In May of 2003 I launched a series of conversations with creators involved in the Star Wars line of books being published by Dark Horse Comics. Star Wars Saturdays at Silver Bullet Comicbooks featured such talents as Haden Blackman, John Ostrander & Jan Duursema, and the subject of this interview, Paul Chadwick.
Paul and I talked about his work on the creator-owned book, Concrete, as well as his thoughts on the Star Wars universe, its films, and its myriad EU stories. Considering the bile that has been spewed over the prequels in the intervening years it’s refreshing to see someone in a creative field talking about them somewhat appreciatively. I’m sure some of that is just playing along so as not to anger Lucasfilm or Dark Horse, but his answers appeared to be well thought out and honest and I take them as such.
It was fun revisiting this piece and it’s given me the urge to revisit not only Paul’s Star Wars work with the Biggs Darklighter and Yavin Base stories, but also his Concrete books which are intelligent, topical, and beautifully illustrated. You should probably check them out, too. But first, here’s my Week Three interview with Paul Chadwick…
In Concrete Paul Chadwick created one of the most significant and under-rated, creator-owned series in the last 20 years. His previous work for Marvel comics, working on Dazzler with the legendary Archie Goodwin, gave little indication of the long career that lay ahead for the young talent.
Now, 15 years later, Paul is in Star Wars country.
This May, he begins a two-storyline, six-issue run on Empire – the Star Wars monthly covering events between Episode IV-VI. Beginning with the 8th issue of the series, Chadwick is taking the opportunity to bolster the role of one of his favourite Star Wars characters who he strongly believes deserved more attention than he received in A New Hope.
Biggs Darklighter, whose scenes were cut to almost nothing in the final film, will be in the spotlight for four issues of Chadwick’s Empire, and readers will be given the opportunity to see exactly what happened to the character between his meeting with Luke on Tatooine and the fateful Battle of Yavin. His other storyline, Yavin Base, will explore the Rebels discovery and move into the strange alien temple on Yavin IV, as well as the mystery of those who built it.
It is my pleasure to present Week 3 of Star Wars Saturdays at SBC, Paul Chadwick…
MIKE JOZIC: You’re probably best known for your creator-owned series, Concrete, and now you’re working on various Star Wars projects like your upcoming storylines in Empire. What was the transition like moving from something you have absolute control over to a licensed property?
PAUL CHADWICK: Somewhat agonizing. Concrete, with its characters and continuity, which I know intimately and can freely change, are a walk in the park compared to the Star Wars continuity minefield. Not that I’m griping; they should protect continuity. But after 27 years or so of the most successful mythmaking enterprise in history, dos and don’ts have accreted like moonlets around a gas giant. I’m trying to bump into as few as I can.
JOZIC: Can you give some examples of a few don’ts that you’ve run into while working on Empire?
CHADWICK: The biggest were the time restraints. I’d hoped that some indeterminate episodes in A New Hope, like the flight to Alderaan, or the droids wandering in the wilderness – why not forty days, like Christ? – might give me breathing room for Biggs’ story. No go. There’s a strict timeline established, and hyperdrive jumps never take more than a day in the Star Wars Universe. Time limits of life support for TIE fighters, whether helmets are opaque or transparent – thus enabling us to know who’s talking – all this stuff is locked down.
JOZIC: How did the opportunity to contribute to the current line come up?
CHADWICK: The Empire stories came about when editor Randy Stradley asked me to dust off a Biggs Darklighter proposal I’d written years ago, when I first decided to try to collaborate more. It grew a bit from that two-issue idea. The Valentine Story book was a be-there-at-the-right-moment situation. Editor Diana Schutz, who also edits Concrete, had difficulty finding an artist appropriate for Judd Winnick’s close-up human oriented story – it’s mostly set inside a crashed spaceship, with just Han and Leia. I dropped Concrete for a couple of months to do it on a tight deadline.
JOZIC: That Valentine special was the first of its kind for the Star Wars books. What was it like tackling that project?
CHADWICK: Tight deadline, challenging drawing Carrie and Harrison at that point in their lives from a paucity of good still-photographs, and in the confined situation – in the crashed ship. Judd’s bright script would nicely adapt into a good radio play. Fun to have my pal Ken Steacy color the book.
JOZIC: How tight was the deadline on the Valentine Story?
JOZIC: Are you happy with how A Valentine Story turned out, or are you too close to it and see all the bugs?
CHADWICK: It takes me five years or so to get over the wince-at-that-face reaction to my artwork. But I feel a certain professional pride that it’s a capable job. Randy Stradley was kind enough to forward some kind words that appeared on the Star Wars fan message boards, which I ate up as if George Lucas himself had called to give me an atta-boy.
