While the Internet danced in the streets over Disney’s $4.05 billion purchase of the Star Wars franchise and Lucasfilm, comic industry speculators immediately started sending their condolences to Portland’s Dark Horse Comics.
Since 1991, Dark Horse has been the keeper of the Star Wars comic book license, expanding the universe beyond film and animation in a format that typically has no real influence on multimedia properties. While an argument could’ve been made that concerns over the annulment of the Dark Horse-Star Wars alliance were premature, the writing was on the wall. Disney had acquired Marvel Comics in 2009 — nearly 4 years before the Lucasfilm purchase — cementing Star Wars inevitable shift from Dark Horse to Marvel. Sure enough, on January 3, 2014, Marvel Comics and Dark Horse both announced that the “galaxy, far far away” was actually just moving licenses from Portland to Stark Tower.
Quite honestly, this is the nature of the beast when agreeing to play with other people’s properties. Dark Horse has maintained (and in some ways improved upon) the Star Wars Saga for 23 years. The publisher’s future and reputation is shinier because of that fact. There is really nothing to regret and plenty to be proud of.
But what about the talent? The creative minds between the pages? Where did they come from? Where are they going? What was it like working on what many consider the greatest franchise in history?
Dan Parsons started out in comics in the late 1990s. While employed as a research scientist at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, Parsons worked part-time writing and illustrating his creator-owned series Savage Planet and Harpy. In the early 2000s, Dan worked on a number of projects for Topps, contributing artwork for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings card sets. In 2002, he began working for Dark Horse Comics, penciling and primarily inking titles such as Star Wars: Republic, King Kong, and Star Wars:Jedi. His relationship with Dark Horse would expand further into the LucasFilm universe with the acclaimed Star Wars: Legacy, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the new Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi,and the best selling ongoing series simply titled Star Wars (2013). Needless to say, inker Dan Parsons has stared at more Storm Troopers than…possibly even George Lucas.
Action A Go Go caught up with Parsons as he wrapped up pencils on his new comic book series Empire of the Wolf for Alterna Comics. We discuss life after Star Wars, his source of inspiration, and breaking into the industry.
Action A Go Go: So, tell me how you first became involved with Star Wars projects?
Parsons: Way back in 2002, I was at San Diego Comic Con promoting my creator-owned project Savage Planet. Jan Duursema, who was to become the regular Star Wars penciler, was looking for an inker. One of my major influences particularly at the time was Al Williamson, whose style defined the classic Star Wars comic book-style, so it was a fortunate meeting indeed. I tried out for the job inking 3 sample pages and have been the primary Star Wars inker at Dark Horse for the past 12 years.
AAGG: Did you grow up on Star Wars as a kid?
P: Yeah, I loved Star Wars as a kid. Not as much as other kids maybe. I was more into Bruce Lee and martial arts than sci-fi at the time. I do clearly remember the day I saw Star Wars for the first time. The line was around the block. By the time I got into the theatre I had to sit in the very back row. There was a dude with a huge afro right in front of me. It was the ’70s after all. But I still loved it. Especially, Peter Cushing.
AAGG: How has the experience been?
P: It’s been the experience of a lifetime really. I had always dreamt of being a comic book artist and I am grateful that I have had the opportunity.
AAGG: Any Star Wars characters you haven’t had a chance to draw but you would want to?
P: Since I have worked on so many Star Wars comics and trading cards sets I think I have drawn nearly every Star Wars characters that there is. But there are a few I really like drawing. Darth Vader is cool with all that black. Plo Koon has a small intestine for a face. Always fun. Princess Leia and Jabba the Hut, since they are such a cute couple. Plus, of course, characters I designed. Especially, Darth Stryfe.
AAGG: How much creative freedom do you have when dealing with interpreting and redesigning Star Wars characters?
P: Much of the work I have done for the Star Wars comics have been inking, but I did design a number of characters for the Star Wars: Legacy series with writer John Ostrander. In that case, John just gave me a brief paragraph of how each character related to the story and what race they were. All the visual details I came up with for each character.
AAGG: What’s your next project?
P: I am currently inking a Han Solo story called Rebel Heist and working on some painted pieces related to my work on the Game of Thrones TV show for HBO. I am scheduled to start inking an ongoing superhero title for Dark Horse and I am periodically working on a book called Empire of the Wolf for Alterna Comics about the Roman Empire and werewolves.
AAGG: Any other existing franchises that you’d love to tackle?
P: I would like to work on Alien some day. Or even Alien/ Predator.
AAGG: What’s your typical work day like?
P: I usually wake up at 8 AM or so and get right to drawing, inking or painting. Coffee helps in this endeavor. Then I usually take a lunch break around noon, maybe play a couple songs on the guitar, and its back to the drawing table ‘til the afternoon when I hike down to the mailbox for some fresh air. I work some more until dinner around 7 PM or so, then afterwards…you guessed it: Back to work until midnight or so. I work on different projects throughout the day but it comes down to being a workaholic.
AAGG: Has your work with movie properties garnered you any work in Hollywood (storyboards, etc.)?
P: I have worked on a few projects for Hollywood. Most notably, Game of Thrones. My artwork is featured on the special features section on the DVD/Blu-ray for the first season of Game of Thrones. It’s called “Histories of the Seven Kingdoms.” I also did artwork for a fun movie called Zombie Prom. My artwork kicks off the intro of the movie. Sort of like a Grease meets Dawn of the Dead-type thing. Crazy but fun.
AAGG: Your independent book Savage Planet reminds me a bit of Heavy Metal. Was that a major influence?
P: Savage Planet was more of a personal tribute to the EC Comics of the 1950s. Specifically, Al Williamson and Frank Frazetta‘s science fiction stories like Weird Science Fantasy. I grew up loving those guys as well as the artist Alex Raymond.
AAGG: Besides Al Williamson, what other artists influenced you?
P: Other than those classic sci-fi comics guys, I like Marvel pencilers from the ’60s and ’70s like John Buscema and Gil Kane. Dick Giordano, Tom Palmer, and Rudy Nebres for inking. I also like some painters and illustrators from the 19th Century a lot.
AAGG: Is it going to be tough saying good bye to Star Wars now that it is leaving Dark Horse?
P: It will be tough saying goodbye to Star Wars! It’s been 12 years! I have really enjoyed working on the Star Wars comics.
AAGG: Star Wars is a pop cultural milestone that has influenced so many people. In your opinion, what makes Star Wars so special?
P: The Star Wars story pulls from so many classic motifs in storytelling. It’s all about archetypes that are clearly defined and everyone feels close to. The universality of it. Was that a pun?
For more of Dan Parsons, check him out on LinkedIn and Facebook.
Empire of the Wolf is currently available on Comixology from Alterna Comics. Star Wars: Rebel Heist hits shelves in April featuring the art of Marco Castiello, the words of Matt Kindt, and the inks of Dan Parsons.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen writes about action/adventure for Action A Go Go. He is a comic book writer whose works include Bamn, The Magic Bullet, Dr. Dremo’s Taphouse of Tall Tales, and the Harvey Award nominated District Comics. In addition, Allen has been a contributing writer for ComicBookBin.com, OfNote Magazine, and ForcesOfGeek.com. His work has been featured in the City Paper, The Baltimore Sun, Bethesda Magazine, The Examiner, and The Washington Post.