As an ardent webcomics fan, I have read several over the years of my life, but there are only a few that I consider my absolute favorites. One such favorite is Blue Milk Special (www.bluemilkspecial.com), a comic that parodies the original Star Wars trilogy. I recently had the chance to talk to Rod and Leanne Hannah, the creators of BMS, and they were kind enough to answer some questions for me concerning their lives. Rod did the majority of the talking, and with their permission, I have shared their thoughts and answers.
Robert J. Baden, Fanboy Comics Contributor: Thank you for talking with me. So, let me get right to it; since the two of you are both Star Wars fans, what exactly made you decide to parody it?
Rod and Leanne Hannah: While Leanne and myself are fans of Star Wars, I wouldn’t say we are HUGE fans in terms of those who worship every aspect of the ever-expanding universe and purchase anything with the Star Wars logo on it. Most people would assume that for the time we pour into BMS that we must obsess over Star Wars, but, in fact, it’s a healthy appreciation. We’re both pretty casual about Star Wars in general, but at some point in our past had an infatuation with it.
I think viewing Star Wars from a distance helps certain comedic elements of its universe and fandom to stand out, which allows BMS to have a lot of observational comedy. When Leanne and I got around to re-watching the movies together, I was transported back to that place and time when things seemed a lot more potent, when things were less diluted by the never-ending expanded universe. These days it’s hard to keep up with it all unless you eat, sleep, and breathe Star Wars. For example, Wookieepedia’s entry for Emperor Palpatine is well OVER 100 pages long! That’s a number which is easy to say, but jaw-dropping when you stop and think about it. Re-watching the movies took us back to the core of what makes Star Wars such escapist fantasy and that was an inspirational feeling.
The story and lines of dialogue are so familiar that it’s easy to take something we all recognize and twist or skewer it, particularly in the context of where Star Wars and its fandom exists today. One of the things we can do through BMS is express the humor and often nonsensical side of how fandom perceives Star Wars. For example, this tribalistic mentality that Star Wars has to be better than Star Trek, or vice versa. Or the way Boba Fett has been retconned and reinvented by fans to be something that he never really was in the original films. It’s hard to find a fresh angle to parody such well-trodden material, but I think in certain respects BMS does succeed.
RJB: Do you have a specific process in making your strips?
R&LH: Since late 2011 Leanne has moved entirely digital, designing the characters in Manga Studio using a Wacom drawing tablet. This allows for a much smoother inked look than when the project was illustrated on paper. Either Leanne or myself then adds color in Photoshop. We compose all the panels digitally in a piecemeal fashion, rather than actually drawing the panels from scratch. I do the lettering and usually handle the environments and effects, which are placed in a background layer behind the foreground characters and props. For the ships, we were assisted by Geoffrey Padilla, taking 3D models and giving them a cell-shaded finish to match the cartoony style of the webcomic.
When we started working on the project in January 2009, the characters and props were hand-drawn on paper. Leanne would draw the roughs, then ink the work with a light table, and finally scan it. Although there is often unique art required by the script, we frequently make use of stock poses created for each character. This allows us to drop the appropriate character pose or expression into a panel and make minor tweaks without having to draw an entire four-panel strip from scratch every week. Since BMS is a full color webcomic and because we began with a Monday/Wednesday/Friday update schedule, using the stock art/paper doll method made sense. This choice was necessary for BMS to be practical, as Leanne was engaged in freelance comic illustration projects with creators like Todd Dezago, J.M. Dematteis, and Rob Zombie throughout the first few story arcs. At the time, that left the assembly and composition of the strips, along with most of the coloring and lettering, to me.
RJB: On the comic website you mentioned that you don’t plan on parodying the prequels, but you have parodied Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and the Holiday Special. Are there any plans to parody other works in the “Expanded Universe?”
R&LH: We are toying with the idea of a short Shadows of the Empire story arc between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.
RJB: When BMS is eventually finished, do you have plans on doing another webcomic project?
