Between 1999 and 2009 Lightsabre.co.uk brought news, fanfic, podcasts and much, much more to the masses. Our forty-fifth guest has written Iron Man and Crimson Dynamo for Marvel, Bart Simpson for Bongo and his own Faraway Looks for Faraway Press but we know him best for his work on Star Wars Empire and Knights of the Old Republic – John Jackson Miller.
Lightsabre – John, welcome to Lightsabre.
JJM – Glad to be here! Thanks for asking me.
Lightsabre – During your career you’ve written for Marvel, Bongo and your own publishing interest Faraway Press, but you are internationally best known for your stories in Dark Horses Star Wars titles. How exciting is that?
JJM – Marvel’s Star Wars #1 was the first grown-up comic book I ever got as a kid, so working on Star Wars comics today is quite a thrill. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity, and I’ve tried to make the best of that chance in every comic book I’ve written.
Lightsabre – Tell us something of your career. How and where did you begin in comics and what led you to Dark Horse where you are today?
JJM – I began writing and drawing my own comics about the same time I started collecting them, at age six. I continued writing my own as part of the minicomics movement in the small press during my high school and college years and, of course, I never stopped collecting comics. That hobby interest, plus my journalism degree, got me the job with what was then Krause Publications, editing magazines about comics and games including Comics & Games Retailer, Comics Buyer’s Guide, and Scrye: The Guide to Collectible Card Games, among others. (I still have a column for Comics Buyer’s Guide, whose website is www.cbgxtra.com) The contacts I made in that part of my career led to my entrance into the creative side of things, first through Marvel’s Epic Comics relaunch in 2003. I created the Crimson Dynamo series for that, which turned out to be the first comics work of Star Wars artist Joe Corroney, as well. They liked that enough that they gave me a shot at Iron Man. I wrote that for a year, and took a little time after that to decide what I wanted to do. That time involved a trip to Dark Horse, where Randy Stradley suggested they might need stories for Empire. That led to my first story, Model Officer, which appeared in Empire #35 and in turn that led to discussions about my possibly of being a part of the 2006 relaunch for the line. A year later, Knights of the Old Republic #1 was on the shelves.
Lightsabre – You’re Dark Horse projects began with Star Wars Empire #35, and that led to your work on Knights of the Old Republic. Of the two era’s, which characters and situations appeal to you the most?
JJM – Obviously we all have a natural affinity for the movie era, since those are the characters and situations we know best. I was familiar with the Old Republic era, of course, but what was really important to me was the opportunity to apply some of the same movie-era characterization and themes to this different, relatively wide-open landscape. That was just what Randy and my editor, Jeremy Barlow were looking for and from the response, it’s what fans have wanted to see, too, so it’s really not that the characters and situations of the two eras are that much different for me. It’s all Star Wars, whenever it takes place.
Lightsabre – What has it been like to be a part of the Star Wars phenomenon?
JJM – Amazing, of course. There was a time in my youth when I nearly gave up comics collecting and it was the Star Wars stories of Archie Goodwin and Carmine Infantino that brought me back in. I can’t imagine how much different my life would be today if that hadn’t happened. Writing for the universe today kind of brings it all full circle.
Lightsabre – Being a part of the Marvel Universe must have been thrilling, especially working on a title such as Iron Man, a character with a history stretching back to the early 1960’s. How has it been coming from a rich and detailed universe like that into the equally diverse and busy Star Wars universe?
JJM – There’s a bit of a different mechanic where continuity is concerned. With Iron Man, I just brought my complete run of the comics into the office, and there was pretty much everything I needed to know, all on one shelf. Where, here, there is material that is canonical coming not just from comics but also from video games, novels, role-playing games, and more. It’s almost impossible to be aware of everything at once simply because of that diversity and scope. That’s where my editors, the fine folks at Lucasfilm, and the other creators on the book have been very helpful. Artist Brian Ching and colorist Michael Atiyeh have spent a lot of time researching what things should look like. People will find details now and again that they think we’ve gotten wrong the five-fingered Arkanians in Knights of the Old Republic are an example – when in fact they’ve just discovered plot points we’ve set up for the future issues. That’s not a problem, though; I like that readers have found these little easter eggs in the series, tipping them off to what’s coming!
Lightsabre – Zayne Carrick, the primary protagonist of Knights of the Old Republic is certainly a different take on the traditional Padawan character. How interesting has it been to develop such a unique take on what could be seen to be a template Star Wars character?
JJM – Our series is not a direct adaptation of the Knights of the Old Republic video games, but Zayne is partially a case of my wanting to capture a specific feeling from those games: the early part, where the player is still learning the controls and figuring out what he or she can do. And Zayne is definitely still learning the controls with the Force, and figuring out what he can do. I imagined that every Padawan could not be Anakin could not be the most talented one in the class. There has to be someone who either just barely makes it, or is cut. Zayne begins as a look at what the experiences of that kind of character might be. Of course, his life turns into so much more than that!
