Swankivy's Reviews > Steven Universe Original Graphic Novel: Camp Pining Play

Steven Universe Original Graphic Novel by Rebecca Sugar
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it was amazing
Read 2 times. Last read April 23, 2019.

The fourth original graphic novel for Steven Universe, Camp Pining Play, is a new story for the Lapis and Peridot fans, presented as a theatre project but focusing on relationships and emotional resolution more than anything. It’s new content–unlike some of the trade paperbacks that collect previously released individual issues of the comics. It is written by Nicole Mannino, with illustrations by Lisa Sterle and a cover by Francesca Perrone.

This graphic novel involves Peridot and Lapis falling in love with a piece of Camp Pining Hearts fanfiction–which turns out to have been secretly written by Lars–and after they get permission and have auditions, they put on a play that becomes ever more loosely based on the original fan work. Everyone involved seems to have input that takes the story farther from its origins, but they’re determined to still present its heart … which becomes difficult when Lapis is uncomfortable with a central facet in the finale–a pretend fusion–but doesn’t feel empowered to speak up about it even though Peridot keeps checking in with her. It’s actually pretty nuanced throughout despite also having a lot of pretty superficial gags, and every character works pretty well as themselves on more than one level despite this being written by people outside the show team. As usual with my reviews, I’ll discuss the story and then present a list of notable items.

The story:

Peridot and Lapis are reading and enjoying Camp Pining Hearts fanfiction, relishing the author’s faithfulness to the show while featuring their favorite non-canon ship (Percy x Pierre). Lapis indulges Peridot’s desire to hear her “Percy voice,” and they praise the fanfiction while kicking around ideas of how it could become more real–like maybe it could be made into a real episode or an animated adaptation. Soon, though, they decide a play would be a great idea, though they would have to find the author and get their permission.

Using her homemade app Find-A-Clod, Peridot discovers the identity of the fanfic author, and who should it be but good old Lars Barriga–the local “Donut Butler,” as Peridot calls him. Predictably, Lars first denies his authorship, then requests secrecy while admitting it. Sadie, it turns out, also knew of his hobby, and she’s edited his work tirelessly all along. Lars gives his permission for them to put on a play (as long as he gets to critique it from the shadows and not have his name attached in any way), but now they have another problem: How do you even put on a play?

Sadie jumps into the organizing chair, giving suggestions worthy of Peridot’s title “Donut Master.” She comes up with a series of steps, manages to get Mayor Dewey’s permission, and receives a one-week planning timeframe. They jump into auditions next, and though everyone’s enthusiastic, no one seems too fixated on what roles they want to play (besides Amethyst, who really wants to be a shell necklace used as a prop). Steven, as the most handsome human Peridot knows, gets propositioned to play Pierre, and Pearl becomes Paulette. Lapis is elected to play Percy even though she doesn’t think she’s actually as cool as the character is.

After the auditions, it’s time for props. Lapis and Peridot make the actors create the props, though they soon find they need to give more direction or they’ll get a bunch of junk they can’t use. The sets and props become amalgams of what people can make and bring from home.

Finally, the rehearsals start. Everyone’s struggling a little, from people who can’t get their lines right to actors trying to destroy the props (well, Onion trying to destroy the props). But most of all, everyone seems to be awkwardly going through the motions, and Lars keeps shrieking “BOO!” because of how unlike his original story everything’s going. Soon they come up with some ideas about making the presentation more their own so their characters won’t be so awkward, and to help with the lack of chemistry between Percy (Lapis) and Pierre (Steven), Connie comes up with a unique idea… .

She suggests Lapis and Steven should fuse!

Well, that’s a controversial statement. Peridot’s against it because she thinks their actions are enough to show their affection and they don’t need fusion, and Garnet is opposed to fusion as a stage trick. But Connie isn’t suggesting it willy-nilly; she thinks they’ll need something big to really emphasize the characters’ connection, and Amethyst thinks it’d make them seem “strong.” But then everyone has ideas on how to change the story or characters, and the core creators of the production are split on how to feel about it.

