Star Wars Comics Group Interview
Exclusive interviews by Alex Ness, contributing editor
If there's been one property that's drifted seamlessly through various mediums, it's been George Lucas' Star Wars. Along with the famous films, the space epic has a long history of incredibly successful videogames, novels, and (most important to us) comic books. Recently, the Star Wars comics have been published under Dark Horse, with a stable of veteran creators attached as writers and artists. We recently had the opportunity to interview a number of these notable faces to talk to them about their work on the Star Wars books, as well as their thoughts on the films and a wealth of other science-fiction fare.
Participants in this interview series
include creators Jan Duursema, John Ostrander, Beau Smith, Tim Truman, Joe
Corroney, and Tom Veitch, who collectively have released some of the most
important and fan-favorite Star Wars comics in the
franchise's publishing history. Enjoy.
UGO: You and John Ostrander seem to have an unique working partnership. You're able to tell stories organically, and what I mean by that is that I've been reading comics for 35 years, and yet I cannot see the seams and stitches between writer and artist. You've worked elsewhere with other writers, so is it John, your friendship with him, or is it the strength of the Star Wars mythos as crafted by Lucas and others that create this sort of flow?
Jan Duursema: I think everything you mentioned enters into the equation. John and I worked on Hawkworld and Hawkman before coming to Star Wars. We worked differently back then. I wasn't as involved in the plotting process as I am now. I guess the way we work now is a pretty unique way of working together, so I'm not surprised you can't see where one of us leaves off and the other begins. Sometimes we don't remember exactly ourselves -- especially when we are really moving along on cooking along on a plot. There's always a lot of ideas flying back and forth -— a lot of give and take. I think the reason it works is that both John and I like to build story and character throughout the storytelling process. That is, a story begins with the plot, but the storytelling process is still allowed to evolve as the artwork progresses and then continues to build as the dialogue is added. I run panel and layout ideas by John a lot of times to see if the storytelling is working for him and he lets me see the dialogue in case I have any insights to character or story issues that might need to be expanded. I guess that's why it seems so organic—sometimes it seems like sculpting in clay.
An issue might begin with us talking about what kind of story we would like to tell—war story, mystery story and so forth. Or we might begin with a certain character in mind as with the Jedi series of books and talk over story from a character point of view. Trying to find a story unique to a certain character is an interesting and fun process. The "Aayla Secura" issue of Jedi was especially interesting. The more we explored Aayla and Aurra Sing's characters the more we realized how many things the two of them had in common and it really became the central theme of the story. Sometimes, as with the creation of characters such as Quinlan Vos and Aayla Secura, a story might begin with a new character and evolve from there. In Twilight, we set out to create a new Jedi and padawan whose story could be told in a 4 issue arc. We thought that would pretty much be the end of these characters -— we'd even planned to have Aayla done away with by her evil Uncle Pol, but fortunately my daughter begged both John and I not to let her die, and Aayla ended up in Attack of the Clones and in TIME Magazine!
I don't think that either of us sees a plot as set in stone. There is, of course, a specific framework that each story hangs on and intricacies that the story depends on, but I like flexibility within that structure to change panel pacing and point-of-view if I think something works better another way—breaking down or combining panels mostly. John will even let me add or delete a page or scene as long as the basic intent is kept intact. It occurred to me the other day that when John and I plot a story it's a little like sparring in kendo class. My kendo instructor always tells us that there is not just the 'one,' meaning that if you strike you must then counter. This really creates energy. Plotting between John and myself is like that—only our match is with an exchange of ideas. There is never just the 'one' thought; each thought generates another and that creates an energy, which then hopefully comes through in the story.
This kind of energy extends to the inker, Dan Parsons and the colorist, Brad Anderson as well. We all get really pumped when we are working on a story—the details mean a lot to all of us and we all work back and forth to set the mood and create emotion in the story. I'm really happy that Randy Stradley got us together on these books. The whole dynamic of the team is incredibly significant when you are putting out a comic. Again, not just the 'one'. In comics, it is the ability of the creators to spark off each other's work that makes the stories live.
