Kickstart From The Heart: Elaine Lee And Michael Kaluta's Starstruck

starstruck1.jpgBleeding Cool's  Kickstarter Correspondent, Shawn Demumbrum has lead three Kickstarter campaigns to launch comic books, two successfully funded and one that wasn't.  Each week he will point out some of the unique Kickstarter projects that wouldn't normally be published by the big comic book companies, but deserve your attention.  Shawn is the Manager of Comic Book Programming for the Phoenix Comicon.  He is currently working on the Nothing Can Stop Me Now: Stories Inspired by the Songs of Nine Inch Nails.

Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta have brought their long running series Starstruck to Kickstarter.  They want to fund a 176 page graphic novel that  showcases one of the lesser known Starstruck characters, Harry Palmer.  They have fully funded the black and white edition, but are going to needs some help to print the book in full color.  With only 3 days to go, we talked to them about their return to Starstruck.

First of all, you've had Starstruck published by lots of different publishers over the years with IDW being the publisher of your last Starstruck story.  Why Kickstarter?  Had you approached publishers prior to launching the Kickstarter campaign?

EL: We did put out some feelers before we started the Kickstarter and had gotten some interest. But doing a creator-owned title is almost a luxury these days. Especially one with incredibly detailed art like Harry Palmer: Starstruck. It takes Michael a good deal of time to draw it. It will take almost as much time to color. And these days it seems that you either have to come to the publisher with a completed book and maybe make your money in royalties, or you get an advance to complete the book that eats up most of what you would make later as royalties. We're not living in the 80s! So, we wanted to do a Kickstarter that would at least pay for the art and production on the book. It looks like we will make that. It would be nice to be able to pay for the printing, as well. That would give us more options. But if we don't make enough to do the printing, we will at least have a finished book to take to a publisher.

MWK: Throughout the years between the Dark Horse b/w Starstruck Issues and the beautiful color Starstruck volume from IDW, Elaine and I shook various trees hoping to dislodge a publisher: twice during that time (1995-2010) we had positive interest by well-founded book publishers who showed a really keen interest in publishing Starstruck… but: when they got around to factoring in the Color, they sort of evaporated… There were quite a few Waiting For The Phone To Ring days that would end with Elaine and I agreeing that yes, another publisher had folded their tents in the night…

If either of us had hit the Lottery, the book would have come out as soon as the money cleared the taxman… The advent of a viable crowd funding method, one that really was "outside the box", that truly let creators provide content to people who've been hoping to see that content, well: it is a godsend! And look how wonderfully Kickstarter has served our hopes and dreams!


Starstruck started as a stage play and eventually made it's way into comics.  Even within comics it's taken different forms as a serialized story with the latest being a graphic novel.  Why is Starstruck suited for comic books?  Which form within the medium seems to work best for your style of story telling? 

MWK: Having a punchy visual story overlaying a complexly interesting storyline, the comic book medium allows a reader to quickly revisit any part of the book for an immediate reference point, while at the same time offering such an easy way to melt into the story: open a page, the experience envelopes you. There are quite a few story-telling approaches available to the comic book approach allows a writer and artist a huge scope to choose from, adapt or react to. The physical form of the Comic Book/Graphic Novel is comfortable and portable, and, when revisiting the fun one had reading, one can skip across the highlights visually until a tentacle of wit grabs your interest and drags you back in.

EL: The play was very different from the comic series. The play was like a comic book in motion. The actor's were very physical and the characters sometimes moved in a very stylized manner. The play was completely scored, like a movie, so that dramatic music played beneath a monologue, or funny music played beneath a silly scene.

We didn't try to simply adapt the play into a comic book. It wouldn't have worked. It wasn't a big enough story. But in a way, the comics we eventually did were less like traditional comics than the play. The story in the comics is structured more like that of a novel and can become more serious at times, though there are still funny characters who pop in and out of the storyline. And when a story is told from the point of view of one of these characters, that story tends to be funny. But it's a mix, whereas the play is pretty zany. The stories in the comics grew out of back-story that the characters in the play revealed in monologues.

There are plans to take Starstruck back into the realm of drama, with a series of "audio movies." My company AudioComics has been talking about doing a Starstruck series that follows the adventures of Galatia 9, Brucilla the Muscle and Erotica Ann, as they fly missions for the United Federation of Female Freedom Fighters. We wouldn't try to do the whole sprawling Starstruck saga, but would focus on a few of the more humorous characters and their adventures outside the main story.

Harry Palmer was more of a background character in the Starstruck stories.  Why did you decide to promote him to the main character in the story?  What does this story add to the overall Starstruck tapestry?

EL: I was getting tired of writing the female characters and wanted to do a story with a male protagonist for a change. I'm sure it didn't seem to our readers like a lot of time had gone by, but counting various versions of the play, I had been writing about those characters for years by the time the Epic series got underway. And I think Harry adds a lot to the overall tapestry. In a way, he's a stand-in for the reader. He walks through our crazy Multiverse, pulling all the various strands of story together and making sense of it. He also has the only love story in Starstruck, though not in a traditional sense, as he's not entirely sure whether the object of his affection is his long-lost love Mary Medea, or the pleasure droid built to resemble her. It's his search for the missing droid that starts him on the adventure.

