Comics: Elaine Lee and Michael William Kaluta on Their Starstruck Kickstarter

Starstruck is reborn.

By , Columnist

For the past 30-plus years, two of the most original comic creators have crafted a tale quite unlike anything else offered by the medium. This unique, creator-owned project has survived, even thrived, while the magazines and imprints which once hosted it have faded away or vanished overnight. And while it’s true that there have been times when it seemed moribund, this series proved simply to be hibernating, awaiting the proper age and venue for its revival.

Those creators are actress-turned-playwright/author Elaine Lee and Michael William Kaluta, one of the most celebrated, even revered, illustrators of his generation. That long-lived project is their idiosyncratic, even iconoclastic Starstruck. And, with the rise of crowdfunding, the general acceptance of more complex characterization and free-wheeling storytelling, along with a more mature-minded audience, it seems that the time for the return of that legendary saga is now.

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What led to the decision to fund this project via a Kickstarter campaign?

Elaine Lee: You know, the way comics have gone, with the way sales have gone—I know they’ve gone up again a little bit more recently—but it’s really hard to do a labor-intensive book like Starstruck, because you don’t get the advances. You don’t get the royalties you used to get. You can starve to death doing it.

Exactly. It’s got to be a labor of love, or supported by other work…

Michael William Kaluta: It’s a Little Red Hen project, right? [General laughter] Everybody wants to eat the bread, but it’s really tough to get them to come in there and say [to a publisher], “Look, why don’t you stoke the fire with some of that hot money you’ve got?”

But, Kickstarter’s just the opposite. Everybody comes in at the beginning. They all bring rakes and hoes, and plant and sow…and I’m going to stop the Homeric metaphor at this point and let it ride, because we know what we’re talking about. 

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Exactly. Well, just for those who’ve never had the pleasure of encountering it, how would you describe Starstruck?

EL: Oh, man! [Laughs]

MWK: We’ve done that, yeah. It generally takes a while, but…

EL: It takes place in an anarchic future after the overthrow of a huge power—just as, in Star Wars, they’re overthrowing the Emperor, the huge power in the universe.

Starstruck takes place in the time after that [successful revolution], and we have several factions—big families who are vying for power and trying to get to the top of the heap—in the newly chaotic universe.

MWK: They’re all “used-to-be’s” — they had a cozy spot during the Incorporated Elysian Republic, the halcyon days of the great dictator. But now, everything’s up for grabs, because it’s the Anarchic Era, and they’re using some of their old thinking to try to get involved in the way the new universe is run. And we get to play with some of them, but also some of the people who are dead set against that ever happening again.

EL: Some of them were part of the old Empire, some of them were Rebels against the old Empire, and some were wacky businessmen. 

MWK: Some have retired into religion. Others have opened up gambling houses, and yet still run half of the universe. You know, the good stuff. Like West Wing, but with antenna.

EL: So the offspring of several powerful houses under the old regime are vying for power in the new regime—that’s probably the quickest way to explain it.

But that’s the big story. What we’re pitching on Kickstarter is a personal story.

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Right, it’s a lot more focused on certain individuals, it seems.

EL: Well, it’s more focused because Harry Palmer is the character that brings all the other storylines and all the other characters together. And why not? He’s a bartender. They all come to his bar.

Now, part of this particular tale has been seen before, correct?

MWK: True.

EL: Sixty pages of the 140 story pages appeared in the Marvel—Epic [imprint] run, but they are now, in our present story, being expanded from within with flashbacks of Harry’s past in the Droid Wars and the Tri-Clone Invasion and then during the Rebellion. And then we take the story further into the future to see what happens to him after the point we saw him at the end of that run. I guess it was Epic issue # 3?

MWK: I think so, yeah.

EL: When the Epic run ended at six books—which was a surprise, because we thought it was going to go for 12—Harry’s story was truncated. We didn’t get to do what we wanted to do with it. And now, we are.

MWK: One of my favorite parts of this new version’s additional art, and expanding from within, there was one panel that was published in the Epic comic series…

It’s a party scene. There are two people talking inside of a long panel across the top of the page. Well, in the new version, I’ve cut that panel in half. There’s one person on the left-hand side, talking, and then there’s 23 new pages, and then the other half comes in to the end of another panel. 

It’s kind of a lot of fun. I’ll know, and the dyed-in-the-wool fans will go, “Hey, wait a minute! Wasn’t that one panel?” 

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I guess there was a little more happening in there, wasn’t there?

MWK: A little more happening, yeah.

Is that typical of the way you’re expanding this story?

MWK: Yeah, it has been.

The story that came out in the IDW book (Starstruck Deluxe Edition) had been about 100 pages in the Marvel version, and [that volume] came out as 240 pages or something like that. The extra pages were salted into the previous story, sometimes like that. So the expanding universe, it bloats from within. [Laughter]

Now, your art style hasn’t changed a huge amount in the intervening years…

MWK: Well, some of it has, yes.

Right. There are some aspects that have changed. So how are you dealing with that?

