Walt Simonson Remasters "Star Slammers," Talks "X-Men: Apocalypse"

IDW Publishing revisits one of writer/artist Walt Simonson's earliest projects this March with the release of "Star Slammers Remastered" #1. Created by Simonson as part of his final project at the Rhode Island School of Design, "Star Slammers" revolves around a planet full of the galaxy's toughest mercenaries. Post-graduation, he took the characters to Marvel Comics where they saw print as a 1983 graphic novel. An additional "Star Slammers" miniseries came out in the mid '90s through both Malibu Comics and Dark Horse Comics.

Simonson spoke with CBR News about the newly remastered edition, explaining how the book made his career, teasing a future eight-part "Slammers" miniseries, announcing a sabbatical from mainstream comics and giving his thoughts on Bryan Singer's "X-Men: Apocalypse," which will feature the on-screen debut of the classic X-villain designed by Jackson Guice and defined by Simonson.

CBR News: Walt, it's been about 20 years since the last time "Star Slammers" was published. For those who weren't around back then, who are the Star Slammers?

Walt Simonson: They're a race of guys who discovered they were better at fighting than anybody else in the galaxy. Maybe even in the universe, although I haven't taken it that far yet. They discovered that by being fighters, they could make a very profitable business. In the long run, they become the most successful businessmen in history and take the name Star Slammers. They're mercenary soldiers, and there's a planet full of these guys. They hire themselves out and make a living that way.

How did "Star Slammers" originally come about?

The "Slammers" really began life as an ashcan comic. I belonged to a science fiction club in Washington, D.C. where I grew up. I joined the club right after college. The Washington Science Fiction Association or WISFA for short. They met downtown about once a month. In the early '70s, they decided to bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention, which was to be held somewhere on the East Coast. It rotates through different parts of the world, and different organizations like WIFSA bid to have the convention in their city. You would campaign about a year ahead to get it. I was doing drawing for the WIFSA journal and had an idea to do a comic strip to advertise to get the convention. The club liked it, so I began writing and drawing. It took on a different form than I anticipated and very quickly morphed in to the "Star Slammers."

Ultimately, I did a series of six-page episodes. One of the guys in the club had a printer in his basement, so he would print them up and then different members of the club would hand them out when they'd go to conventions around the country. I did new chapters every three or four months, which culminated in a final chapter coinciding with the World Science Fiction Convention voting in '72 for the '74 convention. And I will say that WIFSA won. I don't know if I can take the credit for that, but it worked out ok.

What happened was, I was in art school at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the timing worked out great. I did the project while I was in RISD, over a two year period, and the work eventually served as my RISD degree project. I wrapped it up right before I graduated.

Many years later, in '82, I did a "Star Slammers" graphic novel for Marvel Comics. It was a partial origin story for the Slammers. The rest of the tale is really implied. Then there was a five-issue miniseries in the early '90s, with different characters, much later in the Slammers history.

What did you do with the RISD "Star Slammers" material after you graduated?

It became my portfolio when I came to New York City. I did it over a two-year period. The beginning of the RISD and WIFSA project is pretty good fan art. It was black and white ashcan art. I wrote it, penciled it, lettered it and inked it. In the early work, it's not bad fan drawing. That's how I would describe it now. I don't know that I would give a guy that was drawing that way a job to start with, but I might very well encourage him to keep up in the hopes that he would get better. By the end of the run of that original material, the work is marginally professional.

I took the second half of the book, bound it into a single volume and when I came to NYC in the summer of '72, brought it along as my portfolio to show editors. As it happened, completely by accident, Carmine Infantino ended up seeing my portfolio. At the time, Carmine was the EIC at DC. He was the main guy. He ended up seeing it and he really liked the work. He encouraged me and made sure I walked out of his office with work. That was really the beginning of my career.

I had like six months where I was like everybody else when they're new. Scuffling for work. I was able to find some, thanks to Archie Goodwin, an editor at DC back then, and could pay my rent. After about another six months, Archie offered me a chance to draw a character he was creating in the back of "Detective Comics" called Manhunter. Manhunter really made my career. It ran for about a year and was really well-received.

But "Star Slammers" really was my entry in to the professional world of comics.

With IDW republishing all the older material, are we going to see new "Star Slammers" stories in the near future?

I sure hope so. I always thought it'd be fun to go back in and do more stories at different points in the "Star Slammers" timeline. Life got in the way. Other jobs came along. So I after I finished the miniseries in '92 or '93, I did have an idea for an eight-chapter series but never got it done. Plotted out a bunch of it. Designed some characters. I hope at some point I'll be able to revisit that idea and tell that story. And maybe I'll tell some other stories as well, but right now I have another creator-owned project, "Ragnarok," that's occupying most of my time. If I was five or six people, I could do all this stuff. [Laughs]

At that point, were you using "Star Slammers" to try and get writing work as well, or just penciling gigs?

