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Interviews -
Face To Face With The Masters

Any citizen of the galaxy may be summoned to answer to the Jedi Council. Here you may read the transcripts of such sessions.

Cellblock 1138 - 1997-1999 - 2000 - 2002 - 2003+

Darko Macan and Rich Handley

February 2000, by Jeff Boivin

Writers Darko Macan and Rich Handley talk about their collaboration on the Lando story in the upcoming Star Wars Tales #3 anthology, as well as their individual past work. Darko's Chewbacca #2 just came out this week. The interview was conducted by e-mail, so I never got to meet them (and Darko lives in Croatia.)

JB: Hi Rich, Darko. I want to ask about the new Chewbacca series. Darko, you talked in detail about the genesis and the approach of the story in a recent story on Dark Horse's website. But I would like to now: what amount of research did you do? Did Dark Horse provide you with obscure story material like the Wookiee Storybook, the "Holiday Special", the Russ Manning strip or the Way of the Wookiee UK comic?

DARKO: Honestly, I always do as little research as possible...:) I try to become aware of preexisting continuity in order not to unnecessarily annoy the fans, but I'm of the firm opinion that a story should not be judged by the number of cross-references alone. Within an universe as developed as Star Wars one is, there is a very evident danger of a story getting lost amidst all the nods to the continuity and the tippings of the hat to the fellow creators. I, therefore, try to be informed but I primarily stick to the movies and try to make the story equally enjoyable to everyone, even someone who presumably has just stumbled upon it without any previous knowledge of the Star Wars universe. A comic-book story, like any other story, should stand on its own terms and not be judged solely on how well it fits into a puzzle of the past two decades of spin-offs.

RICH: Darko contacted me to ask what stories were essential to Chewbacca's past, and so I alerted him to all of the stories that you mentioned and offered to provide them if he needed them. In addition to those comics, I also referred him to Marvel issue 91 and the novels of Ann Crispin, Brian Daley, and Michael Kube-McDowell, all of which I felt did the best job of characterizing Chewbacca.

JB: The first issue of Chewbacca came out just before the second book in the New Jedi Order series, which is when the story takes place. This is good timing. Should the comic series be considered as part of the NJO?

DARKO: That question you should direct to the editorial brain-trust. It's their job to handle the timing and the story arcs. I'm just happy to dig in my own corner of the yard.

JB: The story is very sad, especially the first issue as seeing the reaction of family members to the loss of a loved one is always poignant. You've captured perfectly every aspect of Chewbacca: the hero, the proud son, the brave lover, the awe-inspiring enemy. All of that in short "vignettes." Darko, how do you decide what parts of a story to leave out, and what parts to focus on?

DARKO: Uh... By instinct? Actually, my main approach when writing a story or a script is to try not to bore myself. And I get bored easily, so I'd rather compress two pages of characters discussing the background info into a panel or two, where allusions to that info can be mixed together with some character development for easier digestion, and lose nothing in the impact. Therefore, I focus on the stuff that interests me and that I hope will make for the smoother story that will appeal to the reader, too. Instinct, as I said, helps, but you hone that instinct through years of practice.

JB: This is the greatest tribute Chewie could get. It is a better approach by far than the expected funeral series. You did an amazing job on the first issue, and I'm sure the rest will be just as good! Speaking of Chewbacca's death; you've suffered a real-life tragedy yourself; the loss of your friend and artist Edvin Biukovic. I was sad to hear the news since you guys were such a dynamic team.

DARKO: It was a shock, above all else. Two weeks from the diagnosis of the brain tumor to a fast and unexpected death. I call myself a writer and I've written at least a dozen pieces on Edvin's death so far but I'm still trying to find the right words to explain how empty and scary the place in my life where he used to be is.

RICH: I was very saddened to hear of Edvin Biukovic's death, not only because I loved his work but because Darko has always spoken so highly of him that I regret not ever having had the chance to meet him in person. I'd hoped to interview him for Topps, but that unfortunately never came to pass. However, I'm honored to be able to play a small part in paying tribute to him in an upcoming issue of the Chewie miniseries -- I provided Peet Janes a piece of artwork that Edvin drew for me a few years back for a website I'd been running. Darko had been nice enough to ask Edvin to draw Chewie for me, and I was hysterical when it arrived, for he'd drawn Chewie, all right... but as a midget! Peet thought that including "Little Chewie" would be a fitting tribute to Edvin's planned involvement with the series, and I couldn't agree more.

JB: Who can forget his brilliant work in X-Wing: The Phantom Affair? The story arc endeared readers to the series and it became a favorite among fans. At the time you were writing it, did you know the series would become so popular? Did you do any other work with Mike Stackpole?

