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Thursday, 23 October 2014

Looking back at Star Wars Weekly – issue 7

Trapped in the Tentacles of Doom:
the cover of Star Wars Weekly issue 7

My occasional, issue-by-issue look at the UK's Star Wars Weekly (yes, I'm still doing that) reaches issue 7  the edition which introduced us to Star Wars fandom.

The Star Wars Weekly Letters Page

March 22 1978 was the day Star Wars Weekly acquired a letters page – and, in doing so, introduced readers to other Star Wars fans.  

The first Star Words of the Week in the
Star Wars Weekly letters page,
by Steve Whatley of Croydon
Many of us had fellow fans among our friends and family, of course.  But the letters page brought it home to us that there were people all over the UK, and beyond, who spent large amounts of their leisure time thinking about, reading about, writing about and drawing Star Wars.  People from exotic places like Leigh-on-Sea, Hounslow and Heston.

The lead letter on that first page – which won the title 'Star Words of the Week' and earned its writer a sew-on patch – was from Steve Whatley in Croydon, who critiqued the art of issue 1, writing that:

"Howard Chaykin is the perfect compromise between the super-hero and science-fiction type of illustrations... However, the highlight of the mag was Vindente's work. Since I first saw his drawings, I've been a great fan of his."

This was a revelation for me. I don't think I'd thought much before about the artists who created the strips. I certainly hadn't considered that some people might know their comics well enough to tell their styles apart and have favourites.  (British comics, unlike those of Marvel and DC, tended not to credit their artists.)  Yet here, readers were discussing them as though they were Da Vinci or Van Gogh.  I was learning that both Star Wars and comic books had knowledgeable fans.  

The art of Howard Chaykin

Chaykin's art was damned with feint praise by a couple of other contributors.  Peter Elsey of Leigh-on-Sea wrote that "The art of the Star Wars story isn't at all good, and I think a different artist should do it. This is just advice, not criticism."  (In which case, you wouldn't want to be on the end of any criticism from young Mr Elsey.)  

Mark Morgan, of Coventry, praised the comic but said: "Of course, it has its bad point (as does every comic). In this case, it's the artwork in the Star Wars strip. I'm not saying Howard is bad, every Marvel artist is ace, and I mean that."

As I've discussed before here, Chaykin's art didn't always look much like the film, not least because he doesn't seem to have had much idea what the film would look like when he started drawing.  But the strip had really got into its stride by now, and there was a lot to admire.

In this issue, we saw Luke almost throttled by the mysterious creature in the Death Star's garbage masher, in this vivid frame:

Grabbed by the tentacles: Luke Skywalker in the garbage masher

We saw Han and Leia bickering, as in this sequence. I love the last frame here, where the art conveys exactly the sort of gait Leia is adopting as she stalks off.

Han and Leia bicker in the Howard Chaykin-
Roy Thomas strip in Star Wars Weekly issue 7

While some of us may occasionally have been frustrated that Chaykin's art did not look more like the film, a shot-by-shot reproduction of the movie would surely not have worked.  

Chaykin and writer-editor Roy Thomas were, not unreasonably, making the story and the characters more Marvel Comicsy.  To this end, they retained lines that were in the novelisation but not in the final version of the script, such as Han's warning that "Getting back to the Falcon's going to be like flying thru the five fire rings of Fornax".  

And this installment finishes with some dialogue that would have been too cheesy for the movie but works perfectly in a comic book.

"The boys in white are back": Han Solo remains
flippant under pressure in Marvel Comics'
Star Wars Weekly
issue 7

Merchandising: Palitoy's Escape from Death Star game and those misspelled Darth Vadar Lives Badges

Win the Star Wars: Escape from Death Star Palitoy board 
game. A cutting from Star Wars Weekly issue 7 - with the 
questions missing because I cut out the entry form

This edition of Star Wars Weekly offered us the chance to win the Star Wars: Escape from Death Star board game, which retailed for £4.25.  "The Death Star is a tense board game for 2-4 players, requiring each player to start off from the centre of the Death Star, undertake two dangerous missions, reach the Millenium [sic] Falcon and escape to the Rebel Base in hyperspace," the copy told us.

And for those who had some cash to part with, the comic offered the chance to acquire a Star Wars badge or sew-on patch:
'Darth Vadar lives?' The selection of badges and
sew-on patches advertised in
Star Wars Weekly issue 7

Note the spelling on one of those designs: "Darth Vadar lives".  In the early days, spellings of Star Wars characters did vary a bit.  According to Dale Pollock's biography Skywalking, George's Lucas's secretary Bunny Alsup became so frustrated with Lucas's erratic spelling of character names that she drew up a definitive list.  And even in published material from 1977-78, you can find confusion over wookie/wookiee or Jabba the Hutt/Jabba the Hut. 

But Darth Vadar instead of Vader?  It's a quaint reminder that there was once a world where not everybody knew this stuff.

Did you ever have a letter in Star Wars Weekly? I'd love to hear from anyone who did. Please leave a comment and share your memories.

1 comment:

johnnyivan said...

Hi Darren,
Do you know what was real revelation for me? Reading the letters pages in old US Marvel comics. The Tomb of Dracula ones specifically. Penned by adults, they're usually very intelligent and erudite. So much for 'dumb yanks' - and stupid people who 'read' comics.