John and I both love character and what motivates each character. Most times John creates the voice and I create the way the characters move and gesture. Each character moves a different way for me when I am drawing them; I try to have the Jedi hold their sabers differently, or vary stylistically when they fight. But sometimes if I'm stuck on a character I'll call John and ask why they would do a particular thing —- or how —- and he'll give me his concept of the character to help pull me through. He's always there to enhance what I am trying to do. And sometimes when I'm drawing I might imagine a character speaking in a certain kind of 'voice' and tell John and he might adopt it for the character. One of the most intriguing things is when we both see characters we have created evolving within the series. They really do take on a life of their own at times!
The Star Wars mythos is so rich and there is such an incredible amount of source material to draw from. Beyond the out and out outer space adventure aspect, that is what attracted me to Star Wars in the first place. It's what makes it real. I thoroughly enjoy the meld of ancient and alien cultures with tech. One of the first things I noticed was that the ships and guns looked worn and used! Clothes were untidy, dirty and wrinkled. There was dust on their worn boots. Beyond the visual, the characters seem real because they are flawed; no one -- not even the best of the Jedi -- are perfect. I think this type of character speaks both to John and myself. After all, it is often the flaws in a person's nature that gets them in trouble—or out of trouble. And it is exploring those flaws in the characters that make them interesting. So I'd have to say that the Star Wars mythos plays a large part in helping us create stories for these books.
UGO: Which of the films is your favorite?
JD: Each one is my 'favorite' for a different reason. A New Hope: because it was everything I ever wanted to see in a film. I saw it 40 times the first summer it was released. I wanted to know more about the Jedi and the relationship between Obi-Wan and Vader -- who I thought were two of the most intriguing characters of the film. I really wanted to live in that movie! The Empire Strikes Back: because it was the darkest and most 'Star Wars techy' of the original trilogy. Return of the Jedi: because of the rescue at Jabba's palace — the Rancor, the Sarlaac — the fight on the sand barge when Luke catches his lightsaber from Artoo and starts to fight! Episode I: because after so many years I walked into the theater with no expectations (somehow I had avoided all spoilers!) and walked out feeling exactly like I had when I saw A New Hope. More than that, I had been on the verge of quitting comics altogether and was suddenly renewed in a way that is difficult to describe. I came out of that theater determined that I had to draw Star Wars again — even if it was only for one story. Episode II: Attack of the Clones: How could this not be a favorite?! I had the honor to draw the adaptation for the movie, and Aayla Secura, the Twi'lek Jedi character who John and I helped to create, was in the film! Could I ever ask for any more than that?
UGO: What Star Wars Mythos character do you long to develop that you have yet to touch the surface of?
JD: So many characters, so little time! Let's see, I'd like to do more with Kit Fisto, Agen Kolar, Saesee Tinn, Shaak Ti, Luminara Unduli, Bariss Offee, Bultar Swan...just to name a few. Mace Windu is another, even though John and I did an issue of Jedi which featured Mace, I feel he is a character who I would like to know more about. If I could go back to Episode I for a while, I'd like to work on developing Darth Maul's character some more. He has dark facets of personality I never got to explore in the Darth Maul miniseries and I never tire of drawing him.
UGO: There has been talk of various characters getting one-shot movies (with or without Mr Lucas, i.e. post mortem). What single character begs to have a prequel or postquel?
Again, I don't know that there is one single character alone. The saga is too
rich for that. My wish would be to see more of the Jedi during the
time of the Republic -- maybe even set during the Clone Wars! I'd love to see
the interaction of characters such as Mace Windu, Yoda, Shaak Ti, Kit Fisto,
Saesee Tinn, Aayla Secura and the rest with Obi-Wan and Anakin. I'd love to see
some of the characters I've helped to develop as well—Quinlan Vos, Tholme, T'ra
Saa, Zao, Jeisel and characters others have created such as K'Kruhk, the Dark
Woman and A'Sharad Hett. Of course, these stories would have to be set against
diverse worlds with noble and crooked politicians alike, bounty hunters,
pirates and smugglers. I'd want to see Wookies and many other aliens as well.
