Production notes and trivia from my experiences on comic books, fiction, and games including
Star Wars: A New DawnStar Wars: Kenobi Star Wars: Knight Errant
Star Wars: Knights of the Old RepublicStar Wars: Lost Tribe of the Sith
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Order the Star Trek Prey trilogy here!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

August signings in Virginia, Maryland, and Wisconsin

A quick update to note that I have some appearances in store in the month of August:

• First, I'll be doing my first Virginia signing on August 4 at 7:30 at the Rocky Run Middle School, 4400 Stringfellow Rd., Chantilly, Va., on behalf of the Fairfax County library system. Preregistration for the event is currently closed as we've maxed out the occupancy; I mention the location because it is a new, larger venue than the one we started with.

• Next, I'll be attending Shore Leave in Hunt Valley, Md., August 7-9,  where I am slated to do a number of signings and panels. I'll post my schedule online when I have it.

Update: And now I have it!

FRIDAY
10 p.m. to Midnight -- Meet The Pros (Hunt Valley Ballroom)

SATURDAY
11 a.m. Writing Tips (Derby Room)
1 p.m. Star Wars and Star Trek (Salon A)
2 p.m. Star Trek Fiction (Chase Room)

SUNDAY
10 a.m. Canon or Not (Salon B)
11 a.m. Writing in a Shared Universe (Hunt Room): This is the seminar I did at Star Wars Celebration ion Anaheim. Here's your chance to see it if you missed it!
12 noon: Comic Books (Salon B)

• Finally, on August 22 I'll be in Bayfield, Wisconsin appearing at the library's Comic/Sci-Fi con. My first time to the shores of Lake Superior and I believe it is the first event of its kind up there, so I am definitely looking forward to the chance to see everyone.

Finally, note that for the next couple of weeks, Overdraft: The Orion Offensive is just $1.99 on Kindle. Click the link to get it!

Tales from the Memory Bank: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement, Part 4

http://bit.ly/KOTORMarv1
In honor of the rerelease by Marvel of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics, I'm revising and updating my production notes here on what I hope will be a weekly basis. You can get Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Old Republic Vol. 1 from your local comic shop, from Things from Another World or from Amazon. You can also purchase signed copies directly from my shop while supplies last.


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #4
"COMMENCEMENT" PART 4

Art by Brian Ching
Lettered by Michael Heisler
Colored by Michael Atiyeh
Cover by Travis Charest
Edited by Jeremy Barlow and Dave Marshall
Released April 26, 2006 by Dark Horse Comics
Story licensed and © Lucasfilm Ltd.

As with all my “production notes,” consider a “Spoiler Warning” attached. Please read the books first.

The fourth issue took Zayne and company to the Rogue Moon, and I was very pleased with how this issue turned out, to say the least. Brian Ching and Michael Atiyeh really captured what I had imagined for this entire sequence. The only real surprise for me this issue was the book club insert, which appeared in domestic copies -- but then, I had that happen before in Iron Man #77, which is another of my favorite issues, so it's generally a good sign.

The heart of this issue -- and as some might view it, the whole story arc -- is Zayne's conversation with Master Vandar, a character he feels should be on his side. I loved using this opportunity to smack Zayne with yet another possibility -- that he had committed the crime without knowing it -- and to suggest to the character that, whatever the truth, this wasn't going to be solved quite so simply after all.

I also very much enjoyed introducing the Rogue Moon, a truly spectacular setting in a milieu known for spectacular settings. As with a couple of other complicated settings, I provided Brian my own visual reference, pieced together rough of what the place should look like, built from fragments of an image of a planetary surface. Fortunately, Brian's version looks a lot better than my guide:


That's real "behind the scenes" stuff, folks. This is how the sausage is made...

Beyond those two major elements, I felt it was important to take a few pages and establish the "working relationship" within the crew of the Last Resort. Much like in Episodes IV and V, this group of passengers is more or less stuck with each other -- and I really wanted to take the time to show them bouncing off the walls, as it were. The "shoving you out of the airlock" scene, with Jarael growling, Gryph preening, and Zayne wishing it would all go away, is one of my favorites.

