An Interview With Dark Horse's Randy Stradley
There are few people on this planet that could soundly trounce the members of the GalacticBinder staff if we were on the Star Wars version of “Jeopardy”, but one of them surely joins us for this interview. We’re glad to welcome Vice President of Publishing at Dark Horse Comics, Randy Stradley. He’s been the man at the helm of Dark Horse’s line of Star Wars comics for the better part of this decade.
GB: Welcome to GB, Randy. And no… you do not have to phrase each answer in the form of a question. We’ll start with a silly question to ease into things. Since you’re a vice president, who would George choose to be the Vice President of Star Wars if such a position existed, and why would he choose that person? (We cross our fingers and root for Billy Dee to get the nod.)
RS: Assuming that George is then the President of the Star Wars galaxy, I think the veep position would have to go to Leia. Nothing against Lando, but I think you want somebody who has a no-nonsense attitude and who is detail oriented. Lando’s too easily distracted by the pursuit of wealth (likewise Han), and Luke is too much of a dreamer. Niether Yoda nor Obi-Wan would take the job, so it’s got to be Leia.
Did I get the question right?
GB: Are you kidding? We're already pressing buttons. Alright, let’s get down to brass tacks. Dark Horse is jumping into the New Jedi Order era with “Invasion”. The Yuuzhan Vong are some of the best villains in the Star Wars galaxy in our opinion, and the nineteen novels from Del Rey have drawn a rich, complex culture into which you can dive (or do a cannonball). We understand “Invasion” will begin sometime after the events of Vector Prime. Can you fill us in on the basics and why you chose this spot as a starting point?
RS: Primarily, we wanted to start at the “beginning” for the sake of readers who might not be familiar with the New Jedi Order novels. With Star Wars you can safely take it for granted that readers have seen the films, but you never want to assume that they’re conversant with every aspect of the Expanded Universe. We fill in the background details pretty quickly, but we’re trying to give readers enough that if they’ve never heard of the Yuuzhan Vong, they won’t be entirely lost.
GB: Pardon the “ancient history” aside, but when we think of Vector Prime we still can’t help recalling the hate that was directed at R.A. Salvatore when the book was released. We met him at Comic-Con that year, and he had to be one of the nicest guys in San Diego that day – not to mention a true fan and a superb writer. We know you were “in the room” and played a role in Chewie’s fate. In hindsight, what are your feelings about the whole thing and especially what happened to R.A. Salvatore? Does the Star Wars community as a whole still owe him an apology all these years later?
RS: I never really heard about any of what went down after the death of Chewie, so I have no idea how bad it got. But, yeah, if fans were taking grievances about events that happen in a fictional universe out on somebody who had been hired to write those events, they owe that writer an apology. Mr. Salvatore was not even in the meeting when it was decided that Chewbacca would be the one to die. He wrote Vector Prime from a rough outline that existed before he came to the project, so any “hate” over what happened in the story should never have been directed at him.
GB: Getting back to “Invasion”, we’ve seen the awesome cover art for the first two issues. What else can you tell us about the look and feel of the artwork, coloring and lettering for the series? Is it going to be as gritty as the Yuuzhan Vong themselves? There must be added pressure to bring something visually amazing to the table when you launch a new series in which the fanbase is already so invested.
RS: I couldn’t ask for a better interior artist than Colin Wilson. I’ve loved his work since I first saw it in 2000AD years ago, and had actually been trying to get him to draw some Star Wars for awhile before he finally agreed to do the fill-in issues for Legacy and the arc for Rebellion. Colin excels in depicting gritty action and creepy aliens, so he’s perfect for the Yuuzhan Vong. But he’s also in touch with the emotions of the main characters in the story, and it really comes through in the quieter moments of the series.
Wes Dzioba is coloring, and he’s done a brilliant job of making each location feel like its own unique place in the Star Wars galaxy.
And you mentioned Jo Chen’s covers -- which I think are fantastic. I knew that Colin didn’t want to do the covers for Invasion, so I had already hired Jo when writer Tom Taylor and Colin sent me a joint email begging me to try to get Jo for the covers. So that worked out about as well as it possibly could have.
GB: You’ve now launched three comic series – “Dark Times”, “SW:TOR” and “Invasion” - with online exclusive stories. It seems you’re dipping your toes in the water with these to see what type of response you’ll get. Obviously these stories are meant to entice readers to the print copies, but do you foresee a day where selling digital comics will be a profitable business for Dark Horse? If so, is it still a long way off?
RS: We’re going to be trying a few online experiments, but I don’t believe the day is yet here when content can be created for sale solely online and have it pay for itself. Maybe someday, but not yet.
GB: Reading your latest editor’s note on Darkhorse.com, we see “Mr. Mean” broke rule #5 and has allowed the “Legacy” series to head to Tatooine. Tell us you are not going soft on us!?
