Jeffrey Brown, the cartoonist behind "Incredible Change-Bots," two books about cats and several notable works of autobiography including "Clumsy" and "Undeleted Scenes," returns with a careful examination of a familiar family relationship as viewed through a pop culture lens -- or, more directly, "Darth Vader and Son."
Published this month by Chronicle Books, "Darth Vader and Son" is a Lucas Arts-approved collection of one-panel cartoons following a beleaguered Anakin Skywalker as he raises young Luke, and father and son alike find some rather interesting ways to use the Force. The central conflict of "Star Wars" looks considerably different -- and much, much funnier -- through Brown's eyes. Comic Book Resources spoke with the popular indy cartoonist about his latest project.
CBR News: Here you are again with another simple-yet-brilliant project Jeffrey. How did it come about and how did you end up pitching it to Lucas Arts?
Jeffrey Brown: I got a call from Ryan Germick, one of the homepage doodle artists at Google, about drawing some sketches to pitch for their Father's Day design -- their idea was doing something about how awkward family dinners would be with Darth Vader and Luke, and I thought making Luke four years old (the same age as my son at the time) would be funny. After seeing the sketches, Google ended up using a different concept, but I asked if I could take the idea and make a book out of it. Chronicle Books has done a bunch of "Star Wars" books, and published my cat books as well, so they were a natural choice. They took the pitch to Lucasfilm, who loved the idea.
What sort of dad would you expect Vader to be?
I think he would be pretty absent, really. "Sorry I missed the school play, Luke -- I was busy crushing the rebellion."
The humor here, of course, relies on playing against type -- Vader by all accounts should be a pretty horrible father, but we get the sense that he's doing his best to keep up with family life while running the Empire. Is your version of Anakin somebody we can relate to, either as a parent or thinking of our own parents?
I just really liked the idea of the Dark Lord of the Sith facing the frustrations that any parent of a four year old faces. I think anyone with kids, or friends with kids, should certainly relate. And of course we can all think about all the torture we put our parents through when we were little.
So much of your comics work is autobiographical. How does your own experience as a father inform the scenes and humor here?
I think the book wouldn't be the same if I wasn't a dad. A lot of the gags are maybe pretty universal child/parent moments, but there's hopefully a nuance that comes with the actual experience. I tried to not make the moments not so specific to my own life, though.
Luke is, shall we say, not the strong leader he will eventually become when we first meet him in "A New Hope." Would spending his childhood with his father toughen him up a bit, or is he more likely to test the Dark Lord of the Sith's patience to breaking?
I think Luke might've ended up a total peace-loving hippy if he had to live with Vader. Maybe he'd be something like a trust-fund, art school drop out. It'd be an entirely different kind of test for Vader's patience. He'd be trying to get Luke to join him ruling the galaxy while Luke's just running around with his friends.
Where is Leia in all of this?
Leia does make the briefest of appearances, but I wanted the book to focus on Luke and Vader. If I get to do a sequel, it'll definitely be Leia-centric.
The book is a collection of one-panel gags. What makes this the most effective vehicle for humor here, rather than a book-length narrative of the Skywalker family?
I think trying to make this book narrative would've made it more difficult to walk the line of referencing things from the "Star Wars" universe and making something new -- so where things happen and what's going on are all kind of vaguely placed. For a narrative I would've needed to focus so much on the story there'd be a lot of jokes I couldn't use, or wouldn't have the same punch.
"Incredible Change-Bots" was another parody of pop culture icons. What catches your interest about this kind of story?
It's maybe a bit of indulging my nostalgia for my childhood. In general, though, there's something to playing on well known characters and properties. As an artist you can use the history of the icon without having to re-establish it, and you're able to create tension against your audience's established expectations or understanding.
"Darth Vader and Son" was a ton of fun to make. The past year has been a really fun year overall, between co-writing and making artwork for a film ("Save The Date"), finishing the latest autobiographical book ("A Matter Of Life") and "Darth Vader and Son," I feel like I've had the chance to do a lot of different kinds of projects.
"Darth Vader and Son" create a disturbance in the Force April 18.