TRIVIA

The appearance of Taris from orbit incited some comment from one reader, who didn't feel it looked like the video game version. I think, rather than industrial lava flows like we see on Coruscant, we're looking at city-canyon lights (or perhaps the flames from the riots).

• I was actually expecting to hear about the debris field we clearly invented for the Taris system. I had an explanation all ready to go about how one wouldn't expect to see an debris field closer to a sun, like this one, from Taris -- look how big Venus looks from Earth, and then think about how often you see Mercury! But it never came up.

 • In general, asteroid fields in Star Wars tend to be improbably dense with debris, at least compared with our Solar System's model. Between the gravitational influences of Rogue Moon, Taris, and other bodies in the system, rocks ought to be cleared out of the ring pretty quickly. One might speculate this debris system is fairly recent, as astronomical time is concerned.

• Note that Zayne's lightsaber turns itself off on page 3 as soon as he releases it. I actually had thought to have it bonking around dangerously as they stumbled around -- but it turns out that, even in this era, lightsabers had kill switches.

• The comm system panel from page 6 is duplicated on page 7. Jarael should've known better than to leave Zayne alone with it!

• The notion of leaving the asteroid field to make a clear transmission hearkens back to Episode V, obviously. I'm not entirely clear on why that should matter to a subspace communication, but we followed that lead. I loved the "interference lines" Brian and Michael built into the hologram.

• I don't know how often it rains on Dantooine, but that really captured the mood. There are enough gardens about, you'd assume it happens sometimes.

• The Zhar who informs Vandar is, of course, Zhar Lestin from the video games. I kept getting their names mixed up in the very beginning working on the series; something about the sounds of Zhar and Vandar Tokare, I guess. Zhar would appear in the final issue of the War miniseries, years later.

• Obviously, the dream sequence in #3 fits in with the Padawans' release onto the Rogue Moon. This is literally like jumping out of a starship without a parachute, since the Moon's relatively weak gravity and lack of atmosphere make such a freefall survivable using simply booster rockets. The landing of the Lunar Module on the moon was somewhat the same; you just need the retro rockets to cut the acceleration enough as you're descending.

• Among the visual suggestions I sent Brian Ching for the Rogue Moon was a look at recent imagery from the Saturn system, courtesy of the Cassini space probe, particularly rocky moons like Hyperion. Our tax dollars at work for better comic books...

• Some have noticed the lack of fire and brimstone associated with the rocks plunging down onto the Rogue Moon. That's the lack of atmosphere at work. There are certainly concussions with explosive force, and they do generate heat and dust -- they just don't look like Earthly meteor strikes, with flaming contrails.

T1-LB's name is in part, a nod to the T3 series, as much differently seen in the first video game. We have actually seen T1-LB units before, in #2, on the cargo deck in the Jedi Tower. I discuss the other half of the inspiration in a later post..

• The fifth-class droid classification is from one of the sourcebooks. It makes sense that there would be a hierarchy for droids with various capabilities, and there was.

Next week:
Read the story behind the art change in the fifth chapter. Or you can skip ahead and read all the notes for the series, though they're only updated up through this issue.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tales from the Memory Bank: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement, Part 3

http://bit.ly/KOTORMarv1
In honor of the rerelease by Marvel of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics, I'm revising and updating my production notes here on what I hope will be a weekly basis. You can get Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Old Republic Vol. 1 from your local comic shop, from Things from Another World or from Amazon. You can also purchase signed copies directly from my shop while supplies last.


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #3
"COMMENCEMENT" PART 3

Art by Brian Ching
Lettered by Michael Heisler
Colored by Michael Atiyeh
Cover by Travis Charest
Edited by Jeremy Barlow and Dave Marshall
Released March 29, 2006 by Dark Horse Comics
Story licensed and © Lucasfilm Ltd.

As with all my “production notes,” consider a “Spoiler Warning” attached. Please read the books first.

Back from the detour into "Crossroads," the third issue of this storyline found us moving from Zayne's flight for survival to his fight for answers -- and brought in two new characters in the form of Jarael and Camper.

