The Maraquan Lutari: An Interview with the Artist!
On Lutari Day of Year 22, the Maraquan Lutari was officially released. If you spent any time on the Neoboards that day, you’d already know that the design was met with massive public approval. Some users had the following to say about the Maraquan Lutari: “I love it! I think the design is amazing”; “My favourite new colour/species combo in a long time”; “I can’t wait to get one”; “Even though they’re a bit harder to customize... that’s a sacrifice we’d gladly give for more original designs such as this one”. Opinions are certainly subjective, but it is safe to say that the Maraquan Lutari seems to appeal to a wide variety of Neopians, making it one of the most popular Neopet colours released in recent years. You need not take my word, simply look at the rise in the price of Maraquan Paint Brushes and Lutari Morphing Potions if you need convincing. At the time of writing the Maraquan Paint Brush price has nearly doubled from about 4,500,000 NP to around 8,000,000 NP with some sellers seeking even higher amounts. Lutari Morphing Potions have seen similar spikes in price with potions that normally sell for 1,500,000 NP going as high as 5,000,000 NP. The current cost aside, the Maraquan Lutari is undoubtedly the rarest Neopet of all, as according to the Neopian News it was designed by a fellow Neopian rather than a staff member as is tradition. Continue reading and you will get a “behind the scenes” perspective on this rare event — but first, in order to convey how utterly unheard of it is, let me take you on a brief trip down Neopian memory lane.
A few times in the history of Neopets, TNT has sought input from us Neopians on certain aspects of the site, including new Neopet species and Paint Brush colours that we would like to see created. Usually, they would create a poll with various designs and ask us users to vote for our favourites. For example, In Year 3 Neopians were able to vote on their preferred redesign for several species, including the Eyrie (known as the Tatsu at the time), the Kyrii (formerly known as the Fuzio), the Jetsam, the Mynci, and the Gelert. In Year 4 two new Paint Brush colours were voted for, and the wildly popular Baby and Pirate Paint Brushes were born. In Year 6 users voted for a Kougra redesign. The next poll came over a decade later in Year 19 when Neopians were again tasked with voting for a new Paint Brush colour and the Candy Paint Brush, as well as the runner-up Marble, were both added to the site. In Year 20 yet another poll regarding Paint Brush colours was released, and Steampunk reigned supreme (although all of the options were later added to the site, those being Toy, Origami, and Burlap). The latest poll was in Year 21, which resulted in Oil Paint, and the runner-up Mosaic, being added to Neopets.
Of this brief Neopian history lesson, one thing is readily apparent: with every contest, TNT supplied artwork that users voted on. This is a marked difference from the Maraquan Lutari which began as fan art by the Neopets user dialasong, and is now the Maraquan Lutari that we know and love today. Perhaps the only other time in Neopian history that a Neopets user has had such a significant impact on a Neopet’s design was the Create-a-Pet Contest in Year 2, in which users created and submitted artwork for potential new species. However, this was a contest in which TNT sought submissions, rather than approaching a specific user regarding their art as has been confirmed in the case of the Maraquan Lutari. Furthermore, the winner of the Create-a-Pet contest was a Neopet known as the Tigren, which later became the Acara, and no longer resembles the original user-submitted design. The Maraquan Lutari, however, seems to be here to stay — and I for one could not be happier!
Given that the case of the Maraquan Lutari is the first known instance in which TNT has directly contacted a Neopian about using their Neopet design, I found myself growing increasingly curious about this unprecedented event. I thought ‘Surely I can’t be the only one who thinks that is SO cool?!’ This is literal Neopian History in the making!’ I couldn’t help but feel that Neopians, myself included, would love to know more about the “behind the scenes” of how the Maraquan Lutari design came to be. With this in mind, I reached out to the Neopian artist behind the design, dialasong, aka Meredith who graciously agreed to an interview. While interviewing a fellow Neopian may seem a tad unconventional, the story behind the Maraquan Lutari is just as unconventional, if not more so! Without further ado, here is a peek at the conversation between myself (R) and Meredith (M).
