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In a Comic Far, Far Away...
An Interview with TFN Humor's newest writers, Mike Russell and David Stroup

Micheal Russell and David Stroup... mystery surrounds which is which.

The writers of the new online comic "Jaxxon's 11" give their take on Star Wars history - by Chris Hanel

To say that the supposed timeline of Starwars is a coherent one would be akin to saying that the tax system is a quick read. Throughout the twists and turns of the galaxy far, far away, strange things have arisen from the cracks. Some amusing, some not so amusing, and some are just downright baffling. The character of Jaxxon, the focus of TFN Humor's new comic, "Jaxxon's 11, definitely falls under the latter. TFN's Chris Hanel got a chance to quiz the duo behind the comic strip for the benefit of what must be a rather confused community.

CHRIS HANEL: Jaxxon? Out of all the characters in the SW universe, why Jaxxon? And who exactly is he anyways? Maybe a brief explanation of where all the cast comes from?

MIKE RUSSELL: Jaxxon was a seven-foot-tall green rabbit that fought alongside Han Solo and Chewie in a few of the early issues of Marvel's "Star Wars" comic book in the 1970s. (The Marvel issues are all being collected right now in an awesome seven-volume collection by Dark Horse, BTW. The first five volumes are out now, and I own them all.) Jaxxon was a mercenary like Han, had a ship called the "Rabbit's Foot," wore a bright-red spacesuit, ate meat, flirted with this female human called Amaiza, and hated being called a "rabbit" like it was some kind of racist epithet.

I had the idea of writing a comic-book story about Jaxxon simply because (a) the character stuck in my head -- as a large, green, mildly terrifying rabbit will tend to do when you're 8 years old and obsessed with all things "Star Wars" -- and (b) Jaxxon is without a doubt the goofiest character EVER in the history of "Star Wars," and one must never turn down an opportunity to blight the eyeballs of younger SW fans with images of a large, talking bunny the color of split-pea soup.

DAVID STROUP: I'm actually a bit mortified to discover that there is, in fact, information on Jaxxon on the official Star Wars site; I'll leave finding it as an exercise for the individual fanatic. Apparently we're not the only people who remember him. I've got to admit I only vaguely remember him from those days, but when Dark Horse started reissuing those old comics, there was just something about him that immediately struck a chord of memory -- him and all of the other goofy alternate universe of "Star Wars" kitsch that Marvel created. Bringing back a whole bunch of those wacky characters seemed like the perfect way to have a little fun with the canon.

Another (sinister) agenda of mine is just to spoof what's happened to the "Star Wars" universe (our version of it, anyway). I mean, now that the war's won and the main characters are all heroes, where does it go from there? All downhill, of course.

CHRIS: Where did the "Ocean's 11" parody storyline come from?

MIKE: By way of answering that, I'll tell you the history of the project: David and I work as journalists, covering the same town that's home to Dark Horse Comics headquarters -- and I have a friend who works there as an editor on their "Star Wars" comics. One day I was joking with this guy that I wanted to write a story for "Star Wars Tales" involving Jaxxon; David and I started riffing on the idea afterward -- and somewhere along the way, it sort of ceased to be a joke.

I knew I wanted to do a story where Jaxxon got together a bunch of old Marvel characters for "one last job" -- but David broke it wide open when he said, "They should steal something from Jabba's Palace Hotel and Casino," I remembered the Kaiburr Crystal from "Splinter of the Mind's Eye," and suggested that they try to steal that -- and it sort of snowballed with terrifying speed from there.

DAVID: The real key isn't a "Ocean's 11" parody specifically -- but it's a "caper" movie, like all of those stories. It's the formula I want to parody: a bunch of friends, a juicy target, an overly elaborate plot that's destined to go awry, a certain sense of thief-cool to the whole thing.

MIKE: While we were brainstorming, David sort of effortlessly conceived this hilariously elaborate heist scenario on the spot. It was kind of terrifying, actually -- like he'd been carrying it around in his head for a while.

CHRIS: Have you two done comic strips in the past?

MIKE: I drew a comic strip called "Hudson Van Curen" for two years in college, I've done some comic-book short stories, and several years ago I illustrated an unbelievably mean-spirited spoof of Christmas fables written by Greg Dorr called "Santa's Lil' Gimp," which you can read online in its entirety.

DAVID: I've been doing my own strip, "Yossarian," on and off since high school; I'm doing it now for the newspaper Mike and I work for. "Yossarian's" on the Web now (on a badly out-of-date Web page), and I'll be posting links to my site when I get it a bit more up to date.

CHRIS: Obviously, you're both "Star Wars" fans. Do you count any other influences when it comes to the strip?

MIKE: Well, the story you'll be reading in the coming weeks owes a hell of a lot to bad heist movies, "Bloom County," the MAD and CRACKED "Star Wars" spoofs, and, um, I don't know... "Tag and Bink Are Dead"? "Troops"? With any luck, your readers will find amusement in the notion of Han, Jaxxon and Chewie sitting in the Mos Eisley Cantina after it's been converted into a T.G.I. Friday's-style family restaurant.