DARKO: There's a funny story... Actually, it's funny now but back then it upset me to no end. When I accepted the job on X-Wing nobody told me I'll have Mike as a co-writer, and I was too young and stupid to ask (as opposed to old and stupid like I am now). I signed up, looking forward to writing a series of my own, and then I learned the truth. So, during the whole scripting process I was so upset at Mike (not that any of this was actually his fault) that I was continuously taking potshots at Tycho, Mike's addition to Rogue Squadron. I found my notes from the period where I was calling Tycho "teacher's pet" and I remember taking special pleasure in beating him up for a couple of pages at the end of issue one. See how noble creatures the writers are? Later, I exchanged a couple of letters with Mike, and I can laugh at the whole situation now. Heck, maybe I would even work together with Mike again.

RICH: The Phantom Affair is among my favorite story arcs of that series, and is how I met Darko. Soon after those issues appeared in stores, I saw a post from Darko on rec.arts.sf.starwars.misc and emailed him to say I'd enjoyed his work. Darko turned out to be a nice guy, and an online friendship soon ensued. We were SUPPOSED to meet a few months back when he came to America, but somehow, it didn't work out. Darko and I disagree on... ahem... who forgot to provide the other a phone number.

JB: Darko, what else did you work on with Edvin, aside from Star Wars?

DARKO: Through years, we worked on a number of things. There's a book of short stories we did together (serialized in the USA in Negative Burn anthology), I helped him on some children comics, we did some gag-stuff together... Then, in 1993 we pitched a Grendel Tales proposal that grew into two story arcs, collected into Devils and Deaths paperback, over at Dark Horse. That's probably the most talked about and the most personal book for both of us, and the one I'd like to see people read. After the X-Wing book, our careers took us down the different paths for a while, but we were reunited for a short story in the upcoming Weird War Tales and were progressing on a creator-owned SF series tentatively called "Silver Sun". That short story turned out to be Edvin's last work, and an amazing one to boot. Do check it when WWT comes out from Vertigo in February.

JB: Rich, you guys collaborated on a Lando story for Star Wars Tales #3, illustrated by Chris Brummel. I know you did a lot of research for Lando's background. How did the collaboration work? And what can we expect to see in that story?

RICH: The story in Star Wars Tales is called "Lady Luck," and it's based on a storyline I had going on in my head for a while. Prior to the end of West End Games' license, I'd begun writing for the Star Wars Adventure Journal, and as I became more and more familiar with the books WEG had published, I came across an interesting little tidbit in a book called Crisis on Cloud City. The book's great, by the way -- a fun adventure and a highly-recommended reference book about Bespin and its many features. A short passage in the book said Lando had won the city away from a despot named Baron Raynor, but there wasn't much more to the passage, leaving a lot to the imagination. I decided to give him the first name "Tallot," but Dan Wallace beat me to it and named him "Dominic" in his Essential Chronology.

Lando was always a favorite character of mine, not only because he's flawed, but because he's so damn cool - unfortunately, few of the authors have given him much to do, and so I thought it'd be nice to do a Lando story if I ever got the chance. In fact, I'd wanted to write Star Wars comics for a long time, and had spoken to Peet Janes and others at Dark Horse several times, but landing a Star Wars gig - even if you've already written for other licensees, as I had -- isn't an easy thing to do. The competition is fierce, and many of the assignments go to authors with more recognition to their names (understandably so, of course). I'd written for a couple of newspapers and magazines, and the Adventure Journal as I said, but I wasn't well-known.

Peet told me that because of Dark Horse and Lucasfilm policies, it'd be difficult for me to land a comics assignment unless I was either invited to do so (which I wasn't... heh heh) or to co-write something with one of the more established writers. However, he was still kind enough to get me some work here and there. For instance, I contributed a detailed bibliography of Archie Goodwin's Star Wars work for Peet's tribute to Archie in the Insider, and he also asked me and Joe Bongiorno to pen introductions for Dark Horse's Classic Star Wars: A Long Time Ago.... The intros were cut due to a change in the series' format, but it was an honor to be asked to write them, nonetheless.

I approached Darko about co-writing something with me, and a partnership / mentorship began. He suggested I come up with some ideas, and from my list we chose one that seemed to work the best -- the story of how Lando won Bespin from its previous owner. I was glad Darko agreed to that one, given my enthusiasm for Lando's character, but mostly, I was just glad to be given a chance. I'm very grateful to Darko for giving me that opportunity, and for all the valuable advice he gave me about writing comics.

