The Washington Post

‘STEVEN UNIVERSE’: Monday night’s new Cartoon Network show spotlights strength of Maryland-sprung sister-brother team

“STEVEN UNIVERSE” isn’t quite the program that Rebecca Sugar planned.

“I realized, while working on the show, that it’s not what I thought it was going to be about,” says Sugar, whose action-fantasy show makes its debut Monday night.

“It’s about how much I needed emotional support in high school — just with little things, going through tough times, high school teen angst,” continues Sugar, a 26-year-old Silver Spring native who simultaneously attended Montgomery Blair High and the Visual Arts Center at Einstein High.

“My brother would just be hanging out with me, not having to say anything. If I ever felt weird around friends, Steven would always be there. I felt that would never change.”

Even now, on the eve of the debut of “Steven Universe,” Rebecca’s 23-year-old brother (for whom the show is named) is still there, working by her side.

With Rebecca Sugar on Monday officially becoming the first female solo show creator in Cartoon Network’s 21-year history, Comic Riffs profiled the “Adventure Time” trailblazer in Saturday’s Post.

Today, we also catch up with her brother, who is a background artist on ”Steven Universe” (one of several staffers on the show who have Washington-area ties). Steven Sugar talks growing up in a creative home, getting an arts education in Montgomery County — and the surreality of inspiring the name of a new show:

MICHAEL CAVNA: So how’s it feel to have a new show named for you, let alone having helped inspire it? Is it at all surreal still?

STEVEN SUGAR: It’s always been a bit surreal, and a bit flattering, too! I’m a huge fan of the show and the crew is beyond amazing, so it’s just cool to be part of it all — as both inspiration and background artist!

Steven Sugar, brother of Rebecca Sugar and the inspiration for Steven Universe, with the cartoon Steven. (Courtesy of Cartoon Network/.)

MC: How’s working on the show with your sister [as a background artist] compared with your previous animation and art gigs?

SS: Rebecca and I drew together all the time growing up, so working together now just seems natural. It’s easy to understand what she’s looking for in certain background designs since we’ve been inspired by so much of the same stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t say that’s something uncommon within the crew. Rebecca’s brought a lot of people together who have a deep respect for each other’s work, so the whole team has that quality to it to some extent.

Rebecca Sugar, of Monday night’s new series "Steven Universe," is the first woman to be a solo show creator in Cartoon Network history. (Courtesy of Cartoon Network)

SS: Aw that’s nice of her to say! We spent a lot of time together as kids watching cartoons, playing video games, and drawing. We’d brainstorm ideas for comics together, run ideas past each other and get critiques — all of which sort of set the groundwork for what [we’re] doing now.

MC: Sounds like [when growing up], you guys had a super-supportive environment for creativity and the arts. Can you speak to that a bit?

SS: We had a lot of encouragement at home to draw and be creative. Our parents are both work in creative fields, so I there wasn’t any resistance to us pursuing that, as well. Both of us were also lucky enough to be part of the Visual Art Center at Einstein High School, so we got a strong traditional arts education early on in painting and drawing.

MC: Has she been an inspiration, influence or mentor to you at all as an animator and artist?

SS: Definitely! She taught me a lot about art, and of course as an envious younger sibling I tried to learn as much as I could from her! I’d do my best to draw like her, and still do to a certain degree.

MC: What makes [Rebecca] a good TV-show “boss”?

SS: As far as being a good boss, she has a lot of respect for her crew. She puts a lot of trust in everyone to bring something personal to the show. It seems to me that really helps foster a creative studio environment.

MC: What’s the [best] thing about “Steven Universe” that readers should know?

SS: Oh man, that’s tough. As far as background design goes, Beach City [where Steven lives in the show] is rather significantly inspired by the beaches Rebecca and I visited when we were kids. There are a few not-so-subtle references to Rehoboth Beach in there. The whole town is a sort of amalgam of Rehoboth, Bethany and Dewey.

I find it pretty cool that so much of the non-magical side of the show comes from something so grounded in reality.

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.