Friday, 13 May 2016

Star Wars Annual No. 1: The UK gets the Marvel comic in colour ... or color

The cover of Star Wars Annual no. 1 from 1978

Episode Nothing looks at the first Star Wars Annual, from 1978.  It was the book which gave UK fans behind the scenes features about the film, plus a taste of something Americans had already had – Marvel's Star Wars adaptation in colour. (Or, if you prefer, color.)

Christmas comes early: The Star Wars annual from Brown Watson

For many children if the 1970s, Christmas was not complete without an annual – a hardback book containing comic strips, prose stories and perhaps features, based on an established comic, TV show or film. As far as I know, they always came out in the autumn, ready for Christmas. By rights, we should have waited until the festive season of 1978 for sight of a Star Wars annual.

But Star Wars mania was a powerful thing, and in publishing, as in so many areas, Star Wars was rewriting the rules. 

Publisher Brown Watson decided to bring out a Star Wars annual in the springtime. Buying it felt sort of naughty, like discovering your Christmas gifts in September, but I, for one, had to have it, and I gladly handed over my £1.50 for my copy on a family holiday that May.

The UK gets Marvel Comics' Star Wars in colour

The bulk of the Star Wars Annual No. 1 was devoted to a reprint of the Marvel Comics adaptation of Star Wars. I remember being challenged as to why I would want to spend money on a comic strip I already owned. But this time, the strip was largely in colour.

Colour comic books were not common in the UK. Oddly, some of the cheapest comics around had some colour pages – particularly those traditional favourites the Beano and the Dandy – but when it came to action and superheroes, the UK was still strictly monochrome.

Some collectors had already seen the Marvel adaptation via the American Treasury Editions which had reached the UK in 1977, but for the average fan, this was the first opportunity to see how the strip was supposed to look. We already knew that Marvel's Star Wars was drawn very differently from the visual style of the film, so it should have come as no surprise that the colours were very different too. 

Marvel's Star Wars was coloured for drama, not accuracy. The interior walls of the Death Star might be blue in one panel and yellow in the next, while the floor might be pink, as in these pages:

Yellow and blue walls, red floors:
The Death Star scenes from Marvel's
adaptation in the
Star Wars Annual No. 1

The scenes in Obi-Wan Kenobi's cave either showed that the old hermit had surprisingly bold taste in interior decorating, or that this was a comic that was more concerned with impact than verisimilitude:

Ben Kenobi's home in the
Star Wars Annual No. 1

While it may have been very different from the look George Lucas, John Barry and Gil Taylor gave to the film, this approach did work for some of the most memorable moments in the story, as here: 

The destruction of Alderaan in the Marvel
adaptation of Star Wars

But there were drawbacks to this reprint of the comic. Firstly, it was truncated quite sharply, and secondly, the colour didn't cover the whole story. Only 32 pages in the middle of the book had colour, leaving eight at the start and eight at the end in bleach and white. 

The comic strip switches frustratingly back to
black and white in the Star Wars Annual No. 1

I'm guessing that the budget only ran to a limited amount of colour and that it had to be in the centre of the book. So the opening space battle and much of the climax was still rendered in black and white. The effect was like having The Wizard of Oz return to black and white before we saw Oz. 

The Star Wars Annual: Behind the scenes features

Mark Hamill profiled in
Star Wars Annual No. 1

Bookending the comic adaptation were features on the making of the film and profits of the cast. It was there I first learned about Alec Guinness's roles in Kind Hearts and Coronets and Bridge On the River Kwai and about Peter Cushing's horror films. Readers learned that Mark Hamill had made 140 TV appearances, that Carrie Fisher "grew up with fame" and had toured with her mother Debbie Reynolds in a nightclub act, and that Harrison Ford was to appear in something called Apocalypse Now. We learned that Kenny Baker was three feet eight inches tall, that Dave Prowse was a bodybuilder and that Peter Mayhew had been a hospital porter until Star Wars came along.

Carrie Fisher profiled in
Star Wars Annual No. 1
Looking back, I realise I assimilated a lot of information from that Star Wars annual. It took the production process surprisingly seriously, explaining a great deal to a young readership without patronising them. And it made me curious about a lot of other films mentioned in its pages, from Great Expectations to 2001: A Space Odyssey. A lot of my film viewing for the coming years started here. If you read it thoroughly and kept referring back to it (as Star Wars fans surely would), it might have been one of the best possible ways you could invest £1.50.

The value of Star Wars Annual No. 1

Like most of my personal Star Wars collection, the 1978 annual is not worth a fortune. At the time of writing, copies on eBay are mostly listed between £2 sterling (around $2.87 US) and £25 ($35.91), with one solitary US seller asking for $124.50 (£86.68)  although the Comic Book Price Guide for Britain says one in near-mint condition could be worth £847.99. 

My advice would be to snap up a cheap one and enjoy thumbing through it, the way so many first generation fans did in the UK in that Star Wars summer of 1978.

Did you have the Star Wars Annual No. 1? Was it among your favourite Star Wars items? I'd love to hear about it. Please leave a comment below.

1 comment:

Richie said...

I love this blog. Takes me right back to being a 6 year old. I most certainly had this book and wish I still had it. I read it over and over again. I especially love your post on weekly 8, (I often thought I must have imagined Ben's line about the force and a spoon-glad to know I'm not mad) ......From queuing up for hours waiting to see the film at my local(long demolished)cinema, to the disappointment of same cinema not showing 'Empire' years later and having to read the picture tie in book(I'm sure you know what I mean), this blog takes me there. Keep up the excellent work