R&LH: We are actually developing an original web manga at the moment, concurrent with the ongoing work on Blue Milk Special. This is one of the reasons that we can only manage one strip a week, not to mention health and time constraints. I can’t say much about the web manga yet or reveal its name, as we will not be making an official announcement until September, and the project would not debut until December 2012/January 2013 at the earliest. It plays with the tropes of D&D from a villain’s perspective and remixes things into a romantic comedy which is set in an alternate modern-day Japan. We’re going 100% professional with the approach and will be sending out press releases, exclusive pinups, advertising…the whole shebang!
RJB: Despite the fair use laws and the general comedic nature of the comic, do you run into any legal problems with FOX or LucasFilm, or the ramblings of Star Wars fanatics?
R&LH: BMS is a fan project. We’ve never had any legal problems, and arguably (even in a court of law), we’re not doing anything wrong under the Fair Use law as we’re not selling products without a license or making any money. It really frustrates me when I see less scrupulous fans and business people using the Star Wars characters on t-shirts and products for their hit-and-run business models without an official license, because we put an incredible (almost sickening) amount of time into producing BMS for free.
The only mini-drama that we’ve had has been from fans who feel that Robot Chicken or Family Guy did some gag before us. It’s nice to have our amateur webcomic compared to a network show which has a budget and a mass of animators and staff, but for the majority of our run we’ve been a two-strip-per-week webcomic—in that time both Robot Chicken and Family Guy completed their parodies of the trilogy while we were still working on Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. I can’t predict how they would tackle a particular scene, and if we touch similar ground, it can suck the steam out of our work. In one case, I learned Family Guy had gotten their gag out before we could. It was the play on Luke’s sense of proportion when whining about Obi-Wan’s death compared to Leia’s home planet being destroyed. Running into something like that is deeply frustrating, because each strip takes around 3-6 hours of work in our spare time outside our full-time jobs. To then be accused of ripping someone else off not only hurts, but is like being told you just wasted a lot of hard work on your Sunday.
I purposefully avoided Robot Chicken and Family Guy parodies after that. I wanted to be able to say, “Well, I haven’t even watched that one, ha!” As one or two of our supporters have pointed out, Star Wars is hugely popular and has been around now for over 30 years, which means most conceivable gags, especially the obvious ones, have been done before. For that reason, BMS generally tries to take a different twist on things whenever possible.
There have been one or two occasions when BMS has put a strain on things for Leanne and myself, and I’ve been ready to pull the plug on the project, but in the end we’ve always agreed to keep going, because we love the characters and we want to take them all the way through to the end.
RJB: Given that BMS is a not-for-profit endeavor, do the two of you work in the art industry at a paid-professional level?
R&LH: Leanne has worked on several projects, including Todd Dezago and Craig Rosseau’s Perhapanauts, MVCreations’ Masters of the Universe, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Rob Zombie’s Whatever Happened to Baron Von Shock?, and Spook Show International. My paid-art experience has been limited to color assists on various titles including some early issues of Robert Kirkman’s Brit.
As a non-paid writer, I’ve worked on Mike Oeming and Bryan Glass’ Harvey Award Winning Mice Templar, writing the “Myth and Legends” articles. I have written articles for 1980s animation magazine Cereal:Geek and published my own indie comic, Once Upon a Super Hero.
RJB: Is there a particular artist (or artists) that has influenced your own style and storytelling for BMS?
R&LH: I think the particular style that Leanne uses for BMS evolved on its own. That is, the noseless, simplified faces on a fairly realistic body. The likeness of the character comes mostly from the costume and hair, but also a simple lopsided smile is sometimes all you need to capture Han Solo’s personality. As far as the storytelling/gags, Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker works like Airplane, definitely have an influence on some of the more insane characters and situations.
RJB: Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start their own webcomic from your own personal experience?
R&LH: If it’s a fan project, then respect the owner and don’t infringe on their rights. If it’s an original project and being produced with the goal of turning a profit, then be realistic about your abilities and resources. I’ve seen some people blow a lot of money and give up after marketing to the wrong audience. I’ve seen others do little marketing at all. If Leanne and I ever find success with our webmanga, I’ll do my best to share any tips!
RJB: Thank you for taking the time out of you schedules to answer my questions.
R&LH: It’s been a pleasure!