Comics and fantasy art veteran Michael Wm. Kaluta has been dealing in the sexy SF universe of Starstruck since the 1970s, in a story that’s stretched from a stage play across multiple comic book publishers, including Epic, Dark Horse and most recently IDW.
Now he and writer Elaine Lee have teamed up for a hugely-successful Kickstarter campaign to do a new Startruck graphic novel to tell the story of Harry Palmer from the Epic books – with 80 new story pages and tons of extras. The campaign has already raised almost $60,000, surpassing their initial goal – but they want to get to $69,000 to give readers a full-color 176-page GN they’ve printed themselves. You can check out the campaign here.
With just a few days to go, we talked to Kaluta about the campaign, his history with Starstruck and more.Newsarama: Michael, tell us about the status of the Starstruck Kickstarter.
Michael Wm. Kaluta: The Starstruck: Harry Palmer graphic novel Kickstarter! We made the goal for the black and white version, where the 180-page graphic novel could be done with color covers and the interior art in black and white, within the first week…we’re all happy about it.
Now, these last three days, we are winging toward our Stretch Goal: enough pledges to have the book published in full color throughout.
Be sure, no doubt, that this Kickstarter project is Elaine’s baby – she’s the one who’s put it together, gathered the powers needed to craft the web page, did the math, ramrodded the New Cover, punched the cattle – that’s me! – and orchestrated how the picnic blanket was spread across the Internet. Everyone’s been invited to the shindig, and many, many folks have joined in, all hunkered down around the gingham.
I’ve earlier referred to this Kickstarter as a “Little Red Hen” project – unlike the children’s story where none of the farmyard wanted to help with the fixin’s, we’ve had a wonderful turnout. The seed were planted, the ground was tilled the wheat has grown – and is growing taller every day – and, come Thursday this week, we’ll all harvest, grind and bake!
Luckily, there’s a lot more room at the table: all are welcome! Hitting the Color Graphic Novel goal will mean a smorgasbord of Starstruck!! If I can pun, that was a Home Economics metaphor.Nrama: Starstruck’s been around in one form or another for decades, and fans for it keep coming out of the woodwork. What do you feel has made it so enduring?
Kaluta: As Elaine has noted, when Starstruck first came out in Heavy Metal Magazine in the 1980s, there hadn’t been popular entertainment like Lost or Heroes, or any shows where the audience was tasked to remember a number of divergent plots in their minds, especially not a number of seemingly important plots that turn out not to be true. (laughs)
In the years between now and when Starstruck first came out, the public in general and comic book readers in particular, have had their sense of continuity matured by these new shows Of course, the science fiction readers and those Pynchon, Garner, Vonnegut readers found Starstruck right to their taste, luckily for me and Elaine and a truckload of our fans.
These days it is a lot of fun to bump into someone I know who, back in the day, was shaking their head over Starstruck, going, “Man, this is too heavy for me” and now find them going, “Yeah, I reread it – really good stuff!” (laughs) Good stuff. We’ve all had some education in the styles of storytelling since Starstruck first appeared on the scene.Nrama: To make sure I have this straight – the material collected by IDW covers the Heavy Metal material and up through the first Epic issues, and the new Harry Palmer: Starstruck would combine the remaining Epic issues along with new material, correct?
Kaluta: Not quite exactly.
Nrama: Please help me.Kaluta: The IDW Starstruck Collected Big Book -- 350+ pages! Yippee! – is all the Heavy Metal pages combined with the additional Marvel Epic imprint graphic novel material, with about 100 pages that had been done in black-and-white for the Dark Horse issues added in.
The four Dark Horse black-and-white issues came out in 1999, when they printed the first “expansion” of the series. The new pages were set inside the original story, expanding each chapter from within, not just tacked on.
