May 19 - Two premiere anniversaries tonight. Star Wars; Episode 1, The Phantom Menace was released to theaters on this date in 1999, and Star Wars; Episode 3, Revenge of The Sith debuted on May 19th, 2005. One of the "secrets" of the Star Wars films is the attention given to patterns and symbolism, and that extends all the way though the dates chosen for premieres. George Lucas called the films "a poem that rhymes," and that metaphor seems apt. I'm not so sure, however, that the same thing could be said for the "Expanded Universe," especially as it affects Star Wars comic books. The comics seem to be peripheral at best, if not inconsequential...having about as much influence on the world of the films as the color of a paint job does to the speed of a racecar. Looking at some of my own personal collection (which is by no means authoritative nor complete), these comics seem to fall into two categories; adaptations and "side adventures." The adaptations are not only of the movies, but also of some of the Expanded Universe books and television projects (Droids, Ewoks, Clone Wars, etc.). Events of the "side adventures" supposedly take place between the films, before the films, or, rarely, after the films. The most notable exception to all of this seems to be the misadventures of Tag and Bink, two hapless Everymen who wander though the background of some of the major moments of the movies. Otherwise, there has been no attempt to truly continue the storylines of the films through other media. And I'm not all that sure that such a thing would even be smart, but there is a precedent, and it comes from the world of comics! In the Golden Age of newspaper comics, about half of them featured continuous, cohesive storylines (as opposed to gags). Those strips featured daily advancement of the story, yet they were also designed in such a way that a reader could enjoy the storyline by reading just the Sunday color installments. This made for a lot of hemming and hawing during the week, to be sure, but not always (in fact, a small handful of strips ran two completely different storylines; a weekday-only story and a Sunday-only story). Sometimes readers would see important story elements develop in the daily strips, usually at the hands of auxiliary characters, which would be revealed to the main characters in the Sunday segments. If you read only the Sunday funnies, you'd just see Sam run in and say "Tracy! I figured it out! It's been Flattop all along!" Sunday readers got a full story, but daily readers saw how that story developed, and that was much more rewarding. At one point, comics legend and chief cheerleader Mort Walker estimated that such story-strips accounted for as much as thirty percent of daily newspaper sales. I guess it's human nature...everyone wants to be "in the know," so this was a pretty effective tool to move newsprint. Speaking of Irwin Hasen, as I was a couple of nights ago, I should mention that he was the artist of one of the most successful story-strips ever, Dondi. Dondi was an Italian World War Two war orphan who was adopted by a group of American soldiers, who then brought the kid back to the U.S. with them. It was a great premise, and Irwin knew what he was doing with it (even winning several cartooning awards for it over the years). While he was my teacher (over twenty years ago now...UGH), he went to great pains to try to pass on his "secret formula" for balancing story advancement and weekly recaps. In a nutshell, it was this; for the daily strips, recap the last strip in the first panel, comment on that in the second panel, advance it all slightly in the third panel (stretching it to a fourth when required), ending with a question or cliffhanger. Lather, rinse, repeat. The Sunday strip, then, was composed of the first recap from the beginning of the week (which was also, presumably, the last question or cliffhanger from the previous Sunday strip), a repeating of each of the third panels from the weekday strips, and a final panel which ended with a new question or cliffhanger. He felt that it was important to give Sunday readers a pay-off before that final panel, so that's where he'd advance the past week's story to a resolution point (sometimes major, sometimes minor). There was more to all of it, of course, but that's basically what he did for several years, leaving poor Dondi in a perpetual state of worry (or, at least he always looked worried). Most of his rules were actually dictated by editorial decree. It was important that the strip's storyline be accessible to even those who only saw, say, the occasional Wednesday paper as well. Much like my reluctance to ever, ever watch a single episode of Lost because I know that there will be absolutely no possible way for me to figure out what the heck is going on, comic strip readers might shy away from anything too confusing. In practice, this is very frustrating. Every single one of my literal "college tries" to create a story-strip were met with disgust and many scribbled corrections from Irwin as he said "No, no, NO! You're advancing the story too much! You should spread these three panels out over three WEEKS!" AK! It's hard, working in that fashion. This constant struggle to tell a story while also not telling it is one of the reasons (of many) that Garry Trudeau requires that Doonesbury be run as an editorial cartoon...just so that he can get some real storytelling done within his lifetime! The "rules" have relaxed a bit now, and there are very few story-strips anymore anyway. Still, that old-school lesson in utilizing different forms of storytelling and media to tell a single larger story could come in handy for the world of Star Wars. And don't say "But they're done making Star Wars films," because we are about a year away from a highly anticipated live-action Star Wars TV series! I don't know much about it yet, but I can guess two things; it will have comic book tie-ins in some way, and it will have some sort of "premiere" in the month of May. Hey! That rhymes! Here's your Star Wars Comic Book Character of The Day - Darth Maul!
