Homemade Star Wars, Phase 1: 1978 & 1979
Obligatory disclosure: the stories presented here are fanfic. I don’t own Star Wars, Lucasfilm does. And they have the cutest, sweetest lawyers.
Like I said before, the main thing I learned from 1977 was that if I wanted more Star Wars, I’d have to make it myself. That philosophy later turned out to be the lynchpin of my career, but since it’s the meta-story of this whole website, I won’t cite all the examples here.
We certainly weren’t devoid of an expanded Star Wars experience prior to The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. We got monthly comic books from Marvel, a daily newspaper strip (if we were lucky), four novels, some books and magazines, and substantial merchandising after a 6-month catchup period. There were also occasional re-releases of the movie (which I saw at every opportunity). The point for me, though, was that this wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I wanted to play in that sandbox non-stop. Fortunately, I had a tool that allowed me to do it: I could write and draw comics.
Of course, at 13/14 years old, I was a complete and utter amateur. I understood how comics communicated with readers, but had no clue about the production process. All I could do was make up a story one page at a time. In doing so, I turned my childhood bedroom into an incubator. It would take many, many years of this to get where I eventually wanted to go. That may sound like labor, but it sure didn’t feel like it. It still doesn’t even today. It just feels like what I’m supposed to do.
In the years 1978 and 1979, the Star Wars rulebook didn’t really exist yet, at least as it is known today. All we had to go on was a 2-hour film and its implications, which were vast. Overlap it with a steady diet of comic books and SF and you could go in practically any direction. I drew 12 homemade Star Wars comics in this time period, ALL of which are presented here.
In context, this was the first of three Star Wars comic phases for me. The others will find their way here in due time. In this phase, everything was drawn in ballpoint pen and magic marker on lined notebook paper. No planning, no penciling. As my reference collection grew, my accuracy improved. But I still didn’t know much about pacing or pagination, so each page was crammed with at least twice the content of a standard comic book. Once in a while, I’d realize that I could adjust this for better storytelling. It was one of countless lessons waiting to be learned.
Oh, and nothing felt better than the act of stapling a finished comic together. It felt professional. Real comic books used staples. Made out of real metal. This is what it took to bind the galaxy together.
The other thing about this time period was that I wasn’t drawing ONLY Star Wars comics, so this wasn’t my only means of educating myself. Another franchise that kept my head buzzing was The Shogun Warriors. We’ll get into that, don’t worry.
1. Combat on Calcia
I’ll admit it right up front: I swiped dialogue ALL the time as a kid. If I liked a line in a Star Wars comic from Marvel, I stole that sucker whole. So if you read something in here that couldn’t have been written by a 13-year old, that’s because it wasn’t. That includes occasional lines from the movie itself, because I had the Story of Star Wars LP and listened to that thing endlessly. I listened to it while looking at the comics, bubblegum cards, storybook, everything. When I had enough toys and action figures, I played through it like a puppet show. If on-demand viewing had existed back then, a big part of my creativity might never have blossomed. In case you hadn’t guessed, “Calcia” came from “Calcium.” I could turn any exotic word into a planet name. And besides, who ever heard of “Calcium”?
2. Day of the Droids
When I hauled all these comics out of storage, I was reminded that they were once part of a scrapbook filled with all the Star Wars stuff I could find. Inserting comics into the scrapbook was own way of inserting myself into the growing context. Whenever you see a dot after a word, it’s because the scrapbook also included a glossary where you could look up what the words meant. I remind you that until I launched this website, almost no one had seen any of this stuff, so a glossary was completely superfluous. It was an early example of how I curated and organized things for the sake of an audience that was entirely hypothetical. Other than that, this issue MOST DEFINITELY doesn’t have any stolen dialogue. It’s all me, including the shameful spelling errors. It was a very poor showing for the 3rd grade spelling champ of Jamestown Elementary School.
3. The Warlord of Astria
The title for this one was taken from a throwaway line in the 1979 Buck Rogers movie, one of many films I tape-recorded off TV and listened to while drawing. One great thing about this issue was that I finally got ahold of a good magic marker and went to town with it. Not having to avoid black areas was a real luxury at the time. However, space scenes were still murder since I had to draw a circle for a star and then fill in the black around the circle because I didn’t have any white ink. (Even when I did years later, it was still murder because all white ink was crap.) I probably don’t have to say Han and Chewie were my favorite characters back in the day. I made an honest effort to capture Harrison Ford’s likeness using photo-ref. I thought they looked great and felt like I’d taken a huge step forward. Today it’s a reminder that objectivity is a skill, requiring practice.
4. The Sith Lord
Since I hadn’t yet started putting dates on my work, it’s hard to determine exactly when I drew this one. I know for sure that I didn’t yet have my model kit for Darth Vader’s TIE fighter, because the drawings are way off. On the other hand, I’d definitely read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and was fixated on the idea of a crystal that could amplify the Force. I haven’t read enough of the EU stories to know if anyone ever came back to the idea, but it was sitting right there on the table, demanding to be used. And not even Marvel took the bait. The big lessons learned in this tale are (A) don’t take underlings along on your quest for power because they’ll always turn out to be Otis, and (B) if you end up as the last living underling of a Sith Lord, ditch his Sith ass ASAP.
5. The Maverick Moon
First-gen fans like me might recognize this title. Back in the cave-people days of 1979, we got a couple children’s books from Random House. This comic was based on one of them, making it my first adaptation. The writing in the book was way below my reading level as a 14-year old, but the artist did a great job rendering X-wing fighters. I’ve included a complete scan of the book so you can see how great they still look today. The story didn’t have much relevance to the film; since it was for kids there was no enemy to fight, so I tried to dial up the authenticity wherever I could. I sure wasn’t satisfied with another medal ceremony at the end. Been there, done that. So I went for a Luke/Leia smooch instead. He’s all sweaty from a hot landing, which seemed super edgy at the time. It’s called Star WARS, dammit. War makes you SWEAT.
