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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Inspired - as so many things were in the late 70s - by the tremendous success of Star Wars, the newspaper feature syndicate NEA (Newspaper Enterprise Association) got it into their heads that a space opera comic strip that evoked the cosmic high adventure and swashbuckling derring-do of George Lucas' movie might be a popular addition to the nation's comics pages. They contacted comics historian and science fiction author Ron Goulart (who had written a quartet of Flash Gordon novels for Avon Books, and would later ghostwrite William Shatner's popular "Tek" series) to develop their proposed comic strip.

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Goulart then contacted comic book veteran Gil Kane, artist on scores of DC and Marvel titles, to collaborate with him on what ultimately became Star Hawks - which began on October 3, 1977 and ran through 1981. Star Hawks was a pulpy concoction that chronicled the adventures of Interplanetary Law Service officers Rex Jaxan, Chavez, and Alice K, as they battled a procession of interstellar criminals and miscreants. The strip actually took place in Goulart's "Barnum System," a sci-fi setting that he used in many of his original novels (incl. Clockwork Pirates, Galaxy Jane & Shaggy Planet), and, in 1980-81, Goulart even published two Star Hawks prose novels titled Empire 99 and The Cyborg King.

According to Kane, in a 1978 Comics Journal interview: "I got a call from Ron Goulart, who told me he'd been having some talks with Flash Fairfield, who is the art editor of the comics at [the newspaper syndicate] NEA, and they wanted to see me about going to work on that strip. I met with them at that time. Ron had done about two weeks of material, but it was very far from where we went with it. So we reworked the material, and I'm very strong ... on romance and lyricism, and I started to advance the cause of that kind of material and make it less satirical and more of a classic[-style] adventure strip. [For the hero,] originally I had James Coburn in mind. ... The hero's friend, Chavez, was modeled after a bald-headed Victor McLaglen."

The format the team pushed for was unique for newspaper syndication: the daily strip was laid out in two tiers. Each daily was twice as deep as a normal daily strip. This format allowed artist Kane great flexibility in his layouts, but it did hinder NEA's efforts to sign on papers to carry the strip. The strip ran daily and Sunday for three and a half years, for a total of 1,252 strips - in the end, the dailies had gone to a standard single-tier format, and the writing had been taken over by the great Archie Goodwin, who also wrote the Star Wars newspaper strip (as well as a million other things).

My local papers didn't carry the strip in the 70s, but I did pick up the two paperback collections published by Ace/Tempo in 1980/81, and read many of the installments in the 80s when Hawks was reprinted in early issues of Amazing Heroes magazine. I love Kane's depiction of the series universe and the stories are fun and fast-paced.

I know that Hermes Press has reprinted the entire run of the strips in a single volume, Star Hawks The Complete Series, but according to the customer reviews on Amazon, the art reproduction may not be as good as it could be, and I'm hesitant to shell out for the (rather pricey) book, if it doesn't look very good - especially as Kane's art is what I love best about the strip.


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