Monday, January 9, 2012

The Star Wars Daily Strips - County Artist Creates Comic Strip

January 5th marked what would have been Russ Manning's 83rd birthday. To honor the occasion lets look back at another article with Russ heralding the arrival of the strip. The following was first published in the Los Angeles Times on March 17th, 1979.
County Artist Creates Comic Strip
By Craig Turner
CARTOONIST ‒ Russ Manning uses a model to
achieve fine detail in his "Star Wars" comic strip.
Russ Manning inhabits an unpretentious ranch-style house secluded in a remote canyon in east Orange County. The building, partly screened by a stand of trees, is reached by a meandering road too narrow to qualify as a driveway in most communities.
On this morning, Manning is at work in his studio, which was once a two-car garage. Outside, the only sign of life is a black and white cat perched smugly on the roof of the family station wagon.
So much for details about Manning's residence; he has this uneasiness, he explains, that if his exact whereabouts are disclosed, he may become the object of curiosity seekers and souvenir hunters.
The reason is that Manning is the artist behind the new "Star Wars" comic strip, which was launched Sunday in 215 North American newspapers ‒ an exceptionally large number for a new strip. And while he is grateful for his piece of the multimillion-dollar media empire born of the motion picture, Manning does not want the serenity of his canyon shattered by hordes of Darth Vader devotees rattling their light sabers.
That may sound like paranoia, but one shouldn't underestimate the doggedness of "Star Wars" buffs, even though it has been nearly two years since the picture's release and several months since it was shown commercially.
Nor should one underestimate Manning's persistence in protecting the privacy and rural nature of the canyon community where he has lived since 1959. His innumerable appearances before public agencies and his immersion in land planning for the area attest to that.
At age 50, the solidly built, white-haired Manning shows little of the panache exhibited by his adventurous comic characters, who also include Tarzan. Instead, he is something of a pillar of the community in the sparsely populated, close-knit neighborhood. He is a volunteer fireman, director of the Santiago Canyon Water District and chairman of the Foothill Corridor Planning Committee, a county government-created body that oversees development of the area.
But Manning was a natural candidate last summer when George Lucas, 35, the Hollywood writer-director who created "Star Wars," went looking for a comic strip artist. A no-nonsense professional with 27 years' experience, Manning has drawn the Sunday "Tarzan" strip since 1967. In addition he is an admitted "science fiction nut" who saw "Star Wars" three times before he was ever considered for the comic job and who created his own intergalactic fantasy for Dell Comics in 1963 called, "Magnus the Robot Fighter."
Moreover, Manning is one of the few still in the comic book industry who write the stories in addition to drawing the panels. Manning does have an assistant, Mike Royer of Whittier, who helps with inking and lettering.
"I got tired of drawing what other people were writing, especially when they didn't know what they were doing," Manning says by way of explanation.
"They'd want too many actions in a panel, or put 31 characters in the same panel. Writers are word oriented and they don't always know an artist's limits. The classic example is the cowboy who is supposed to shoot the bad guy, kiss the girl and jump on his horse all in the same panel."
His interest in professional art began at Santa Maria Union High School and led to a stint at the Los Angeles County Art Institute. After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Manning got his first comic book job in 1952, writing back-of-the-book stories ("Brothers of the Spear") for Dell, the only comic book publisher headquartered on the West Coast.
He also drew cover stories for some television spinoff comics, including "77 Sunset Strip" and "Dale Evans." After years as an understudy, he began drawing "Tarzan" comics in the 1960s.
As the comic book industry went into decline, Manning shifted exclusively to newspaper comics, although he continued to do some occasional commercial art such as book covers. His Sunday "Tarzan" strip (the daily versions are recycled strips from the 1950s) is carried in more than 50 U.S. newspapers, according to United Features Syndicate.
Manning laughs off comic collectors and archivists who pour over back issues of Spiderman as if they were medieval illuminated manuscripts, but he makes no apology for his profession.
"The comic book artist is still the low man on the totem pole in the art field," he says, "but at least you can make a living at it."
Manning has no creative rights over "Star Wars," although he writes the stories himself and the strip carries his byline. That's not the case with "Tarzan." Manning writes the strip but it carries the byline of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who originated the character in a series of 25 novels. Burroughs died in 1950.
Manning's "Star Wars" contract contains some limits. He cannot, for example, kill off any of the main characters and he has to stay away from events that might touch on the motion picture sequel, now being filmed in Europe. Lucas personally reviews in advance all the stories and pencil renderings.
Finished panels are turned over to the Los Angeles Times syndicate, which markets the strip, 10 weeks before publication. In order to insure enough lead time, Luke Skywalker and friends first appeared on Manning's drawing boards last September.
Manning clearly is taken by his new subject. He talks about how eager he is to try out new story lines and he has decorated his studio with calenders, posters and models from the film. (The models also serve another purpose: they provide him with three-dimensional figures to draw from.)
The challenge, he adds, is that virtually everything he draws ‒ except the characters taken from the movie ‒ comes straight from his imagination. "If I want to draw a policeman, his uniform, right down to the buttons, comes from me. Everything is different: telephones, buildings, glasses, food," he notes.
That sets it apart from "Tarzan" somewhat, although Manning admits that the hero of that strip lives in a "fantasy Africa."
"It's the Africa that never existed, but we wish had existed," Manning explains. "You can't do Tarzan in the real Africa of today. The problems there aren't the kind you should try to solve with a guy in a loincloth, and a white man at that. They are serious problems, and they are not adventure story problems, but sociological ones."

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