When Peet accepted the proposal and assigned us to Star Wars Tales, I was very pleased (to border on gross under-statement). From that point, the collaboration went smoothly -- we agreed that I'd be the plotter, Darko the scripter. I had several goals in mind -- I wanted to tell a good story, I wanted to have fun doing it, and I wanted to include the following elements:

a) an elaboration on the WEG module's account,
b) insight into the relationship between Lando and Lobot,
c) an explanation for why his ship is called Lady Luck,
d) the origin of his long-time battle with Drebble, a character from the Marvel comic series.
Those who know me know that I'm something of a continuity nut. In fact, that's what led to my having assisted Darko on Vader's Quest -- he knew how much I enjoy the Marvel series and the old Goodwin newspaper strips, and so he asked me to help him avoid overt continuity problems with those stories as he undertook the daunting task of chronicling Vader's search for Luke. To make sure I didn't add to the existing continuity errors with "Lady Luck," I spent a lot of time looking into Lando's past and working out the timing. This story takes place around a year after A New Hope, for all the timeliners out there; he has already fought in the Battle of Tanaab, and he has just had a bad experience on Hollogram Fun World, as shown in the Galaxy of Fear books. Pablo Hidalgo and Joe Bongiorno were particularly helpful to me in researching things along the way, and the SWFA (an on-line Star Wars fan-group) also proved a valuable resource.

Eventually, I put together a 12-page, detailed rundown of the entire plot from start to finish, which Peet and Darko perused. I then created a second proposal, a page or so in length, for Lucasfilm to approve. Once the storyline was approved, Darko began crafting a script based on my original outline, while I provided Peet illustrations of Drebble and Lando's previous ship, the Cobra, for the artist to reference. (Chris did a FANTASTIC job, by the way -- it perfectly augments the story and is exactly what I would have hoped for.) When Darko was done, I read over the script, curious as to what he might have changed and anxious to see how the storyline would play out in the end. To my gratified surprise, Darko kept about 95% of my original plot -- and what he did change only improved the storytelling. My biggest thrill came with the realization that Drebble had made the final cut -- as a character from the Marvel run, he was in the most danger of being removed from the story, but most of what I wrote for him remained intact. Authors have referenced the Marvel tales here and there in recent years -- Ann Crispin's books and the Crimson Empire comics, for example. However, none have done a direct sequel (or, more accurately, a prequel) to a Marvel tale before, and so I'm very pleased to have been allowed to set the stage for Drebble's ongoing rivalry with Lando. I even got to give him a first name!

All in all, I'd say the collaboration was a success, and I can only hope that the readers enjoy our work. Any time Darko wants to work together again, I'm game. :)

DARKO: I don't think there's anything left for me to say here...:) Basically, I took the easy way out: I let Rich do the hard work of checking the facts and straightening the continuity, then I streamlined it a bit, added some character touches, humor and the other stuff I enjoy. An enjoyable experience.

JB: About Vader's Quest; Rich was immortalized by having a nerdy character named after him (Rich.) I thought that was very funny. Was that your first collaboration? How did you guys meet?

RICH: Ha! You caught my cameo, eh? I, too, got a kick out of that one, and laughed out loud when I read it. Luckily (or unluckily) for me, I look nothing like that techie in the issue. :) Incidentally, you'll also find me as cameos in Ann Crispin's Rebel Dawn and in David MacIntee's Dr. Who novel Mission Improbable.

Vader's Quest was the first time I'd worked with Darko. (See my answer above for how we met.) However, I don't want to take credit that's not mine to take -- "Quest" was all Darko's baby, so it wasn't a collaboration in the true meaning of the word. I just offered some helpful suggestions and comments along the way, such as alerting him to the fact that "Mala" was the name of Chewie's wife -- at first, Darko was alarmed that he'd inadvertently created a second character by that name, but instead it turned into a funny gag in issue 4, when the Emperor belittled Mala for having a Wookiee name!

DARKO: And then it turned into a Chapter Four of the Chewbacca series, which explains how Mala Mala got her name. I'm just too vain to admit mistakes, I had to go and make it look like it was all planned from the beginning. That actually illuminates another one of my writing principles: that there's more than one way to achieve the story goals, and that even accidents serve to enrich the final product. By the way, have you noticed the nod to Rich on the first page of the Lando story?

JB: Rich, you've written a series of very interesting articles for Topps' Star Wars Galaxy Collector, which keeps me buying the magazine every time it comes out. I hope you're planning on continuing your great work. What is will we see in upcoming issues?

