Wednesday, September 9, 2009

STARSTRUCK Strikes Back!

(This blog was adapted for print in the
STARSTRUCK Deluxe Edition
hardcover collection, by editor Elaine Lee.*)



(Updated.: 9/9/11)

"Because you demanded it, True Believer...it's the history of STARSTRUCK!!"


We have come to kick your ass.


I often say, "STARSTRUCK is the greatest comic you've never read". And people say, "Well, what is it exactly?" (Or "Who are you?," or "How does this relate to Rock or Sex?", or "Please respect the 100 feet distance from the restraining order, sir.")

So here's the lowdown...


STARSTRUCK began as a science fiction play performed off-Broadway in 1980. It was co-written by Elaine Lee, who was acting on a TV soap opera at the time, along with her sister Susan Norfleet Lee and Dale Place. Elaine played the wily hero Galatia 9 while Susan played her kickass partner Brucilla The Muscle. By chance they'd hooked up with reknowned comics artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, who went from volunteering for the poster to designing the sets and costumes, and even building them with compatriot artist Charles Vess.

STARSTRUCK was also created during the exploding late 70's/early 80's NYC scene, whose Do-It-Yourself spirit ignited the first Punk bands of CBGB's, the No Wave and Punk Funk aftermath, the dawn of Hip Hop, the splicing of Mutant Disco, the skronknoize Jazz bands, and a bristling Indie film movement. This entire subcultural scene overlapped and propelled itself. There was apocalypse around the corner and all bets were off. Make what you can with what you got. Created in this combustible gumbo, STARSTRUCK the play was likewise DIY with its wicked and satirical humor, its sets and costumes collaged from street throwaways, its gender-upending, and its postmodern absurdism. It was postpunk science fiction for the new rebel underground.

STARLOG magazine noticed enough to cover the ensuing madness of this demented semi-musical (#41, Dec 1980) and a portfolio of designs by Kaluta was released. But that was just the beginning.


STARSTRUCK the stage play: Brucilla The Muscle (Susan Norfleet Lee),
Galatia 9 (Elaine Lee). (photos, © Sean Smith)


The STARSTRUCK play was essentially like an episode of STAR TREK; on a few ship sets, heroes and villains flung witty dialogue along with some fists. And there were songs and outlandish costumes. And farrr more lead women. Along the way characters rapped rich backgrounds mentioning other characters never shown. Lee and Kaluta realized this backstory was too good to waste. It was too grand to stage or film but Michael could draw it better anyway. So the first STARSTRUCK illustrated adventures began.

So the first STARSTRUCK illustrated adventures began.


Top: Brucilla (Susan Lee) & Galatia 9 (Elaine Lee); Verloona (Sandy Spurney)
Middle: Kalif Bajar (Paul Ratkevich), Erotica Ann (Karen Stilwell),
Rah El Rex (Neal Ashmun), Bronwyn of the Veil (Kathy Gerber)
Bottom: Galatia 9 vs. Verloona
(All play photos, © Sean Smith)





But where could they possibly print these Pulp/Punk future stories?

At the time the rules of speculative illustrated fiction had been rewritten by METAL HURLANT magazine, a French countercultural exploration of high art, sophisticated stories, and pervasive sensuality. The standard set by creators Moebius, Philippe Druillet, and Enki Bilal raised the bar for mature comics dramatically by filtering the fantasy and science fiction of the radical 50's EC comics through the uncensored advances of the 60's underground comix.

The first wave of STARSTRUCK magazine comics stories, a series of prequel vignettes to the play, were a natural for this graphix revolution. These serial stories first debuted in the similar Spanish anthology, ILUSTRACION+COMIX INTERNATIONAL, edited by Joseph Toutain in 1981; the intricate watercolourish washes were by uncredited Spanish artists using Kaluta's color directions. They were then reprinted in HEAVY METAL, the American version of Metal Hurlant, from 1982 to 1983. There was also an article about it all (HM #74, May 1983) and a second staging of the play.

The Indie underground spirit was infiltrating the comic book world as well. In the early 80's, DC and Marvel found their duopoly undermined by upstart start-ups like Star Reach, First, Pacific, and Eclipse Comics. These rebels bypassed the newstand and drugstore racks to sell directly through the emerging network of comics-only stores. Most welcome of all, the creators retained the rights to their work while the company only distributed it. Pulp paper was replaced by more archival stock and color got more advanced. Without corporate control, fake morality Codes, or a teen threshhold, they were free to do whatever they wanted. Like independent record labels, they infused a stagnant industry with vital new blood. There were new standard-bearers like AZTEC ACE (Eclipse), MARVELMAN (Quality), AMERICAN FLAGG (First), and LOVE AND ROCKETS (Fantagraphics).