JOZIC: You once said that Concrete was your life’s work and that you needed breaks from time to time. Is your Star Wars work one of those breaks, or will you be staying on Empire for the foreseeable future?
CHADWICK: I’ll be around for six issues, which is a good run for a gadfly like me. But I have a big commitment for the next two years, a collaboration with Harlan Ellison on a science fiction comic, Seven Against Chaos. No more Star Wars for me for a while, alas. My Concrete miniseries, The Human Dilemma, is pretty close to done, and should be out this year.
JOZIC: Can you say any more about Seven Against Chaos?
CHADWICK: It’s a recasting of The Magnificent Seven – itself based on Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai – in a future where people are shaped for rough work on other planets genetically and mechanically. Harlan wrote a film treatment in 1978, dusted it off, and sold it to DC to do as a comic. I’m drawing, he’s writing, Dave Stevens will do the covers.
JOZIC: What about working with Harlan?
CHADWICK: Harlan’s a hoot and a half, a walking encyclopedia, veteran of a thousand battles – often of his own making – and uncountable romantic conquests, a never-grown-up 68-year-old kid. For a melancholy, shy type who loathes conflict, he is an exotic creature beyond understanding. So I just enjoy. He is endlessly kind to his friends. I plan to leave as much room as possible for text, encouraging him to lay on his diamond-edged prose.
JOZIC: Concrete had a tendency to be fairly cerebral. How will your Star Wars work different from your work in the past?
CHADWICK: Concrete is cerebral, real-world oriented, and frequently involves moral dilemmas. The morality of Star Wars is clear-cut, and is intentionally, gloriously, escapist – though some wags have made some clever parallels to contemporary events. I’ve quite enjoyed laying on, in my Empire stories, plenty of derring-do, wild schemes, and rat-a-tat plotting. Smart and fun, I hope.
JOZIC: Did you find the simple morality of Star Wars liberating?
CHADWICK: No. I see the world as paradoxical and ironic. Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Anger is right sometimes, wrong other times. I even reacted badly to the first film, wishing it had some of the cruelty and contradictions behind the derring-do that Richard Lester’s film of a couple of years before, The Three Musketeers, possessed. I realize I’m quite in the minority on this.
Ambiguity enters Sewells’ story. His actorly grandiosity, the murderous anger he learned on the streets, becomes his strength when turned, properly, toward the oppressive Empire. But he’s not a nice person.
JOZIC: Do you think your experience doing The World Below, with its serial style action and adventure was good preparation for getting into the Star Wars universe?
CHADWICK: They’re fairly different animals. I had one plot bounced from Empire as being too science fictional, and not enough in the Star Wars spirit. They were right. It was a survival tale with a character braving a jungle full of bizarre, dangerous plants and animals. It was grotesque, sensational and small in scale – like The World Below. In contrast, Star Wars is epic, its characters swept up by history, with military, political and family conflicts at the fore.
JOZIC: Your Empire storyline, Darklighter, is about the character of the same name, briefly seen in Episode IV. What was the attraction for you to that particular character and what can readers expect from the story?
CHADWICK: The Biggs Darklighter scenes were shot but almost all were cut out of the film. They were restored for the radio play. There was more yet to his story, only alluded to – his posting to the Rand Ecliptic, the mutiny, his defection to the Rebel Alliance. I always felt the character, and the actor who played him, got a bad break. So, as is the case with much fiction, I believe, my Empire stories are a scratch for that itching injustice.
JOZIC: Was it at all daunting to fill-in that gap between Biggs and Luke’s talk on Tatooine and his fateful end at the Battle of Yavin?
CHADWICK: No kidding. Getting all that must happen to Biggs in the time allowed – things established or alluded to in books and comics and the radio play, in the days the official timeline allows – borders on the absurd. Hopefully it’ll appear fairly seamless – we handle some of it through flashback. All I can say is, Biggs had a hell of a few days there. But then, so did Luke.
JOZIC: There’s going to be a two issue break in the middle of Darklighter, with another story, Yavin Base, taking its place until issue #12 in August. What was the purpose behind the scheduling of those stories and is that especially disruptive for you, as a writer?
CHADWICK: What you might expect. Giving the artist more time. Doug didn’t miss a deadline, but editor Stradley could project out the trend, and he definitely needed more time. Injecting the Yavin story – actually the story of Rebel officer Roons Sewell, a violent street-kid turned stage-actor turned Rebel guerilla leader – gave Doug some breathing room and also laid a more interesting context for Biggs to enter when he gets to Yavin Four.
JOZIC: So the break in the Darklighter story, aside from its more practical application, will essentially move events up to a point where Biggs can be logically inserted into the story again on Yavin IV prior to the Battle of Yavin?
