Monday, August 16, 2010

The Star Wars Daily Strips - Russ Manning Interview

The following is an interview conducted by John May for the February 1979 issue of the Star Wars Official Poster Monthly.
SWM: I'd be interested to know how you got into comics in the first place. Were you always interested in drawing?
RM: Yes. I grew up at the time during World War II when comic books were very popular and I began drawing by copying comic books. The ones I really liked were Prince Valiant, Tarzan and Flash Gordon.
SWM: And who was drawing those at that time?
RM: Flash Gordon was still by the originator Alex Raymond and Tarzan was by Burt Hogarth, who is the man chiefly responsible for the style that everyone uses in comic books now, that flashy, very stylized, lots of action bit. Everybody uses it. In comic books like the Star Wars book and in my style, there's about 75 percent illustration and 25 percent cartooning. The difference being cartoonists always draw ears, eyes, nose, and mouth the same way - like Mickey Mouse. The illustrator, if he were drawing Mickey Mouse, would draw a real mouse.
SWM: How do you work on a comic strip?
RM: Well, to go straight through it, I block out the story, this is sent to the Star Wars offices, it's reviewed and changed or suggestions are made. Then, when I know that the total 12-week storyline is approved, I break it down into weekly segments. I'll write that whole week out and start drawing it, working right through the six dailies, which I then hand to Mike who does the inking and lettering. The same formula all the way through is handled with the Sundays, except that when Mike is through inking, he comes back to me and I do the coloring.
SWM: How do you decide on a color scheme for a color comic?
RM: We're trying to move now in comics towards a more painterly style. Prior to this time all comics were drawn and colored unrealistically Mickey Mouse and Peanuts are colored in an entirely arbitrary manner, but illustrational strips we try to color realistically. Flash Gordon, for example, will always have that flesh tone. But we're thinking now that maybe readers are sophisticated enough, and it's so much more fun, to do a panel that has a painted look. A very crude example would be if it's a sunset - everybody is golden colored. Little panels filled in with variations of gold whether it's skin or metal or sand or the robots. They all became gold because the light has hit them differently.
SWM: What was the first strip that really inspired you to have a go yourself?
RM: That has to be Flash Gordon. The people were so dynamic and great. The men were so big and strong and the women so gorgeous looking that it just inspired you to want to do that kind of artwork. The same with Tarzan. He always has been a very dynamic, positive, successful figure and that's what kids want to be. They don't want to be down and miserable and failures.
SWM: Did you have to go to college or did you work at other things for a while?
RM: I took art courses in High School and then went to work for a year at the Union Oil Company in the Water Department to earn enough money to buy a car. Then I took art classes at Junior College and transferred from there to an art school in Southern California. I think really that I felt I was good enough an artist that I could probably make a living at it, but I didn't know any artists. I grew up in a small town in central California, that's oil and farming, so there weren't any successful artists that I could use as a guide model - but I was at least as good as any other kid in my school at art. While I was in art school another fellow and I saw an ad in the paper for an artist to join a small film company who put out their own projector and wanted some films done for it. That company went under because the projectors were cheapies with plastic lenses and the lamps were so hot they melted the lenses. At that time I met the man who was drawing the Tarzan comic book, Jesse Marsh, and he introduced me to the comic book company. I was doing samples for them when the Korean War came along. I was in the National Guard so I went to Japan. After leaving the army, I got to working with this Whitman Publishing doing the little stories at the back of the Tarzan comics and from then I moved to doing the Tarzan strip, which I'm still doing, and into Star Wars.
SWM: How did you personally react to Star Wars when you saw it?
RM: I think the second night it was on in a theater in Orange County my family and I went to see it. I just couldn't even let go of the seat it was so incredible. Just the amount of sound that was coming out of the screen and what we were seeing was beyond anything we'd ever seen in films before.
SWM: What sort of adventures are the Star Wars characters going to get up to in the strip?
RM: I think it will be a blend between the film and the science fiction that I grew up with. It's going to be fun doing the alien worlds, the different cultures, the different mechanisms. It's got some terrible restrictions in that if you allow your imagination just to run loose, the reader hasn't got anything to identify with. You've got to be really controlled.