R: Hi Meredith, first off I just wanted to say thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’m very excited to get the chance to hear more about your Maraquan Lutari design! But first, if you're comfortable, would you mind letting us know a little bit about yourself? Perhaps how you first got into Neopets, your experience as an artist, or anything else you'd like to share?
M: I got into Neopets back in 2003 or so because I was allowed to pick out a toy as a vacation souvenir and chose a robotic purple Shoyru toy- I didn't end up making a permanent account on the actual site itself until 2004, but after that, I was in deep- I was a kid at the time, so I was mostly into the flash games and merchandise like the plush toys, trading cards, and Pocket Neopets. Neopets was also therefore one of my first big artistic influences- I ended up falling off and getting into other media between 2008-2012, but when I got back into it in late 2012, I was sucked back in hard, and have played fairly regularly ever since. Getting back into Neopets later on really pushed me to start working digitally, because until that point I was a mostly traditional artist, but I wanted to enter the Art Gallery and I felt like it was a good opportunity to learn digital art. Since then, I've gotten a degree in animation, and I feel like the art experience I built while so excited about drawing my Neopets ended up helping me out a lot in school.
R: I think it is amazing that you have taken your experiences on Neopets and translated them into your real-life profession. I think a lot of us have gotten so much from Neo over the years, from honing skills like your own, to making friends from across the world, and in some ways even shaping our personalities and passions. What is equally amazing to me is that you were able to take the skills that you developed throughout your time here to give something back to Neopets in the form of your new Lutari design. What would you say was the inspiration for your design? And how long did it take you to complete the design?
M: I was inspired to make a Maraquan Lutari design because I missed the old swimming Lutari pose in the art before customization, and there was only one colour left that the Lutari had yet to receive where the pose could be different. I'm also a fan of the axolotl and thought it could fit pretty well for what I wanted to do- I tried to stick to the old Lutari circle pose, but changed some things like the claws and nose to better resemble an axolotl. I also gave it webbed feet, even though the axolotl doesn't really have those, because I felt they would help make it look 'Maraquan' even if someone isn't familiar with the axolotl. I based the colour scheme off of the Leucistic colour that is commonly seen in axolotls kept as pets, because it felt the most iconic and I really like the pink accents. I came up with the design fairly quickly, and the initial illustration took me maybe three or four hours to complete.
R: I think your attention to detail shines through, and personally, it is one of my favourite designs on the site. Certainly, TNT noticed as well. On that note, perhaps my biggest question is how did you feel when TNT contacted you about your Maraquan Lutari art? Did you need to pinch yourself??
M: I was extremely surprised- I needed to double-check that it was an actual staff member who had contacted me because I couldn't believe it, and then I was extremely excited! I wasn't able to fall asleep until after 3 am that night, it was not something I expected would ever happen, and up until the pet was released a small part of me was expecting a different colour to come out and for the whole thing to have turned out to be an elaborate trick somehow.
R: How long before Lutari Day did you know that TNT was planning on using your design? Was it a long waiting game for you, or did you find out shortly beforehand?
M: About two weeks- they asked me before they went all the way ahead with the design. They said they had my idea and also a backup concept if I were to say no, and I really appreciate that they asked me first!
R: Oooh that’s super interesting, I wonder what the backup design would have been? Perhaps we’ll find out one day. Regardless, the Maraquan Lutari is undoubtedly Neopia’s new “It” Pet. It seems everyone wants to get their hands on one -- I see you even have one yourself!! Given that it is your own design, is it safe to say it is your favourite Neopet? :)
M: I am very fond of it, for sure!! But if I had to pick a favourite Neopet, it'd probably be a five-way tie between the Mutant Aisha, the Robot Kiko, the Maraquan Ogrin, the Mutant Kacheek, and the Plushie Bori.
