We're pumping new life into our interview section here at TheForce.net with the addition of Mandy B. to the staff. To get things started Mandy recently had the opportunity to ask Dark Horse Comic's Randy Stradley a few questions.
MandyB: Randy, we already know you’re an awesome guy. Describe yourself using three words or phrases.
Randy Stradley: Before I get to describing myself, I must object that your opening statement assumes facts not in evidence. Very little awesomeness here -- as this interview will confirm.
Randy Stradley… 1. …is easygoing. 2. …thinks characters and themes are more important than plots. 3. …holds a grudge.
You didn’t ask me to explain any of the phrases, so read into them what you will.
MB: Alternate Answer?
RS: [In the words of Dwight Schrute] "How would I describe myself? Three words. Hard-working, alpha male, Jackhammer, Merciless, Insatiable."
MB: Why comic books? How did you end up with Dark Horse and in particular Star Wars?
RS: I actually set out to work in film, but as I got into the business, I began to realize how many cogs there are in a film production, and how small most of them are. Even if you’re the screenwriter, your work still gets filtered through -- and altered by -- producers, directors, actors, etc. At about the same time (late ’70s, early ’80s) I was getting back into comics and seeing its potential as a storytelling medium -- one in which the writer has more control and a greater assurance of seeing his or her vision in the final product. It’s still a collaboration, but because the stakes are smaller, fewer people want to put their fingerprints on it.
I had already gotten my feet wet in comics with a few stories sold to Marvel and DC, but I was living in Los Angeles, working on a “GoBots” script, when Mike Richardson called me. He had talked about starting a publishing company, and in the summer of 1985 he decided the time was right. He asked me if I wanted to be the editor, and I said yes and returned home to Oregon. It took us a year to get the first issue out the door, but it has been a fun ride ever since.
Taking on our Star Wars line was a hard decision for me. My very first job in comics had been writing an issue of Star Wars for Marvel and, at that time, I felt like I had said all I had to say about the galaxy far, far away. The editor at Marvel had asked me to submit more stories, but all of them were rejected -- probably for good reasons. I resurrected and rejiggered one rejected plot, which became Crimson Empire, but I was still lukewarm (Ha! Luke, get it?) on the characters and situations in Star Wars. Now, don’t get me wrong -- I was (and continue to be) a huge fan of the films. But I just couldn’t see what I could add to the franchise.
Then, after watching a string of editors (five, to be exact) burn out and depart after stints editing Star Wars (and not just depart from Dark Horse -- four of them left comics altogether) and a sixth editor, Dave Land, expressing concerns that he was reaching the burn-out point, I decided Dark Horse needed a fresh approach to the franchise. I felt that too often we had contented ourselves with following in the wake of the films or the novels. Too many of our efforts were directed toward filling in gaps within the existing continuity rather than branching out and building our own. I decided it was time to do some real expanding of the Expanded Universe. It took almost a year to reinvent our approach, but eventually we concentrated our efforts on two ongoing series set in specific time periods (Republic, which dealt with the Prequel Era, and Empire, which revisited the Original Trilogy Era), with the stated goal of telling good stories rather than trying to build plots around continuity gaps or landmarks.
A couple of years later, we reinvented everything again, expanding our scope to four distinct time periods with Knights of the Old Republic, Dark Times, Rebellion, and Legacy. This year, with the introduction of Invasion, we’re kicking off another round of change. We’ll have more news about that in the coming months, but essentially we’re trying to keep our stories -- and the Star Wars franchise -- fresh and exciting for both established fans and new readers.
MB: Due to your position, you are one of the “go-to” guys on matters of continuity and canon. In light of the recent issues w/ the EU (Karen Traviss, “The Clone Wars”), is there anything you want to add?
RS: Ah, but you see, I am NOT one of the “go-to” guys on matters of continuity. That would be Leland Chee, or Mr. Lucas himself. What I have control over is what goes into the comics, and I do have some very specific ideas about how we at Dark Horse should proceed. My primary rule is to find clever ways to use what has already been established. There should not be any need to “fix” what the movies have shown us -- no need to create new powers for the Jedi beyond what we’ve seen in the films; no need to create new, “better” technology (or to establish limitations on existing technology that are not specified in the movies); no need to rework, adjust, or tarnish any place, thing, or character we’ve seen on the screen. The job of the writers who work for me is to tell great stories within the framework Lucas has created. If I feel that the goal of one of my writers has become to establish their mark on Star Wars, or if they fall too in love with leaving their footprints all over the GFFA, they get reined in or dismissed.
MB: If someone is interested in writing/drawing comics for an established title such as Star Wars, how should they go about it?
