MELTZER, CASSADAY, FINCH & Other Creators On Connection Between STAR WARS & Comic Books

"Star Wars" poster
Credit: Lucasfilm
Credit: Lucasfilm

With superheroes dominating the box office for the last 15 years, it's easy to draw a straight line of influence between comic books and the blockbuster movies of the modern film era.

Yet the influence doesn't just stop at superheroes. There's also a direct link between comic books and Star Wars — not just because of the publishing business generated by Star Wars comic books (although some people credit it with saving Marvel in the mid-1970's and it's certainly big business now), but also because the movies were such a huge influence on the comic book writers who created characters and stories over the next several decades — the stories that would in turn influence modern superhero movies.

Aswriter Robert Venditti put it: "[The original Star Wars movies] established the way an entire generation of storytellers think about creating epic storytelling. Not everyone, of course — I met a creator just yesterday who isn't a Star Wars fan — but there's certainly a large number of us."

In celebration of the much-anticipated next chapter in the saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and its connections with comic books, Newsarama asked several industry professionals about what the film meant to them and how it influenced them and others as creators.

Credit: Sonny Liew (DC Comics)

Paul Levitz
Wwriter, historian and former president of DC Comics
(Doctor Fate, Legion of Super-Heroes)

What are your memories of the environment at DC when the first Star Wars was released?

I remember the day pretty vividly, because Len Wein and Jack Harris, as I recall, had kind of snuck out middle of the day to go to one of the first showings — I guess probably an 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock showing, and I remember Joe Orlando just losing it all over them when they came back. It was a pretty unprecedented event, that there was that much excitement to cause that type of behavior.

Did Star Wars influence comic storytelling of the time?

Comics at that time were mostly short form, so I don't think the epic storytelling of Star Wars had an immediate impact. But I think the reverse was true. I think, in particular, Jack Kirby's work on New Gods had more influence on George Lucas than Lucas immediately had on any comic book writer. Kirby had built that large-scale cosmic world, particularly the Source and the way the Mother Boxes interacted.

Since you were working in comic books at the time, how do you think Star Wars influenced comic book publishing?

That was a bleak time in the comics business. Star Wars was an important factor, if only in that the copies of Star Wars comic books that Marvel kept printing fueled an awful lot of the business' profitability that year. I've seen people make the argument that Star Wars "saved" Marvel, because Marvel didn't have a very significant licensing business yet the way DC did, and didn't have a library of film and animation the way that DC did at that point. It was completely relying on its publishing business. If there were market share numbers for that time, Marvel would have been ahead of DC, but nobody was making money on publishing in the mid-'70s. There were very few comic shops in existence (in comparison to a couple years later), so it was a pretty fragile time. And there's no doubt that Star Wars comic books had a positive effect.

The other influence on publishing that I remember was that Star Wars gave us a science fiction section in the bookstore. I can't tell you that as an accurate fact, because I wasn't documenting any of it, but my sensibility was that that was the moment that science fiction began to feel like a respectable category. It felt like it was the moment that bookstores began to give dedicated space to that genre.

I think many comic readers were already fans of science fiction. A really high percentage of the first generation of comic fans were also science fiction fans. But I think Star Wars was so vividly at the intersection of those pieces of popular culture that it brought many other people into the world of science fiction.
 

Credit: Grand Central Publishing

Brad Meltzer
Best-selling novelist, TV personality, writer
(The President's Shadow, Justice League, Brad Meltzer's Decoded)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

There are five movies where I can tell you exactly where I was sitting in the theater when I saw it: The original Superman film, The Matrix, Pulp Fiction, and, of course, the original Star Wars. I was seven years old when it came out. I was mesmerized. It was like that moment in Kavalier & Clay where they go see Citizen Kane: They came out just knowing that the world now looked different. That creativity was alive. You wanted to go right from there and create. Now.

How did it influence you as a creator?

Can I pinpoint the exact influence on my current writing? I wasn’t that hyper-aware at seven years old. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many of my thrillers today have held tight to the smallest of us facing an impossible threat.

I’ll also tell you: My family couldn’t afford all the big action figures and vehicles. I had R2-D2 and C-3PO. And I had a Snaggletooth figure I found on the ground at camp. I did nothing but tell infinite stories with those three figures.
 

Credit: DC Comics

Robert Venditti
Writer and editor
(Green Lantern, The Flash, Surrogates)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I first saw them in the theater when I was very young. They were mesmerizing.

I was talking to my kids about this recently. I explained that when I was their age, I saw Stars Wars in the theater, and as far as I knew, I was never going to see it again. No cable TV. No DVD. No on-demand. All I had was the shared memory with my friends. We talked about the films and came up with theories for years until the next installment was released. Moviegoing was just a different thing back then.

How did it influence you as a creator?

