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TFN Interview: Dark Horse Comics' The Star Wars Artist Mike Mayhew

Posted by Justin on December 30, 2013 at 08:00 AM CST

The look of Dark Horse Comics' eight issue adaptation of The Star Wars, George Lucas' early seventies rough draft for what eventually became Star Wars, has been meticulously and beautifully crafted by a team of designers led by accomplished artist Mike Mayhew (Avengers, Justice League), who also illustrates every issue.

Recently, Mike was kind enough to take a break from his schedule to answer some questions for TheForce.Net. Apparent throughout our interaction was his passion and enthusiasm for The Star Wars. He really takes this responsibility to heart and is committed to insuring the look is perfect for the Star Wars fans (which definitely includes himself) consuming his work.

My conversation with Mike appears below.

You've said in previous interviews that you were brought aboard The Star Wars out of sheer luck, receiving an email out of the blue from Dark Horse offering you the assignment. With the series nearly completed, has Dark Horse revealed what was behind their (wise) decision to contact you?

No. I would credit Scott Allie with getting my work in front of my editor, Randy Stradley. I had been sending Scott samples two or three times over the last year or so. It was surprising to hear back, and to go from samples to landing a prestige project like this really was shocking. I mean, they could have started me with a cover here or there instead!

You're responsible for the majority of the work that goes into designing the entirety of this alternate Star Wars galaxy. What does that process look like?

Well, that was something that was so daunting. And, the book was basically solicited before I came on, so any “extra” time I took to take the care and attention one would imagine that this project might need from a design standpoint was not a luxury. Pages were needed from day one. So, in essence, I needed to design everything, while doing penciling and inking chores on a monthly book. It would be like George designing Star Wars while he filmed it with the actors.

To make matters worse, I came on the book and agreed to a schedule, under the instructions that an “army” of artists was designing everything for me! This fell flat quickly for several reasons, some beyond anyone’s control, and because I actually wanted to control the design process, mainly so I wasn’t “stuck” drawing something that was difficult for me.

My experience working at Marvel and DC is that they are super happy when you do things expediently, and new designs of characters, vehicles and such, are pretty much whatever works and is easy for the artist. In this case, I was working for a comic company that had to get approvals from a licensing company, Lucasfilm, which has concerns and sensitivities beyond the normal comic production process.

So, where the design of things in an issue of Avengers or X-Men involves maybe a couple costume changes for some familiar characters, or a few new characters or settings here and there, The Star Wars #1 had at least 30 things I had to design and get approved.

Well, I had no time to do 30 drawings when I had to pencil and ink 22 pages in a month or so. And, each new issue had 20 or so brand new things I had to visualize and get approved. In my process, I have relied more and more on 3D software like Poser. It was VERY convenient on this project to create 3D models of characters, vehicles and such, and show renders to Dark Horse and Lucasfilm, which saved me hours of creating artwork that would never be used to tell the story. Upon approval, I had a ready to use model, which I would have had to create anyhow, and I was off to the races!

Music seems to be a big influence on you. You've mentioned that you listened to some 70's progressive rock to draw inspiration for this series, and you've used a fictional lost master tape for The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as an analogy to compare Star Wars with The Star Wars. If you could create a compilation companion soundtrack for The Star Wars, what five songs would you include and why?

The “why” of these selections is that they were releases from the early 70s that represented the avant-garde of electronic music in the same way that ILM represented the avant-garde of effects technology. And man’s relationship with technology, both on screen and behind the scenes, seems to be a dominant theme in Star Wars in general.

“All Saints” by David Bowie from Low
“Rubycon, Part 2” by Tangerine Dream from Rubycon
“The Big Ship” by Brian Eno from Another Green World
“Super” by NEU! from NEU!2
Anything off the Ralf and Florian album from Kraftwerk.

Is there a discarded design element or version of a character from The Star Wars that you wish had ended up in the final version of Star Wars?

No. The design process had to be lean, and what I took the time to design was stuff we had to use.

In the beginning, I fancied a more stylized, flamboyant universe, ala Ironwolf, Cody Starbuck, or the Moebius concepts for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune circa 1974. But, now that the book is out, I’m glad I played it “safer” and grounded things to McQuarrie’s original concepts. The feedback I’m getting is that a large part our the audience feels our take was “weird” enough as it is, and flying off in a direction more extreme and disconnected from Lucas’ original commissioned concepts would have made it less “Star Wars”.

As a Star Wars fan before you worked on this series, how has your involvement with The Star Wars affected your perspective of the saga overall?

Oh boy…that’s a complicated answer. The final Star Wars screenplay was obviously better than this draft, especially from a practical film production standpoint.

My mind is still processing all the data. I’m affected by having a much deeper understanding of how simple stories need to be to really strike a chord with a wide audience. You can still be complex and sophisticated, but it seems as if an audience has too many things to keep track of it all falls apart. My take away is that more than ever, I realize the importance of having that one character that the audience really connects and identifies with, as well as having one singular “bad guy” that you love to hate.

I would imagine this speaks to the duality of man, and our constant struggles within ourselves. And I’ll tell you, it’s one thing to come to that realization after reading both scripts and comparing them. It’s another when you have to drawn every single image that will tell the story which in many ways could be considered “inferior”. I feel like my focus on storytelling will be more keen than ever in my future work, my “graduate work”.

You've illustrated a lot of mythic characters such as Batman, Superman, the X-Men, the Avengers, Zorro, and so many others. Which would be most at home in The Star Wars, and why?

That’s pretty easy for me... the Avengers. In fact I referenced Avengers a lot in emails to Randy and Jonathan in terms of the type of book this was, and it was how the members of the team related and reacted to each other that should be the focus. Pretty soon, I realized the strength in the rough draft wasn’t the individual characters, but the fact that they were a team. This isn’t a story about “The One”, it’s a story about the magnificent seven; Luke, Annikin, Whitsun, Leia, Han, 3PO, and R2. Seven very different types, each with something to bring to the table, and united in their mission to protect each other and vanquish evil!

I'd like to express my gratitude to Mike Mayhew for discussing his work with me. The Star Wars #0, an issue devoted entirely to the series' impressive art and design, will be released this Wednesday. Look for my review then!

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