Back in the 1970s, even blockbuster films took six months to cross the Atlantic. So by the time Star Wars opened here in Britain, the publicists knew how well it had done at the US box-office, and made a big effort (by the standards of the day) to hype it in advance.
One part of this was a big, fat magazine with the Hildrebrandt poster art on the cover, which went on sale a couple of months before the film opened outside London. In some ways, this made a bigger impact on me than Star Wars itself, because it included a lavishly-illustrated potted history of science fiction in the cinema, putting the 1950s movies and Flash Gordon serials I already knew from TV into context, and introducing me for the first time to the likes of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
I liked the film Star Wars well enough, but I never really got sucked into the phenomenon. I lost interest in the sequels about half-way through The Empire Strike Back, and I never bought the toys or the comics.
Which presents a bit of a problem when writing about Star Wars in a comics blog. What I do have to hand, however, is “Star Roars”, Mad magazine’s parody (or first parody – I imagine that others have followed over the years).
“Star Roars” used the first Mad art I remember seeing from Harry North. North was a British cartoonist who had been drawing sitcom adaptations (such as On the Buses) for Look-In. Just as Star Wars started the trend of filming American movies in Britain, its parody was an early instance of British talent working on American comics.
Fittingly, the British publication of “Star Roars” ended up with a transatlantic flavour.
Notice that, although the speech balloons have been adapted for British readers – “Electricity Board” (as we had before privatisation), “£4 million” – the bill in George Lucas’s hand remains American – “$4,000,000”.
Such attempts to pretend that comic strip reprints were really British always baffled me as a child. I remember a reprint of a Casper the Friendly Ghost story in which Casper visits what is clearly drawn as New York, but which is referred to in the captions as “London City” (the phrase itself is an oddity – it’s just “London”, “London Town” if you want to be twee, or “City of London” if you are referring to the financial district, but never “London City”.)
To this day, children are told by the English-language editions of the Tintin books that Captain Haddock’s home at Marlinspike is somewhere in England, even though the local police look like this:
Similarly, when the British free newspaper Metro reprints Nemi by the Norwegian cartoonist Lise Myhre, the references are Anglicised.
It all seems rather pointless. Our sympathies are surely not so narrow that we only want to follow stories set in our own countries – as the international ubiquity of Star Wars itself demonstrates.
Superman’s Metropolis by Randy Lofficier, Jean-Marc Lofficier and Roy Thomas (script), Ted McKeever (art) and Bill Oakley (letters), DC Comics, 1996
“Star Roars” by Larry Siegel and Dick de Bartolo (writers) and Harry North, in Mad British edition issue 191, Top Sellers Ltd, 1977
The Seven Crystal Balls by Hergé, 1948, English-language edition translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, Methuen Children’s Books, 1962
Nemi by Lise Myhre, Metro newspaper, 2006