DAVID: Definitely MAD... the classic MAD, back when it had teeth.

The original Jaxxon, gracing the pages of Marvel Comics.


CHRIS: What's your process for working on the strip?

MIKE: I'm laying out the panels and dialogue in QuarkXPress; David offers his two cents on the dialogue and fills those panels with delightful artwork.

DAVID: We'll see how this works out in practice. I can't stand the look of computer-drawn panel borders and (ick) dialog balloons, and I'll be hand-rendering sound effects and the like; on the other hand, my own lettering leaves something to be desired, and Mike will have the final say on dialog and layout as he lays in the lettering with a custom font in Quark.

CHRIS: Switching from the strip to you guys, what do you guys do during the day when not debating about Midichlorian counts?

MIKE: I'm the editor of two community newspapers, the Clackamas Review and Oregon City News, in the lovely Pacific Northwest; I also interview writers and directors for a Los Angeles film magazine called In Focus.

DAVID: I'm "associate editor" at those papers -- read "glorified reporter/photog/etc." And I do my comic strip, a little other writing on the side, etc. In the meantime, my wife Barbara and I are raising two lovely kids, and I try to get in a little RPG action on the side.

MIKE: David's being WAY too modest. The guy writes at least half to two-thirds of our newspapers every week. He's a machine, and a damned talented one.

CHRIS: Mike, I understand you are a newlywed, congrats! Is the wife understanding of Star Wars, or even a fan herself?

MIKE: My utterly fantastic wife has no interest in "Star Wars" whatsoever, God bless her -- but she's very much a supporter of creative enterprise, which is VASTLY more important.

DAVID: I don't know how those two got together....

MIKE: Um, I was living in her cousin's basement, actually.

DAVID: Mike's new stepdaughter has more interest in all things geeky than his wife does. Now, I met my wife many, many moons ago when she joined my D&D group, so we have fairly compatible interests.

CHRIS: Have you enjoyed Episode I and II so far? Or are you Original Trilogy die-hards like some other fans?

MIKE: To me, "Empire Strikes Back" is pretty much the greatest movie ever made - with the best film score of all time. Though visually gobsmacking, the prequel trilogy hasn't QUITE grabbed me like the O.T. did -- but then again, I no longer wear Underoos.

DAVID: "Empire" ruled, "Jedi" was great if you could sort of squint and ignore the Ewoks.... It's really been all downhill since the "Great Ewok Adventure" though, hasn't it?

I've enjoyed the political machinations in the last two prequels; I think that's really the story that Lucas has to tell, that and young Darth's slow slide into, well, Darthyness. He's just felt compelled to dress it up with so much utter crap on the side. The whole "We've got to win this race to get out spaceship repaired" plot point of Episode I was on par with a slow ep of "ST: Voyager"; Ep. II was better, but still uneven, with that whole droid factory chase/fight thingy that looked like an ad for a video game dropped into the middle of the movie.

Actually, looking at everything Lucas has done since "Empire" -- "Jedi," "Ewok Adventure," Ep. I and II -- makes you wonder how badly he would have botched the first two if he'd had the budget.

CHRIS: What's your perspective on the status of online comics today? And speaking of which, any personal favorites our readers should check out?

MIKE: Online comics look great; they glow from underneath, after all. I love all the usual suspects, especially "PvP"; I'm also a regular reader of "Sluggy Freelance," Chris Baldwin's "Bruno," "Scary Go Round," "Dork Tower," and "Commander Kitty." David has more varied and rarified tastes than I do in this arena.

DAVID: The best, funniest comics going aren't in newspapers (with the possible exception of "Get Fuzzy") -- they're on the web. Read "Sluggy", "Schlock Mercenary", "It's Walky", "Goats", "Sinfest", "PvP", ... and look up a little-seen thing called "Bottom of the Food Chain" while you're at it -- it's by a college cartoonist who shows tremendous promise and talent, Alex Thomas.

CHRIS: Final question isn't a question... I'll give you a chance to say whatever you want to your new screaming horde of fans. Go ahead, free reign.

MIKE: After what David said about the prequels? Put down your pitchforks! I think y'all are in for a pretty good time: There will be surprises, romance, Vegas-style showtunes, Bib Fortuna with a missing head tentacle, and giant animatronic Rancor Pit Beasts. All that and the ineffable melancholy of revisiting old "Return of the Jedi" haunts and seeing what's changed. Also, we should warn you in advance that this story hews about as closely to the official Lucasfilm canon as the Marvel comics did -- which is to say, they hew about as closely as the average episode of "Joe Millionaire."

We're planning to release two comic-book sized pages a week -- which fans can either read online or download as high-rez PDFs. Please keep in mind that this is comic-BOOK paced -- which means you shouldn't expect the setup-setup-pause-punchline format of a lot of online comics. And we've written far enough ahead that I can confidently say this is one online comic that will actually be FINISHED.

CHRIS: David, anything to add?

DAVID: To the hard-core "Star Wars" fans, I'd say: We're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you. To George Lucas, I'd say: We're not laughing with you, we're laughing at you.

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