The two majors noticed.


The graphic novel, Marvel Comics, 1984.
(All STARSTRUCK words and images,
© Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta)



In Marvel's more mature line of graphic novels they chose to collect all of the HM stories. "STARSTRUCK: The Luckless, The Abandoned and Forsaked" graphic novel came out in 1984. The format was really big (8 1/4 x 11") and the color lush and translucent like watercolors. Stacked against anything else out its 74 genius pages were formidable.

Kaluta was most known for his gritty, retro work on THE SHADOW (1973), all edgy intensity and Pulp chiaroscuro. But his STARSTRUCK was a revelation: a vast dreamlike landscape infused with light like Winsor McCay; the technology of Dick Calkins' 30's BUCK ROGERS strips filtered through the hallucinatory kineticism of Moebius; and the elegant architecture and design sense of Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt.

But Lee upped the ante with her storytelling: these prelude stories covered generational arcs in short and long gallops; the narrators rotated, the conversations overlapped or piled up or became song verse; the glossary was intergalactic and hysterical; the dialogue was so crackling you read it out loud to savor it; what seemed like happenstance eventually built up in layers and every minor thing paid off startlingly. It was a bit like William S. Burroughs writing STAR WARS, or Lily Tomlin writing DUNE, or Robert Altman filming FIREFLY, only much funnier and weirder.

You didn't read STARSTRUCK...you held on like a rollercoaster and tried to keep up.


Brucilla The Muscle
'(Mama) don't take no mess!'


"Well, what is it exactly?"

Let's see, where to begin? It involves a gradually dumbing dynasty versus a revolutionary cowgirl, pleasure droids who become sentient, an amazon clone and freelance fighter, passive/passive space nuns, an omnivorously sexual scheme queen, The Brand New Testement, robot samurai, frivolous cults, Noir detective bartenders, piously jingoistic space fleets, street-lethal Girl Scouts, schizoid dandies, alien boytoys, copious booting (see: boots, knocking), immortality bootlegging, Art Squads from the aesthetic planet Guernica ("Sex is art and art is power."), the infamous Recreation Station 97, and everything is increasingly connected.

There is much drinking, explosions, polymorphous polyamory, slapstick chaos, some songs, and vicious satire that goes down like ice cream. You'll laugh, you'll think, you'll feel hot to trot.



Galatia 9 and Bruscilla the Muscle.


The most profound innovation of STARSTRUCK was its redefinition of female leads. To be fair, a male industry selling to presumed teen boys had made some advances in the 70's responding to Feminism. There were more women heroes up front, with equal strength and solo titles. But attitude and aggro don't equal depth or range. And often it felt like they were still just stronger pin-ups for young guys who hadn't worked out their range of respect yet beyond fists and fishnets. You wished there was a mature illustrated fiction where characters were just individuals with real personalities, period. Where gender was about as relevent as a shirt and sensuality was natural as breathing.

But STARSTRUCK was already beyond all that. Lee wasn't interested in a SciFi that was trapped in the didactic slants of anyone's war of the sexes. She unleashed a universe of possibility where everyone fended for themselves full-on. Everyone was as unique, quirky, irritating, horny, and surprising as reality. These people lived, they breathed, they were a riot. Seeing that fuller range in fruition was the real liberation.

Meanwhile the most edgy advance for women in the normal comics was that Elektra could be just as much an amoral @$$hole as The Punisher. (Nice layouts though.)


Verloona Ti vs. Galatia 9.


Marvel Comics had responded to the threat of Heavy Metal with their own Epic Illustrated magazine. In their most inspired move of the 80's they started a seperate imprint for mature titles called Epic Comics. These were creator-owned series for adults, edited by the beloved Archie Goodwin, who promptly roped in Lee and Kaluta to do a bi-monthly STARSTRUCK comic book. It would be 'direct market' only to comic stores, in amounts limited to market sales. They could do whatever they wanted.

The revolution would be serialized.

