Monday, July 30, 2012

The Star Wars Daily Strips - Star Wars in the Comics

The following is an article that was first published in Amazing Heroes #13 in July of 1982.
Star Wars in the Comics
by J. Collier
Writing and drawing comic strips and comic books about established characters is not an easy job. With their own characters, writers and artists can let their imaginations soar on pinions free and allow the stories to go where they will. But when the characters are owned by someone else and are hot merchandising properties to boot, the restrictions on creative freedom of action mount alarmingly.
Possibly the most challenging of all "outside" strips to produce are the Star Wars adaptations. There the creators are obligated to abide by the somewhat scanty background data of the two movies so far released and to do nothing that will contradict whatever will be in the third movie—even though Lucasfilms can't tell them what is in the third movie. So it's by guess and by God and play it by ear, but the creative people we talked to who are involved with the Star Wars adaptations are all seasoned professionals, and they have learned to work within the tight parameters, producing stories of unfailing high quality.
What is it like to adapt a contemporary legend into comics form? We spoke with some of the writers and artists doing just that, and they were kind enough to share many of their thoughts and observations with us.


The current writer-artist team on the Star Wars comic strip, as AMAZING HEROES readers should know by now, is Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson. What many readers might not know, however, is that Star Wars is not the first project the two have worked on together. In fact, Goodwin and Williamson have collaborated on so many projects in the past that their venture into a galaxy far, far away is only the capper on a long and distinguished partnership that reaches as far back as the early days of Warren magazines.
Moreover, although few people know it, Goodwin and Williamson were involved with Star Wars comics adaptations from the very beginning. When the Star Wars strip was being considered by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Williamson and Goodwin were contacted about writing and drawing it. Together, the two cooked up two weeks of samples, adapting the opening scenes of the film. (When the strip eventually began under another artist, the syndicate decided against beginning with an adaptation and commissioned an original story instead.)
Williamson, however, had to turn down the assignment because of his commitment to another strip he had been carrying for many years, King Features' Secret Agent X-9. Although some artists can handle more than one strip on a regular basis, Williamson didn't feel he was among them. (His collaborator on the X-9 strip, incidentally, was a gentleman named Archie Goodwin.)
So how did Williamson wind up at the artistic helm of Star Wars? Well, the Syndicate kept hunting for an artist and eventually settled on Russ Manning, the acclaimed Tarzan and Magnus, Robot Fighter artist. Manning, seconded by various writers (such as Steve Gerber, fresh from his stint at Marvel) and aided by his assistants, Rick Hoberg and Dave Stevens (yup, that Dave Stevens—the one who draws The Rocketeer for Pacific Comics), ably produced the strip until failing health and a desire to run for public office forced him to give it up.
In the meantime, Williamson's situation had changed considerably. He and Goodwin had dropped X-9 (which was taken over by EC alumnus George Evans), and Williamson had accepted a couple of movie adaptation jobs for the comic books: Flash Gordon for Western Publishing and The Empire Strikes Back for Marvel Comics—the former of which, amazingly enough, was not written by Archie Goodwin. Williamson enjoyed working on the Star Wars material, George Lucas enjoyed the results, and the proposition was put once more to the team. This time, they agreed.
There was one final hitch. At the time Manning retired from the strip, Williamson was committed to finishing up the Flash Gordon adaptation. So the Syndicate called in Alfredo Alcala to bridge the gap between the end of the Manning reign and the beginning of the Williamson era. Alcala, incidentally, was helped out by "Russ Helm," a pseudonym for—you guessed it—Archie Goodwin.
At any rate, on February 9, 1981, newspapers across the country printed the first of many hundreds of Star Wars strips with the signatures of Goodwin and Williamson. They've just passed their 500th strip, and show no sign of slacking off.