I think many comics creators find that third issues of six present some unique storytelling challenges. They are often spent in transit, getting all the pieces in place for the revelations to come in the second half -- and given their position in the events of the story, they aren't as amenable to true cliffhangers. (Having seen a lot of "false cliffhangers" in third issues, I try to either end on something real or on a joke -- here, we did both.)

In collected format, the role of third chapters changes completely, fitting in much more organically. That poses, in fact, a temptation comics creators actively have to resist -- it'd be easy to tell a 132-page story and just chop it up into comics-sized chunks without mind to where things are breaking in the serial. As a comics guy, I do work to make the story play "both ways" -- Episode V was a completed thought despite leaving almost every big issue "To Be Continued" -- but it's not always desireable to give every chapter exactly equal amounts of action, revelations, etc.

Here, chapter three very much is about getting the pieces in place for the revelations to come -- although we made sure to pause along the way for some comedy and action. Brian's Jarael is a pretty fearsome opponent!

Jarael, again, had been designed earlier by Brian Ching, and I had noted at the time that she had looked  different from other Arkanians; she had pupils, for example, as well as five fingers and elfin ears — and she also had tattoos which I had no explanation for. Further, the initial color key gave her alabaster skin, different from other Arkanians. Rather than ask for changes, I decided to figure out ways to make those differences part of the story. In fact, part of three different storylines would explain Jarael's different appearance. It's just like they say about bakers -- when making cookies, you can eat your mistakes.

Some readers noted Zayne's mood shift this issue -- from his earlier denial and despair to anger and resentment. That seemed perfectly natural to me -- especially when you've gone through what he has in the last day or so! Others immediately began talking of a Zayne/Jarael romance here -- although at this stage, the characters seemed unwilling to breathe the same air!

It was during production of this issue that we paused to do the Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion Special, lengthening the production time, somewhat. But it still came out right on schedule, thanks to everyone involved!

I did a release-day signing of this issue at Comics and Collectibles in Memphis. It was my first shop signing associated with the series.

TRIVIA

• I was informed later that bacta, to which Gryph refers in this chapter, may not have existed in this time period -- at least under that name. Clearly, neither Gryph nor I read the book where that was established. There are a number of remedies (no pun intended) for that, including assuming that it was the coincidental name of something Mama Hierogryph used to make. Or maybe be got it from "Bacta: The Future." (Sorry, pun intended that time...)

Brian's Jarael design was so cool I worked the differences into the story
• The Rakghouls of the Undercity come directly from the first video game, of course. They would later become central to the events of "Vector," two years later.

Arkanians were one of the first ones added to the milieu by Dark Horse years earlier. The species name wasn't mentioned in this issue, but it was actually revealed back in Dark Horse's initial slide-show about the series. As a result, some readers at the time did ask about the fact that Jarael has pupils,which previously depicted Arkanians didn't.

As noted above, I came up with different explanations within the story later on -- but personally, I never tended to take the no-pupil thing quite literally whenever I saw it, but rather as an artifact of an art style that was used whenever an artist wanted to convey that a character was mysterious or powerful. I never quite fully accepted that Storm, Starfire, or Dark Phoenix literally had no pupils, just that it was a cool effect! Walt Kelly once called it the "blunked-out eye look." (Coincidentally, I dug up a 1979 cartoon for my column in 2006's Comics Buyer's Guide #1616 -- where someone did a send-up crossing over no-iris Little Orphan Annie with no-iris Phoenix. "Flamin' Annie," they called her...)

• With the mentions of Feln and Xamar, our five Masters finally had their names. I spaced them out so as not to hit everyone with a dozen names in the first issue. Feln's name was exactly two letters off from the first initials of my sister's four kids; Xamar just sounded cool.

Lhosan Industries is the company represented by the alien, Jervo, seen in #1. He would turn up later on in the second year of the series.

• Sharp readers may have noticed that Zovius Mendu was mentioned in the text page of #0!

• There's no way that the stars above Taris would be visible in the scene on the final page -- the planet's dayside is too bright -- but as most movie producers have found, it just looks odd without them!

