“YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION…”
The following is from illustrator and Starstruck historian Tym Stevens’ article extraordinaire on the series from his ROCK Sex blog, published online on 9/9/2009 (updated 9/9/2011):
“Starstruck began as a science fiction play performed off-Broadway in 1980. It was co-written by Elaine Lee, who was acting on a TV soap opera at the time, along with her sister Susan Norfleet Lee and Dale Place. Elaine played the wily hero Galatia 9 while Susan played her kickass partner Brucilla The Muscle. By chance they’d hooked up with reknowned comics artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, who went from volunteering for the poster to designing the sets and costumes, and even building them with compatriot artist Charles Vess.
“Starstruck was also created during the exploding late 70’s/early 80’s NYC scene, whose Do-It-Yourself spirit ignited the first Punk bands of CBGB’s, the No Wave and Punk Funk aftermath, the dawn of Hip Hop, the splicing of Mutant Disco, the skronknoize Jazz bands, and a bristling Indie film movement. This entire subcultural scene overlapped and propelled itself. There was apocalypse around the corner and all bets were off. Make what you can with what you got. Created in this combustible gumbo, STARSTRUCK the play was likewise DIY with its wicked and satirical humor, its sets and costumes collaged from street throwaways, its gender-upending, and its postmodern absurdism. It was postpunk science fiction for the new rebel underground.”
“The first wave of Starstruck magazine comics stories, a series of prequel vignettes to the play, were a natural for this graphix revolution. These serial stories first debuted in the similar Spanish anthology, Illustracion + Comix International, edited by Joseph Toutain in 1981; the intricate watercolourish washes were by uncredited Spanish artists using Kaluta’s color directions. They were then reprinted in Heavy Metal, the American version of Metal Hurlant, from 1982 to 1983.
“The Indie underground spirit was infiltrating the comic book world as well. In the early 80’s, DC and Marvel found their duopoly undermined by upstart start-ups like Star*Reach, First, Pacific, and Eclipse Comics. These rebels bypassed the newstand and drugstore racks to sell directly through the emerging network of comics-only stores. Most welcome of all, the creators retained the rights to their work while the company only distributed it. Pulp paper was replaced by more archival stock and color got more advanced. Without corporate control, fake morality Codes, or a teen threshhold, they were free to do whatever they wanted. Like independent record labels, they infused a stagnant industry with vital new blood. There were new standard-bearers like Aztec Ace (Eclipse), Marvelman (Quality), American Flagg! (First), and Love and Rockets (Fantagraphics).
“The two majors noticed.
“In Marvel’s more mature line of graphic novels they chose to collect all of the HM stories. Starstruck: The Luckless, The Abandoned and Forsaked graphic novel came out in 1984. The format was really big (8 1/4 x 11″) and the color lush and translucent like watercolors. Stacked against anything else out its 74 genius pages were formidable.
“Kaluta was most known for his gritty, retro work on The Shadow (1973), all edgy intensity and Pulp chiaroscuro. But his Starstruck was a revelation: a vast dreamlike landscape infused with light like Winsor McCay; the technology of Dick Calkins’ 30’s Buck Rogers strips filtered through the hallucinatory kineticism of Moebius; and the elegant architecture and design sense of Alphonse Mucha and Gustav Klimt.
“But Lee upped the ante with her storytelling: these prelude stories covered generational arcs in short and long gallops; the narrators rotated, the conversations overlapped or piled up or became song verse; the glossary was intergalactic and hysterical; the dialogue was so crackling you read it out loud to savor it; what seemed like happenstance eventually built up in layers and every minor thing paid off startlingly. It was a bit like William S. Burroughs writing Star Wars, or Lily Tomlin writing Dune, or Robert Altman filming Firefly, only much funnier and weirder.
“You didn’t read STARSTRUCK…you held on like a rollercoaster and tried to keep up.
“The most profound innovation of Starstruck was its redefinition of female leads. To be fair, a male industry selling to presumed teen boys had made some advances in the 70’s responding to Feminism. There were more women heroes up front, with equal strength and solo titles. But attitude and aggro don’t equal depth or range. And often it felt like they were still just stronger pin-ups for young guys who hadn’t worked out their range of respect yet beyond fists and fishnets. You wished there was a mature illustrated fiction where characters were just individuals with real personalities, period. Where gender was about as relevent as a shirt and sensuality was natural as breathing.
“But Starstruck was already beyond all that. Lee wasn’t interested in a SciFi that was trapped in the didactic slants of anyone’s war of the sexes. She unleashed a universe of possibility where everyone fended for themselves full-on. Everyone was as unique, quirky, irritating, horny, and surprising as reality. These people lived, they breathed, they were a riot. Seeing that fuller range in fruition was the real liberation.”
In August, 2009, the play was presented for the first time in 25 years as an audio theatre-style reading at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, CA, which funds benefitting comics legend Gene Colan. In attendance were creator Elaine Lee, original Starstruck cast members Karen Stilwell and Ruth Henderson Locke, Starstruck painter Lee Moyer (for the IDW series), and Brent Eric Anderson (Astro City artist).