Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Star Wars Comics from Dark Horse

On January 1st, 2015, the license to release comics based on Star Wars is leaving Dark Horse Comics after 20 years and returning to Marvel. With Disney's acquisition of both Marvel and Star Wars in the last couple of years, this was in no way a surprising move. For many, it even brings the license home, as Marvel produced the first Star Wars comics after the initial movie's release in 1977. But for myself, and I expect many others, this is more of a sad reality. Not that I expect Marvel to make bad Star Wars comics! Instead, it's simply the fact that Dark Horse IS the home of Star Wars for many of us of a certain age. I am absolutely of that age and I need to write about this, so here we are.

So first off. Dark Horse has a HUGE bundle of their library of Star Wars comics that you can't get digitally for only $300 until January 1st. As of my writing this, you have 48 hours to get all of their wonderful comics produced over the last 20 years. I know that's not a lot of time, and it's very possible that many of these comics will never see reprints, but I've wanted to sit on writing this and now I'd rather at least try to point people to the comics before they're potentially gone forever.

My first comic very well
might have been this one.
Like a lot of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, there's good and bad. It's normal. I just want to talk a little bit about what I remember and the comics that I've loved through the years here, pretty much all of which are part of that big sale. So from here on out, I'm just going to ramble about the different comic series I loved and why and try not to be too wordy. Hah.

As I said, Dark Horse is Star Wars comics to me. They produce a ton of other great stuff, but if I have a Star Wars comic, it has the Dark Horse logo on it. That's just how it is. I've only done a few interviews about making comics, and usually the question of what you're first comic was comes up. Until recently, I shrugged off the question with an "I honestly don't remember, but probably some X-Men book." But having thought on it, I realize it was a Dark Horse Star Wars comic. Specifically, one of the early Tales of the Jedi books in the mid 90s. I can't tell you which one for sure, but I loved those books. Long before Bioware made Knights of the Old Republic, the Tales of the Jedi comics tackled a setting 4,000 years before the movies and was like nothing Star Wars had ever been. It was Star Wars through and through but it felt entirely unique at the same time. I was in completely. Sadly, those books don't quite hold up like they used to, but I still love them greatly.

This cover was all I needed as a kid.
While the actual Tales of the Jedi comics don't hold up too well outside of my nostalgia, 1996 brought Shadows of the Empire. There was a video game, a novel, and the comic and I had them all, but the comic stuck with me the most. My copy is practically falling apart I've read it so much. This is the Star Wars comic that LOOKED like Star Wars to me. Not just because it was set between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi and starred the cast of the movies, but because of Kilian Plunkett's art. Looking back at the interiors, I can see exactly where my own art style began to grow out of. I wanted to draw like that because I wanted to draw Star Wars.

The next big Star wars comic that hit me was from 1997 and it was Crimson Empire. I haven't read it in years so I couldn't tell you how it held up, but I loved it and it's sequel comics for pretty much all the reasons everyone else did. It was all about the Emperor's Royal Guards doing crazy stuff and I loved Paul Gulacy's art. Just loved it. Look at that cover. That's a hell of a cover and screams at you to buy that book. Plus, it was a Star Wars story that focused on something different than the standard story one comes to expect.

The long-running Knights of the Old Republic comic was one of the best, and absolutely helped pull me back into both comics and Star Wars comics after a few years away. It had the connection to the recently released video game of the same name, but rather than act like slave to being a prequel, told it's own great story with really fun characters that had minor connections to the game you could enjoy if you knew them...but didn't harm the story one bit if you didn't.

Star Wars Legacy, a book set 100 years after the movies and with an absolutely fascinating political structure for the galaxy and also the writer John Ostrander and primary artist Jan Duursema who have since once again defined what Star Wars should look like in comics. There's an Empire and Jedi and Sith and yet it's all fresh and different. I love traditional Star Wars stories, but it's even better to see creators do something interesting and fun with the foundation of it all rather than just tell the same story over and over and over. Legacy absolutely did that well.

The second Star Wars Legacy series from Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko was very much it's own thing rather than a direct sequel to the previous series of the same name, and was another great take on Star Wars that sadly recently ended due to the license shifting. It took the world Legacy had built and stuck to the outskirts of it to do it's own thing. The art, the writing, the storytelling...all of that was so much fun. It will especially be missed.

And then there was the recent series simply called Star Wars launched by Brian Wood and Carlos D'Anda. It was a great book on all fronts, but I specifically have to highlight it because of a character that appeared in the final issues. Her name was Seren, she had blue(ish) hair, was a spy, and the friend of a Princess. Now, this is in every single way a massive coincidence with how much the name and look of the character was close to our Seren from Of Stars and Swords. Seeing a similar character with the same name in Star Wars made me extremely happy. I loved it and I'm smart enough to know when coincidence is what it is (no one's stealing from us because no one knows us!).

There's so much more, but I have to shut up eventually...

So yes...I love Star Wars. I have loved Star Wars comics for pretty much as long as I've loved the movies. The various comics they produced through the years gave me exactly what I wanted from Star Wars but the movies could never show. Star Wars has always been an ideal setting for creators to play in, and many of the absolute highlights of the EU for me were from Dark Horse's comics. There was a wide subject matter and wildly different styles of art and storytelling in all of them. It wasn't all just trying to be another story mimicking the original movies. The comics felt unique and added to the larger universe.

Without Dark Horse's Star Wars comics, I may not be making comics today. At the very least, I don't think my sensibilities would be the same. It was always a dream to maybe one day get far enough with this comics thing to get to do a Star Wars comic for Dark Horse (In addition, the recent appearance of Star Wars Seren made me REALLY want to write her because I'm weird that way). Maybe one day I'll still be able to work on a Star Wars book, and that would still be absolutely wonderful and still be very much a dream come true...but it won't be quite the same. I would never turn down such a possibility just because of a logo, but at the same time, it would be on my mind at least for a moment.

So to everyone that has worked on a Star Wars comic for Dark Horse in any capacity, from editing to writing to drawing to just running the damn thing out the door so it gets out on time: THANK YOU. You all helped to build a characters and a world I loved. I've discovered great creators over the years through your comics. You're a huge part of why I make comics.

I'm going to miss the great work you all did, but one last time: Thank you so much for twenty years of great Star Wars comics.