The blessing is given to include more personal interpretation into the characters. Most importantly, though, Peridot decrees that the fusion at the end needs to be a fake fusion. Lapis isn’t up for fusion, though she refuses to say so and ruin everyone else’s time. Peridot believes this is a good compromise, but Lapis is still nervous. She keeps it to herself and the rehearsals continue.

The day before opening night, Peridot and Lapis have a heart-to-heart, because Peridot can tell Lapis is holding back a bit. She finds herself unwilling to be specific about her issue, while Peridot goes on a bit about how fun it’s been to find a good balance between following rules and enjoying some flexibility. Lapis claims she’s just a little shy, and pretends she is okay with the fake fusion scene. She clearly feels like she doesn’t have any business objecting since it’s not real, and Peridot simply takes her word for it. They distract themselves by fooling around doing voices of the characters.

Opening Night arrives and the audience is full of Beach City residents as well as some visitors. Peridot makes a speech backstage thanking everyone for helping (even the people who don’t want to be acknowledged, like Lars), and she emphasizes that she appreciates Lapis’s partnership. It’s a very sweet moment.

But as soon as everyone scurries off to their places, Lapis gets nervous. The beginning scenes go on as planned, but then Lapis stalls with her entrance because she’s freezing. She can’t think about anything except how she’ll have to fake a fusion. Sadie, as a background tree, gives Lapis a pep talk, and then Onion shoves her onstage and she tries her best.

There are a few minor mishaps, but everyone mostly relaxes and carries out their roles. But then the climax occurs–Lapis’s character Percy saves Steven’s character Pierre from a dangerous lake after he’s jumped in there to get Percy’s special lost necklace. This is where they’re supposed to have a moment and fake-fuse, but Lapis can’t go through with even pretending. She lets loose what she’s been feeling while on stage, forgetting about the play.

Peridot acknowledges that she knew about Lapis’s discomfort with fusion, and she blames herself for approving the scene. But Lapis doesn’t want Peridot to blame herself. She told Peridot that she was okay with it because she WANTED to be. It still didn’t make her okay with it, though. And now she feels that she ruined the play through the very act of trying so hard not to ruin it for everyone else. But Peridot and Steven help Lapis understand that her feelings aren’t irrational even though the fusion was “fake.” Peridot only wants her to do it if she wants to do it.

With that, Peridot and Lapis embrace on the stage and exchange kind words, and then a smoke effect surrounds them. Some of the other actors get Steven, Peridot, and Lapis off the stage quickly and a pyramid of other actors assembles. Mr. Smiley and Greg begin playing a “Pierre and Percy Fusion” song, and the audience watches it blankly with little understanding, but Lars is emotional and clapping.

Finally the audience applauds, Lapis takes her bows, and everyone is grateful for the lessons learned and the wonderful experience. The End.

Notable:

1. The only Camp Pining Hearts characters whose faces have been shown on the TV show are Percy and Paulette. Pierre is mentioned frequently–since Peridot ships him with Percy–but we never see what he looks like. So it’s pretty cool that the artists chose not to take artistic license with his appearance and drew depictions of him in shadow.

2. Peridot’s analysis of why some fanfiction is better than other fanfiction–notably, that they fulfill the desires of the readers to see ships completed while still feeling like an episode of the show–was pretty spot on!

3. The fanfiction author–Lars–uses the handle xx54d4nd10ne1yxx. Even if it’s private, I’m surprised Lars would use something that translates to “sad and lonely.”

4. This graphic novel probably spends the most time outside Steven’s perspective that I’ve ever seen; Steven is only marginally in the story, and we’re used to seeing things from his perspective. This is quite a departure.