The comic series continued from the sprawling set-up of the graphic novel, but focused more fully on the cosmic misadventures of the swashbuckling Galatia 9 and fireball Bruscilla. There were six issues of 30 pages each from 1985 to 1986, no ads except for their own T-Shirts, and often character photos from the play inside the cover. After decades of comics with misregistered color on pulp paper, these specialized books had stronger brighter stock and more controlled color. These comics also cost more, but maturing readers like me dropped the newstand superhero stuff entirely for direct-market books that rewarded our attention and our age.

But not enough of us. STARSTRUCK was like a secret even your best friends missed out on and it was discontinued. But it wasn't truly ended.


STARSTRUCK, all 6 issues, Epic Comics, 1985-86.





Par for the course, in its wake, the mainstream started catching up. Alan Moore and Frank Miller paved most of that in 1986, and DC's separate Vertigo Comics later succeeded in the adult path that Epic had paved. By 1990, the upstart indie Dark Horse Comics felt the time was right for Lee and Kaluta to try finishing what they started.

The "STARSTRUCK: The Expanding Universe" revised series came out with a revitalized and revisionary mandate: it would reprint everything but with over 320 pages of new material laced through; there would be 12 issues covering three major arcs until it was all done.

The only catch was it was black and white and cost about twice as much. And there was the page size thing; to mirror the more square-ish dimensions of the story portions from the graphic novel, the new integrated page art left more blank air at the bottom of the rectangular book. But hey, Kaluta was drawing his butt off, so extending the art was a bit much to expect then. And at twice the cost, you were getting a double-length book that was six times deeper than any competition.


STARSTRUCK: The Expanding Universe, all 4 issues, Dark Horse, 1990-91.


And what a ride! Suddenly everything was deeper, wider, richer. The re-evolution was all revelations. The single page story that had jumpstarted the original novel now had an additional six pages opening up new levels of clarity and connection. Or a new chapter kicked in that widened a character's backstory while sharpening the understanding of her actions. The art may have been a bit constrained in page proportion (though certainly not in detail and scope), but the story was more revelatory and exponential.

The first third of the grand plan, 'Volume 1', did come out in four issues (three 48 page issues and a fourth 64-pager). In all, more than 100 new pages had enriched the grand tale. It was a stunning start. And then it stopped before it could finish because of hard times and soft sales.

While everyone gushed about SANDMAN and WATCHMEN, they'd missed the real party again.


Mary Medea and her Erotica Anns; young Galatia 9; cadet pilot Brucilla



There were multiple attempts to resurrect STARSTRUCK through the 90's; a film, toys, trade paperbacks, TV series. But too many deals collapsed during the process. The diehard fans have held their breath since 1991, scrabbling for any rumor like it was a portent.





STARSTRUCK, the new series, IDW Publishing, 2009-2010.


And now it's happened.

IDW Comics is reprinting everything as intended remastered in 13 monthly issues, and a collected hardcover. This time, Kaluta has rectified the 'square' art problem just mentioned by extending the art of every page to full rectangular dimensions. It is in full color thanks to the stunningly lush work of painter Lee Moyer. It includes all of the Expanded Universe tales. And it features back-up stories of Brucilla's childhood in the larcenous and ludicrous Galactic Girl Guides, with inking by fantasy great Charles Vess. (Only a couple of these have ever been seen before.)

The first monthly issue came out in August, 2009. It levitated on the shelves and said, "Be not afraid. I have a sexy behind and I am funny." (Untrue event, true sentiments.) The original play was re-performed that month as a benefit drive for the ailing Gene Colan, legendary comics artist. This was a warm-up for an audio recording of the play that will be released next year (update: now available), and an all-new radio series of STARSTRUCK is in the planning.

UPDATE: The entire new series is collected into the STARSTRUCK Deluxe Edition, available since March, 2011; bigger art, everything included, plus surprise extras!

The smartest, sexiest space opera ever made has returned better than ever!


Here's a comparison of the 1984, 1990, and 2009 versions:
(compare the middle panel, and lengths)


Top: 1984, graphic novel original color and size;
Middle: 1990, B/W and odd height problem;
Bottom: 2009, lavish color and extended art





Another victory for the indie underground, right?

Well, when I look around, I still don't see this book getting the recognition it deserves. (Hey, Stan, hand me your soapbox for a minute.)

