Tom Hodges: Bringing the Clone Wars to the Web and More

Hodges: Clone Wars to the Web

Tom Hodges has definitely carved a name for himself in this corner of the Milky Way Galaxy. With such Star Wars-related webcomics as “Reversal of Fortune”, “Evasive Action: Recruitment”, “Evasive Action: Prey”, “Visions of the Blade” and “The Force Unleashed” already added to his resume, the fan-favorite artist is now working on a series of new weekly Star Wars: The Clone Wars web comics on starwars.com.

His first online exclusive issues, “Prelude” and “Shakedown”, debuted on October 2nd and they served as direct prequel “webisodes” to the first two The Clone Wars animated episodes on Cartoon Network, namely “Ambush” and “Rising Malevolence”, which premiered back-to-back on October 3rd.

We tracked down Hodges and chatted about his passion for all things Star Wars. We also touched on some of the other properties (comic book or otherwise) that he’s currently working on.

Newsarama: Hi, Tom. As I understand it, you've been doing stuff for Lucasfilm for a while now, right? How did you land those gigs in the first place?

Tom Hodges: It was at SDCC 2003. That was my second year in Artist Alley and it was also the year Lucasfilm/Lucas Online started “Hyperspace”, their online Fan Club site. At SDCC, they had a small booth, so small and set up only with desktops to sign up for Hyperspace that unless you were paying attention, you thought they were trying to sign you up for Long Distance. [laughs]

Well, my wife Terri and I befriended Bonnie Burton (author of You Can Draw Star Wars) who was working as a writer for starwars.com and was at the Con recruiting Hyperspace members. We connected instantly and throughout the show, we visited each other off and on, chatted a lot and Bonnie even made me dance for a T-shirt. So by the end of the show, we were pretty good friends (She’s now one of our closest friends).

By Sunday, on our way out from the show, we stopped by the booth and asked if Bonnie was around. And the guy there informed us she headed back home. I had a small pile of sketches I did between commissions from the weekend, all Star Wars related, and asked him to pass some on to Bonnie and for him and the others working the booth to take some as well. As I walked away, the guy says, “Hey, you’re Tom Hodges” I told him I was and he said “I’ve been looking for you.” To which I replied without missing a beat “Are you gonna sue me?” Because at that point, I had a ton of Star Wars art online. Posted on my own website and in various boards like TheForce.Net, Rebelscum and Digital Webbing.

He then introduced himself as Paul Ens (who would later become co-founder of Red 5 Comics) and told me he liked my style and wanted to work with me on a project for Lucasfilm. It went from there. At that point, he knew what we were going to do, but did not know exactly how we were going to do it. And a bit more than a year later in October 2004, “Evasive Action: Reversal of Fortune” debuted on Hyperspace. It was a story wrapped in the events of the Clone Wars animated series (The first series from Genndy Tartakovsky) and the third and final Prequel film, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. There were 3 sequel strips to follow.

NRAMA: Prior to the Clone Wars webcomics, you did a 16-page “Visions of the Blade” webcomic which saw the Star Wars universe crossing over with Soul Calibur IV. Would you care to briefly share about that experience with our readers?

TH: That was different for me because I was jumping into characters I had no relationship at all with. I’m not a huge gamer. My gaming is Madden, EA NHL and the Star Wars games with in the last few years Guitar Hero and Rock Band thrown in. With that said, I just bought a PS3 last month hoping to start playing more games and all I’ve managed to do was play 1 level of The Force Unleashed and a bit of Guitar Hero.

Anyway, I really enjoyed it! I mean, the characters were a lot of fun to draw and it was fun to play with the Star Wars universe in a way that was “What If…” as opposed to “What Is…”.

NRAMA: Okay. Prove it to us now. Just how big of a Star Wars fan are you?

TH: Saw Star Wars opening weekend [in] 1977 with my family after a botched Memorial Day weekend in Atlantic City. I think I’ve seen it a few hundred times since then… as well as the sequels and prequels. I’ve seen every first show with the exception of the first film in ‘77. Okay, there you go, that is how much I love Star Wars. I like the prequels! I like the Special Editions! My take on it is their George’s movies, if he feels as though something’s missing then he should be able to fix it. He’s not taking away from the grand scheme of things. He’s not “raping” my childhood with any of those changes. That is the most annoying thing people say about the prequels and the Special Editions. I understand being a “purist” but come on! I mean, I’m looking forward to seeing the “Ultimate” editions on DVD, all 6 films together on Blu-Ray. And no, I do not know when they’re coming out… I just know they will.

As for my favorite films, in this order: Empire Strikes Back, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and then Return of the Jedi. I also really liked the Clone Wars movie, I know people had issues with it, but it wasn’t made for the older SW fans, it was made for the new ones. Which is why the new series is that much better because you can see why they released it as a film. The tone of the TV series is a bit darker, more serious. Sure kids will love it but the older SW fans will too.