RS: No way. But here’s the deal: the story is King. If events, characters, or locations serve the story -- if they, by their inclusion in the story, help to propel the characters through the plot or amplify the emotions felt by the characters (and the readers) without distracting from the story, then they should be included. But if they cause the readers any distraction, or if their inclusion is strictly to provide “fanboy moments” for the hardcore continuity followers, then I want them gone. Tatooine as a location had its uses. The Naboo-themed restaurant with the giant neon Padmé portrait that you never saw, didn’t.
GB: Will you share with us one other rule from your legendary “list of 10” and maybe tell us why you placed it there in the first place?
RS: Here’s Rule number one. The reasons for its existence are stated within the body of the rule.
1. Do not recycle dialogue from the motion pictures (unless, of course, you’re flashing back to an actual scene from one of the films). There is no need—ever—for another Star Wars character to say, “I have a bad feeling about this,” or “I find your lack of faith disturbing,” etc. Ditto for insertions of the “THX-1138” designation. After thirty years this sort of thing has been done to death.
GB: Great rule! The “wink wink” stuff certainly illicits groans. Now, “Legacy”, “Dark Times” (we love Bomo!) and “KoToR” keep chugging along nicely. Do you fear that with a flashy new title like “Invasion” and with “The Old Republic” garnering so much attention online that these books can get a bit lost in the shuffle with the fans? How do you keep things in balance and keep the sales of your core series from softening?
RS: You do what you can to maintain interest in each of the series, but sooner or later everything runs its course. Interest in “Rebellion” waned, so we’ve launched Invasion to take its place. It would be a mistake to think that any of the current series will be around forever.
I’m glad to hear there are some Bomo fans out there. He gets the short end of the stick every time, so he needs whatever emotional support he can get.
GB: From a marketing standpoint, considering there’s kind of a big television show out there by that same name, your “Clone Wars” comic series was a no-brainer. Knowing you guys always preserve continuity (you’ve got Lucasfilms’ Leland Chee weighing in on that regularly), do you feel more or less freedom to take chances within this series considering fans are so familiar with the show? Are there extra considerations to keep the feel and tone matching that of the television series?
RS: Well, considering we have the show’s head writer, Henry Gilroy, writing the bulk of The Clone Wars comics, I haven’t felt much reason for worry. We do have to worry about treading similar ground as the show, but the show is being worked on so far in advance of our comics, we almost always know what they’re planning in time to avoid inadvertently copying them.
GB: I took my young daughter to Free Comic Book Day this year, and the first thing she grabbed was your Clone Wars book (yes, she’s a chip off the old block!) Can you tell us about why Dark Horse enjoys being involved in Free Comic Book Day so much, and what type of impact you think it’s having on both Dark Horse and the comic industry in general now that it’s got a few years under its belt.
RS: I’m glad that the event is attracting more kids (or parents with kids). The first couple of years it was more like a chance for people who were already buying comics to grab some free stuff. Now it seems like it’s working the way it was intended -- bringing new readers into the fold. That’s the reason we participate.
GB: We read Star Wars comics because we love the stories and the art. But there are certainly folks who still simply love to collect to collect. Many other Star Wars licensees have released special or uber-limited collectible versions of their wares over the years. Dark Horse has had a few items aimed specifically at collectors, such as the pencil sketch variant cover of Dark Times #1. Obviously you’re more focused on what’s between the covers, but what do think about the collectible nature of what you’re producing? Do you guys ever ponder whacky schemes like maybe “Golden Ticket” style inserts, autographed copies or variations?
RS: Occasionally. We produced the limited 30th Anniversary hardcover series, if you’ll remember. But I’m not a big fan of manufactured collectibles. I remember buying the deluxe hardcover edition of Stephen King’s Gunslinger: Dark Tower when it first came out -- suckered in by the claim that this was to be the only edition that would ever see print. Now, every time I come across it in my collection I get angry. I would never want to do that to a fan. Better to give them something that’s a great read that they’ll treasure because they love the story rather than the way it’s packaged.
GB: Finally, here's a question we're asking to everyone we interview at GalacticBinder: If you were transported into the Star Wars universe... what era, location and/or setting/situation would you want to end up in, and what's the first thing you'd do and with whom? (Keep it somewhat clean, Stradley!)
RS: So the twins from the Mos Eisley cantina are off-limits, eh? I’d kinda like to hang with the Wookiees on Kashyyyk. But I wouldn’t want to be fighting droids or stormtroopers. I want to find a place where I can enjoy the “Stars” part without so much of the “Wars.”
GB: Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us, Randy. We look forward to seeing what other surprises Dark Horse has for us in the near future from our favorite galaxy far, far away. We’d ask you for a scoop, but you seem rather unbreakable with such things. Any chance we crack that tough exterior of yours for a one word clue or teaser?
RS: Three words, but that’s all you’ll get from me. Lone. Female. Jedi. Make of that what you will. Just don’t expect the news to break too soon.
GB: Lone. Female. Jedi. Ooooh... I just got goosebumps! Can't wait to see what that's about. We encourage everyone to stop by the Dark Horse booth this year at San Diego Comic-Con to catch up with Randy and his staff. We hear Randy will be taking on all comers in a blue milk drinking contest. Sorry folks, but our money is on Stradley!
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