MWK: Well, it’s not as shocking a jump from stuff that was done 20 years before to the present day when it is the next panel. But, 80 of the pages that were in the recently released very, very big book of Starstruck Deluxe Edition, about 80 of those pages had been done originally for Heavy Metal magazine, which is almost a square format. It’s a magazine format. And in a comic book, there’s about another inch and a half of space that you can either leave blank, and it looks awkward—as we did in the black and white version of Starstruck—or you can fill it in.

So what I ended up doing was drawing exactly as I drew when I first drew the stuff way back in the 1980s. You know, to match, like, “Oh look, the foot runs off this panel. So I’ll take the bottom of the panel off and I’ll draw the foot.” But it can’t be drawn like I draw now; it has to be drawn in exactly the same style, or else, “Hey! Where’d that foot come from?”

So, one or two pages, not a problem. But 80 pages? I cursed myself. I cursed my young self, saying, “Why so many damn lines, you little bastard? I’m going to be old someday!” 

So, in the end it was fun, and pretty transparent.

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How about scripting the series now, Elaine? Did you run into any similar situations?

EL: Well, the same is true of the writing.

You do have to drop yourself back into your younger self, the self that was there when you created the Multiverse. And, if I started a new project now, I’ve raised three sons to adulthood since we were doing Starstruck before.

MWK: So you know stories.

EL: Yeah! [Laughs] But, you can drop yourself back into it pretty easily. Because we know it so well, we lived it so long.

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MWK: But once dropped in, no one can talk to you! [Laughter]

We had that problem back in the day, when we were first doing it, because we’d spend hours and hours going over the story, and what would be good or what would be bad, and such. And then we’d go out to eat or something, and someone would come over and ask a question, and we’d go, “Huh? We don’t what you’re talking about?” 

EL: We’d just been sitting there with a calculator trying to figure out how many Ribecs were in a Malton Unit if you were talking about D.O.G. years.  

My husband was a fan of Starstruck, and during the years that we weren’t doing it he was always saying, “Oh, you have to do it again! You have to do it again!” And I’m saying, “You really don’t want me to do it again.” 

Now I’m doing Starstruck again, and he’ll be talking away to me, and then I’ll turn around and look at him blankly. “I told you this would happen!” 

MWK: “I was in the Byzon galaxy. What the heck were you talking about?” [Laughter] That’s funny.

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Yes, an old Earther is trying to make contact and failing miserably.

EL: Yes. “Just bring me sandwiches!” 

Now, there’s the writing style and mindset, of course. But how difficult was it to jump back and recapture the specific characters’ voices?

EL: Because we’ve always told stories from different characters’ viewpoints, depending on what the story is, there’s always sort of…

It takes a little bit of effort when you switch characters. Boom. If you’re doing Galatia 9 and then you switch to Brucilla, you really have to get used to all of Brucilla’s alliteration again. And then, after a page or two, you get into the swing of it.

But Harry, the character this story is about, he’s really creator-friendly. [Laughs] It’s very easy to get into him. He’s got a warm personality and he sort of sounds like the voiceover for a film noir movie. And as long as you’ve seen enough of those, it’s real easy to have the feel of Harry, of writing through him.

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MWK: Right. But when you get into the part of the story where Harry begins to get confused, that’s when you, as the reader, go, “Oh-oh! Up to this point, I’ve been coming along with Harry, and he knew what was going on! And now that he doesn’t know what’s going on, what’s going to happen me?” [Laughter]

He’s, I’d say, down to earth. But, of course, he’s never been on Earth, so… 

EL: And he’s really a proxy for the reader through this story, anyway, because he’s the most understandable and you’re following him through the story. So all of the weird things that happen in our strange science fiction Multiverse, you’re seeing through him and you’re figuring them out with him.

MWK: And that’s his point—he’s figuring stuff out, as opposed to a lot of the other stories where it’s up to you, the reader, to figure it out or just get dragged along by the ear. 

Just go with the flow.

MWK: Yeah.

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Well, that addresses one of the real questions that a lot of people who have never before seen any of the earlier incarnations of Starstruck, which is, is this going to be a good entry point for them? Is this, in a sense, reverse engineering that series so you can introduce new readers to the original books after they’ve read this tale?

EL: Yes. I think so, yes. Because you’ll see most of the main characters in flashbacks with him, where he gives you his take on them.

MWK: Right. Or on the video he discovers, or…

EL: But for anybody who wants to see it, we’re putting up all of our old stories at the Starstruck comics website. And we also have a glossary of the Multiverse there, and the history of the work and all of that. So it’s there, available for people who want to look at it.

MWK: But, as we all know, it’s not exactly for everybody…

EL: Michael, we’re not saying that in an interview. Rewind that!

MWK: They’ll find out!

EL: Michael!

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In the second half of my extended interview with Elaine Lee and Michael William Kaluta, they address the controversies that surrounded Starstruck when it was first published, reveal the roots of their lasting creative partnership, and provide some hint of what the future holds for the series. You’ll find all of that, and more, when the conclusion of this exclusive interview is posted here in the next day or so on TMR — Bill Baker

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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