I'd certainly be back every time for something like this...to see these
characters live in the Star Wars
UGO: You and Jan Duursema seem to have a working partnership in which each of your strengths are emphasized. What characters do you two share a passion for? And similarly, who do you share a passion for but haven't yet tackled?
JO: Well, obviously we're big on Quinlan Vos and Aayla Secura, having originated them. I also love Villie and Jan also loves drawing him. We've done Obi-Wan and Anakin and just Dooku in a big way. We haven't played much with Luke, Leia, or Han or anyone from that era and I would think those were the ones we would have the most interest in.
UGO: Who are your favorite Star Wars movie character? And the same question from the expanded Universe.
JO: Probably Han. He gets the best lines and is so cool. From the expanded universe? Well, Quin is obviously my fave although if you want which one I didn't create, it would probably be Thrawn. Great villain.
UGO: Which of the films would be your favorite?
JO: The Empire Stikes Back. Best script and it gets dark and troubled without losing the sense of adventure.
UGO: George Lucas has stated that he won't be doing a third trilogy. I am appointing you here and now, what stories from the post-battle of Endor-era deserve telling via film?
JO: We're told that balance would be brought to the Force. I don't think it has just with vader's death and the Emperor's passing. That's what I would want to see -- where the Dark Side and the Light are truly brought into balance.
UGO: Tell us a spoiler-free overview of your upcoming work at Dark Horse.
JO: Star Wars: Count Dooku will be awesome! Jan has been experimenting with her art and the inker and colorist have really been working closely with her. It looks amazing. Story's not bad, either. A big turn in Quin's life.
I'm also over in Star Wars:
Republic both with and without Jan. With Jan, we do a story of
Anakin and A'Sharad Hett being trapped behind enemy lines. Given Anakin's
feelings towards Tuskens, this is a bit sticky. I've also done a story focusing
on the political machinations back on Coruscant, featuring Bail Organa. There's
also pirates and a pretty significant explosion. The Bounty hunters, as we'll
discover, are hunting Jedi. Someone has a bounty out on them. Mace Windu
decides this isn't to be tolerated and goes to straighten out the Bounty
Hunters Guild. major butt kicking ensues. Oh, and there is an assassination
attempt on Coruscant that Dooku is manipulating. Who/ Why? How? All will be
UGO: Your work on Star Wars was limited to Star Wars Tales, but it was such an awesome story, and with excellent art. Your work on it was notable because you expanded the Star Wars Universe in the character of Boba Fett, but also stayed within the precepts of the character template. Is that what they were looking for in particular, or did you come to them with the story idea?
Beau Smith: I've gotta' say that they didn't tell me anything that they wanted. Editor Dave Land kinda' said...wanna do a Boba Fett story? I said, yeah.
So I came up with the story line while driving around town. I wanted to do a real Western feel to the story. Then I came up with the parody of Ebay one night while bidding on some Don Heck art and getting beat out at the last minute by some sniper.
That was the fun thing about working on it...they let me do what I wanted. The story went through with no problems with the Lucas folks. I was lucky.
UGO: What character in the Star Wars mythos is your favorite and who would you love to work on?
BS: I don't really have a real favorite
character. To this day I've only seen the first two films and I only saw them
once each. I'd have to say Boba Fett because he is the one I wrote and kinda'
know now. I never looked at the movies as some religious thing like some
UGO: Your Hunt for Aurra Sing was awesome. Why do you like the Bounty Hunters so much? Aren't they just worse scum than the Rebels or Empire?
