so there was more stuff to share."
The book, just like the show itself, was a labor of love for Sugar and the crew, who offered up a lot of material to be included, collaborating with McDonnell every step of the way.
SYFY WIRE can reveal an exclusive look at some of this material now, including a spread (above) from Sugar herself. Featured in it are Sugar's concept art for some of the show's secondary and tertiary characters, including newer Gem fusions like Flourite — a representation of a queer relationship between six unnamed gems — who make an appearance later on the series, and older forms of familiar characters like Sadie and Lars, both of which reflect the changes they went through as the show went on.
However, McDonnell doesn't just focus on the aspects of the show's art and design that viewers will not have gotten to see; he also deep-dives into parts they will have, allowing a greater focus on visuals that may show up on-screen briefly. One such example is that of a fictional in-show comic that inspires Ruby to propose to Sapphire — each gem a half of the fan-favorite fusion that is Garnet — which McDonnell definitely wanted to include as part of his chronicling of Ruby and Sapphire's love story on the series. The comic appears in an episode titled "The Question," which not only features a romantic and cowboy-themed proposal between the characters, which then leads to a wedding between the pair in an episode fittingly titled "The Wedding." This would go on to become the first lesbian wedding on a mainstream animated series for kids, a major milestone both for the series and for children's television in general.
"There were these great prop comics that I loved seeing," said McDonnell of his choosing to include the art (below) for it. "It's just a fun thing that they had this 'Lonesome Lasso' comic and there [were] small animation props [of it], and pages that would get insert shots in the show. They were illustrated by Angie Wang, another fantastic designer and artist."
Steven Universe: End of an Era has yet to be released, but much like Art and Origins, it's already a best-seller on Amazon, with fans eagerly awaiting what in many ways is the final part or chapter for the now-beloved series as Sugar sets out to work on other creative projects.
McDonnell notes that one of the reasons the show has resonated with fans is that it's as personal for them as it is for Sugar, something she mentions throughout End of an Era.
"The fantasy expressed in the series is that of just being able to be yourself without fear, without limitations," says McDonnell. "It seems simple and logical: 'Be yourself.' But it connects with so many people because there are many of us that don't feel free to live our truths in the day-to-day life and for societal reasons, because of social pressure or repression. And so people really connected to the battle against repression. It's one of those through lines of this show."
He went on to add, "And people also, of course, just love the characters. It's not just about the theme or message that's underneath, but it's just a super fun cartoon full of fun characters, and you can't beat that. Talk about taking advantage of the medium. These are characters that fuse and shapes and grow and shrink and do all sorts of magical feats. And that is just perfect fodder for animation."
Given the scope of series and the way it balanced unpacking its own mythos while telling a carefully character-driven story, as well as the creativity of the animation on display, McDonnell is excited to see whatever Sugar produces next.
"The Steven Universe art books are unique. I haven't seen that kind of reaction to a book," says McDonnell of Art and Origins, and now of the hype around End of an Era. "Everything Rebecca does really goes over great. She's got a really great bunch of fans out there who support the work that she does. So that's fantastic. ... It really makes you wonder what Rebecca's going to do next."
Steven Universe: End of an Era goes on sale on Oct. 13; buy your copy here.