May 18 - Aha! I've caught up! Well, sort of. It's still the 19th as I post this "May 18th" entry, but it's the early, wee, AM hours at the tail-end of my "May 18th" day, so it still counts. Of course, now that I say all of this, I am actually going to quickly wrap it all up because it is (was) The WOMP Staff's birthday today! She is censored years old now; still just a young'n. Anyhoo, it's all about her today, so I'm done messing with the WOMPuter for the night, I guess. Here, then, is your Star Wars Comic Book Character of The Day - Greedo!
May 17 - Yes, yes...I am running a day behind...still! I don't know why I don't just skip ahead so that I am actually posting my entries on the days that I am supposedly writing them...or writing them on the days that I am supposed to post them...or are posting and writing and it's the same day and...whatever. You know what I mean. I guess I just have so much planned for each day that I am unwilling to skip one (yeah, right). Whatever the reason, I am now posting this "May 17" entry at about 2:00PM on the 18th. Let's imagine (shall we?) that it is really still the 17th. As such, I want to say "Happy 45th Birthday, Craig Ferguson!" I watch Mr. Ferguson every weeknight on the Late, Late Show, and really enjoy his somewhat awkward, off-the-cuff, and, dare I say, cheeky style. Another aspect that I enjoy, much more than I would have ever imagined, is that he is basically the same age as I am. His references are from my lifetime, his perspectives were formed by the same world events as I experienced, and his current interests mirror mine quite often. It is surprising to me that this would even matter to me, but it sort of does. For better or worse, he is speaking for me and my generation. Neat! I've said it here before, but I should repeat my childhood concern that I was living through a particularly uninteresting, unremarkable time. Looking back, this seems ridiculous (if not preposterous), but very little of the world of my youth seemed timeless to me at the time. How could I know then that Disco would eventually seem classic, Jimmy Carter would ever be seen as a hero, and people would look back at Happy Days as part of a Golden Age of TV comedy? All I knew then was that they were all nearly insufferable and/or wholly embarrassing. Of course, there were exceptions, like the NASA space program and, again, Star Wars. Strangely, as thirty years have passed, the fictional space adventures like those in Star Wars have more of an impact on modern public consciousness than actual space explorations. In fact, if it weren't for the astronaut-diapers lady, most people wouldn't be sure whether NASA was still operating. That saddens me. When I was a kid, the two went hand in hand, and both camps knew it. Why do you think NASA caved to the Nerd Nation by naming the first operational space shuttle The Enterprise? To me, "science fantasy" fuels "science fact," and vice versa. When one lags behind, it hurts both. Of course, both are still plugging along, perhaps even thriving, but now only one holds a warm place in day-to-day common awareness. In great part, we've become a world of dreamers who don't imagine those dreams as ever coming true. We embrace the fiction, but ignore the science. Beyond Stephen Hawking, I would be hard-pressed to name any "famous" scientist...and, now that I think about it, I'm not even sure what a "scientist" is anymore. When I was a kid, it was the people (mostly men) in those long white lab coats who mixed colorful or bubbling chemicals in beakers, or wrote an elaborate series of confusing numbers and symbols on a chalkboard. That may not have been true, but it seemed like it. And I used to know all sorts of living physicists, theorists, scientists, and researchers right off the top of my head, from Carl Sagan to Wernher von Braun. Now? Maybe those people who cracked the human genome...but which ones? Maybe the problem is that there are no longer these grand, visionary, larger than life figures in the scientific fields, replaced, rather, by dedicated, but faceless, teams of people. Maybe the problem is that there are few truly grand discoveries being made anymore. Maybe it's just the media's unwillingness to focus on deserving scientists when so many hot celebrities are getting arrested all the time. Whatever the reason, it seems like a legitimate problem to me. There is an entire generation of these people who were first introduced to their passion by catching a glimpse of it in an episode of Star Trek or in the pages of comic books, then led to their professions by corresponding news stories of similar scientific discoveries. If one of those legs is cut off, the whole thing may fall. Hmm. Well, I've pontificated enough for one day (yesterday?). Here is your Star Wars Comic Book Character of The Day - Plo Koon!