RS: For artists, it’s easy. They can send samples directly to me. As long as they’re just sending art samples and not pitching a specific storyline, there’s no problem. For writers, it’s a bit more difficult. Per the details of our contract with Lucasfilm -- as well as Dark Horse’s own in-house policy -- I cannot read unsolicited pitches, plots, or scripts. I need to see non-Star Wars samples of your writing before I can approve you for pitching me anything. Our litigious society has made everything so complicated . . .
But, writers, know this: I am not interested in “stories” that plug or explain holes in existing continuity. Your goal is to tell a tale that moves, inspires, challenges, or at the very least entertains the readers, not to fill in perceived omissions or pave over “errors.”
MB: Do you have any tips for aspiring comic book industry folks?
RS: Know your craft. To a certain extent, a writer or an artist working on Star Wars (or any series) needs to have a working knowledge of the series’ basic continuity. But, as I touched on above, the real job is telling good stories well. It’s a lot easier to relate the fine points of continuity to a writer or an artist than it is to explain to them the mechanics of storytelling.
My most basic advice is that you should really want to either write or draw -- and, whichever one it is, you should be doing it every day, whether you have a paying gig or not. The only way to get good at what you want to do is to practice. And the only way to get better is to keep practicing. For instance, you want to know what Doug Wheatley, artist on Dark Times, does on his days off? He draws. You know what Tom Taylor, the writer on Invasion, does in his free time? He writes plays. Sure, it’s fun to work on Star Wars, but if the real reward for you isn’t crafting a well-told story, chances are you won’t be telling many well-told stories. I’ve seen way too many artists over the years who think they want to get into comics because they love drawing Darth Vader (or Batman, Spider-Man, etc.), only to discover that the character they love usually shows up only in a handful of panels, and the rest of the time they’re drawing other characters, buildings, vehicles, various establishing shots for the locations of the story, and a million other things that are not only not as interesting to draw as Vader, but usually a lot harder to draw correctly or convincingly. In comics, even the best-drawn panel in the world only works if it is surrounded by other well-drawn panels that work to lead the reader through the action of the story. It’s only by putting those “awesome” panels in context that they become awesome.
MB: What’s your opinion on the Disney buyout of Marvel?
RS: Somebody at the Marvel end is making a chunk of change, but I doubt the buyout will substantially change anything for the people actually producing the comics. And I have to wonder if anyone at Disney really has a good grasp on what it is that they’ve purchased. But you have to remember, I’m on the outside looking in. I have no insight or insider knowledge of what the deal entails.
MB: How has the response been to the new Dark Horse mobile app?
RS: I’m assuming it has been good -- since we’re continuing to roll out additional stories. Truthfully, though, other than making sure that the reformatting of the comics pages to phone screens successfully tells the story as intended, I’m not that involved with that part of our business.
MB: Are there any particular story arcs that you’re looking forward to that you can’t talk about?
RS: Yes. John Ostrander asked me not to give away any specifics about what’s coming up in Legacy, Mick Harrison asked the same in regards to the next arc of Dark Times, and fellow editor Dave Marshall and writer John Jackson Miller don’t want me to spill the beans about the new series they’re working on. There are probably a bunch of other things I’m not supposed to talk about, but I’m not going to mention them.
MB: I’m not going to beg, but are there any teasers you want to torment Star Wars fans with?
RS: Well, since you refuse to beg, you get nothing. : )
MB: What’s the most humorous panel in the history of comics?
RS: Very clever, young lady, but you won’t catch me in your trap. Unless you’re talking about a Far Side comic, single panels are rarely funny in and of themselves. As mentioned above, it’s all about context. Whether you’re talking about the panel that makes your jaw drop, or makes you laugh, or makes you cry -- or makes you crazy because you have to wait until next month to find out what happens -- they only work that way because what has come before has set you up for the punch. Context, context, context.
Also, I’m not qualified to answer this question because, despite my age, I have not read every panel in the history of comics . . .
MB: I want to pitch you an idea: It’s a Marvel/Dark Horse crossover titled “Deadpool in Love”. Somehow Deadpool manages to travel to Chalmun’s Cantina and meets Ackmena; romance ensues. Am I getting paid?
RS: Where the heck is Chalmun’s Cantina, and who in the world is Ackmena? Or Deadpool, for that matter? (See? Don’t come to me for continuity!) And, yes, I will have our accounting department begin sending you checks immediately.
MB: Your twitter profile picture is of you in a jaunty pith helmet posed rakishly atop your head. Please tell me that is office dress code.
RS: Actually, that’s just for Casual Fridays and weekends. The rest of the time we wear British Colonial-era military helmets because they have room for our rank and unit badges on the front. (I feel the red wool jackets are a bit much in summer, though.)
MB: Randy, thank you so much for participating. And contrary to your above belief, you are, indeed, awesome!