This is my third time through the "Groundhog Day" loop on this, so trust me, I recognize the fanboy attention incest that causes this blindspot pattern. Whenever you look at comic-news sites, it's the same-old-same: the five billionth article on Deadpool and Wolverine, the latest stunt-event crossover (cosmic plot, shallow angst), the latest dead superhero came back, the latest corporation bought your comic company to co-opt it for movie fodder.

So with a major comic convention every month, where's the coverage for this book? With advance issue art previews, where are five pages from this book? With motion comics breaking, where is the adaption of this that makes STAR WARS look tame? With weekly New Release lists, why isn't it ever listed? With forum threads, where is anyone who actually knows the subject matter before they react at it?

If the 'direct market' and WATCHMEN once opened us to all the mature possibilities of illustrated fiction, why is everything still dominated by the same teen superhero stuff with added violence and bad crosshatching? (Thanks, Todd.)

That lite stuff is fun on the go. But how long can you chew gum for supper?



I'm not trying to insult anybody's interests, but I do want to sound a wake-up call. We can do better than what we've been given lately. This is an opportunity to advance from past mistakes.

TOP 7 REASONS THAT ALWAYS CHUMP THIS BOOK:
-it isn't publicized enough
-the superhero clique can't get a grip on it
-the straight media is still dazzled by five classics from the 80's from trade reprints**
-'it costs too much' unlike that dumb thing you bought instead
-it's thought of as a 'chick book' by dummies
-it's 'esoteric' because it flew right over a thud's head
-some mistake its sensuality or empowerment as sexism

Yawn.

Well, let's starstruck the lunks upside the head...



Are you ready for a real revolution?

Do you want smart stories with real art? Do you want the hip underground to trounce the zombies of mediocrity? Do you want to beat back the electro-squids and save Zion?

We don't have to accept ignorance as the hand of fate this time. It's taken us twenty-five years to catch up to what this series was always doing. What everyone wasn't ready for before is now becoming commonplace. The rise of manga, serial TV shows, cyberpunk novels, Riot Grrrl, and kickass heroines has broadened the audience market to catch up with this book. With Comic-Con at critical mass, superhero movies raking in, channels like SyFy, thousands of comic book stores globally, loads of comic-news sites, hipster blogs, viral marketing, YouTube slideshows and reviewer videos, and Twitter, there is no excuse for this top-quality book to go unnoticed again.

Where's that real indie spirit, rockerboy and riot grrrl?

We can be our own direct market of good taste. We can support the indie comics that the mono-distributor tries to exclude. We can hit the comic shops and say, "Gimme your STARSTRUCK and no one gets smacked." We can write our own articles and word-of-mouth through the net when the comics-news sites drop the ball. We overlap now and we can propel ourselves.

This is our book and this is the moment. Let's rock'n'roll!



STARSTRUCK, examples of the lavish new color by Lee Moyer, 2009.






STARSTRUCK Deluxe Edition


'STARSTRUCK Deluxe Edition' Reviews:

The Comics Journal, 8/15/2011:
"Pick up this book, because not having read it is sort of like not having read Pogo, or listened to Trout Mask Replica, or seen a Hayao Miyazaki film."


The New Inquiry, 8/15/2011:
"Naturally, a story of more complex ideas necessitated a more complex structure to transmit them, and Starstruck was also a major innovator in terms of comics narratology.
STARSTRUCK could be both silly and smart, was progressive but unpretentious, and clever but not so impressed with itself that it ever forgot to entertain."




Here's why you shouldn't miss the rocket this time:
Or, "How does this relate to Rock or Sex?"




If you're into Riot Grrrl, anarcho-punk, punk feminism, buy this book.

If you're into challenging narratives like LOST, THE PRISONER, WATCHMEN, KILL BILL, buy this book.

If you're into Anais Nin, Susie Bright, Carol Queen, Regina Lynn, Violet Blue, buy this book.

If you're into Monty Python, HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, GALAXY QUEST, buy this book.

If you're into Weird Science, Zap Comix, Heavy Metal, Love & Rockets, buy this book.




If you're into STAR WARS, STAR TREK, FIREFLY/SERENITY, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, DOLLHOUSE, DOCTOR WHO, buy this book.

If you're into Hannah Hoch, Frida Kahlo, Cindy Sherman, The Guerilla Girls, buy this book.

If you're into YELLOW SUBMARINE, GHOST IN THE SHELL, SPIRITED AWAY, buy this book.

If you're into The Marx Brothers, The Little Rascals, WILLY WONKA, SCTV,
The Young Ones, MADtv, buy this book.