Tim Truman: Blame is on Sergio Leone, I guess. His "Man With No Name" character had a profound impact on me. And even before that, "Johnny Yuma, the Rebel" -- the old 60's TV character. Bounty hunters have always had an appeal to me -- remember that the first comic book character I ever worked on was a bounty hunter, "Grimjack." There's just something about that character type that appeals to me.
Aurra is a tragic bounty hunter. She doesn't realize that she was duped into the profession, and was also duped into hunting Jedi. That's why Ki said that he senses a "grayness" to her. She isn't on the Dark Side or the light side of the Force.
In one of my conversations with him, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and I were speculating why his words and my images work so well together. He immediately said "It's because we both love outlaws, Tim." He was right.
UGO: What Star Wars race is the most interesting to you and why?
TT: The Tusken Raiders, absolutely. I was proud when my old Star Wars editor Peet Janes dubbed me "The Man Who Broke (Lucasfilm's) Tusken Barrier." I had his email to me taped over my writing desk for months and months. The first Star Wars comic story that I did took place on Tatooine and involved Ki Adi Mundi in an adventure with the Tuskens. Before that, no one had been really allowed to do a whole story about them-- just a page or paragraph here and there. I used my interest in indigenous peoples to speculate on what their society would be like. Lucasfilm recognized that and let me do exactly what I wanted. It was a great experience. I also got to introduce a Tusken Jedi, which is a concept that I'd wanted to do for about 15 years, and I really thank Lucasfilm for letting me flesh out that particular fantasy. I wished I'd had artists working with me who could have captured the flavor I was after. But the first artist that worked on the book blew his deadlines so badly that every issue after that suffered and it was catch as catch can. Everybody that followed him had to play catch-up, to keep the book on deadline. It was heartbreaking for me at the time -- like finding your baby strangled in the crib. But so it goes.
UGO: While your fans still remember your Star Wars work fondly and you were well suited for it, it didn't work out. If it were possible to go back and complete the mission, what stories do you still have to tell?
TT: Tuskens, of course. Maybe a "first contact" sort of thing -- their early encounters with colonists on Tatooine? Something like that. Aurra Sing was a blast to do, too, whether I was writing her or drawing her (I got to bothwrite and illustrate her solo story). It's cool to open those new, updated Star Wars character guide books and read about Aurra, and know that the info in there is about 90% things that I came up with. Lucasfilm was incredibly gracious about directly acknowledging my contributions to the character in the Aurra Sing: Dawn of the Bounty Hunters book in that special limited edition series that Chronicle Books published. I'll always thank them for that. Anyway, I'd probably do another Aurra book in a heartbeat if it was ever offered to me. It would be cool to do -- especially now that my art style has developed so much over the last few years.
As far as writing goes, I would have given anything to have worked with Jan Duursema or, say, Tom Yeates or Paul Gulacy on the regular series. Scot Eaton whom I later worked with on the Creature Commandos revamp we did for DC -- with would have been fantastic, too.
Don't get me wrong: despite the bad start we got off too, I had some good artists on several of the issues that I did during the two years that I worked on the regular Star Wars series. The work that Steve Crespo (penciler), George Freeman (inker), and (colorist) Dave Nestelle did for my "Anakin Skywalker" Star Wars Adventures story just blew me away. Totally gorgeous. But by and large my stories really needed somebody with a romantic yet heroic style that Star Wars screams for-- someone who could handle both darkness and light and who could recognize certain other levels that I was trying to get into the tales. If I ever did anything else, I'd want much more say in the look of the package, because the art effects the story so much. I was pretty much a "gun for hire" when I did the Star Wars stories, and I wasn't at all used to that.
Again, so it goes. Star Wars and I were very good for each other, and I'm really glad that the readers enjoyed my work so much. It was a very gratifying experience, and working with Lucasfilm was always a breeze.