May 16 - Today, the 16th, marks the first of this month's Star Wars films' premiere anniversaries. On this date, "way back" in 2002, Star Wars; Episode 2, Attack of The Clones made its debut. By this point in the relationship between Star Wars and comic books, adaptations were de rigueur, expected purely as a matter of tradition. I'm not even sure whether or not I even purchased the Clones comics...or even whether anyone did, for that matter. Back in the day, however, authentic Star Wars comics were scarce, and the vast majority quickly were declared "non-canon" by the time The Empire Strikes Back came out. As a young reader, this was greatly disappointing. All of the emotional investment and, to be honest, zealous nerdity that I had given to the stories and details of those comics worlds went right out the window. This non-canonization also affected Star Wars; Splinter of The Mind's Eye, an amazing first serious attempt at an expanded SW storyline, written by Sci-Fi legend Alan Dean Foster. As a fifth grader, I devoured that book, which was probably meant for older readers than I. I was so convinced that it was the secret blueprint for the coming film sequel, that I memorized every detail. Boy, was I wrong. Just as happened with the comics, it turns out that none of the book's storyline ever "happened" (most notably the romance between Luke and Leia...ICKY!). When the original Marvel Star Wars comics series finally came to a merciful end, it had so diverged from the continuity of the films that Ewoks, the Star Comics series for kids, more closely resembled the accepted storyline. At a certain point, the SW licensers just gave up and started all over again. By the time the Star Wars Galaxy found an appreciative new home at Dark Horse, the continuity controls were pretty firmly in place...to such an extent that some of the comics characters found their way into the films, like Aayla Secura. I've been thinking a lot about those "lost continuities" of the non-canon comics, starting with the bizarre green-skinned camel-guy Jabba way back in 1977. There is something almost quaint or romantic about those characters who have since been erased from official existence. It reminds me of the marvelous stories that are in that book of Superman comic strip reprints that I got for Christmas. Like the SW stories, these were contemporaneous continuities, in many cases more accessible and well known than what became the "official" continuity. How sad that these works have been arbitrarily removed from "history." From my days at the Kubert School twenty years ago, I remember fondly the look on the face of teacher Irwin Hasen when we told him that one of his comics creations, Wildcat, was still "alive." He had no idea, and the revelation left him teary-eyed and thankful. Think about how much of his work has been labeled as "never happened," purely because of the whims of taste and convenience. That Wildcat is still sluggin' along, 65 years since he was introduced, must fill Irwin with understandable, and well deserved, pride (on a side-note, Mr. Hasen suffered a stroke a couple of weeks ago. If you are so inclined, get-well cards can be sent to him at Irwin Hasen (patient), c/o The VA Hospital, 423 East 23rd Street, 13th Floor, New York, NY 10010). Anyhoo, I felt that something should be done to recognize the unique non-canon, outside-continuity creations from some of these artists, so I have been inspired to draw a few of them. I call it the Denizens of Lost Worlds series, and I've already completed two. The first is of the mute leader of the bird-men of The Underground World, one of the Fleischer animated Superman shorts of the 1940's. The second is that non-traditional Jabba The Hutt which I've been discussing recently. As I was drawing them, it really struck me that I may be the only artist to have revisited these characters since they first appeared decades ago (give or take a year). I want to expand the series to at least five total characters, so I am looking for three more. If you, dear reader, have a suggestion, I'd be happy to hear it. I am looking for characters which were once solidly accepted as being part of whatever "official" continuity there may have been, but have since been "eliminated." Speaking of elimination, I am out of time, so I have to end this rambling with your Attack of The Clones inspired Star Wars Comic Book Character of The Day - Mace Windu!
May 15 - Man, oh man. I am whipped! I have been working now for twenty-three hours straight...or should I say that I have been awake for twenty-three hours straight. The "working" moments probably only add up to ten hours or so, but, any way you slice it, I am exhausted! Whew! Now, at about 11:00AM on the 16th, I finally have a moment to post at least something before I collapse. But what? Things here at WOMP H.Q. have been busy, but not particularly all that interesting. I guess I have been making some preliminary Fallfire 4 plans, but nothing more than a little legwork and calendar planning. Oh, I did want to talk a bit more about Star Wars comic books (just a bit). Since 1977, I purchased a LOT of SW comics material, starting with the continuing series adventures from Marvel. A short while later (1979?), I also began saving Star Wars comic strips! Yep, the "Star Wars Effect" touched virtually every aspect of American life back then, from Bob Hope monologues and Presidential directives, to shoelaces and drinking straws...and that included the newspaper comics. First came the knock-offs, of course, but, eventually the immortal Russ Manning was coaxed back into the comics biz by an offer to draw, and write, his own official Star Wars strip. What a perfect fit! The genius behind Magnus: Robot Fighter comic books from the previous decade was back in the realm of futuristic architecture, space princesses, and shiny metal robots. Of course, at 12 years old, I didn't know anything about Magnus...for me, I was just thrilled that his strip prominently featured C-3PO (my favorite SW character). Unfortunately, after just about a year, Mr. Manning was diagnosed with cancer. The comic strip was handed to others (including fellow comics legends Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson), while Mr. Manning underwent treatment. Sadly, he never recovered, and, in 1982, he passed away at the age of 53. While I admit that I also enjoyed later versions of the strip, I will always have a special place in my heart for those earliest Russ Manning adventures. And, on that note, I must get some sleep (more dread "real" job today...in just five hours! UGH!), so here's your Star Wars Comic Book Character of The Day - Lobot!