CHADWICK: Just so.
JOZIC: Were you familiar with the Star Wars comics that DHC was doing prior to coming on board?
CHADWICK: Of course. Dark Horse comps me all the Star Wars books. That said, for a fellow like me, reading comics is a busman’s holiday. I confess I give the Star Wars books a couple of pages to engage me, and then ruthlessly put them aside if they fail.
JOZIC: Which would you say have been your favourites?
CHADWICK: I find I am partial to humorous material, such as a those Boba Fett tales with a funny take on Hutts; the reprints of Alan Moore’s early Star Wars stories; Star Wars Tales; and others I can’t bring to mind right now.
JOZIC: Considering your past work, is there a reason you’re not going to be drawing as well as writing your arc/s on Empire?
CHADWICK: Other commitments, a desire to collaborate, a weak grasp of Star Wars hardware. I rather like writing a script and being done with an issue in a reasonable period of time. When I’m working solo, the process extends over months, and it’s hard to ever feel done.
JOZIC: You’ve mentioned the desire to collaborate a couple of times now. What is the attraction to a collaboration for you?
CHADWICK: This is a lonely business. You sit in a room, alone, for long hours. We’re wired by evolution, endless generations going out on group hunts, to thrive in activities involving a shared goal. It’s really the only way people feel entirely fulfilled. So, yeah, having a collaborator makes it much more enjoyable. It’s sometimes just a matter of somebody complimenting you on a good decision, or spurring you to do something you otherwise wouldn’t. It’s also very rewarding to see your idea well executed by somebody else.
CHADWICK: The first. Such a sense of discovery, this backstory-rich, newly-created world! The movie also appeared out of nowhere, seemingly, since serious, issue-oriented SF movies were the order of the day. This heady mix of old serials and Japanese cinema – The Hidden Fortress was an influence on the film – and breakthrough visual effects was a knockout punch. Also, it had some daring storytelling choices. At the time, jumping between disparate characters’ stories with such speed and economy, with wipes instead of dissolves – radical! – was quite bracing.
JOZIC: Is the Civil War period where your interest in Star Wars lies or would you like to get your hands on some Clone Wars material in the future?
CHADWICK: I don’t know. I’m still trying to understand the Clone Wars period. I have the sense Lucas is drawing on real-world history, but I haven’t put my finger on it. Maybe you could direct me to analyses in this regard.
JOZIC: I was always under the impression that the prequels are based on the period of American history that includes the War for Independence and the Civil War. I mean, the separatists are called the Confederacy, are they not?
CHADWICK: That doesn’t entirely fit. There are surely some parallels to the Roman Republic and Empire. Somebody’s written a doctoral thesis on this, surely.
JOZIC: What is your favourite Star Wars moment, from the films or the expanded universe?
CHADWICK: Back in the first film: Luke, denied again by his Uncle the chance to apply to the academy, goes outside to brood as the suns set. The music, the lighting, and the sheer simplicity of the idea; a second sun which could be composited without even a matte – a simple double exposure! – added to a familiar movie moment with great feeling, just made me smile. Inspired moviemaking, that.
JOZIC: If you could handle any Star Wars character, in either the monthlies or in a mini or special, who would you choose and why?
CHADWICK: It really is Biggs. I feel like I’m throwing a line to a guy who got shoved off the deck of the ship.
JOZIC: Have you ever seen the cut scenes that featured Biggs and Luke?
CHADWICK: Doug Wheatley tracked them down on the internet – sheesh, everything’s on the internet! – but with my slow connection I didn’t bother. I’ve heard the radio play a couple of times, have the original script to A New Hope, and found other Biggs
material in text form. That’s enough for me.
JOZIC: Have you ever met Biggs/Garrick Hagon at a convention or elsewhere?
CHADWICK: No, but if I ever do I’ll be damned sure to get him to autograph the comic! What a great name – sounds like a Star Wars character.
JOZIC: You’ve shown that you’re pretty good at capturing the physical likenesses of the characters with your Valentines story, but now that you’re writing the story, how successfully do you feel you’ve captured their voice?
As for voice, I’m lucky in that not much is established for the characters I’m dealing with – Biggs, Hobbie, Dodonna, and newly created Sewell. So I can’t mess up too much.
JOZIC: You’re going to be exploring the setting of Yavin IV, which was only seen briefly in the first film, as well as the backstory of the temple the Rebels have set up shop in. Were you given a lot of freedom with that or was there a lot of guidance? Did LFL already have the details worked out?
CHADWICK: Not too much. That’s my next script, and your question reminds me to check things out with Lucasfilm before I get too far with it.
JOZIC: Did you have any influence over the selection of your art teams or was that Randy’s job?
