The Starstruck Chronicles, I: Bringing Starstruck Back

Starstruck #1, in stores in August from IDW

The last few years have seen a renaissance of reprints, ranging from classic comic strips to runs by legendary creators. And once in a while, an underappreciated gem gets a new chance to shine.

Such is the case of Starstruck, a universe-spanning adventure whose history involves multiple publishers, formats and mediums. Beginning as a stage play, it became a series of stories in Heavy Metal, then a series in Marvel’s Epic imprint, then a continuation at Dark Horse. Now, it’s being reissued in an all-new, updated edition, and even becoming a series of audio adventures, the first of which will serve as a charity reading to help comics legend Gene Colan.

Starstruck will be reissued by IDW Publishing starting in August as a 13-issue limited series. But this is no mere reprinting. In addition to being completely recolored by renowned fantasy artist Lee Moyer, series creators Elaine Lee and Michael William Kaluta have reworked the original material, including reformatting pages, expanding images, and all-new “Galactic Girl Guide” material inked by Charles Vess.

To take us through this massive story, Newsarama was privileged to talk with Elaine Lee, Michael William Kaluta and Lee Moyer about a book that Clive Barker called “one of the most brave and elegant experiments in comic book storytelling.” In our three-part talk, we’ll also give you a preview of the new, remastered pages. Ladies and gentlemen…Starstruck, as you’ve never seen it before.

Newsarama: Guys, for those who have not encountered Starstruck before, give us a basic introduction to the world and its characters.

Elaine Lee: I’m going to let Lee start this one…

Lee Moyer: The world of Starstruck takes place in the Anarchic Era that follows the overthrow of the galaxy's Dread Dictator (a cross between Kim Jong Il, the Shah of Iran, and Elvis), and begins as a trio of wily guerrillas, led by Mary Medea, work to ensure the Bajar Dynasty will no longer menace the multiverse.

But what happens from there is a roller coaster of real characters and worlds. It uses text and graphics in amazing ways.

It's deep and wide and ambitious and surprising and above all, fun.

EL: A good bunch of the characters come from two powerful families, the Bajars and the Medeas. The Baron RSVdG Bajar, grandson of the overthrown dictator, is a ruthless businessman and CEO of United Free Trade Planets.

His twin children, Kalif and Ronnie Lee, cause much of the trouble in our stories, thanks to a ferocious sibling rivalry. Ronnie starts her own religion, using it as a source of income and a front for her various “projects.”

As the Bajars are descended from a terrible dictator, the Medeas descend from Molly Medea, the rebel who helped to take him down. Molly’s daughter, Margaret, is also a very successful businesswoman, but a more benign type. She is the owner of Krystals ‘n’ Things, a company that trades in Borinyum Krystals, which are both a source of energy and capable of storing vast amounts of information.

Margaret Medea has daughter Mary (AKA Glorianna) by Sigrfried Sigfriedsen, a freedom-fighting protégé of her mother’s. She has a rather more evil daughter, Maggie (AKA Veroona Ti¨), by her second husband, Geron Ti¨. Her middle daughter, Molly Younger (AKA Galatia 9) is a special case, but we’ll not get into that here.

At the beginning of our story, we see Mary Medea, who takes after her Dad and Grandma, as she and her partner, Randall Factor work to keep the free multiverse free. They are being helped in their efforts by certain beings of the Droid persuasion. Other characters, (Brucilla the Muscle, Harry Palmer, Bronwyn of the Veil, Dwanyunn of Griivarr) are caught up in the machinations of the warring elites.

In many ways, these pawns are the most fun characters. Most of the main characters were characters in the play and were written for the actors who played them. As Michael was so involved in the production, he knew and loved the actors and drew the characters to look like them.

Michael William Kaluta: All the characters in the comic book series grew out of characters from Elaine's play. Some were there full-blown, some sketched in and others were implied. With the development of the comic book tales, the personalities and interactions of the major players were revealed in one of those "veils removed from their line of sight" events: the development was a process of discovery, as if even the least implied character from the play had been waiting in the background to step onto the stage when their cue arrived.

The comic book echoes this story-writing endeavor: as the books progress, the reader gets a slow reveal of the greater energies and alliances by the way they impact the lives of the happy-go-lucky space girls and boys eking out their bits of the big ball of wax

NRAMA: Could you attempt to explain the storied history of this property, from stage to Heavy Metal to Epic to Dark Horse and IDW?

EL: Wow! The rise and fall of the Roman Empire in 500 words or less!

Okay… I was a young actor in New York City, a regular on a soap opera, when Michael Kaluta walked up to my sister and me in a restaurant and introduced himself, attracted by the girls with the pile of science fiction magazines on their table.

My sister and I had started a theatre company (Wild Hair Productions) with some actor friends and were planning our production of Starstruck. At the time, I didn’t know who Kaluta was, but he said he was an artist, so I wrote his name and number on an index card and filed it under “May be of help with next play.”