If you're into Ray Bradbury, Leigh Brackett, Phillip K. Dick, buy this book.

If you're into PROMETHEA, CORALINE, PLANETARY, Y: THE LAST MAN, buy this book.




If you're into Martha Washington, AEON FLUX, THE FIFTH ELEMENT, THE MATRIX, ULTRA VIOLET, buy this book.

If you're into William S. Burroughs, Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, buy this book.

If you're into THE POWERPUFF GIRLS, SAMURAI JACK, FUTURAMA, WALL-E, buy this book.

If you're into The Luv'd Ones, Betty Davis, Poly Styrene, The B-52s, The Cramps, Shonen Knife, The She Creatures, buy this book.

If you're into LITTLE NEMO, KRAZY KAT, BUCK ROGERS, FLASH GORDON, THE SPIRIT, ZIPPY THE PINHEAD, buy this book.

If you're into Lord Buckley, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Lily Tomlin, Susan Norfleet, buy this book.




If you're into Alphonse Mucha, Winsor McCay, Alex Raymond, Matt Baker, Al Williamson, buy this book.

If you're into BARBARELLA, SIN METAL SIRENS, SKIN TIGHT ORBIT, buy this book.

If you're into Berni Wrightson, Charles Vess, Walt Simonson, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, William Stout, Barry Windsor Smith, P. Craig Russell, Howard Chaykin, buy this book.

If you're into MAGNUS: ROBOT FIGHTER, THE ROCKETEER, TANK GIRL,
buy this book.

If you're into the 'bubble babe' pin-ups passing for women in Image, AC, and CrossGen Comics, kiss my asp.

If you're into Carol Lay, Phoebe Gloeckner, Julie Doucet, Sandra Chang, Isabel Samaras, Tara McPherson, buy this book.

If you're into Funkadelic, Frank Zappa, Devo, Le Tigre, buy this book.



If you're in your right mind...buy this book.




"It's a tough galaxy...but somebody's gotta live in it.
It might as well be YOU!"

pictured: Cookie Fabrè, Galactic Girl Guide.



This ROCKS, it's SEXY, now let's kick out the jams, brothers and sisters!

Excelsior!
-Tym Stevens,
©2009, 2011

(Here's your soapbox back, effendi.)







LEARN MORE!

StarstruckComics.com


STARSTRUCK Articles:

Newsarama 1 2 3
Robot 6
The Savage Critic
Publishers Weekly
Suicide Girls

Wikipedia


STARSTRUCK Links:

YouTube: Elaine Lee on STARSTRUCK censorship
YouTube: Lee Moyer on STARSTRUCK's return
YouTube: Lee Moyer on repainting STARSTRUCK
SequentialScott color appreciation


STARSTRUCK on Facebook:

-Group
-Book

Elaine Lee, writer
Michael Wm. Kaluta, artist
Lee Moyer, painter
Todd Klein, lettering




STARSTRUCK Articles Here On RockSex:

1) "The Return of STARSTRUCK! Or, Riot Grrrls Conquer the Universe!"
2) "STARSTRUCK Strikes Back!"
3) "The Big Bang of STARSTRUCK: The Roots and Branches of Elaine Lee & Michael Kaluta's space opera" Epic.

Also:
-Best Comix 2000-2010
-"STARSTRUCK Does It In Your Earhole! New STARSTRUCK Audioplay For CD And MP3!"






Small Print, Dept.
*Disclaimer: I donated this essay out of love; all profits from the book are made by the three creators, who deserve the support.

**The Critics' Darlings are WATCHMEN, DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, MAUS, THE KILLING JOKE, SANDMAN. Winners all, but just the beginning...
And not a woman in the Boys Club anywhere, huh, guys?
-Ye Smartass








"Please respect the 100 feet distance from the restraining order, sir."
Okay, okay!



3 comments:

Johnny B said...

Preach on, brother!

Michael Gogins said...

Been waiting for this for YEARS... own all previous material bought over scavenging time in every NYC comic store... begged Kaluta in person at Barnes and Noble... now own all new material so far!... THANK GOD!! America is not a zombie just quite yet....

Lee in Limbo said...

What?!? They brought it back and I missed it? I've NEVER been able to sit down and read this from start to finish, and now that I finally get my chance, I have no idea where to get it. GAAAAHHHH!!!
*goes off to comb Amazon*
PS: Thank you!