The IDW Big Collection that came out in 2010-11 reprinted all that, reformatted for standard-size comics, along with a bunch of adjusted pages and other “doodads”: the expanded Glossary, Adverts from the Multiverse, Family Trees as seen from years after the story, etc, plus about 80 pages of The True Adventures of The Galactic Girl Guides, all with Lee Moyer’s magnificent color.
All this material (except the GGG) is currently posted in comics form online at our website, Starstruck Comics. Just click on “ARCHIVE” once there to start at the beginning.
The Harry book that we’re Kickstarting is an expansion of the third Marvel/Epic comic book, the one with Harry lighting a cigarette with his finger on the cover. This new graphic novel will be the full Harry Palmer story. Though many of the other Starstruck characters move through Harry’s story, we’ll get back to the rest of Starstruck in the volume after Harry’s story.Nrama: How many more volumes after Harry Palmer do you think it would take to tell the rest of the story?
Kaluta: I’d say two more volumes. We originally had 12 Epic Comics issues planned, back in the day, but were confined to only six. During the first expansion for Dark Horse, those twelve planned books were enlarged into 48-page stories.
Some drawing and inking was accomplished in 1995, but that and the rest has hung fire, awaiting something like Kickstarter to fund the continuation.
The overall story still ends where it ended in the sixth Epic comic, with the girls surrounded by androids, and a little tornado in the background, but there definitely is a lot more story that can be told. If the Starstruck fans ask, we’ll deliver!
Nrama: Things will get worse (in the story line) before they get better?Kaluta: All things are going to expand. There’s going to be a lot more story, and a much, much richer universe. And, life willing, the Starstruck story is going to continue on from there. Where the current storyline ends, we’re about six “cycles” away from the time period of the Starstruck play – everything in the current comics is a prequel to Elaine’s play.
After the play, there’s lots and lots of story to go to as well. If people like the new material, we can keep putting these stories out!
Nrama: There’s been an audio version of the play, but have you ever considered adapting it into comic book form?Kaluta: Adapting the play into a comic book would be difficult: there’s a lot of talking in any play, and the play takes place only on two rocketships. We had 19 scene changes over three different environments – it was so much fun, because scenery was flying back and forth! By the time you got to the end of the play, the walls were moving back and forth fairly quickly.
That all works very well in a play: live action, actors flying all over the stage, sets whirring back and forth… the rhythms are much different with actors and an audience. If all that were a comic book, it’d mean a lot of talking heads: not a great idea. Perhaps the play can be done in little bits of flashback during future stories…?
Nrama: You’ve been in the industry for quite a while now, but Kickstarter is something very new and different, and you’ve had a large response. What is fundamentally appealing to you about using Kickstarter?Kaluta: The fun part is that my only boss is Elaine. (laughs) Often, when I’m working for the comic book companies, an arbitrary imposition from management will get in the way of the fun. I don’t get that working on Starstruck. People have said, “We believe in you, now do the book the way you want to do it.” It’s the way Starstruck has always been created… and we’re going to love doing it some more.
Nrama: You’ve been doing more comics the last few years – what’s led you to do these, and to come back to Starstruck?Kaluta: It’s funny to me. For quite some time I was doing a cover here and a few pages there. Then DC Comics asked me to do a five-issue arc on Madame Xanadu. I agreed. I thought, “Whoo! Five issues! I haven’t done that much page art since Starstruck!” It turned out the art just flew onto the page, right out of my pencil like I’d been doing this much work all my life.
These days, later in life, I find I can draw comics the way I probably should have been drawing when I was in my 20s – lots of pages pretty much on time!
One of the books in this modern period, just over a year ago, I guess, was the Chaos King book at Marvel, part of the big Chaos War arc. I was told “Here’s what’s going to happen to everybody to set up the entire war, and we need 30 pages, fast.”
It was fun! I think there were 45, 50 Marvel characters – I was a DC guy, so I had to learn who half of the characters were. But when it came to drawing them, I surprised myself and, I think, delighted some fans of the rarer Marvel characters – there’s even four characters I put in that aren’t in the story; the delight of crowd scenes.