MWK: Being the artist who will have 80 new pages to draw, I'm, at this point, only aware of the original arc of Harry's Story: once I have the new script pages in my hands, I'll be diving into a fleshed out version of Harry's World and be bonked around by the surprises awaiting all the Graphic Novel readers in the near future… exciting. Having Harry as a "pivot point", a "grounded" character, will give the rest of the Starstruck Multiverse something to orbit around: some stories already are effected by Harry's "Gravity Well", wobbling through their space because of his sometime unwitting influence and certainly the influence of his actions, sometimes actions that happened before other main characters were born. Though Harry's tale is unique to him, and goes all over the map, it is still a "calm place" in the maelstrom of the rest of Starstruck from which a reader and fan can have a kickback place from which to watch the rest of the story whirl around.


The story utilizes story pages from almost 30 years ago.  Artists always improve on their style or even change technique.  Has it been a challenge to meld together the older work with the new work?

EL: I'll let Michael take that one.

MWK: Definitely a challenge, but not TOO much of one: once I start drawing Starstruck, I'm back in that place where it all came from: it surprises me how my mind gets back to the rich fields of imagery so effortlessly. The 60 pages that have been enlarged in 1995, pencilled but not inked, are a cake-walk: fully pencilled pages awaiting ink, surrounded by art from 10 years before that as a guide and a caution: the early style and my Today Style meld: when I wake in the AM and look at the previous night's work, I often have to think to remember which is the New Stuff…

What has been the biggest challenge you've confronted during the Kickstarter campaign?

EL: Surviving the relentless anxiety! I've never really experienced anything like it. Every day you're making constant decisions that will either move you toward your goal, or force you back a few steps. You have to nurse the campaign like a baby. You have to call in favors (never easy) and ask your friends to post your link and post it again and again. You fear becoming a huge pain in the rear. And rightly so, because you are! A big, one-note pain! But I'm grateful that Kickstarter exists, because it's allowing us to do this thing we love. And I've learned a lot about how to promote a project; knowledge that I'll continue to make use of after the campaign is over.

MWK: I've been able to sit back for most of it: Elaine is the Ramrod of this Outfit: She FLIES with Kickstarter: every moment a new wrinkle: how she ever gets to sleep is a mystery to me. As has always happened when doing Starstruck, I sit as a lump, Elaine calls: "We Need A New Cover", my brain pulls itself out of the mind treacle and POW, all of a sudden there's a really exciting drawing that never existed before, yet is fully OF the Starstruck World… happy day when an artist can be bonked like that!!!

Many of your upper end reward levels have been claimed.  Are their any plans for final day reward level additions to capture some of the potential high dollar pledges?

MWK: eeep: I dunno!!!!!!  It could happen, I guess?

EL: We just did that this morning. We've added some costume helmets, designed by Kaluta and built by Charles Vess, that the Starstruck characters wore in the play. And a portfolio review and other rewards like that. The Kaluta drawings were snapped up very quickly, as were the incentives like being drawn as a character in the book. We didn't offer pages, as Michael is territorial about the Starstruck art and I respect that. Though he's given a bit of the cover art away, I don't think he's ever sold any covers or pages. We're hoping to get more people to pledge for the book. That's what it's all about.

You've got around three days to get a little over $12,000 in pledges to fund a full color version of the graphic novel, which is feasible based upon your highest pledge days.  If someone is sitting on the fence, what would you say to them to convince them to pledge?

 MWK: "Send us money or I'll MURDILIZE you… in a very friendly and loving way…"  or "Don't miss the party!"  Really: I've no idea: if the art hasn't excited them into wanting to pledge, and the story doesn't draw their interest, well, maybe just being a part of the fun, part of the snowball, avalanche, tectonic adjustment will bring a smile to their faces and open their giving hearts.

EL: First of all, it's going to be a really great book, with art by a modern master. At the center of the story is a terrific character whose both a lover and a fighter. We have mercenary "proldiers" and pleasure droids, life-and-death dealers and alien pimps, evil seductresses and Amercadian brigaders, space nuns and the manipulative head of their cult. And it all takes place on a planet-sized pleasure station, floating somewhere in the void.

If you're not pledging because you're worried we may not make the color goal, don't be. We've been considering all the ways we might do a color version, if we even get halfway to the stretch goal, and we believe we can do it. We've already spoken to a publisher, so as long as we get enough to produce the actual book, there are other ways we can get it printed.

Then there's this: Quite recently, Michael and I found ourselves being talked about on Facebook and in the fan press, when Marvel sent us a letter challenging our rights to Starstruck. A lot of people contacted us during all that, expressing their support. And there have been many other recent cases, at the center of which is the whole issue of creators' rights. Anyone who cares about creators' rights should support Kickstarters for comics. And I'm not just talking about ours. Kickstarter has given so many comics creators a way to do original comics and still hang onto our rights. So, if you were planning on waiting until the book comes out to get your copy, I would ask you to get your copy now, when it matters most. You're not just buying a book. You're helping the book's creators keep ownership of their work.


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About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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