Honestly, it never occurred to me to be a writer in comics in the early days. Even though I wrote the "Slammers," I was really looking to get work as an artist in comics. I didn't really feel I was a writer. And because I had penciled and inked the "Slammers," I didn't even have anything as specific in mind as becoming a penciler or an inker. I was just looking for stories to draw. The very next job I did, and the majority of the jobs since then, were books that I both penciled and inked. I never separated myself out as a penciler or inker. None of my editors did, either.

Which issues will be in IDW's "Star Slammers Remastered" series?

It'll all come out, except the RISD stuff. But the graphic novel and the miniseries will both come out as a series of floppies. There'll be a collection afterwards. The IDW series starts with the graphic novel, which was 60 pages long. I've gone through it and figured out the scene breaks in the book about a third and two-thirds of the way through. It's broken into sections that are about 20 pages long. That's the first three issues of the IDW series.

As a result, I'm doing new covers for each of the three sections. I'll draw new introductory pages for the second and third issues, as well, to bring any new readers up to speed on what's happened so far. Then, the miniseries, which is five regular issues, will follow that. It'll be eight issues of stuff.

When might that new material come out?

I honestly have no idea right now. The other book I'm doing for IDW is "Ragnarok," based on Norse myths. I have a bunch of stories I want to do for that book. I see it as an ongoing series for a while. I don't really have the energy anymore to do two series in a single month. I'm not sure I had the energy to do series in a single month when I was 25! [Laughs]

I think I'll just try to get "Ragnarok" rolling and do that for a while. At some point, if I get a break or I wrap the series up, I could see revisiting the Slammers. I do have an eight-part story that's really something of a sequel to the five-part miniseries that I did for Dark Horse Comics. I do hope to get back to that, but for the time being, it'll have to sit on the shelf. But now that I'm doing more creator-owned work it's probably a step closer to being done than it otherwise would.

How is "Ragnarok" coming along?

It's going really well. I'm very pleased. I'm working on the art for the first issue right now. Look, I'm an old guy so I like doing stuff the way I'm comfortable with and one of the things that IDW is allowing me to do is letter directly on the art boards. So John Workman, who is my partner in crime for a lot of projects, is lettering the book. I've sent the first issue off to him to get lettered.

I have a lot of material to go through. Thinking of the ideas, I wouldn't say it's easy, but I've been thinking about this stuff for a long time. I have a ton of notes. The tough part is taking all these notes and turning them into actual issues and stories. That's the hard part. That's what I'm working on right now.

So it's safe to say you'll be working on creator-owned books for the near future.

At least for the near future, sure. Actually, I've just done something that every freelancer hates to do: I have begun to turn down some of the work I've been offered at Marvel and DC. Mostly covers and things like that. I just feel I should pay attention to what I'm doing with "Ragnarok" at the moment and put all my effort in to that. I don't expect to sign off from mainstream comics forever, but I do expect at least for the foreseeable future to work on creator-owned stuff and see how it does. A year from now, if I'm broke, I might make it back to mainstream comics if I'm allowed to. [Laughs]

Switching gears, Bryan Singer recently revealed that a character you were involved in the creation of -- Apocalypse -- is primed to be the main villain in the next "X-Men" film. What are your thoughts on the announcement?

Well, let me clear something up immediately: I did not create Apocalypse. I see lots of stuff on the web that suggests that, but it only suggests it because people have read other stuff on the web. They haven't gone back and looked at the comics. If you go back and look, you will discover that Louise [Simonson] created Apocalypse in conjunction with Jackson Guice.

Now, I will say that Jackson only drew him in like three panels, where he appears at the end of the comic and then takes an elevator down and disappears from sight. But Jackson drew him first. I was the first guy to put him in stories and Louise was the writer. I gave him a steroid injection to beef him up and bring him up to super-villain proportions, if you will. But I did not design the character. People think I did, because back when Marvel was dividing up creator credits on characters, Jackson himself thought I created Apocalypse! He had forgotten that he drew him in a few panels. So I'm not surprised people think I created Apocalypse, and I certainly was the first guy to draw him in stories. But he really wasn't my creation.

I'm certainly curious to see him turn up in the film, but it wasn't really my design. It was Jackson's. It was a great design, I loved it. I loved Apocalypse as a character, I loved what Louise did with him. I hope they're able to keep some of that sensibility in the movie. But movies are their own thing. We'll see how it turns out.

When did you and Louise discover Apocalypse would be in the next film?

I don't think we knew until the announcement came out that they were doing it. I think it's pretty cool. At this point, both Louise and me have created characters that have been turned into movies. In my case, minor characters like Malekith and Kurse from "Thor: The Dark World." Louise's had some stuff in movies, too.

For every movie, my real interest in it is simply that I would like the filmmakers to get it right. By right, I don't mean it has to be exactly like the comic. No, nothing can be exactly like the comic. I don't go to the movies to see the book done exactly up on the screen, I go to see a good movie. Sometimes that means differences from the book. I don't care about that stuff. I just want the movie to be good. That's true with "X-Men: Apocalypse," too. It'd be nice if it was a good movie. That'd be pretty cool.

"Star Slammers" #1 by Walt Simonson is out this March from IDW Publishing.

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