A few weeks later, I was in West Side Comics and saw a poster for The Studio. There was a picture of a painting I had seen (and loved) on a back cover of Heavy Metal: The Fate of Dollies Lost in Dreams. The artist’s name was Michael Kaluta. The guy we’d met in the restaurant!

I called and told Michael that I would leave comp tickets for him at the theatre for the show we were currently running. He came, loved it, we talked, and I gradually roped him into doing the poster, then the costumes, then sets for the play. After the production closed, Starstruck was optioned, but it soon became clear that the producer was never going to do anything with it. Michael suggested we do it as a comic.

MWK: The first idea was, of course, to do a comic book of the play. It took about 12 minutes to realize the Ppay would not translate into a comic book: Lots and Lots of terrific dialogue, great sets and costumes, but all the action happening in two rooms and a corridor: perfect for the stage, a challenge for the comics. Woe Woe for a few moments, then we remembered the great device Elaine used to introduce the characters in the play: as soon as they stepped onto the stage they said something pithy, took a pose and were hit with a spotlight. Frozen in place, a voice-over informed the audience of who, what, when, where and how-- kill the spot, continue action.

Each character description had a ton of pre-play information that begged to be illustrated. There was the Starstruck comic book. When it came to expanding the comic book, all the elements of the future iteration seemed to already be on the pages: unknown "background" characters were apparently getting on with their Starstruck life while Elaine and I weren't paying attention.

EL: Though I had loved comics as a kid, and the Starstruck play had been inspired by some of the stuff I had been seeing in Heavy Metal, I had never written a comic. I had to learn how to think in panels. Michael and I pretty much sat in the same room and wrote and drew the thing at the same time.

NRAMA: How did the IDW edition come about, and what's it been like working with them?

MWK: As far as the IDW comic book goes, the interest came totally from Scott Dunbier. The dream of having the newest version of the comic out there in full color had long been in our hearts and, a few times, seemed on the lip of happening.

Disappointment followed all the previous hopes: our various pitches, while exciting most of whom received our offerings, eventually found an insurmountable wall or unfathomable well, causing the door to close on that possible publishing future. Now, because of Scott, the first third of the entire Starstruck Canon will find its way into 21st Century hands.

EL: Weirdly, Michael and I were first contacted by both IDW and Play It By Ear (about the Starstruck play reading to benefit Gene Colan) within a couple of weeks of each other. For some reason, a renewed interest in Starstruck was just out there all of a sudden.

IDW has been great. Scott Dunbier’s terrific, very easy to work with. He’s trusted us to do our thing. Best of all, the books are going to look incredible!

NRAMA: Describe for our readers the process of updating the book.

LM: The original stories were expanded for the Dark Horse versions in 1990, but they've been expanded quite differently this time. Where the previous expansion involved an interstitial jigsaw puzzle (rejiggering pages, moving panels, et al), this version will be expanded differently.

NRAMA: Michael, I was given to understand you had to reformat the graphic novel to fit in the pages…

MWK: Going from the “original” Starstruck (the material that appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine and was the bulk of the Marvel/Epic Graphic Novel) to the Expanding Universe (the 4 issues published by Dark Horse Comics) was a terrific engorgement of the story... there's one place where a panel showing two characters talking at a cocktail party was cut in half and 20-odd new story and art pages were set between the two talking heads.

LM: In this, the granddaddy of all versions, Michael is taking panels and literally opening them up and showing you more. It's like Steven Spielberg suddenly uncovering an extra $100 million and pulling his camera back to reveal all the extras and sets that previously laid just outside our perceptions. I thought the Heavy Metal pages set in the Throne Room on Mirage were some of the most beautiful in Comics history, but here Michael has the extra room for grandeur.

MWK: The work being added for the IDW Starstruck pages is subtler in that there's no “new” content, just more “real estate.” The adjustment will add to the on-going story by the invisible eye-soothing effect of the comic book panel art sitting properly on the comic book page... the reader will no longer have to adjust to an almost square format art page on the tall rectangle of the standard comic book. I'm here to tell you, though, it is definitely work, not the least of which is me having to match art styles from either 20 or 30 years ago...

EL: Besides Lee’s color and Michael’s expanded panels, new stuff in the IDW series includes a backup story with the Galactic Girl Guides (pint-sized, space-hopping con artists), featuring a younger version of the Starstruck character, Brucilla the Muscle, and her friend, Cookie Fabre. Cookie is Lieutenant Brucilla’s gunnery sergeant in one of the Starstruck episodes.

A bit of the Guide material was seen as a backup in Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer Adventure Magazine, but most of it has never been published before. The Guides were inked by Charles Vess and Lee has done painted color for the whole thing.

For my part, I’ve been expanding the Starstruck glossary – Ordering AnarchEra – writing lots of new entries. There will also be a forward to each episode, that will include some new art and will be written in the voice of the character, Dwanyunn of Griivarr. Dwanyunn was a major character in the play, but sort of hovers in the background of the comic stories. He saw a lot, though!

NRAMA: Lee, what's the coloring/recoloring been like?

