Tuesday, 16 May 2017 20:17

‘Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume I’ – Hardcover Book Review

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The compelling story of Star Wars in 1977 left fans wanting more. Unlike now, where we can own a copy of a much-loved film and watch any time we want, back in the late 1970s, Beta and VHS formats were still a few years from being an available commodity. There were a handful of novels that were released at the time, and Marvel was putting out a monthly comic book series, but the fans’ interest was not sated. They were clamoring for more content. Given that the sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, would not be released until May 1980, the Los Angeles Times Syndicate began running a daily Star Wars comic strip on March 11, 1979. Finally, fans could get a daily installment, albeit in very small doses, for the next five years.

Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics is the first of three volumes of daily and Sunday comic book strips to release this month. IDW and The Library of American Comics, along with Disney, Lucasfilm, and Marvel, are to thank for restoring the first ten stories of a total 27 storylines. In the opening “A Long Time Ago at a Syndicate Far, Far Away...” essay, Rich Handley aptly describes the climate of fan need that gave birth to the comic strip. He explained that Russ Manning’s stories of heroes and villains were filled with adventures, action, and humor. The strips “represent[ed] a simpler time in the franchise’s history” (p. 7) because of the limited amount of material that was canonical at that point. Additionally, the tone of the comic strips were similar to the original cinematic trilogy. The second essay, “From the Databanks of Mistress Mnemos: Remembering Russ Manning” by Henry G. Franke III, honors the veteran writer/artist, who he felt was a perfect choice to kick off the daily comic strip given his comics experience. Franke explained the challenges faced by Manning that arose from the newspaper format, as well as limiting guidelines from the franchise. Sadly, Manning passed away in December 1981.

This first volume serves not only as an archive for the franchise, but as a memorial to Manning’s later career output prior to his death. Manning’s contribution was huge: The first nine stories were drawn by him, and the first three were also written by him. He weaved original story arcs that entertained and captivated fans every day of the week. Not only did fans get to read about the adventures of their favorite characters from the first Star Wars film, but they were also introduced to new characters such as Mistress Mnemos, Gyla, and Blackhole. It must have been a severe challenge to write and draw two ongoing storylines: the dailies that ran Monday through Saturday, and then a separate storyline that ran on each Sunday. Reading through the dailies, it was quickly apparent how skillful Manning was at summarizing the prior day’s strip in the first panel, push the story forward in the second panel, and leave off with a cliffhanger in the final panel. On Sunday, there was more leeway with typically six or nine panels in which to tell a chunk of story. “Gambler’s World,” “The Constancia Affair,” and “The Kashyyyk Depths” represent the narrative structure that Manning followed. Fortunately, in September, the structure changed, and one story was told ongoing over the entire week. Admittedly, with the shift, the stories became more engaging and seemed to be less redundant with a daily summary of the day before. And with each subsequent story, Manning seemed to find his artistic stride. With the latter stories in this volume, he provided more detailing in each panel, which heightened the action and visual experience of the reader.

Other storytellers in this volume include Steve Gerber, Russ Helm, and Don Christensen. Additional artists include Rick Hoberg, Dave Stevens, and Alfredo Alcala. Taken as a whole, this volume is a wonderful journey into the early years of the franchise as it was beginning to develop a canon of stories. Additionally, it collects concise and entertaining stories of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C3P0, and R2D2 when they were “young” and new to a growing legion of devoted fans. It’s a beautiful book and will be a welcome addition to every fan’s library.

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