Compared to the newspaper strips's tangled history, the changes that the Star Wars comic book has gone through are simple —at least according to the ubiquitous Archie Goodwin. Roy Thomas originally brought the saga to Marvel (at the time, the editor-in-chief was Archie Goodwin), and proceeded to adapt the movie in the first six issues of the comic book. These issues went on to become Marvel's bestselling titles ever. Thomas and artist Howard Chaykin hung on for a couple of issues beyond the adaptation. but they ultimately decided they didn't feel comfortable with the strip and went their separate ways.
Guess who stepped in.
"I was editor-in-chief at the time," Archie Goodwin remembers. "Roy was giving up the book and I knew we had to find somebody." Because Marvel had so many titles at that point, it was tough to find a writer to take over the strip. "What I thought," Goodwin said, "was, 'Well. I'll write a few issues 'til we can settle on some other team.' I got Carmine [Infantino] to draw it and I got Terry Austin to ink it, and we just sort of kept doing it." Indeed they did. Although Austin soon left and was replaced by a string of inkers, Goodwin and lnfantino stuck with the title for three years, until Goodwin's Epic schedule (no pun intended) forced him to relinquish the book.
Enter David Michelinie.
Michelinie had just left The Avengers and was writing Iron Man, a title that had gained him a strong measure of fan popularity. Looking for work, he had mentioned to various Marvel editors that he was interested in picking up another book. "I hadn't even thought of Star Wars," he remembers, "because Archie had been writing it for three years and it seemed he would write it forever." Nevertheless, Louise Jones, then the editor of the title, soon called up Michelinie and asked him to write it. As a special surprise bonus, he found himself teamed with Walt Simonson, the popular artist who had risen to fame with his work on the "Manhunter" series in Detective Comics (written by Archie Goodwin) and the Alien adaptation for Heavy Metal (also written by Archie Goodwin).


Star Wars is different from many other licensed products in that not only do the creators of the comics have an inviolable base from which they must start, but the continuity is also limited by what is yet to come—i.e., the as yet unreleased third (or sixth, depending on how you count them) movie, Revenge of the Jedi. While Goodwin has mainly worked "between" the movies both in his comics and his strip work, Michelinie must explore the vast unknown beyond The Empire Strikes Back—without having any idea of what will take place in Revenge!
Goodwin admitted that before Empire came out, it was a little tough working on the material, but now that he and Williamson know not only where the characters have been but where they're going, they find it much easier.
"It isn't that bad," Goodwin mused. "My interest is generally a little more toward plotting than character, anyway. So it doesn't bother me not having control over the characters. Actually, I sometimes even find it kind of a relief in a way, because it sometimes seems to me that on a regular book you become so involved in the characters' lives that maybe you become a little boring."
Michelinie is in a rougher spot. "There are a lot of special problems in Star Wars," he explained, "not only from what's been but what's to come. As far as what's been, we can't really change anything from the end of Empire. We can't have Han Solo located and then have him frozen for the next movie."
"I've had a couple of things," Michelinie continued, "that the film people have asked that I change because they're similar to something that's going to occur in Jedi. At first, I was thinking in terms of plots utilizing Star Wars mythology, and after I got away from that and Walt and I started doing our own stories with our own characters, we had very few problems contradicting."
Michelinie is also constrained by the fact that next year he has to lead into the adaptation of Revenge of the Jedi, which must fit into the continuity of the comic. "We have to have a finite storyline," he said. "There are five more issues I've got to plot before the adaptation, at which point everything will change. People might die, other people might be reborn. So I can't just start a storyline and let it resolve itself. I have to plan and five issues from now, these things have to be resolved." As a result, Michelinie has had to curtail a plot involving Shira Brie, an Imperial Agent whom Luke almost killed and now, apparently, has developed genuine feelings for Luke. She may turn up again after Revenge, but...
Michelinie is a little apprehensive about what the third part of the trilogy might do to the cast of characters. "Someone is bound to die," he said. "Can you imagine if Luke and Vader both fight and die... I mean, going on without your main hero and your main villain? 'The Adventures of See-Threepio.' It's gonna be interesting," he chuckled.
Both Michelinie and Goodwin plan to lead into Jedi—Michelinie with a transition issue between his continuity and the movie, Goodwin by introducing a new character in the strip that will reappear in the movie.


