When the LEGO Friends Comic Went Viral: An Interview with Illustrator Maritsa Patrinos

A comic titled “LEGO Friends” recently went viral, striking a chord with people by humorously pointing out that girls don’t need a separate line of LEGO toys. No, no—girls just need better female representation within existing LEGO sets:

"LEGO Friends" by Maritsa Patrinos of Seasonal Depression. Used with permission.

I was so taken by how well this cartoon encapsulates so many parents’ and advocates’ position on the unnecessary gendering of children’s toys—a topic I address in detail in my book, The Princess Problem—that I reached out to the cartoon’s creator, Maritsa Patrinos, to learn more about her work.

Maritsa is illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY who grew up just outside of Washington, DC and went to Pratt Institute to study illustration. Since graduating in 2010, she’s worked on staff at Marvel Comics, made backgrounds for a Cartoon Network show called MAD, and has worked in different editorial jobs, including a couple New Yorker comics. For the past three years, she’s also  done the cartooning and animation for the shows “16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom 2″ on MTV.

REBECCA HAINS: Your LEGO Friends cartoon has clearly struck a chord with people, and as someone who does work in this area, it’s been really gratifying to me as a bystander to see your piece go viral—as of this writing, it’s been reached by 106,304 people from my facebook page alone. The traction it has gained is really impressive. Can you tell me what inspired you to create this cartoon?

MARITSA PATRINOS: Thank you! This past week has certainly been a surprise! I definitely don’t consider myself an expert on anything regarding gender roles or LEGO. I can only speak for myself, someone who started playing with LEGO as a girl in the 90’s (and still plays with them now… I just bought a minecraft set…).
But I made this comic after I saw the short documentary Inside Lego. It was very informative, but the last stretch of it highlighted the “Friends” line and I was a little surprised. I had thought LEGO was a company that prided itself with being a unisex toy, so it seemed strange that now they would create a line targeted towards just girls. I actually don’t have a problem with the content—I know there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing with juice bars or shopping malls. I just don’t know if those things should be associated with gender. I thought about the girls who don’t like those things, and the boys who do like those things, and wondered if they felt alienated at all.
I’m sure LEGO’s heart was in the right place and I’m sure they’ve done tons of research to pick their content. But when I saw the men in this documentary talk about how to connect with girls, it sounded a little like they were trying to decipher how to make contact with an alien species.

RH: You’re clearly a talented illustrator, and you’ve been posting comics to your site SeasonalDepressionComic.com since 2009, covering a pretty wide range of topics. How do you usually choose topics for your cartoons? What inspires you?

MP: I started Seasonal Depression really just as an exercise for me, almost like therapy. It’s a place for me to share personal stories and process whatever I’m thinking about at the time. Translating things into comics helps me to organize my thoughts. After doing more involved illustration work for clients, it’s also refreshing to loosen up- I try to use a simpler style that reads quickly and doesn’t overcomplicate what I want to say.

RH: Have any of your other posts gone viral like this one?

MP: I’ve made a couple things that have gained a little traction, a short comic about an experience I had as a teenager and my latest zine about common curses and blessings. But I’m not sure if anything has made the rounds quite in the way this one has. Oh, and few years ago I also made a Game of Thrones lost wolf flyer that made the rounds and got featured on io9. That made me happy. I love io9.

RH: What kinds of feedback have you been receiving from people about your LEGO Friends cartoon? What would you say the balance has been between supportive comments and comments that are critical in some way?

MP: Most of what comes directly to me has been very supportive. It’s gratifying to see so many other people identify with my work. There have also been people (both men and women) who disagree and engage others in discussion, which is great. Some of them have had good points. Like I said, I’m not an authority, but as a consumer it’s something I have feelings about and I’m just happy it’s a discussion.
The internet is a funny place. Things can gain momentum and amplify louder than you anticipated them to, they get regurgitated as scripture, and you wonder if you should have phrased things a little differently.
But I try not to actively participate in comment sections or forums. I’m no good at that stuff. I’d rather wonder if I should have spent a little more time coloring.

Looking for tips on raising empowered girls in a princess world? Check out Rebecca Hains's critically acclaimed book, "The Princess Problem."

Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a media studies professor at Salem State University and the author of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls Through the Princess-Obsessed Years, a book meant to help parents raise empowered, media-literate daughters. 

Rebecca would like to thank Maritsa Patrinos for taking the time to be interviewed for this blog, and would like to note that Maritsa is also available for freelance work! Be sure to check out Maritsa’s impressive portfolio.

Rebecca is on Facebook and Twitter. If you enjoyed this post, you may follow Rebecca’s blog by hitting the “follow blog” button at rebeccahains.com/blog.

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