Pop!: "Star Wars Art: Comics"

Fri, December 9th, 2011 at 11:58am PST | Updated: December 9th, 2011 at 12:13pm

Comic Books
Jorge Khoury, Columnist

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I'm going back to the start (again): "Star Wars." In a sentimental way, this franchise haunts all of us, as the mighty bond between these films and comic books are seemingly inseparable and simply irresistible. Creator George Lucas infused these films with the gusto of "Flash Gordon" and the kind of comic titles that inspired him during his youth. Paying it forward, the arrival of the first "Star Wars" comics predate the original 1977 film's premiere and ignited a generation of children with a passion for the comics art medium while triggering a financial windfall that ultimately saved Marvel Comics from oblivion. Over the last twenty years, Dark Horse Comics has been the shepherd to a bevy of new intergalactic adventures, classic collections and adaptations that are an essential pipeline to Star Wars thrillseekers.

In October of 2011, New York's Abrams Books released a posh art book entitled "Star Wars Art: Comics," a follow-up to last year's "Star Wars Art: Visions." The new book is a celebration of the union between the legendary film franchise and the graphic art of comics. Highlighted are numerous alluring visions from the history of "Star Wars" comics, images from the men that made the comics and newspaper strips memorable: legendary comic artists like Howard Chaykin, Dave Dorman, Adam Hughes and the late Al Williamson, to whom the book is dedicated. For me, the highlight of the hardcover book is the bevy of new artistic commissions from the likes of Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Ryan Sook, Art Adams and others. All of the art in this book was selected and curated by George Lucas.

Thanks to Abrams and Lucasfilm, we're proud to give you a taste of artistic goodness with comments from artists Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, Ryan Sook, Arthur Adams, and filmmaker and "Star Wars" art collector David Mandel.

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FRANK QUITELY

Jorge Khouri: Were you a big fan of the Star Wars films growing up? Do you have a favorite one or moment?

Frank Quitely: I didn't see my first "Star Wars" film until I was in my early thirties. My brother-in-law, who'd have been in his mid-twenties, brought his old "Star Wars" toys to my house so my eldest son could play with them. Whilst they were playing, it came to light that not only had my son never seen any of the films, he didn't even know the films existed -- he thought these were just generic toys. My brother-in-law shot me a look, got up and left the house. He returned about 20 minutes later, thrust a copy of "Star Wars" into my hands and said, "You make sure he watches that," and walked away shaking his head. I was one of these kids who had managed to grow up without ever having seen "Star Wars." When I watched it, I immediately loved it and was struck by how familiar it felt. I suppose because it had influenced so many other things that I had seen.

Then, a decade later, when I was invited to do this, my wife bought me all six. So I watched them, in running-order, and really enjoyed them. I didn't have that problem with the prequels that most people my age do.

What was the appeal to participating in the "Star Wars: Comics" book? Was drawing "Star Wars" something you wanted to do for some time?

The appeal of participating in the book was that it was an honor to be asked (George Lucas picked the artists who were commissioned), it was a wide-open brief, it was great company to be in, the pay was good (which would allow me to take my time with it) and I had seen the "Star Wars: Visions" book, so I knew it would be a quality product. I hadn't really thought of doing "Star Wars," but it was hugely enjoyable. And getting the time to color it myself, too, was ideal.

Could you describe the scene in your "My Padawan" illustration? How did you tackle illustrating this piece? Were there other scenarios or characters that you were considering?

I knew from the start that I wanted to do a crowd scene, the type of thing that would reward repeated viewings. I quickly settled on this, showing the Jedi coming back from the men's room to find his padawan has killed everyone in the bar. It's like seeing a moment from a story you haven't seen before. The idea here is that you make up your own story. Why are they in a bar like that with such a rum-looking crowd? Part of her training? Making inquiries? On a secret date (surely not)? Did they all just think they could take her on? Were they getting amorous? Is she just a loose cannon? I just sat with my sketchbook, drawing little figure-studies of bodies lying around in interesting positions, some chopped up, some just limbs and heads, and I just kept playing around until I got the balance of the composition right. Then I started deciding which types of aliens and robots to make each of them until the balance of that was right too, and then it was costume and detail. Finally, I scanned the finished drawing and colored it digitally. I'd love to be able to do more things this way, just having the time to work on each stage until I was happy with it, no script, no collaboration, loose deadline -- I loved it.

RYAN SOOK

Do you recall the first time you saw "Star Wars"? What sort of an impression did it make on your younger self?

Ryan Sook:I saw "Empire Strikes Back" at the drive-in with my two brothers, sister, my parents, our dog and a huge bag of homemade popcorn when I was four years old. All I remember is wanting a lightsaber and having bad dreams about Darth Vader.

Your "Breaking Points" entry is centered on some of the key moments from the original trilogy. Are these the moments that spoke to you so much that you had to draw them?

Yes. I am more attracted to the themes that were portrayed in "Star Wars" than anything else. The very universal themes are what give all the special effects and imaginative design its purpose. So I gravitated to drawing scenes that expressed the emotions and drama that make "Star Wars" so accessible, because to me, that inspires great imagery.

Was it a surreal experience drawing your interpretation of these classic characters?

I wouldn't say surreal. It was an honor. These characters have become as much a part of our culture as any great literary characters, so as an illustrator it is particularly gratifying to be asked to illustrate them.

What did you think of seeing your art included amongst the collection of artwork in the "Star Wars Art: Comics" art book?

Somewhat overwhelming, incredibly humbling and very satisfying to be in a book full of legendary characters as illustrated by legendary (and some of my personal favorites: Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes, Kevin Nowlan, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, to name a few) artists.

ARTHUR ADAMS

Were you always a big fan of the "Star Wars" films? Do you have a favorite one?