Next week:
We head for the Rogue Moon. Or you can skip ahead and read all the notes for the series, though they're only updated up through this issue.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Tales from the Memory Bank: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Crossroads

http://bit.ly/KOTORMarv1
In honor of the rerelease by Marvel of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics, I'm revising and updating my production notes here on what I hope will be a weekly basis. You can get Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Old Republic Vol. 1 from your local comic shop, from Things from Another World or from Amazon. You can also purchase signed copies directly from my shop while supplies last.


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion #0
"CROSSROADS"

Art by Brian Ching
Lettered by Michael Heisler
Colored by Michael Atiyeh
Cover by Brian Ching
Edited by Jeremy Barlow and Dave Marshall
Released March 1, 2006 by Dark Horse Comics
Story licensed and © Lucasfilm Ltd.

As with all my “production notes,” consider a “Spoiler Warning” attached. Please read the books first.

Issue #0 of Knights of the Old Republic came out after #2, but in my own mind — and in all the reprints — it is the first chapter of the Zayne Carrick story.

As I got further into the first Knights of the Old Republic storyline and began to firm up more of my later plans for the series, I realized I had material for a prologue story to help new fans get their bearings in this timeframe. Focusing as it does on Zayne’s personal situation, the first issue touches on such things as the Mandalorian Wars only tangentially and the previous Sith War not at all. Even presented out of order, a prologue, I figured, could fill in a few blanks without interrupting the forward motion of Zayne’s story for flashbacks.

In 2005 I had suggested to Dark Horse the possibility of doing such a prologue as some kind of promotional comic book. My initial thought had been the Free Comic Book Day issue for 2006, but with the day coming so far into the year — the first week of May — Editor Jeremy Barlow rightly suggested doing a 25-cent special much earlier. While it wouldn’t be a preview for Knights of the Old Republic, the other half could preview Rebellion, another upcoming title — and the KOTOR side would be a welcome addition for fans excited by the just-launched series.

The first pencilled page from Brian Ching.
So we set to work, pausing between regular issues to get the special written and drawn. It was very much worth it, I think – thematically and visually, it is of a piece with the rest of the series. Dark Horse would later do #0 issues for Legacy and for Knight Errant.

It was actually a little later in the process that I suggested the addition of a Taris Holofeed, borrowing an idea and format from Star Wars Insider magazine. Having written a lot of news copy in my day, it was an easy style to get into – and I very much appreciated the chance to get in some more subtext and jokes. (“…and Zayne Carrick, a human.” That’s so sad!)

I remember being startled at how every name mentioned in the Holofeed had Wookieepedia pages created for them within a week. That really brought home to me that everything mentioned anywhere in the comics was going to be important to someone. It also motivated me to avoid using Tuckerisms as much as possible later in my work: every one-off namedrop was going to be indexed again and again!

The news feed was not reprinted in any of the Dark Horse editions, but it was reprinted in the first Marvel rerelease in 2015.

It may seem ironic that this short story and its news page provided more hooks for the continuity fans than did the first two issues that had already appeared, combined. Again, that was completely intentional on my part: I had said before that readers did not have to have played the video games or read the previous comics in this era to enjoy the series. This special provided those who have with a few more referents — even if there are still secrets I had yet to reveal to completely put everything in context.

TRIVIA

• The actual title of this issue, from the indicia, is Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion #0.


The cover of this issue – the KOTOR side of it, anyway – is a recolored version of the sample image Brian Ching created for the 2005 Dark Horse presentation at Comic-Con International: San Diego. The colors are a little brighter in this print version. It would later become the cover for the first Marvel Legends Epic Collection in 2015.

• The “Cap’n Karath” mentioned is, right away, a reference that will be familiar to players of the first video game. We would see a lot of Saul Karath in the series that followed.

• The time signature – if that is what it is – on the Taris Holofeed stirred some discussion, but I can’t take credit for it so it’s not a discussion I can contribute much to. It should be fairly evident that any dating system that counts downward would be exclusively for the benefit of helping people in later years organize the past. I don’t think Alexander the Great was walking around wondering why the years kept counting down. (Or maybe he was, which is why he was in such a rush to conquer the world…)

• Dark Horse kindly provided a thousand copies of this issue for a 2006 convention which, thorugh some miscommunication, only wound up using a fraction of that number; over the next seven or eight years, I used the remainder whenever I needed a freebie comic for a kid at a signing. It took that long to go through them all!

