Interview: Dark Horse Comics’ “Star Wars” Editors (Part II)

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Over the past couple of decades, Dark Horse Comics has published hundreds of Star Wars comics and graphic novels, spanning millennia of the saga, and their publishing plans are ramping up for a big year next year. We went out to the company’s Milwaukie, Oregon headquarters to chat with editors Randy Stradley and Dave Marshall about the history and the future of Star Wars comic books. (Part I of this interview appeared yesterday; read it here.)

TECHLAND: How many individual projects is Dark Horse coordinating with Lucasfilm at any one time?

RANDY STRADLEY: Well, if you look at my wall here, and not everything is up there, but for instance for September I’ve got four series, and for the coming year that’s going to be kind of the norm–four to five books every month. Next year is Dark Horse’s 25th anniversary, and our twentieth anniversary of having the Star Wars license, so we kind of wanted to make a big deal out of it.

Are there any parts of the overall Star Wars timeline that you try to steer away from in the comics?

RS: There are parts that are more difficult–although we still go there. The time period immediately after “A New Hope” is just jam-packed. For 30 years, that’s been the most played time period–there are novels, there are comics, there are video games, all kinds of stuff that’s all considered canon within there. With the new TV show, the Clone Wars era is fairly tight, although we got most of our big stories told before this TV series ever started!

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Are there things Dark Horse’s comics have added to the canon that you’re particularly proud of?

RS: We had a character in our Republic comics who went on to appear in Episode II and III, briefly–Aayla Secura, the blue-skinned girl with the head tentacles. Another character was mentioned by name in Episode III–never appeared on screen, but he was mentioned by name, Quinlan Vos.

DAVE MARSHALL: There’s a pretty complex web with all the licenses. Randy mentioned the Tales of the Jedi comics that we did in the early days, which were set many thousands of years before the movies; those comics ended up inspiring the Bioware “Knights of the Old Republic” video games–that title was actually taken from the title of one of our Tales of the Jedi series. And that game ended up inspiring our Knights of the Old Republic comic–we leapfrogged, each person building off what the other one had done. And that happens a lot. For a while, the Star Wars role-playing game had a whole “Knights of the Old Republic” setting, written by John Jackson Miller, built around these comics. Things like that.

Here’s an odd question: how did that Jabba the Hutt miniseries that Jim Woodring wrote some years ago come about?

RS: Ryder Windham, who was one of our editors at the time, was friends with Jim. We love what Jim does with Fantagraphics, and we wish he would do it for us here, but as beautiful as that stuff is, and as mind-expanding as it is, he doesn’t make a ton of money off of it. So Ryder said “do you want to write some of this Star Wars stuff as a way to supplement your income?” Jabba–it’s continuity, but it doesn’t have to be quite as serious as other parts of continuity, so Jim was allowed to bring some of his own mindset to it. It’s more fun than a lot of the stuff we do; some of it gets dark and serious.

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What are the creative challenges involved in doing Star Wars comics, as opposed to other kinds of comics?

RS: My number one rule is that I don’t want to hire writers who are fans of the material, because they’re too much in love with it, and they get too bogged down in continuity. “This is a story that’s going to explain why so-and-so has an eyepatch!” Yeah, but that’s not a story: that’s just explaining why he has an eyepatch. So I try to hire writers who are familiar with Star Wars but who are more invested in telling stories within that milieu than people who are just dying to write Star Wars. Artists, on the other hand: I don’t mind hiring artists who are just in love with the stuff, because they’ve already done the research–they know what they need to draw and what they can put in the background and what they can’t, and I take advantage of that when I can.

Is there any really good history of the earliest Star Wars comics? It seems like those were put together under such weird circumstances.

RS: The first six or eight issues from Marvel were put together before the movie came out. They had some photos from the movie, but nobody really had an idea of what this was, and so things get pretty wacky early on. I mean, there are giant green rabbits running around, and things like that. After the first movie came out, and nobody knew there was going to be a sequel–now you had an idea of what Star Wars was, but it sort of went off in all directions, and at that time even the people at Lucasfilm didn’t know where it was going to go. More things were allowed that now somebody would go “oh, no, we’re not going to do that.”

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Do the ideas for the Star Wars comics that Dark Horse publishes tend to get generated by Lucas, or by Dark Horse, or both?

RS: Occasionally, like with “Clone Wars,” they really wanted a “Clone Wars” comic, and so for the first year we did a “Clone Wars” comic. But what we discovered was that kids don’t buy comics: adults buy comics! So doing a comic based on a show that’s aimed at kids didn’t do so well. Now we’re doing mini graphic novellas, digest-size, 72-page or 80-page graphic novels set in the Clone Wars, and those do really well. Those seem to be something that parents will buy for their kids, as opposed to a comic book.

Which books are your perennial sellers?

RS: Dark Empire won’t stop selling. We collected all the Republic series under the title “Clone Wars,” not knowing that Lucasfilm was going to do a Clone Wars TV series–in hindsight, it was the most genius thing we could’ve done! So many of the books keep selling and selling–Legacy does really well, Knights of the Old Republic does well. We’ve started doing fat omnibus collections, so it’s a value package, and those have been really popular.

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DM: I think one of the strengths of Dark Horse’s comics line is that it reflects how Star Wars is different things to different fans, and there are a lot of satisfying points of entry for different kinds of fans. You don’t have to start in any one place. If there’s a particular thing about Star Wars that you’re really passionate about, we have a title about that part of the Star Wars experience.

RS: If you think Jedi are really cool, there’s plenty of points of entry; if you think Boba Fett is the hottest thing ever, there are some volumes based on Boba Fett.

When did Dark Horse get the license to reprint the stuff Marvel published?

RS: It belongs to Lucasfilm–we could have done it from the beginning, it just didn’t occur to us to do until 2002, right before the time I took over the Star Wars line.

And how many Star Wars books has Dark Horse published in all?

RS: Well, about five years ago, I counted ’em up, and there were over 150 graphic novels. Part of what we’re trying to do with the omnibus collections is make that backlist less intimidating and give people more for less, but… there’s probably over 200 by now. And next year’s going to be big. We’ve got a number of things that either people have been clamoring for or will be so unexpected that they’ll get excited.

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