In anticipation of the release of her children’s book The Answer, Cartoon Network’s Rebecca Sugar opened up about LGBT representation in cartoons and the importance of telling diverse love stories.
Sugar became the first female show creator for Cartoon Network with her wildly popular animated series, Steven Universe. The show follows a group of alien heroes, the Crystal Gems, as they protect Earth from other-worldly invaders. They also look after Steven Universe, a half-gem, half-human young boy who is the sole connection between the human and gem races.
In addition to being a beautifully animated show, with thrilling adventures in a fully-realized and engaging world, Steven Universe has also broken ground for its depictions of LGBT love and friendship, which the show displays through “fusion.”
Fusion occurs when two Gems, all of which are coded as female, fall in love and fuse together to become a single entirely new Gem.
One particularly impactful episode that illustrated the art of fusion was “The Answer,” which told the story of how the character Garnet was born out of the romantic relationship between two Gems named Ruby and Sapphire.
The episode was so popular that Sugar decided to create a fairy tale based on the episode in order to spread a message of inclusivity with young LGBT readers.
“Everyone knows that love stories are appropriate for kids. Everyone tells stories of attraction to kids, everyone tells these fairy tales to kids,” Sugar recently told PBS Art Beat.
“It’s just like, the air you breathe, it’s so normal that it’s completely invisible. We are constantly reinforcing the idea that there’s a certain kind of love that’s innocent and a kind of love that’s simple and makes sense. And we are not discussing other kinds of love that are just as simple and just as incredible and make just as much sense.”
“What you learn as a kid when you don’t see any of those stories or relate to any of those stories, is that you are denied the dream of love,” she continued. “You are denied the idea that your own feelings are pure, innocent, lovely, romantic feelings. and to me, that’s what this is all about.”
The author and animator went on to describe the “deafening silence” she felt as a “girl having feelings for other girls” when being exposed to “classic” fairy tales.
“I think that by excluding LGBT content from children’s media,” she said, “a clear statement is being made that this is something that should be ignored, and that people who are feeling this…they should be ignored. And I think that that is wrong.”
Her answer? To take the standard formula of a boy-meets-girl fable and flip the script to focus on queer love instead.
“At least when it comes to modern re-tellings of fairy tales for children, the focus is so much on the purity and innocence of the love of these characters and the sweetness and cuteness of their story,” she explained.
“I wanted [Ruby and Sapphire’s story] to have that simplicity and that beauty and that cuteness and to have all the imagery you associate with a fairy tale that’s meant for the eyes of kids, and that’s meant to be a dream of love for you to carry in your mind and in your heart.”
She added that the idea of fusion helps to both complicate and better illuminate the realities of romantic relationships that are often missing from traditional love narratives.
“I think part of the goal of having these fusions being characters is that you care about them as people, and part of the way that I want to convey these parts of consent is that this relationship, this living relationship, if you don’t have that, it will damage this person,” she stated.
“You need that constant back and forth, that ongoing care about what another person is feeling in order to maintain a relationship.”
The Answer was released today and can be purchased, here.