Lightsabre – What were your feelings on Revenge of the Sith? Despite your Star Wars work being set in the Knights of the Old Republic and classic era’s you must have been watching with a keen eye on May 19th 2005 for any repercussions the final film may have had on your own plans?
JJM – I had actually turned in the first issue before the movie came out, I believe. We’ve been far ahead on this series where the writing’s concerned I think I was a little concerned how the younglings scene in the movie would play out given what happens in the first issue of Knights of the Old Republic but it turned out to have a visual look that was miles apart. I think we actually manage to get emotional mileage from the deaths of padawans in both stories, in part because the circumstances surrounding them are completely different. In the Knights of the Old Republic case, it was very much a surprise, whereas in Revenge it was part and parcel of a tragedy that had already begun.
Lightsabre – Your Star Wars works have so far been in collaboration with Brian Ching. Do you guys have similar outlooks on the Star Wars Universe, or do you bring differing elements to the stories?
JJM – I think we’re pretty much in tune as far as where we’re going. The more we work together, the more I begin thinking of scenes to write that I would especially like to see him draw and in creating certain characters, I often ask him what species he’s most interested in depicting. I write a lot of humor, so he’s made a lot of visual decisions to help those panels play better. A now-notorious example is Gryph, who in my early imagination was an Ortolan the blue elephant of the Max Rebo species. Brian pretty quickly realized they didn’t have very expressive features you can’t even see their mouths, and suggested I look for alternatives. I picked out the Snaggletooth species, and the rest is history. I don’t know if Gryph would be nearly so popular as he is the other way, and that is all thanks to Brian!
Lightsabre – You have a unique opportunity with Knights of the Old Republic, similar to that of John Ostrander on Star Wars Legacy, in that you can set the standard for the look and feel of a Star Wars era. What aspirations do you have in that respect?
JJM – Well, the video games and Tales of the Jedi comics are already out there in this era, so we already had some background to build from. But it is, as Randy says, a big galaxy, and there are lots of new places to show that haven’t been seen before. I’m a big fan of unusual settings, and Star Wars provides some wonderful opportunities for that. The astronomical minefield? that is the Rogue Moon shown in Knights of the Old Republic #4 is but the first of many such settings. Otherwise, there is much about this earlier time that is not unlike the look of Star Wars in other eras. I think that’s about right. A galactic civilization is going to change its looks on a galactic time scale, you might say.
Lightsabre – While attending conventions and shows do you enjoy the interaction with Star Wars fans?
JJM – Oh, definitely. They always have questions I wouldn’t have thought of before. And a shout out now to Hedec Ga, who at Midsouthcon brought me a four-color flier explaining why Hedec Ga should be the name of my next Star Wars hero, villain, alien, or droid salesman. (Can’t do that, folks, but it was fun to be asked!)
Lightsabre – You worked on the excellent Standard Catalogue of Comic Books, compiling information and details for one of the premiere sources of comic book information. Do you feel your skill in this kind of compilation will be of use while researching your Star Wars works?
JJM – My work as a comics archivist comes, literally, from having a huge collection to archive. It does really help to be able to put my hands on the exact book or story I’m looking for when I need to. The Internet is great, but there are visual details and nuances you really need the original works at hand for.
JJM – We’re working well ahead on Knights of the Old Republic, for one thing. As I’ve said before, there are a lot of mysteries in this series and I know how they all will be resolved. Some of them will be resolved right away; others will continue to develop over time. Having an ongoing series like this really does open up more opportunities like that. I have some other projects in the works, including some of my own comics stories and some prose work; more on that as it develops. I also will be making the convention rounds this year. I have Motor City Comic Con planned in Detroit in May, followed by San Diego in July and Wizard World Chicago in August, among others. Readers can keep track of what I have coming out and what shows I’ll be at on my site.
Lightsabre – A quick question about Lightsabre. Any comments?
JJM – Very interesting! Like I say, it’s always amazing to see how many different stories and takes on the universe Star Wars has inspired. And it’s an honor to be among the fine folks on that roster of interviews!
Lightsabre – It’s been a great interview, and thanks for being our guest on Lightsabre. Just one final question. Zayne Carrick, Bart Simpson and Tony Stark are trapped in an elevator between floors. Zayne has his force powers, Tony has a briefcase full of gadgets and Bart has…well, he’s Bart Simpson. Which one manages to figure a way out of the lift first?
JJM – I would have to say Tony probably gives Bart a boost through the emergency exit. Zayne Carrick’s probably the reason the elevator’s stuck in the first place! Thanks very much for the chance to talk!
This interview was originally posted on lightsabre.co.uk on 4th June 2006.