Star Wars: Mammoth Alpha, 1982
If I had one super power as a teenager (outside of writing and drawing), it was the ability to conjure up a Star Wars story from just about anything. Here’s the tale of how this one came about…
It may surprise you (not) that I had a big collection of Star Wars toys that came to me via birthdays, Christmas, and allowance money. Kenner probably got enough dough out of my family to put braces on some kid’s teeth. If you hold to a certain philosophy, it may horrify you to hear that I took those toys out of their boxes and played with them. Sometimes I even threw away the boxes. Kids, right? On the other hand, I also used them for drawing reference, so the boxes kind of got in the way.
I collected the action figures, of course, and came up with the weird idea that I should get toys for them to struggle against in the little mini-dramas I put them through. Thus, instead of a super cool X-Wing fighter, I got a TIE fighter. And then Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. I’m talking about the original Kenner toy, which they cheaped out by reusing the TIE fighter pod and just making new wings for it. (I had to buy the anatomically-correct MPC model kit to make up for this.)
The wings were detachable, advertised as “battle damage,” so you could pop them off and handle them separately. Hold that thought.
Another item I picked up was Kenner’s diecast Imperial Cruiser, later to be renamed “Star Destroyer.” I don’t remember exactly why I chose it, except that it was interesting to have a 3D version of that ship to spin and flip and rotate. The detail on it, though, was 100% BS. It only resembled its onscreen counterpart in silhouette. But I got it anyway. (Here too, I had to rely on the MPC model kit for accuracy.) It amused me that my favorite comic artist at the time, Al Williamson, also got one. He used it as drawing reference in the Star Wars newspaper strip, faithfully reproducing every bogus detail invented by a Kenner sculptor.
So, picture me with these toys at my fingertips, making an interesting discovery. If I took off the wings of the Vader TIE fighter and held them together at their edges, they formed a hexagonal “shell.” And the diecast Imperial Cruiser fit perfectly inside, as if it was meant to be there. My immediate thought was, this is a Star Destroyer drydock. Story fuel!
The story turned out to be this one. I decided that someone had taken possession of this leftover drydock and turned it into a politically-neutral repair station. Han Solo had a friend there who occasionally worked on the Falcon, and he could escape pursuit by flying there. It would be a pretty big place, so I named it Mammoth Alpha. If this sounds a little derivative of Cloud City, sure it was. But I had different events in mind, culminating in a moment that would later wind up on the big screen in The Last Jedi. Thus, my jaw dropped for two reasons when that moment happened. You’ll know it when you see it.
Mammoth Alpha was split into two parts for a total of 42 pages. Part 1 was drawn from April to June 1982 (interspersed with other projects) and part 2 followed in September/October. For those keeping score, I went from 16 to 17 during that time. The story was published in two consecutive issues of a fanzine titled Shadowstar; the summer and autumn ’82 issues. This was probably the quickest a story of mine went from drawing board to printed page.
I worked on a couple other comics between these two parts, during which time I finally shifted away from my beloved ballpoint pens over to more professional tools called Rapidographs, which had been introduced to me in my junior year commercial art class. You’ll see the difference when you jump from part 1 to part 2 below. It was an important step in my early development, which I’ll describe in detail when I get to the first comic I used them on.
For now, let’s see what happens when you pull a story out of a magic combination of Star Wars toys.
Easter Egg: my favorite rock band in ’82 was The Police, and I wanted to draw each of them into a Star Wars comic at some point. That’s Andy Summers in the last panel. I don’t think I ever got to the other two.