LM: Painting Michael's work is always a treat, but also one of the most complex tasks in comics. I want to get it all right, but there's just so much to get. Simply figuring out all the details is a huge task, and there are single panels have taken me an entire day. Before I began I bought a copy of the old Marvel Graphic Novel (#13!) and took markers to it, that I might solve some of the problems I'd always had with the old coloring.

I also took key locations (Mirage, New Wyoming, Rec Station 97's infamous Vale of Tiers) and painted them up fully. In that way I'd hoped to solve problems with sets before I encountered them in my work, allowing me to focus on the myriad fascinating and detailed characters.

The story opens with nearly-identical fraternal twins for example, and keeping them straight for the reader was always a challenge. These are not simple superhero duds, and characters actually change their appearances (and names) over the course of the story...

EL: As beautiful as Michael’s line work is, Lee’s color makes it that much more beautiful! And the color will help carry the reader through the very complex storyline. Lee was an early fan of Starstruck, so he knows all the ins and outs of the story. You may not remember, but “Rootersnoos Ferret, Lee Moyer” wrote the “what happened in the last issue” segments at the beginning of each Dark Horse issue!

MWK: Me, I'm sitting back in awe!

Some of the unsung enablers of Starstruck, the comic book should get their rightful nod, I think... as with every labor of love, there are mash notes and welts, both given and received in well-meaning mistakes as well as perhaps calculated effrontery. The love bites and heart breaks have healed over but played their parts in the birth of Starstruck, the comic book.

There's a host of unknown and uncredited terrific Blue-Line Colorists in Spain responsible for making the eventual Marvel/Epic Graphic Novel so beautiful: they worked for Josep Toutain's SF Comic Book Magazine: the first place Starstruck ever saw the light of day. There's a story in the linking up of the bankroller and fan-press past-master Sal Quartuccio, who allowed the first smoldering idea of the Starstruck comic to catch light, and the advent of (whatever that Spanish Comic was called), and their funneling of the color art to Heavy Metal magazine. Julie Simmons-Lynch had the catcher's mitt and John Workman was the entire infield as far as getting Starstruck out to the Heavy Metal readership.

I don't know who did the King Solomon diving off the story pages into the abrupt chapters that appeared for the several months Starstruck was included in Heavy Metal: I've only heard praise from those HM readers who found Starstruck a favorite at that time. In the transition from Heavy Metal to Marvel, there's John Workman on the one side and Jim Shooter on the other with our Entertainment Lawyer in between.

Being boss of Marvel, Jim read the entire content of what we had to offer, suggested three additional pages and the removal of three others and then handed the book to Epic's Archie Goodwin. Archie Goodwin was the Artists' and Writer's choice as editor wherever he worked: he ruled! Archie called us after reading the material and said: "I could edit this, but I'd ruin it... it is not written nor presented in a fashion I have an expertise in, so, I'm trusting it as is... that said, want to do some Epic Comics as a follow up?". He also wrote and cartooned the inside front covers for the Epic Starstruck series.

The assistant Epic Editors, Laurie Sutton and Jo Duffy, kept me at the board and, though "on our side", did cause a moment or two of Existential Angst when pitting the Starstruck lexicon against even the loosey-goosey word hoard of Comics In General.

Ann Nocenti, then X-Men editor, read Starstruck and came up with an insight I've often dined out on... "If you read (and re-read) the strip closely, you'll find there's always a pay-off for every set-up, and what appears opaque always becomes clear in the fullness of time, but: I don't spend that amount of time on my real life!" Larry Hama vocally admired Elaine's conversational dialogue: "read it out loud,” he'd say.

Steve Hickman was, from the beginning, a staunch advocate for the stories and even contributed a family story that set the benchmark for the "Sign of the Nova" Galactic Girl Guide badge. Add all the folks who wrote in to Marvel, most knowing there'd never be a letters' page: some astounded, some annoyed and some gushing with thanks for letting them think while reading a graphic novel... another telling phrase I've added to the History Of Those Who Wrote Starstruck "Fan" Mail (a sort of corollary to Ann Nocenti's remark above): "Hey: When I buy a comic book for 7 dollars, I don't expect to have to spend over an hour to read it" That immediately became my benchmark for Someone Who Just Never Got It And Probably Never Would.

Though there are many, many more unsung in this voyage toward the IDW Starstruck Series (Mr. Mark Askwith being a shining example) the last largest shoulder we got to lean against was that of Mike Richardson of Dark Horse Comics, et all. He and Randy Stradley called me up 6 months before the release of The Abyss, asking if I'd do their movie adaptation. I said yes, but added, "oh, I thought you were calling to say you'd love to reprint Starstruck..." "Is it available?” And that was that.

Elaine and I did impress them when they found that our idea of "adding some new pages to the story" meant doubling the originally published work. Now, with Charles Vess' work on The Galactic Girl Guide about to be seen, Lee Moyer's brilliant enhancing of the story though his added life and color, Elaine and I get to thank Scott Dunbier for being the last of the many who said "yes!"

In Part Two, the Starstruck gang talks about reviving the original stage play to help Gene Colan (and what you can do to help Colan yourself), and what the work means to them personally. Plus, more preview pages!

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