5. Peridot’s app, “Find-A-Clod,” was so unexpectedly funny to me that I almost choked on my sandwich.

6. As Dewey is still Mayor, Lars is not pink, and Sadie is still working at the Big Donut, we can assume this takes place before the episode “The Good Lars.” That feels a little weird now, considering this book is fourth in the series of graphic novels and the one that came before it (The Ultimate Dough-Down) used Sadie’s departure and Lars’s space adventure as a plot point.

7. Lapis’s negativity manifests in this comic as insecurity and frequent naysaying/pessimism. I thought it was really well done because it wasn’t obnoxiously presented–as in, it felt genuine and appropriate for someone with her past and personality, not tacked on as her defining personality trait. You could really see her trying to have fun and not be the group’s spoilsport, and you could tell she really felt those things.

8. Sadie says she’s happy as a background character and that’s kind of meta.

9. The shipping is strong in this thing. Peridot encouraging Lapis, the two of them solidifying their relationship, and the adorable compliments are so much fun. The Lapidot shippers have received their piece of heaven.

10. I couldn’t get enough of Sadie obliquely insulting Lars when he acted like it was obvious he would take the “handsome guy” role if he didn’t want to stay in the shadows. Sadie’s like, “Oh, I vote for Steven.”

11. Mr. Smiley and Greg are musicians for the play. I think that’s cute, because we’ve seen Mr. Smiley as an out-of-work actor/R&B singer in the show. (And obviously Greg’s an old rock star.)

12. New characters for Camp Pining Hearts have been invented: namely, Penelope and Parker, played by Connie and Onion, respectively.

13. Peridot is weirdly mean and disrespectful to Amethyst in this story? It seems to really come from nowhere. First she reluctantly lets Amethyst audition and grants her that she guesses she does have some talent after all, and then later when Amethyst comes in to impersonate a prop and “save the day,” Peridot first voices her suspicion that Amethyst will not actually make anything better. It’s weird; if you didn’t watch the show, you’d think they had an ongoing rivalry or hated each other (or at least that Peridot disliked Amethyst). Hmm.

14. The central conflict of the book’s story is impossible to understand or interpret without a very good understanding of the show. The book does not explain what fusion is at all (though obviously in a stage play as a symbol for a fraught scene for an actor, it represents having to kiss on stage). It also gives absolutely no mention of why Lapis has trauma surrounding fusion. If someone were trying to read this without the show’s context, they might think there was some kind of awkward past or bad feeling between Lapis and Steven, since she’s acting reluctant to pretend to carry out a gesture of affection with him. And even though Lapis’s past with Jasper is mentioned–by name!–on the back cover, Jasper is literally not mentioned in the book anywhere. As a fan I had no trouble understanding the source of her angst, but because of this pretty important detail, the book can’t be enjoyed on its own without seeing several specific episodes of the show.

15. There are some fun Easter Eggs in the crowd scenes. Play attendees include Mr. Frowney, Mr. and Mrs. Barriga, Dr. and Mr. Maheswaran, Mayor Dewey, Yellowtail and Vidalia, Nanefua and Kofi and Kiki Pizza, Barb, Mr. Fryman, and what look look some extras. All the known characters are family or the actors … except Mr. Frowney. Does that imply what I think it does about Mr. Frowney and Mr. Smiley? Hey, maybe they’re married now. :)

16. Lapis’s speech where she emphasizes that she consented to the scene was powerful. She WANTED to be okay with pretending to fuse, but in the end, she wasn’t. There are so many real-life scenarios that parallel this–when someone tries to downplay their own feelings because they feel like they’re the odd person out and they will wreck others’ good time if they express how they feel. But, as said in the comic, nobody there wants you to do that, and you not enjoying yourself makes it a worse time for everyone else too. Your real friends won’t make you pretend.

17. You probably never thought you’d see Garnet in a squirrel costume. You thought wrong.

18. These two are too precious for words when they hug at the end of the play.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
April 23, 2019 – Started Reading
April 23, 2019 – Shelved
April 23, 2019 – Finished Reading

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