Comics Artist and Mesa Native Mike Mayhew on The Star Wars

As big as the Star Wars expanded universe is, few people can say that they have actually had the opportunity to work on a project related to the beloved sci-fi franchise. Even fewer still can say that they got to work on bringing George Lucas' original vision to life. Comics artist Mike Mayhew, who was born and raised in Mesa, Arizona, was one of those few lucky individuals who had the chance to do just that. Mayhew recently wrapped up his work on The Star Wars, a special eight-issue run of comics from Dark Horse. The series was written based on the original draft of Lucas' script for Star Wars, which underwent massive rewrites in order to make it to the big screen.

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Jackalope Ranch talked with Mayhew via e-mail about his experience as a seasoned comic book artist and his work on The Star Wars. He gave us some background on his prior experience, how he got the gig, and what it was like working with such a beloved property. For those who haven't read The Star Wars yet, this is pretty much spoiler free, so you needn't concern yourself with ruining anything.

You just got done with this run on The Star Wars, but what was your experience with comics prior to this book? My job has been comic book artist for 20 years. Back when I was a student at ASU, circa 1993, I started with DC Comics. Then I did a runs on Zorro and Vampirella. In 2003, I started doing a lot with Marvel Comics including Mystique, Spider-Man, X-Men, Avengers, etc. Did some gigs with DC Comics again too like Justice League and Green Arrow. I was the artist on a self published comic through Image Comics called Savage about a Bigfoot that fights a bunch of redneck werewolves. I Even did a motion comic series with Cisco Systems as an ad campaign called The Realm. I think those are on YouTube.

How did you end up getting on board with The Star Wars? Sheer luck! I went into the office one morning, and an e-mail came from a publisher I never worked with, and an editor I never met. I'd sent Dark Horse Comics some samples a year or so prior. They actually had another artist, coincidentally from Mesa, Arizona, if you can believe it. He had to bow out for a gig at DC Comics, so they needed someone to step in fast since the book was already scheduled.

What was your relationship to Star Wars prior to working on this book? Um, it was a life changing event! I was seven when I saw the movie in 1977 at the Cine Capri in Phoenix, and I was never the same. I was a huge sci-fi and horror fan prior via Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and Universal monster movies. Any Arizona residents remember The World Beyond on Saturdays at 10 on KPHO Channel 5? I was there every Saturday soaking up classic sci-fi and horror movies. So, I was the perfect audience for Star Wars when it came out. The Empire Strikes Back is definitely one of my favorite movies of all time.

What was it like getting to work with that original script for Star Wars? As a student of Star Wars, I had heard allusions to the original draft, but never had read them. Like, I heard they went to the Wookie planet.

When I got the PDF of the draft I was blown away. I never realized that such a fully formed version of Star Wars existed before the screenplay for the film I saw. It was totally different, yet had aspects from all six movies including the prequels. I felt like I was experiencing Star Wars for the first time, since I didn't know what to expect. I knew then and there that capturing that feeling was essential to what I needed to pull off in The Star Wars. And, I never realized how much art and storyboards had been commissioned for that draft. It's an amazing and inspirational lesson in developing a story and a vision.

Did you feel a responsibility to the fans of the franchise while working on this book? Without a doubt. One of my goals was to give to the most hardcore Star Wars fan an adaptation that was chock full of Easter eggs and references they could appreciate. I dropped in art from the earliest concepts that George commissioned artist Ralph McQuarrie to do. I included twists on familiar, yet little known characters. I even let Berni Wrightson's Swamp Thing influence the look of our Han Solo since in our book he is a big, green alien, which was actually an original intention of George's.

What was the most challenging aspect of the adaptation from your perspective? The most challenging aspect was taking a draft that in many ways was inferior, and trying like hell to make it as good as the original film. That was my mission. I mean, we were coming out monthly for 8 months at $3.99 an issue. How long would readers buy the book if it sucked compared to Star Wars? I had to constantly convince myself that I was creating a product that just might convince you that this version would have been as cool, or even cooler than the actual Episode IV.

What do you think fans of Star Wars will get out of reading The Star Wars? There is a lot to gleam from this version. First of all, it's incredible the level of revision George did from this version to what ended up on the screen. In screenwriting you hear the phrase "sometimes you have to kill your darlings." George slaughtered the whole thing. He really dug deep and changed everything, more than likely for the better.

It's also fascinating to me that this film saw the incarnation of ILM, George's effects company. Nowadays, ILM can do anything you can imagine, but back then, they couldn't pull off what George had in this draft. That's a lot of the reason he had to rewrite it. Technically, he couldn't have produced this screenplay. So, in a way, this draft is the impetus for ILM, which evolved into a company that could actually make anything a filmmaker could imagine.

And, I think it's super interesting to see where the most iconic characters in pop culture came from. For instance, Darth Vader is actually three different characters in this script. There's Darth Vader, who is a general in the Empire. There's Kane Starkiller, who is a "man-machine". And, there is Valorum, a member of The Sith. All of them blended in George's re-write to create the Darth Vader, who is one of the best known villains ever all around the world.

Can you tell us about what you're working on now that The Star Wars is wrapped up? You know, George was seeking the rights to Flash Gordon, but was turned down. So he came up with his own thing. That's what I'm working on know. Making my own stories about my own characters. I hope to be sharing them with you soon.

The Star Wars is currently available at a local comic book retailer near you with a collected edition in both hardcover and paperback hitting shelves Wednesday, July 23.

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Ryan Scott
Contact: Ryan Scott