A strange thing happened at this year’s New York Comic-Con. Gravity Falls, a show that wrapped up earlier this year and is no longer airing new episodes, finally made it to the main stage. Nestled in the schedule amidst panels for Doctor Who, Voltron Legendary Defender, and Marvel’s Iron Fist, Gravity Falls filled the hall to capacity to hear creator Alex Hirsch and other show creatives talk about…a book.
Gravity Falls: Journal 3 to be exact. And – cutting straight to the big news (for Gravity Falls fans) – Disney Publishing will be putting out a special, limited edition “blacklight-enhanced” version of the book. That’s right. Shine a blacklight on that bad boy, and even more clues will reveal themselves! Unfortunately, release details for the book weren’t announced, so stay tuned and watch this space.
Joining Alex on stage were Rob Renzetti and Stephanie Ramirez to talk about the show, the book, and bridging the gap between the two. Many of the pages that comprise Journal 3 appeared in the show, but the team still needed connective tissue in order to make the whole thing make sense and work together. Therefore, they started backwards with the pages that already existed (in some form) and then filled in the gaps.
(Check out our chat with Alex Hirsch here.)
The most important challenge they faced, though, was how to replicate the experience of watching the show. From the beginning, Hirsch wanted any related merchandise that spawned from the show to be as good as the thing itself. In a particularly apt analogy, he talked about his love of Aladdin when he was younger. He loved the story, the characters, the music…everything. So when he found an Iago puppet that looked exactly like the bird on screen, it just enhanced that love. It was amazing.
Then The Return of Jafar came out. It kind of looked like Aladdin, but the character designs were off, the animation wasn’t as good, and Robin Williams wasn’t the Genie. It was a cheap imitation.
So in Hirsch’s mind, when he finally got the chance to develop a world of related products around Gravity Falls, his mantra was “More Iago puppets; less Return of Jafar.”
But with the show now over, where were they supposed to go with Journal 3? We already know the characters’ journey, so what makes this book compelling?
For Hirsch and the rest of the team that worked on the show, Journal 3 was an opportunity for Ford and Stan to say goodbye. It was the perfect emotional way to end the journal, and it put a nice bow on the entire Gravity Falls experience.
During the NYCC panel, they shared the creative process that many pages went through and showed us the development of several spreads at different stages. It was a fascinating insight into the process of making the book and revealed how the book grew and changed over time.
The book also grew several times during development. Hirsch kept wanting to add more and more to it, so they had to keep increasing the page count. An example? Take a look at the images below. You’ll see that Dipper and Mabel originally shared one spread. In the final book, though, there was enough text to merit a spread for each of them.
The process of making the book was also emotional for many of the creators. As Stephanie Ramirez was working on the pages, the show was already over, and she realized this would be one of the last times she would draw the characters (officially). Even though Hirsch was quick to point out that all of the characters still live inside of her hand and can come out at any time, the book was, in a very real sense, her goodbye to the characters.
For his part, Hirsch went into the project with the understanding that goodbyes are difficult. He therefore thought about the goodbyes in his own life. Which ones were satisfying? Which made him furious? In the end, when it came time to say goodbye to his own creation (and knowing that it would be the same for scores of fans), he wanted to know that the characters would all be OK. When you close the book, there’s no question that they’ll go on to a bright future – whatever that might be.
Still, even knowing that, he had to walk a tightrope between saying goodbye and answering every mystery. Unanswered mysteries are at the very heart of the show, and the sense that there’s still something left to solve remains important.
So, ultimately, what are the lessons they’re walking away with? When you’re being creative, you don’t need to be amazing at every single thing. Collaboration is critical. When you work as part of a team, you can be one giant brain together. Hirsch readily admits that he gets an unfair outpouring of fan love and devotion on social media, but without Rob Renzetti there would be no Gravity Falls. Together, Alex and Rob are the writer. They both recognize that, and they’re both absolutely fine with it.
But their message to the fans is even more powerful…
So long Gravity Falls. It was a great ride. You’ll be sorely missed.