The biggest influence the original trilogy had on me as a creator was in the incredible amount of world-building on display. The worlds, the ships, the alien races, and especially the mythology. It's impossible not to be in awe of it.
 

Joe Kelly
Producer, screenwriter, writer, Man of Action Entertainment co-founder
(Marvel's Avengers Assemble, Superman vs. The Elite, Ben 10, I Kill Giants)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

Star Wars runs so deep in my blood that I still have the toys I got that Christmas when I was 6. I was only 5 when the film came out so I don't have very well-formed memories about the specifics of watching the movie that first time. I literally just called my mom to see if she remembered and she isn't sure if she took me, if my Dad did, or if my first time watching it was on VHS. What I do know is that I cannot remember a time where Star Wars was not a part of my mental DNA.

Whenever and however I saw it, all I know is that I wanted to be Luke and that learning how to use the Force was the single most important thing in the entire world.

How did it influence you as a creator?

Those films run so deep for me that there's no question that they influenced me as a storyteller, though again, I'd be hard-pressed to say exactly how. I can say definitively that once I caught a creative spark and thought that I might want to tell stories, I wanted to tell them on that scale. I wanted to be a part of making Star Wars, whatever that meant when I was old enough to work. For a long time, my plan was to go into visual effects, 100 percent due to Star Wars. I have a buddy who works at ILM and we joke about how he has my parallel universe life.

Star Wars runs so deep through our collective subconscious that I believe it influences people whether or not they want to admit it. Man of Action has been in countless meetings where an artist, writer or exec makes a Star Wars reference to explain a bit of story, a relationship, etcetera. George Lucas wanted to make a new mythology for his time. He did, and myths never die.
 

Itty Bitty Hellboy #5 Cover
Itty Bitty Hellboy #5 Cover
Credit: Dark Horse

Franco Aureliani
Writer, artist, founder of Blindwolf Studios
(Aw Yeah Comics, Itty Bitty Hellboy, Tiny Titans)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

The Star Wars films meant everything to me! I first saw Star Wars (or as it is known now, "Episode IV") after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I remember the theater was still crowded with a line out the door! I got one of the last seats that day and it was in the front row so I had to view it with my neck craned up, and it felt as though my face was almost touching the screen!

I was hooked immediately! The action! The adventure! It was unlike anything I had ever seen up until that point. I remember going to see it again in the theatre and I remember drawing all of the characters on any sheet of paper I could. I never had the action figures, as we couldn't really afford them, but I had my imagination. And I could always find a pencil and paper somewhere to play out new adventures

How did it influence you as a creator?

I know for sure that it influenced many people, but for me it was a profound thing. It really started my imagination growing and eventually led me to living a life full of creativity! That movie sparked such a life long interest in me of being able to tell stories through my writing and my art. I also got to cross off an item on my bucket list and something that was very important to me. I got to meet George Lucas once and thank him personally. I was able to thank him for starting me on my path of creating things for a living and tell him that he had a profound influence on my life. He was humbled and it made me more assured of the life I was living

I will always be a Star Wars fan and I can't wait for the next movie!
 

Credit: David Finch (DC COmics)

Meredith Finch
Writer
(Wonder Woman, Grimm Fairy Tales)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I honestly don't even remember the first time I watched the Star Wars movies. They've just always been a part of my life... no beginning, no end, just always there.

I think Star Wars was just such a ubiquitous part of the culture in the '80s that you just internalized it. It was in your blood.

How did it influence you as a creator?

I have always been a huge fan of fantasy fiction and those movies really fit into that genre for me. I used to imagine myself as a female Luke and that I was special too — and someday I would be able to use the Force.

I actually dare you to find a child from the '70s and '80s who didn't, at one point or another, try to use the Force.
 

Credit: Mikel Janin (DC Comics)

Tim Seeley
Writer and artist
(Grayson, Suicide Squad, Hack/Slash)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I saw the first two on home video/laser disc (though I remember my parents going to see Empire Strikes Back and I was upset I had to stay at my grandparents' house), and Return of the Jedi in the theater. Those movies were a big deal around my house. My dad was a huge fan, and his enthusiasm transferred to my brothers and I. We had giant posters in our rooms, and tons of the toys and comic books just like most kids of the late '70s/early '80s.

I suppose they were the first science fiction/fantasy movies I ever saw.

How did it influence you as a creator?

The impact is so profound and so deep, it's almost hard to question or consider it. I'm sure the Star Wars movies set me on the path to becoming a "genre fan," a path which had pretty well dictated my entire life.
 