• Yes, Marn Hierogryph is the Baron Hieromarn of the fleek eel story – obviously. Who else would want hard currency delivered to a hotel night desk clerk?

Next week:
We go back to "Commencement" for Part Three. Or you can skip ahead and read all the notes for the series, though they're only updated up through this issue.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tales from the Memory Bank: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic: Commencement, Part 2

http://bit.ly/KOTORMarv1
In honor of the rerelease by Marvel of the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics, I'm revising and updating my production notes here on what I hope will be a weekly basis. You can get Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Old Republic Vol. 1 from your local comic shop, from Things from Another World or from Amazon. You can also purchase signed copies directly from my shop while supplies last.


Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic #2
"COMMENCEMENT" PART 2

Art by Brian Ching
Lettered by Michael Heisler
Colored by Michael Atiyeh
Cover by Travis Charest
Edited by Jeremy Barlow and Dave Marshall
Released February 22, 2006 by Dark Horse Comics
Story licensed and © Lucasfilm Ltd.

As with all my “production notes,” consider a “Spoiler Warning” attached. Please read the books first.

The second issue of a series always tends to be easier for me to write than the first issue. The scene has been set, the characters have been introduced – now the action can begin. At the time, however, I don’t think I had done a second issue with quite so much action right out of the gate. The first 16 pages of this issue are all essentially part of the same sequence, starting in the Jedi Tower and winding up in that grungy alleyway.

One of my decisions in the beginning, to avoid using an omniscient narrator except for announcements as to location and time, becomes more noticeable in an issue like this, where there are several action scenes without an opportunity for dialogue. In the old days, it would have been a simple matter to throw in a thought balloon from Zayne explaining exactly what he’s doing at any moment; today, things need to be a lot more self-evident. (I wrote more about the disappearance of the thought balloon and of many narrator captions in my column in Comics Buyer’s Guide #1596.) That said, I think Brian Ching really carried off what was a pretty complicated action scene very well!

Brian Ching's pencils of the page 2 scene.
Brian’s depictions in fact really helped sell a lot of my favorite scenes. We really do get a better sense of Gryph’s priorities and assumptions about himself. And, wow, isn’t he Mr. Empathy when Zayne’s friends appear on the news?

I would begin using an omniscient narrator for setting descriptions after "Vindication," to underscore the galactic travelogue aspect of that phase of Zayne's career.

TRIVIA

• The inside cover of the issue accidentally referred to Brian Ching as the cover artist instead of Travis Charest. Incidentally, this would be the correct line-up for the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic/Rebellion Special, which shipped a week later.

• This issue gives a prominent on-camera role to Master Vandar Tokare, a character from the first video game. Despite his Yoda-like looks, his manner of speech differs, just as it is depicted in the game. Vandar would appear several more times in the years to come.

The lecturer is talking to his students about “air traffic control” on Taris, which must be a serious problem with all these flying vessels in the “streets.” Thus the irony of Zayne crashing through, out of control…

• The dialogue balloons in the “garbage can” scene are actually reversed with regard to where Zayne’s and Gryph’s knuckles are. It takes an eagle-eyed reader to notice how hairy a guy’s fingers are!

A Kedorzhan, from Incognito
• The Kedorzhans make their first appearance anywhere in this story. I would return to the species later in my 2013 short story for Star Wars Insider, "Incognito" — a tie-in with the Star Wars: Kenobi novel. It involved Obi-Wan encountering the Kedorzhan senator in the aftermath of Episode III.

• A Bith, as Gryph mistakenly refers to the Sith, is of course a member of that race that also includes the Cantina Scene’s band from Star Wars: Episode IV.

Next week:
We actually go back in time, to #0, which was published after #2. Or you can skip ahead and read all the notes for the series, though they're only updated up through this issue.
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