My first Star War, 1977
Obligatory disclosure: the stories presented here are fanfic. I don’t own Star Wars, Lucasfilm does. And did I mention how sexy their lawyers are?
Oh boy. Me and Star Wars. Get comfortable for this one.
I turned 12 years old in 1977 right after the premiere. To say it grabbed me would be like commenting on how damp the ocean is, especially underneath. I ate, slept, and breathed Star Wars. George Lucas was my savior. Other things had softened me up, but Star Wars was something else entirely. It was what I got instead of religion.
Naturally, I had to gather up every scrap I could find to enlarge the experience. It’s hard to believe now, but in the summer of 1977 there was almost nothing to consume beyond the movie itself. Until that Christmas, the only things within reach were a few magazine clippings, the novelization, and the monthly Marvel comics. That wasn’t nearly enough for me. Records and toys and models and other swag arrived in 1978, but that still wasn’t enough. What I learned in 1977 was that if I wanted more Star Wars, I would have to make it myself.
My tools were ballpoint pens and notebook paper. Sometimes magic markers, but not often. And I kept at it for years. Any spark could ignite a Star Wars story in my head. A random line of dialogue or background character from the film, a nugget from another SF story, scenarios that bubbled up in my mind as I was studying a toy or building a model. Plus, we didn’t have a lot of rules to go by yet. Marvel comics, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, the Han Solo novels, and the daily newspaper strip proved that. Few remember now what a wild and wacky time it was before The Empire Strikes Back reset the board in 1980.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up to the very start. Summer and fall, 1977.
I was old enough to read Mad magazine then, so the very first Star Wars comic I drew was a Mad-style parody. Here it is.
In retrospect, making fun of the thing I loved right out of the box was a way to get something out of my system, though I’m not sure exactly what. The next time I picked up the ballpoint, I played it straight.
By the fall of 1977, I’d collected enough magazine and newspaper clippings to fill up a notebook, so I made myself a Star Wars Album. The artwork at the top of this page served as a cover. I thought it would be cool to create my own comic story as an interstitial; a few pages of articles, then a comic chapter, then more articles, then another chapter, etc. I didn’t think anyone else would ever see it, but I pretended that they might, and it was my job to be a good presenter.
That brings me to my very first for-serious Star Wars comic story, shown below. When I drew this, nothing was planned in advance. Everyone has a Star Wars adventure. GO! When I started at the top of page 1, I didn’t quite know what was coming on page 2, let alone how the story would end. I didn’t write a script ahead of time, and I never roughed things out with a pencil. I switched off my targeting computer, grabbed the ballpoint and slammed forward on pure faith.
Two things of note: my heaviest reference point was the monthly Star Wars comic from Marvel (drawn by Carmine Infantino), and my ONLY drawing tool was a ballpoint pen. Markers were out of reach. Thus, I had to avoid heavy black things…like outer space.
Eventually I would get a proper education in comic book production and discovered the value of prep work. That will become evident later. For now, absorb this only for what it is: a tale made up on the fly by a 12-year-old boy whose imagination had been launched far beyond the walls of his Michigan farmhouse.
Well, that wasn’t so good, was it? But it didn’t have to be. It was just a start. For the next ten years or so, I pumped out Star Wars comics one after another. It was my storytelling testing ground; a vehicle to experiment and figure out what worked. In art circles, we say that you’ve got 10,000 bad drawings in you, and you have to get them all out before you’ll get good at it. The comics I drew as a kid gave me that chance.
The corollary to that, though, is that your self-awareness grows at the same rate as your drawing skills. No matter where you are in the process, everything you draw looks “right” to you at the time. If you stick with it long enough, your self-awareness expands and you begin to see your work objectively. But if you jump off the train too early, or (more tragically) if you’re FORCED off the train, you don’t get there. I’ve met a lot of people who said they used to draw, but stopped. Not one of them ever has a good reason for it. They’ll never know where they might have gone.
Here’s some more stuff I did in 1977, because I made it my personal responsibility to organize the scattered information that was available to us. Someday, someone was going to need it.
All right, let’s cheat a little and jump to the other end of my self-appointed Star Wars comics career.
The year is 1994. I haven’t drawn a Star Wars comic in almost ten years. But I have drawn lots of other comics (professionally) including anime adaptations and original stories. I’ve also had a steady side-gig drawing illustrations for Star Wars RPGs from West End Games. The comic book rights have been picked up by Dark Horse, and I’m thinking of getting back in the groove.
I decide the best way to do this is to write and draw a 6-page story I can submit as a sample. I give it everything I’ve got (and this time my influence is the mighty Al Williamson). But…it never gets to Dark Horse. The walls are higher than they used to be. You can’t just send things in unsolicited any more, you need to obtain and sign a form that relieves a publisher of liability. I guess someone sent a sample in once and a comic book came out that was similar enough to merit litigation. Or maybe that never happened, and some lawyer just imagined it might. Either way, there’s a new hoop to jump through.
If I remember right, I contacted Dark Horse to ask for the form but they never responded. So this 6-page comic just became a portfolio piece that few people ever saw (until now). I’m still quite proud of it, and wouldn’t change a line today.
Oh, one other thing…I thought it would be cool to have some Mandalorians in it. Again, this was 1994.
NEXT TIME: Back to the 70s, and the start of my own Star Wars SERIES!