One thing Michelinie does miss is Han Solo. "He would quite possibly be my favorite character if I could write him," he laughed. Ever resourceful, though, Michelinie has managed to integrate Solo into this year's Star Wars Annual, which features an extended flashback involving the Harrison Ford character. When we suggested that he might have Han back after Revenge of the Jedi, Michelinie was skeptical. "We'll see," he said. "I may have no one. It might be Yoda Comics and Stories.”
Apart from Solo, Michelinie doesn't really have any favorites. "Most of the regular cast I have equal feelings and affections for." He did admit that he enjoyed writing the humorous characters, like See-Threepio. Artoo-Detoo, and Chewbacca, although unfortunately only one of them spoke English, limiting their roles somewhat.
Goodwin also listed Solo as his favorite character, along with Obi-Wan Kenobi. (It seems the writers are particularly fond of those characters they can't use.) But generally he likes all of them too: "Lucas really created a lot of nice archetypes," he said, "and they're all basically fun to write. Han is a little funnier and off the wall. Luke is a little bit more of a problem to write, just because you don't know where he's going to wind up; it gets a little trickier."
Williamson for his part enjoyed working with all the characters equally, although he found them hard to draw. "I wish I could do them a little bit better—in fact, quite a bit better—but they haven't complained yet," he concluded with the modesty of a born perfectionist.


One noteworthy thing about both teams is how closely they work together. Goodwin and Williamson, of course, have worked together before and Williamson often comes up with visual ideas, bits of business that Goodwin integrates into the stories. (The flying serpents that appear in this issue, for instance, are vintage Williamson.)
Michelinie explained his working relationship with Walt Simonson: "I like working with the artists—the penciller specifically, both artists if possible. The main advantage to that—especially in Walt's case—is that he has a lot more enthusiasm, puts a lot more into it, has a lot more fun doing it, than if I just handed him a plot and said, "Do this." As a result his art's a lot more fun and I can have a lot more fun writing it and I can put more energy into it."
Generally, Michelinie explained, he, Simonson, and editor Louise Jones would get together for dinner. (Simonson and Jones are married, making these get-togethers more convenient than they might otherwise be.) "We'd talk over the storylines of the next couple of issues. Other times l would just go into Marvel and Walt and I would find a quiet corner someplace—I know that's hard to believe at Marvel, but we'd ferret one out occasionally."
"One of us will come up with an idea," he continued, "we will take it through logical events to a conclusion, put in the character scenes, having them act and react consistent with their background and their characterization in the movies.
"I worked with Bob Layton co-plotting on Iron Man for a long time. and I worked with Walt for a year and half on Star Wars. It's good when you get two people who are compatible and get along with each other as human beings."


We asked Michelinie what his plans were for upcoming issues of Star Wars. "It's difficult to say at this point because Walt's dropped the strip, and because of deadline problems we've had two fill-in issues stuck in," he sighed. Although one of the stories was written and drawn by Michelinie and Simonson and has been fit into the continuity, the other is entirely out of sync and features artwork by Joe Brozowski and Vince Colletta.
Aside from that, though, "I have started a storyline that basically involves a search for Han Solo. The rebels have discovered that one of the other bounty hunters was with Boba Fett but was cut out of the deal when Fett got Han Solo. They've narrowed it down to three, and we're splitting up our characters in couples to find these bounty hunters and try to find if that one knows where the rendezvous site for Jabba the Hut and Boba Fett is supposed to be. And then hopefully they will go there and there will be some sort of story where they don't get Han Solo back, because we can't do that.
"That's that storyline. And the way I've got it worked out, we'll have worked up to one issue before the adaptation which will give me one issue to tie things together and hopefully to where Revenge begins."
As for Goodwin and Williamson's Star Wars strip—keep on reading!