Nrama: Any other projects besides Starstruck you’d like to mention right now?Kaluta: Just before this Kickstarter jumped off, I’d completed 20 interior color illustrations and cover for a thing with IDW. About a year ago IDW asked if I would like to do an illustrated edition of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I said yes, Illustrating that particular book was something I’d wanted to do all my life, even before I could draw.
It took me quite a while to get to it: all my imagined images fought each other, and fought with my full-adult imagination and honed talent…and I think the folks at IDW were expecting a few refined sketches, vignettes to salt throughout the book. They wound up with 20 full-color, full page drawings, endpapers and a title page vignette. They took one look at the treasure trove and said, “Well, guess we’re just going to have to make the book bigger!”Nrama: There’s been a lot of illustrated Princess of Mars editions, like different versions of The Hobbit—
Kaluta: Oh, funny story. I am a huge fan of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the Ace Paperback version of the trilogy when I was young: Ace Books had “pirated” them, based on some jiggery-pokery with the copyright dates: not a crime, exactly, but their guerrilla publishing of the books woke Tolkien and his estate: they did their real deal with Ballantine Books and published the Authorized Editions. But: would that have ever happened if ACE hadn’t taken the low road? I doubt it.
As a youngster, a SF and Fantasy reader, I’d eye-balled the Tolkien Hardbacks, but, at 6 dollars each, I couldn’t afford them, and, of course, had never an idea of what they were about. Having the ACE 40 cent paperbacks come out of these books I’d been so curious about meant I bought them immediatel, along with thousands of Americans.I devoured them and fell into Middle-Earth. When the Ballantine books came out with a note for JRR Tolkien printed on the back chastising the fans for accepting the “pirate” printings, well: ow! (Ace did eventually make a legit deal with the Tolkien Estate, which is why I put “pirate” in quotes).
After finishing the Trilogy two or three times, I sent Tolkien and illustrated letter – my 16 year-old self doing the illustrations – asking if there was more story to come – because all those hundreds of pages couldn’t be the end – what he thought about Disney, and what the difference was between the Ace and the Ballantine versions of his books.
And, he answered me! All my questions – “I don’t want anything to do with Disney” (laughs), told me there were things both new and removed between the Ace and Ballantine versions. He signed his note and included his home address: wow!
Let me tell you, you’re 17 or 18, you go to the mailbox and find a note by J.R.R. Tolkien… definitely wow!Nrama: Ohhhh, I hope you still have that.
Kaluta: You better believe it!
Besides the Princess of Mars book from IDW, I did nine drawing for The Shadowhunters Codex, a book coming out this Fall based on the “Mortal Instruments” series by Cassandra Clare. Apparently there’s a Shadowhunters movie out later this year, too. There’s lots and lots of art by lots and lots of different artists in the Codex – Charles Vess did the endpapers, my art is for the chapter headings.
I did 10 b/w full-page drawings for Mage: The Ascension when it came out from White Wolf 25 years ago. Now they’re doing a 25th anniversary version, and I get to draw and paint the illustrations regarding these same 10 traditions within the game. Life Is good!Nrama: I get the sense that overall, you’re doing more comics these days based on your enthusiasm for the projects and the medium.
Kaluta: Exactly. At this point, I like being able to do some work for hire, and some things that are fun for me, things I share the ownership on. I like going to the MoCCA festival, like a friendly vampire (laughs), just going in the room and drinking in all the creativity that’s in the air.
Most of the people there aren’t planning to make a dime off their comics: they’re doing them because, simply, they have to do them. They’ve got to tell the their story or they’ve got to realize their images. I’m the crusty old professional who wanders through, going, “Ahhhh, this is so great. It makes me want to go home and draw something!”
Help Kaluta realize his Starstruck dreams by funding the Kickstarter campaign!