RICH: Thank you very much for such a kind comment! I appreciate knowing you enjoyed the articles -- it's good to know someone is reading them. LOL! I started writing for the Star Wars Galaxy Collector as of issue 2. I was supposed to be in issue 1, but there were some unexpected delays and so I debuted the following issue. Dave Pipgras, with whom I'd worked on a fanzine called the Star Wars Collector, suggested me to Topps when he joined the writing team, and Dan Wallace and Steve Sansweet were kind enough to recommend me as well. I've been with Topps ever since, handling all of their comics coverage and doing other articles as needed. I've begun writing for the Star Wars Insider, Star Trek Communicator, Cinefantastique, Toons, and other publications, so I've been able to keep busy. My work for Topps has afforded me opportunities I wouldn't have otherwise had, and I'm grateful to my editors (Bob Woods and Marc Patten) for that.

I can tell you some of the ideas that are in the works for Topps. I want to take a look back at all of the adventures over the years to feature Wedge, beginning with the Manning strips and Marvel issue #78. Another article may focus on the important Imperial characters created for the comics, past and present, while a third might take all the events of the various Shadows of the Empire components and work out a cohesive timeline of events occurring within that tale. I have some other ideas brewing as well, including a discussion of the many audio-dramas and dramatizations published under the Star Wars banner. Hopefully, I'll be able to pursue these ideas some day, either with Topps or with the Insider.

JB: One of those articles was about unpublished comics, like unpublished Russ Manning strips and Blackthorne comics, or even the legendary Lightsider by Tom Veitch. How did you become privy to such information?

RICH: Just lucky, I guess. :) Lightsider I knew about from having corresponded with Tom Veitch on the subject, and from having been among the lucky few to receive a copy of the manuscript. Originally, my article featured a lot more information on that oft-lamented tale, but a decision was made to keep the Lightsider comments to a minimum for whatever reason, and so much of what I wrote on the subject never made it to press. The unpublished Russ Manning strips I was lucky enough to obtain from Andy Mangels, while the information on Blackthorne's Star Wars 3-D series and other unpublished comics came directly from the creators involved with those projects, whom I painstakingly tracked down for interviews and generally made a pest of myself to.

JB: You had just published your first Star Wars short story in West End Games' Adventure Journal #14 with "Crimson Bounty" co-written by Charlene Newcomb when the company stopped publishing Star Wars material. Were you planning on publishing more stories?

RICH: Sadly, yes. Char and I had written a sequel to "Crimson Bounty" called "The Contact," which had undergone some extensive rewriting and was in the final editing stage when WEG lost the license. By the way, I'd like to publicly take this moment to thank my dear friend Charlene Newcomb for inviting me to co-write "Crimson Bounty" with her. That single story has opened up a lot of doors for me, and I can't even begin to repay my debt to her. Char and I had planned more Crimson stories in the future, but for now, Crimson and her partner, Kaj Nedmak, remain in Star Wars limbo. In addition to the Crimson tales, I also wrote an "Alien Encounters" piece about the aliens of the Marvel series, which was to have been a continuing feature in future issues of the Adventure Journal. Some day, I'd love to revisit that material in one form or another, as it was some of the most fun I've had writing for Star Wars.

JB: What's in the future for you two? And Rich, any chance of ever seeing that sequel to "Crimson Bounty" published in a future anthology?

RICH: A future anthology, eh? Hey, I'd love to, as I know Char would! All I can say is that no one has mentioned it to us so far, which is a shame since Char's first Crimson story, "A Certain Point of View," was reprinted in Tales From the Empire. It would be cool to see the two sequels in an anthology, but you never know. As for future projects, I have a lot in the works right now, most of which I hope comes to pass. I'm putting together some proposals for comic book work with science fiction and young adult novelist Scott Ciencin, and I have more work lined up with the Insider and the Communicator. In addition, I've just begun writing some humor pieces for Cracked Magazine. I've also got a few other proposals in the works, but it's too early to go into some of them at this point. My goal is to be able to support myself fully on my writing, and though I'm not quite there yet... I'm getting close.

DARKO: I have no idea...:) I was talking about some Star Wars stuff with Peet before he left but I don't know what the status of that is. I'm equally unclear on the status of various projects I've been talking with folks over at Vertigo. What I would really like to do is some creator-owned stuff but I've apparently picked the worst possible time for this, especially considering the market conditions. I guess, I'll just sit back, scratch my head, write an occasional Mickey Mouse story, draw an occasional strip and perhaps finish that second mid-grade novel that's been yelling at me from the shelf for quite some time.

Thanks go to Shawna Ervin-Gore at Dark Horse for making this interview possible, and to Allan Kausch at LFL for the corrections.

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