CHADWICK: Randy’s call. But I’m happy. The Star Wars books are Dark Horse’s bread-and-butter, and they put out the coin to get first-rate artwork.
JOZIC: How are you enjoying working with Doug? Have you started on the issues with Tomas yet?
CHADWICK: I haven’t seen Tomas’ pages yet, but his work elsewhere is tops. Doug’s are astonishing. Meticulous, impeccable likenesses, full of plotted perspective, good overlap composition, gorgeously drawn hardware. To top it off, Doug is modest and pleasant and encouraging. The Canadian in him, I guess.
JOZIC: Every Star Wars film has a series of themes running through it. Will you approach your Empire work that way?
CHADWICK: Themes tend to emerge without planning, I’ve found. There’s a repeated motif of leading one’s pursuers into a trap in my scripts, so far. Beyond that, I don’t know. Both my protagonists die, after episodes where they find meaning and purpose. Maybe there’s something to that.
JOZIC: What do you think of the prequel trilogy so far?
CHADWICK: Gorgeous, dense. Three movies worth of spectacle and event in each one. I could watch them with the sound off and appreciate them like a visit to the art museum. Hayden Christensen is shouldering his enormous burden well. Jake Lloyd was simply too young; putting him in a pod racer seemed like child abuse. The camera loves Natalie Portman. What a heartbreaker. Jar-Jar grated, but achieved redemption in the hilarious, and understated, moment in Clones when he’s recruited as a patsy to introduce the anti-democratic motion.
The Dinotopia visual borrowings for Naboo bugged me; the waterfall city idea was an extraneous grace note among all of Phantom Meanace‘s amazing visuals, but the central motif of Gurney’s book. Why swipe a soufflè when you’ve got a whole feast?
I liked Obi-Wan as private detective; a very engaging subplot. I could go on…
JOZIC: Do you have any expectations for Episode III? Anything you’re dying to see?
CHADWICK: I suspect it will be the best yet. That it must, because of its position in the sequence, be dark and ominous is promising. That renders tried-and-true crowd-pleasing choices impossible. We won’t be blowing up yet another Death Star – or equivalent – and having a victory celebration.
I will also be most curious about what themes George Lucas will choose to stress for this, his supposed valedictory – though I don’t believe it; the global pressure for more Star Wars films, and the increasing ease of digital filmmaking, will bring him back, eventually. As a mature man, with life experience raising children, building a fortune and an empire, managing a creative army, leading a technological revolution in how films are made – maybe he’ll have some interesting things he’ll want to say this time that he hasn’t felt able to before.
At the very least, it’ll be a visual tour-de-force, every pixel polished like a tile in a mosaic.
JOZIC: You’ve also done work based on The Matrix, which has been compared to Star Wars on many levels. Can we expect to see more from you on that front in the future?
CHADWICK: Last year I finished a ten-page story, the first thing I’ve ever colored – in Photoshop – as well as drawn, lettered and inked. They haven’t posted it on their website like the others, and speak in hushed tones of some other venue that they can’t reveal yet. So keep an eye out. With a nod to Chaucer, it’s called “The Miller’s Tale,” and it involves an old Terrence Malick movie and the growing of wheat. Not to mention death and killing machines and a great deal of rain.
JOZIC: Can you tell us anything more about the new Concrete series, The Human Dilemma? How long will it be? When will it come out? Story details?
CHADWICK: Six issues, the last of which I need to ink. Otherwise it’s done. So you should actually see it this year.
It’s about how those parts of our nature endowed by evolution have, by dint of our success, become problems. Our drive to reproduce, to acquire, to collect all become problematic as we become billions.
The story is political: Concrete becomes a spokesman for a controversial foundation encouraging people to have fewer – or no – children. He draws a firestorm of criticism and a psychotic stalker. The story’s also personal. Larry gets engaged and faces, ungracefully, the prospect of having kids. And in Concrete’s obsession to possess an elusive 19th-century painting, a central driver of the plot, I hope to tweak collectors of all sorts – aren’t we all – into examining their passion and its results.
Did I mention there’s a lot of beautifully depicted sex?
JOZIC: A Concrete fan here at SBC asked me to run this question by you, so here it is: Was Maureen Vonnegut in the series named so because of an interest in Kurt Vonnegut’s work?
CHADWICK: Yes indeed. Vonnegut has played a huge role in my mental life. He’s declared Timequake his last book, and I weep to think I’ll never have that sane, sad, funny voice visiting me again, except in the odd interview or essay.
JOZIC: So, would you consider Concrete a liberal humanist like Vonnegut?
CHADWICK: I count myself among that hardy, but, alas, minuscule band who call themselves secular humanists, so you can safely put Concrete in that category.