6. Boba Fett
All right, MAGNUM OPUS time! As soon as Boba Fett made his TV debut in the 1978 Holiday Special, the world was changed forever for teenage boys. He was a genuine hardcore Star Wars super-villain who could beat EVERYONE. And when photos of his action figure arrived, I couldn’t wait to project all my teenage power fantasies into that cool helmet. Every weapon imaginable! E.S.P! Telekenesis! He was worthy of his own series, and it took over 40 years for someone else to figure that out. But I’m not bitter. Of course, only a truly otherworldly character could stand against him, so I borrowed Captain Universe from Marvel’s Micronauts comic (another thing I was obsessed with). I’m sure his name, Luminos, was swiped from some other source. The ability to make my own comics was a license to ransack any IP I wanted. The main discovery I took from this one was that a story could start in progress without a lot of tedious setup. That’s a lesson that stuck.
7. The Rebellious Robot
Here’s my adaptation of the second 1979 children’s book from Random House. The story was pretty dumb, but the art in the book was (and still is) unique and interesting. Like before, the book itself is included for comparison. The artist (Mark Corcoran) had a late 70s style you don’t see any more, an appealing combo of line drawing and watercolor reminiscent of the Nelvana animation from the 1978 Holiday Special. A quick netsearch indicates that he illustrated other children’s books, but I would have like to see more Star Wars from him. Looking back over this comic, I remember that my heart wasn’t really in it since the story wasn’t mine and didn’t really add up to anything. I also recognize that I was in my Gil Kane phase, where his drawing style strongly influenced my face work. I didn’t have a huge comic book collection yet, so those I did have got a LOT of study. His were true standouts. I still catch myself drawing like him once in a while on superhero TV cartoons.
8. Rebel Outcrop
After eight issues, I thought it was time to shift the focus off the main characters and put some new rebels on the block. Again, a reminder that it was 1979 and full-scale expansion of the Star Wars universe was still over ten years away. It’s not like I did anything meaningful with these new characters (if you don’t count their glorious take-this-job-and-shove-it killing spree), but it’s interesting to see parallel lines of thought emerge when you spend enough time in this sandbox. Whoever decided to make the Rebels TV series certainly didn’t see this comic, but they were tuned into the same wavelength. We also hadn’t really seen water-action in Star Wars yet, aside from some Marvel comics, so it seemed like a ripe area to explore. And since this story predated Lando Calrissian, Bolithia Scipi just might have been the first black Star Wars character.
9. Death Trap
This one really shows how little I had in me as a writer at 14 years old. I was pretty ignorant of world affairs, so when the name “Damascus” came up in the news I swiped it for a name because there’s no way anyone else could have known it existed. I also wanted to get into a big ol’ dogfight since that was my favorite part of the original movie, so I learned firsthand how hard it is to capture that much dynamic movement in a comic. When I mentioned this to a comic pro years later, they said comics were too limited for it. (I disagreed internally and made it my life’s mission to prove otherwise. Check out Grease Monkey Book 2 for the results.) I still had no good Star Destroyer reference, so they were basically drawn from memory. And, of course, physics and science weren’t even afterthoughts. See if you can recognize the influence Spider-Man had on one of these pages. Or don’t. Really, the only thing that’s kind of OK about this issue is the cover.
10. Correllian Spice Run
The time frame for when I drew this one was pretty specific. I saw the teaser trailer for The Empire Strikes Back with a few shots from the asteroid chase, and I was inspired to set a whole story in such a location. Then there’s Jabba the Hut, who looks nothing like the one we know and loathe. That’s because I was following Marvel’s lead; their Star Wars movie adaptation included the lost docking bay scene, and they’d chosen one of the Mos Eisley extras as Jabba, a character we’d later know as Walrus Face. There was nothing else to go on, so I did what they did. I came up with two new characters who had almost the same last name (Algorr and Algox), which became a valuable lesson in what not to do in the future.
11. The Jedi Knights
Here’s another example of me beating someone else to the punch. It wasn’t until Dark Horse Comics got the rights to Star Wars in the 90s that history was explored in Tales of the Jedi. Many people could have made money much earlier if they’d just put 14-year-old Tim Eldred in charge of Star Wars decisions, right? Anyway, this story pretty much plays as pure comedy if you’re in the right mindset as we follow three Jedi Knights on the unluckiest day of their lives. This includes the Jedi master who originally taught Obi-Wan Kenobi, so when we met Yoda the following year I mentally recalibrated him as an additional teacher. We learned in the prequels that there was a whole academy full of them, so I was exonerated in the end. Therefore, this story TOTALLY still holds up.
12. Imperial Intercept
I didn’t know going in that this would be the last issue in my “phase 1,” but it’s not a bad one to go out on. The dogfight in issue 9 left me unsatisfied, so I wanted to try again and work harder on the storytelling. It’s still as goofy as any other issue, but the action is satisfyingly coherent. I wasn’t able to articulate why at the time, but the key is knowing which moments to capture. Some matter more than others, and your “camera” needs to focus on them in a way that suggests the pacing of a film. To do that, you develop a sense for how quickly someone will process the information you’re giving them, which is different on a page than it is on a movie screen. This story gave me a chance to start down that long path. I’m still on it today.
For better or worse, these final two issues never made it past the cover art. But I was about to begin my second Star Wars phase, so bigger fish were waiting to be fried.