Credit: IDW Publishing/Cartoon Network

Duncan Rouleau
Producer, screenwriter, writer, Man of Action Entertainment co-founder
(Marvel's Avengers Assemble, Ben 10, The Great Unknown)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I was 12. I sat in the third row at the Chicago premiere. I won the tickets on a call-in radio show on WLUP. The cast were somewhere behind me, enthusiastic and energetic. I didn’t know any of them so it wasn’t a big deal. I was with my brother and our next door neighbor, Joe Hildebrandt. I had picked up several of the Marvel books in the months before, but was convinced that nothing about the movie could be as epic as it was in comic book pages. This was a usual occurrence in the 70s. Films were great, the stories were deep and challenging, but not par with the comic books when it came to sheer spectacle. 10 seconds in, all of that changed. For the rest of that summer I became the movie's chief advocate. I started a small lawn mowing empire to earn enough money to see the movie 11 times, taking friends and family. I had never been so motivated to do anything like that in my life. It was a summer of firsts. I now live in Hollywood. I work in film and animation. And, I would mow a million lawns to experience something like that again.

How did it influence you as a creator?

Well, like anything you truly love, you either want to be it or be like it. Creatively, I chose the latter. I am not interested in doing "my Star Wars,” but if I could make something that moved others the way it moved me, I would consider myself once again a true advocate for the series. George Lucas created a high bar where imagination and mythology are at their best - inspiring people to think bigger.
 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Al Ewing
Writer
(New Avengers, The Ultimates, Zombo)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

The Star Wars films meant nothing to me, unfortunately. I didn't even see them until I was 19 or 20, and then only because friends forced me to. I remember almost nothing about them beyond all the bits that have crept into my head through cultural osmosis. Yes, I'm one of those people.

What I do remember, though, are the toys — those were very important to me as a kid. That was my first experience of "action figures," and from a very young age I was deeply into Ewoks, with their removable headgear, and Admiral Ackbar, who had an amazing head. And the Cantina Band and all the weird aliens.

All my Star Wars knowledge comes from those toys! It amazes me that Darth Vader's red space sword doesn't come out of his arm and that the blue keyboard guy wasn't a huge character and his keyboard didn't fly. I didn't have Han, or Leia, and the Luke figure I had was an anonymous landspeeder pilot guy, vastly less interesting than the green pig-barbarian and R2-D2. in fact, if you'd waved Han at me and told me he was the coolest one in Star Wars, I'd have thought you were mad. What about Admiral Ackbar?

So my knowledge of Star Wars is completely ass-backwards, and triggered by the distinctive smell of hard, child-friendly plastic. And old episodes of Adam and Joe.

How did it influence you as a creator?

I have no idea! Maybe not being into them influenced me. It's a strange feeling, watching literally every single fellow comic book professional lose their minds over this film. And admittedly, the trailer looks great! It looks like exciting space fun. I'll probably end up seeing it. But it doesn't have that gut-level relevance to me that it seems to have for literally everyone else, and that feels a bit odd. Like I've wandered in from a parallel universe.
 

Dan Jurgens
Writer and artist
(Superman: Lois and Clark, Batman Beyond, Booster Gold)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

Of course, I was a fan. I remember, very well, going to see the movie one fine sunny afternoon in the summer of 1977. It was quite an experience.

Funny thing is that the movie had been out for a few weeks and the theater was still packed with viewers who were cheering and applauding during the course of the movie. It was quite a day.

How did it influence you as a creator?

Prior to Star Wars, films seemed to be focusing more on the antihero. In the wake of the Vietnam War and Watergate, it almost seemed as though the idea of good triumphing over evil was something we couldn’t quite grasp.

Star Wars restored that concept and the idea of ultimate victory. I think there’s something of that in my work, as well.
 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Nathan Edmondson
Writer
(Where is Jake Ellis?, Black Widow, The Punisher)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I think I saw Star Wars first at about age 7 or 8. The trilogy was on TV. I remember my bud from down the street had already seen them and at each commercial break would give away what was happening next. I remember realizing I knew words like “lightsaber” and “Jedi” and “Skywalker” from everyday conversation; now I was finally learning what they meant.

How did it influence you as a creator?

My first film class was in high school, and we watched the original Star Wars scene-by-scene to study everything: character development, scene transitions, Robert McKee’s four scene principles, movie magic techniques, etc. It became the frame of reference for so many of the building blocks of storytelling in film. Our teacher would pause and tell us how exciting certain moments (the reveal of the first lightsaber, etc.) were in the theater when it first opened.

I can’t really point to ways the story has overtly influenced my creative process or content, except that I have the constant awareness of how powerful and pervasive an original work of fiction and fantasy can be — particularly one done on a budget.
 

Credit: DC Comics

Jimmy Palmiotti
Writer, editor and artist for comic books, TV, games and film
(Harley Quinn, Dead Space: Downfall, Painkiller Jane)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I saw the first Star Wars film when it came out ages ago and it was in a drive-in. I fell in love with it and saw it again the next week at a regular theater, which was so much better, mainly because of the sound.