Arthur Adams: I have always liked the first one.

What inspired your illustration?

Girls and monsters, buddy, girls and monsters -- and money. Money is also good.

Knowing that this piece was for a lush art book, was it a challenge to make this as iconic as possible?

Well, I knew it was for a big art book, but if I had known there was gonna be so much great stuff in this book, I would have done a better job. But I've already cashed the check so...

PAUL POPE

What was the attraction to contributing art to the "Star Wars Art: Comics" book?

Paul Pope: I love the universe, like many people. The design, the energy, the vibe. It was a big part of my childhood and, like all great stories, the myths stay with you as you grow up. This book turned out to be really lovely and powerful. It's a great book.

Were you always a big fan of the film series and their comics?

I was a bigger fan of the films and the concept art, to be honest. I love Al Williamson's work in the "Star Wars" universe, I read his comics, but I didn't really read "Star Wars" comics -- I read "Heavy Metal" and "Nexus" and "Love and Rockets." I got into the special effects and costumes and concept designs for the "Star Wars" films more than the expanded universe stuff.

Do you have a favorite film and "Star Wars" comic book artist?

For me, "A New Hope" (which will always be "Star Wars" to me) and "Empire Strikes Back" are the real keystones. They hit me at the right time and never left. As for the comics, as said, I loved Al Williamson's adaptations. I also remember discovering Michael Golden's work through that one issue he did in something like 1977 or '78. But overall, I think my biggest art-love for the "Star Wars" universe would be Ralph McQuarrie, who, to me, defined the look of the films and gave the films their unique presence. Also Joe Johnston and Nilo Rodis-Jamero, who contributed a lot of powerful designs and visuals and deserve a lot of credit.

In what way did the original films help to fuel your imagination as a youngster?

I really got into the visual look of the films. Having come from a small farm town in Ohio in the '70s, dirty farm equipment and hot rods and custom motorcycles were a common sight. Unlike many other science fiction films, which gave you a sanitized future with silver ships and food in a pill, "Star Wars" was gritty and dirty. It has a lot of Sergio Leone in it. I watched the old "Flash Gordon" serials on late night TV, and got a sense of that from the films as well. I liked all the story suggestion of those first two films, it kept you going back to re-watch them -- who are these bounty hunters? What was the Clone War? Why does C-3PO have a silver shin on an otherwise golden body? What's in Toshi Station? Things like that. The films gave you a lot to think about.

How did you tackle this "Star Wars" assignment?

I always approach a project like this -- where the material is so well known and well loved and well represented in pictures and images -- by absorbing as much of the source material and the secondary material as I can. Re-watching the films, looking at domestic and foreign film posters, getting a sense of the expanded universe and all the concept art. Researching the stuff that Lucas would've been looking at and thinking about when he was formulating the stories and the worlds. Looking at McQuarrie's earlier work in film and aero-space. Then I try to find a new and unique view into the world, and try to stay true to the original vision of Lucas, the man he would've been in 1975, dreaming up the script.

Did you immediately gravitate towards wanting to do your interpretation of this scene from "Empire?"

I thought of the "fugue" moments for me, the images which are poetic in their own rights and seem to hang in space outside of narrative. I like the contrast of the fairly fragile machine in a hostile state of nature. So I went for droids in two extreme environments, the ice planet and the desert planet. I imagined the heat of the metal under the sun and the frozen metal in the ice. My take on Luke from the "Jedi" film is an homage to Leone. Luke as Harmonica Man. Luke out for revenge.

DAVID MANDEL

Jorge Khouri: What did the Marvel "Star Wars" series mean to you growing up?

David Mandel: I was almost seven years old when "Star Wars" came out in '77, which I think is the perfect age for that movie to have its maximum impact. Once I saw the movie, everything in my life became about "Star Wars" -- I got a "Star Wars" watch for my birthday, I got the action figures for Chanukah, my friends and I played "Star Wars" all the time. I remember that summer when the treasury editions came -- I sat on a summer vacation with my dad and read them over and over again. And then the series came out and started going past the end of the movie, it was like an answer to my seven-year-old prayers. I wanted more "Star Wars" and all of a sudden I got it. And it was even better than I could have imagined: Han Solo and Chewie having a new adventure in issue 7 -- by the way, as an original art collector, I would kill to own the Marvel "Star Wars" #7 cover, so if you have it, please contact me. And even better than Han and Chewie: Jaxx the angry green rabbit. Jaxx is a fantastic crazy -- they should be doing action figures and new adventures for him, but I always heard George Lucas hated him.

Was that your gateway towards discovering comics?

I was already a comic book reader -- my barber used to give comics away to kids who didn't cry when they got their hair cut. But I was erratic with my comic buying. "Star Wars" locked in the idea of a book coming out every month that I had to have. From that, I sought out newstands that had a good comic selection and eventually I found comic book stores.

What drives you in your passion for collecting "Star Wars" comic art? What satisfaction do you get from it? (Note: Mandel owns the Marvel "Star Wars" #1 cover by Howard Chaykin.)

"Star Wars" comic art is the great uniter of my two passions: "Star Wars" collecting and original comic art collecting. It's like a double high. As a collector, each page or cover is a one of kind example of a piece of nostalgia. What could be better?

Do you have a favorite Star Wars comic artist?

I think there have been some amazing artists who have done their version of "Star Wars" over the years, but I have to go back to my earliest memories -- Howard Chaykin for the original adaptation and Al Williamson for the Sunday strips. They are how I define "Star Wars." They are burned into my soul.

CBR Readers, may the force be with you always! Merry Christmas from Pop!

TAGS:  pop!, star wars, arthur adams, ryan sook, frank quitely, paul pope, david mandel

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