I can say, though, that I don’t get into the Expanded Universe as much as you would think… considering I work in that realm you’d probably think I’d be hardcore about it. I only have so much time in a day and 50% of that day is drawing and the other 50% is being with my wife, my son Logan, my dog Harley Quinn and our cats… and sleep falls in there as well. [laughs]

I’m more of a fan of the films and the animated series’ (Tartakovsky and the new one). I like the comics when I have time to read them, but usually snag TPBs on those and books, I get them on CD when something interests me. Like I love Karen Traviss’ stuff. We’ve worked together on a project for Star Wars Insider a few years back and we became good friends. Not to mention it was the project I managed to create the first female Mandalorians. Those designs I did later became action figures… which was really cool to see happen.

I do have a decent collection [of Star Wars memorabilia], though. Scaled back quite a bit. My big things are the 12” Sideshow figures and I get sketches at Cons from people. My prized pieces being my 2 Bruce Timm Leia’s (ANH and Slave Leia), my Phil Noto ANH Leia, a bunch of stuff from Katie Cook and the Adam Hughes Obi-Wan Kenobi which, IMHO, is the best Obi-Wan/Star Wars sketch I think he’s ever done.

NRAMA: So, how did the Clone Wars webcomics projects come about?

TH: Last year, Pablo Hildago at Lucasfilm told me he had some ideas about what he’d like to do when the animated series starts. I assumed webstrip, like with the “Evasive Action” series, but he hinted at something bigger.

Earlier this year, he gave me an idea what he had come up with and asked me if I had any artists in mind to bring on board to work with me. I had the first two in mind from the get go, Katie Cook and Grant Gould. Jeff Carlisle was Pablo’s suggestion and I’ve always liked Jeff and his work so I agreed he’d make a good fit. Each of our styles is so different that it would keep it fresh every week. The first two stories hit the day before the series debuted on Cartoon Network, in which I provided the art on “Ambush” and the pencils and inks on “Shakedown”. Due to an appearance in London I had no time to do the colors myself so Jeff Carlisle stepped up to the plate and did a great job. What’s also great is these comics are open to the public, no Hyperspace membership needed. Most of the stories will lead directly into that week’s episode, but sometimes they will have implications you may not see right away.

NRAMA: Which characters are you having the most fun illustrating?

TH: Lately it’s been Yoda. I never use to enjoy drawing him, but now I like it. The Clone Troopers are also fun to draw.

NRAMA: Why do these characters appeal to you?

TH: I think it’s because I started drawing because of Star Wars and that is why I love drawing from it so much. I mean, I remember after seeing it in ‘77, at the age of 5, coming home and just drawing Darth Vader like crazy. I go all over the country and last week to the UK teaching kids how to draw Star Wars and you can see how excited they get when you say “OK, so who wants to learn how to draw Yoda?”. They get so jazzed about it and I get emails all the time from parents and kids about this stuff. It’s great because the same reasons I wanted to draw as a kid are why they want to.

NRAMA: As you mentioned, you'll be rotating with artists Katie Cook, Jeff Carlisle and Grant Gould on the webcomics and you provided the art for the first two installments. How many are you contracted to do, and when can we expect to see your webcomics appearing next?

TH: Right now, it’s for the season, but so long as people enjoy it, I think we’ll likely be going on for next season as well. I’m actually hoping for a summer series as well. I mean, Heroes has a very successful online comic that runs all year long and I don’t see why we couldn’t as well. I’d love to see that happen, as I’m sure Katie, Grant and Jeff would!

As for my next part in the series, it will be #6 and should hit online November 3rd.

NRAMA: Do you see yourself creating, developing and producing your own properties? What do you hope to achieve in the near future?

TH: I love creating my own characters and properties. I have a backlog of stuff I have yet to bring out in the open. I have so many other things to finish before I can delve deeper into that material.

NRAMA: So, apart from these Lucasfilm projects, you've been working on m4hire. Can you give us the lowdown on this?

TH: Yea, and for the record it’s just m.

m, which was originally going to be a graphic novel, is now going to be a limited series. I plan on finally getting some time this Fall to start on the pages and once I get a nice chunk of the work done, I’ll get it out there… if I have to self publish and sell it through my site, I’ll get it out there… although I’m hoping once I have pages I can get a publisher behind it.

For anyone unfamiliar with m, it’s about a young, beautiful “cleaner” who gets into a bad situation by the Russian mob and has to protect a 5-year-old little girl. There’s a lot more involved, but why give it all away. Photographer Scott Harben (known for his work with Tim Bradstreet as well as the photographer on many a movie poster), who has believed in the project from day one, will be providing the colors and has taken hundreds of reference photos for me of model/actress Emily Parker, whom he found based on my sketches of the character. We’re looking to do another shoot at the end of October so I have more material to work from come November when I have some free time to work on m.

NRAMA: Wrapping things up for now, I remember chatting with you about your creator-owned comic book, Midknight, which was published through Red 5 Comics last year. Do you have anything else in the works?

TH: Midknight is not dead, just working on making #3 and #4 as perfect as it can be. I feel like I rushed #1 and #2 and I want to make the series better so expect that soon as well! The animated series is also in production. No network to announce but as soon as I do, you’ll be the first to know!

For more on the artist, check out his official website at www.tomhodges.com.

The weekly Star Wars: The Clone Wars webcomics are available at www.starwars.com/clonewars/comic/

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