Being in my teens at the time was the perfect time to fall in love with it. I collected the Topps cards and started to draw scenes from the movie right away. It opened up a door in my imagination that has never closed since. I think the nicest flattery I ever got was when I first met Amanda Conner, she said I reminded her of Han Solo, in my attitude and whatnot, and this coming from a girl that saw the movie 22 times in the theatre — well, it was beyond flattering.

How did it influence you as a creator?

The influence is all over my work. Star Wars was a wonderful intergalactic soap opera and had all the right elements of adventure, romance and the possibility of worlds beyond our own. And it can be seen in my writing all the time. Without these elements, comics would not exist, and it’s obvious that Lucas took a lot from the comic world and worked it into his movies.

Look, its something we all can discuss, because its now classic American culture. I even reference the movies in the Harley Quinn books pretty much all the time. Star Wars is part of our psyche …a part of most of our lives, like it or not.
 

Credit: DC Comics

Simon Oliver
Writer
(The Exterminators, Last Gang in Town)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I think I’m probably in the vast, vast minority here. I was eight years old when the first movie came out, probably the target audience to a “T,” but as a family, we never went to the movies. I remember one birthday trip to see Dougal and the Blue Cat (the terrifying acid trip spin off of the Magic Roundabout) and that was about it. So strangely enough, Star Wars was never really on my radar. I don’t even remember my friends being into it either. I can’t even remember when I finally saw it, and I know I was in my '20s when I saw the sequels.

Years later, when I moved to Los Angeles and discovered people my age were pursuing a career in the movies because of seeing Star Wars when it first came out, I was frankly shocked. I simply couldn’t understand why it was such a big deal.

I think we all have a pop-culture black-spot and Star Wars is probably my biggest. I don’t love it or hate it. I simply have no feelings towards it whatsoever. And my own boys feel the same way, maybe because of me.

How did it influence you as a creator?

So as far as my work, no I don’t think it’s really ever been a direct influence at all. (Maybe it should and then people would actually read my comics?)
 

Credit: DC Comics

David Finch
Writer and artist
(Wonder Woman, Batman: The Dark Knight, New Avengers)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

I first saw Star Wars in a drive-in, and I slept through the last little bit, so when I saw it again years later (there was no VCR for a few more years), the medal ceremony was pretty surreal. I thought maybe I had dreamed it the first time!

I saw Empire Strikes Back with friends, and one of them told me about Luke losing his hand, so I covered my eyes for that whole scene, and didn't see that one until a lot later too!

There was nothing like Star Wars back then, and I was just the right age for it. I remember actually praying to God for a Storm Trooper outfit, and I thought it would be awesome to go to school in it and put everyone in their place.

How did it influence you as a creator?

Star Wars is so central and pervasive that I don't even know if I can properly answer. I will say that I love drawing grungy tech, and Star Wars was all about the lived-in, high-tech look.
 

Credit: John Cassaday (Marvel Comics)

John Cassaday
Artist and writer
(Astonishing X-Men, Star Wars, Planetary)

What did the movie(s) mean to you?

Star Wars made a important impression, but personally, it was Empire Strikes Back that set my imagination on fire. The three years of cliffhangers between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi were dramatic in terms of my creative growth as a kid. Drawing up a storm, I was making my own comics and stories. I made my own Star Wars comic books. I can't say enough!
 

Credit: Marvel Comics

Michael Allred
Artist and writer
(Art Ops, iZombie, Madman)

How did you see the movie(s)? And what did the movie(s) mean to you?

A major touchstone as well as one of the most magical and joyful experiences of my life. We were packed up for summer vacation and headed to Salt Lake City from Oregon to visit family. On my aunt's little black-and-white TV, I caught a glimpse of a commercial for some movie called Star Wars. I'd never heard a thing about it. I remember seeing some guy swing a girl across a great chasm while having laser guns firing at them. Cool! I wanted to see it.

We didn't have to beg Dad too hard to drop us off at the Centre Theater (a classic big old movie house that doesn't exist anymore) in downtown SLC. The movie had already started as my brother and I walked into the darkness. The first image we saw was a golden robot walking across some alien desert, a skeleton of some kind of giant snake monster or something laid out at the top of a dune. We were instantly hooked.

When the movie was over I was on the biggest high of my childhood.

We ran out to find Dad waiting for us, and we begged him to let us stay and and watch the next show from the beginning, which he let us do. It was pure bliss to see everything we had missed and fill everything in.

Over the next several months, we would see Star Wars over and over again, and were among the enthusiastic converts who would beg anyone that would listen to go see the greatest thing ever created on Earth.

I've yet to ever have that pure experience of complete discovery topped.

How did it influence you as a creator?

It taught me the power of storytelling and world building. Iconic characters with a purpose, love, loyalty, and good versus evil.

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