R: I have to admit that I find that a bit surprising, but you have great taste in Neopets! Now, on Lutari Day when the Maraquan colour was released you simply could NOT go on the Neoboards without seeing someone talking about your design. Did you see the community responses to the release of the Maraquan Lutari -- the good, the bad, the in-between? If so, what was your reaction to that?
M: I was honestly kind of nervous about what the response would be, but it ended up being fine! I really appreciate how many people seem to enjoy the design, and I'm not resentful of anyone who dislikes it- everyone's got different taste and I certainly have some species/colour combos I'm not fond of as well. I'm glad that most people seemed to like it though!
R: How well-liked the design is seems to be reflected in the prices of Lutari Morphing Potions and Maraquan Paint Brushes, both of which have absolutely skyrocketed. Even the Maraquan Petpet PB prices have increased! How do you feel about single-handedly collapsing the Neopian Economy?
M: It's super surreal, haha. I feel bad that everyone who wants one can't easily get one right away, but I'm also touched that enough people liked the design that it had that effect on the economy. It's also one of the more interesting pets to watch this happen to since the Lutari can't be traded or abandoned, so it couldn't really affect the pet trading scene in quite the same way as I've seen other colour combinations affect it in the past.
R: That’s an excellent point you raise about pet trading. In a way, the restriction makes getting a Maraquan Lutari feel a lot like “old school” Neopets, back before pet trading was ever a thing, and the only way to get nicely painted pets was to paint them yourself (or surf the pound for countless hours, of course). Anyway, I digress. As you have stated, TNT asked for your express permission to use your Lutari artwork (nice job, TNT!). In addition to this, I have heard rumours that you were given onsite prizes of some kind for letting TNT use your design. Are you able to share with us what that was?
M: Yes! I was sent 2000NC, a Maraquan and a Lutari Paint Brush, and three seemingly randomly selected Rare Item Code Prizes! It was a fun surprise, because I didn't know what I'd get until they sent it over.
R: Oh those are wonderful prizes, and perfectly fitting!! Now I have to ask, are you planning any designs for other Neopet colours (or dare I say species?) you are hoping may get noticed by TNT and used in the future?
M: I mean, I'd love to make more stuff- I have an old Unicorn paint brush design that I'd love to see happen someday, and it'd be an absolute dream come true to design a new official Neopet species. I'm not really counting on or expecting it though- I think I'm going to keep making and sharing things that I want to see when an idea grabs me, and if something comes of it, great! I love this website and am just grateful for the opportunity to see an idea I had become a reality. I'd obviously love to work for Neopets someday if the opportunity arose, but I figure I'll have to wait to see when they're hiring again for that.
R: I certainly hope that one day you get the chance, because you clearly have a creative mind and a talent for it! I think that your story is one that is an inspiration to other artists on the site— to have your artwork immortalized as an already beloved Neopet is the highest honour I can imagine. Do you have any advice for your fellow Neopians who may be hoping to follow in your footsteps?
M: If you have an idea you'd really like to see, put it out there!! I didn't expect my design to ever become a real Neopet, but even if it never happened I still would have been glad that I drew it and was able to share it with other people.
R: Is there anything more that you’d like to share with us?
M: I can't think of anything! Thank you so much for the interview!!!
R: Thank you for participating!! It was a lot of fun and so great to hear your perspective! I hope to see more of your work on Neopets one day!
I hope that Neopian Times Readers have found the backstory behind the addition of Meredith’s Maraquan Lutari design to the site as interesting as I have. In the wake of such a groundbreaking event, many users have been wondering if the use of a player's design was a once in a lifetime occurrence or if such practice may become the “new normal”. While there has been plenty of speculation on the matter, the truth is that only time will tell. Regardless of what the future may hold, in the present, this is a moment worthy of celebration. A very special thanks to Meredith for participating in the interview process, and a giant congratulations for her significant achievement!! Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be heading to the auction house-- I’ve got a Maraquan Paint Brush to buy…!