UGO: Being a Star Wars Insider and Star Wars Gamer artist, you have an unique perspective on Star Wars Comics. Your use of two friends, Justin and Jan Duursema, as models for your images of the Jedi has led to them acquiring a psuedo-canon status. Who is next up, and is it a secret thrill for you to stake your claim in the Lucas Empire?
Joe Corroney: Actually, Jan is a Jedi in real life, or as close to one as you could possibly get. She can be very persuasive when she wants to be, just watch out for that waving hand. It only made sense to me to make the best Star Wars artist out there who's drawing Jedi into one herself. And it was kind of my way to say thanks and acknowledge her for all the inspiration she's given me over the past few years. I wouldn't have gotten my current Marvel gig without her guidance and support.
Justin was only too appropriate to illustrate as a Jedi character since, besides his long flowing locks, as a hobby he was making his own very authentic looking Star Wars replica props and costumes. He had a customized Jedi outfit and lightsaber already so it just clicked when I wanted to create my own Expanded Universe character. And mind you he's now gone from pseudo-canon status to full EU canon status as he was finally 'officially' named in my work for the latest HoloNet News feature in Star Wars Insider #71.
You could say it's definitely a secret thrill for me as a fan who enjoys everything Star Wars, especially the Expanded Universe, to be able to contribute my own characters and creations to the saga. I've been able to work other friends into my Star Wars art as characters from time to time too so it's always as much of a thrill for them as it is me to see people I know inhabiting that galaxy far, far away.
UGO: As you are an image specialist, can you tell us which Star Wars character has the most artistically attractive image, and which could use work?
JC: I appreciate characters like Boba Fett or Jango who are visually interesting and have costumes that are over all stylistically cool. I love all of their details. Vader is also, without a doubt, very dynamic, appealing and challenging in a fun way to illustrate. The sleekness and the overall graphic appeal of the stormtrooper or clonetrooper costumes can make for very exciting and dynamic artwork too. I wouldn't change a thing about those costumes. I always had a soft spot for Boussh's costume too.
I was never a big fan of Dengar's recycled Imperial Snowtrooper suit outfit and bandaged head wraps. Wouldn't those swoop bike crash scars ever just heal eventually? He kind of seemed like a 'last minute hurry we need another bounty hunter costume' look to me compared to his comrades. I guess you could say it gave him character though. And Poor Aunt Beru could have always used a makeover. Not sure what happened to her in the course of time between Episode III and Episode IV. She used to be such a cutie. She really didn't age well at all.
UGO: How was fan response to your works regarding continuity of the Star Wars Mythos?
TV: We had great response. I still get letters from people telling me that Dark Empire was the best of the continuing stories, that it should be made into a movie, that it should be a novel, etc. George Lucas told me personally that he loved it. Some people had a problem with the bringing back of the emperor. But as I have explained elsewhere, we did that under George Lucas' direction. Originally we asked him if we could bring back Darth Vader, assuming that the empire would want to perpetuate the image of Vader in order to strike fear into the hearts of billions. So they would put somebody else inside the Vader costume, of course. But George nixed that and told us we could bring back the emperor.
UGO: Are there Star Wars stories left in you that you long to tell?
TV: Not at the moment. The first two prequels didn't live up to my hopes and expectations. They kind of took the wind out of my sails, as regards Star Wars.
UGO: Were your scripts pre-approved by Lucasfilm?
TV: Yes, of course. I think that has been a standing policy at Lucasfilm. When we were doing it, George Lucas himself would go over the plots and give us notes on our ideas.
UGO: What character in the Star Wars mythos would be your favorite and why?
TV: Hard to say. I guess I would have to say
the Jedi Knights, as a whole, are my "favorite character." There is tremendous
potential for storytelling there. We tried to get at some of it when we started
the Tales of the Jedi series. To do the Jedi well, you have to have some
insight into the spiritual aspect of Star Wars.
That's the most neglected aspect of the mythos, unfortunately.
UGO thanks all the assembled talent for their time and answers, and special thanks to Tim, Joe and Dark Horse for the art shown above.