Interview: Ron Goulart on IDW’s Star Hawks Vol. 1

Star Hawks Vol. 1 HC

Star Hawks Vol. 1 HC


Ron Goulart has written many novels, short stories, comics, and books about comics such as Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey: Adventure, Intrigue and Romance, Good Girl Art, Comic Book Culture: An Illustrated History, and more. He also created the science fiction comic strip Star Hawks with artist Gil Kane. Star Hawks is now being collected in a series of three deluxe volumes from IDW and The Library of American Comics. Goulart recently spoke with Westfield’s Roger Ash about his work on Star Hawks.

Westfield: How did you and Gil Kane come together to do Star Hawks?

Ron Goulart: My wife and I and our two sons moved from California to Connecticut. I met artist Gill Fox when I first got here. I called him up for an interview because I wanted to write some pieces about comics and he said to come over. He invited me to join this group of cartoonists and a couple writers in the area who had lunch together once a week. I got into that and got to know most of these guys. Gil Kane, his wife Elaine, and their kids moved to Connecticut and happened to settle in the same town. We lived about a 10 minute walk or 5 minute drive from where he was. Someone in the cartoonists group decided to have a welcoming party for Gil. So I went to the party and he said, “Oh my boy, I’ve read all your stuff. I’m a great fan of your science fiction.” We talked and he said, “Why don’t I send you over to Roy Thomas at Marvel and you could do some writing?” That was how I got into writing comic books. I did a lot of horror. I adapted some H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch.

Later, Gill Fox was doing a panel called Side Glances for NEA. His editor, John “Flash” Fairfield, was coming to visit him. Gill invited me to lunch with them and some other cartoonists. Gill Fox was a bit of a matchmaker. He got Stan Drake to do The Heart of Juliette Jones for Elliot Caplin. I had done some comic strip samples in the past for Caplin, which he didn’t like, but I had shown them to Gill Fox and some people at lunch once. Flash Fairfield had told Gill that they were looking to do a sciejnce fiction strip sort of like Star Trek. They had tried to get the rights to Star Trek, but it was too expensive. He asked Gill if he knew anyone who could write it. He said, “I know a guy.” So, after our lunch, we went over to the library and Gill said, “Let’s go look in the science fiction section.” And he introduced me to Flash as the guy who wrote some of the books there. Flash asked if I’d be interested in writng a strip. I said I could do that. By some strange chance, Flash’s wife was a librarian and said she loved my stuff and brought him some of my books from the library. He called me and said he was a big fan of Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond. He asked me to write a sample and I suggested Gil Kane as the artist. No one at NEA had ever heard of Gil. I said, “Let me see if he’ll do some samples.” He said OK. By that time I had sent him some sample scripts for a strip I called Star Cops, but we changed it to Star Hawks because no one but me thought the name was any good.

The initial sales poster for Star Hawks

The initial sales poster for Star Hawks


They decided Gil was the guy they should use. I did scripts for the first two weeks and Gil, who was also drawing like 50 covers a year at Marvel, was behind on his deadlines and said “I’m going to do three finished strips and another six or seven penciled.” I sent them, and Flash Fairfield said, “These are great. I’ll talk it over with my people and we’ll get back to you.” His people were all older men and they didn’t understand what Gil was doing in the art. The other thing that Flash wanted was two tiers, so the strip was twice as big. A couple weeks later, he called and said “I can’t get a go ahead, but I’ll keep plugging you guys because I think it’s great.”

It sat on his desk for like three or four months. Meanwhile, though people say this is not true, but it is, Star Wars appeared and everyone in the country was lining up to see it. The NEA syndicate got a deal to have a six day synopsis of Star Wars with photos in the papers. So they came back to Flash and said, “Hey! We’d like to do a science fiction strip. Do you have anything like that?” He said, “I got it right here.” Eventually they gave us the go ahead on it. Gil finished the first three weeks and they thought that was terrific but nobody got around to signing a contract with us. We finally had a meeting with the head of the syndicate and talked over the deal. We only picked up about 50 or 60 papers.

Westfield: How did papers respond to the two tier format?

Goulart: There was a thing at the time called the Comics Council. Every year they had a meeting of cartoonists from all over the country. That year, there was one in Detroit. Gil and I flew there and they put us up at the hotel. At the meeting, Jules Feiffer was one of the speakers and he got up and said “I’m seeing a lot of new strips but the best thing I’ve seen is Gil Kane’s Star Hawks.” Jules Feiffer saying that, who was a very hot ticket, was really great.

The first Star Hawks strip

The first Star Hawks strip


There were also editors there from all over the country who were in charge of buying the comics. Several of them came over to us and said, “Boy, we love this. But if we take your strip, we have to drop Hagar the Horrible or Beetle Bailey or some other popular comic, and we can’t do that.” We had several big papers around the country pick us up, but it wasn’t enough to make us a hit. We had a guaranteed minimum for what we were paid, but it wasn’t very big. It wasn’t enough to keep Gil at the drawing board just drawing Star Hawks. I was just doing it as a sideline, but I was working with Gil, which was a great experience. I worked on it for almost two years. We got together every week, sometimes two or three time a week, and we worked it out together. He made rough sketches, then thumbnails. I scripted it and then he did the final drawings. It was a lot of work. For a while Gil said, “I think I could do two strips. One would be a regular sized strip and one would be the big one.” That would have taken twice as much work. If the strip had been bringing in a lot of money, we could do it, but it wasn’t. They reprinted a few months of the strip in an album in France, and we picked up a few papers in Europe, but not enough to make a go of it. From my point of view, it took up a lot of time. I kept writing stories and books, otherwise I couldn’t have survived. Gil and I had both always wanted to do a comic strip, so this was our chance. Gil once said, “By the time I got one, it’s OK but it’s too late to have made a big difference.”

By the time I was thrown off the strip and Archie Goodwin was writing it, they finally decided to go down to a one tier strip

Rex, Chavez, and Sniffer

Rex, Chavez, and Sniffer


Westfield: For someone who hasn’t read Star Hawks, who are the main characters in the strip?

Goulart: At the time, I was watching Starsky and Hutch and I Spy. There were a lot of shows with two guys, so I used that. The Star Hawks are basically intergalactic policemen. They fly around in this satellite which is called the Hoosegow. They police the whole Barnum System. If something’s happening on one planet, they go there. The hero is Rex Jaxan. I had originally called him Ben. Gil said, “Heroes aren’t named Ben. It should be Rex.” I said, “Rex is a name for a dog.” But it became Rex. His sidekick is Chavez. He didn’t have a last name. My favorite character is Sniffer the robot dog who works with the team. I’ve done several stories about robot animals, especially robot dogs. But cats, too. There was a talking robot dog who was Robotman’s sidekick in DC Comics in the forties. He was something of an egotist and a wiseass. The stories, drawn by Jimmy Thompson, made a strong impression on my teenage brain. Earlier I was impressed by the talking glass cat in the early OZ books.

The Star Hawks in action

The Star Hawks in action


Westfield: One thing I find interesting about Star Hawks is, as you said, it’s set in the Barnum System, which is also used in a number of your novels. Why did you decide to set it there?

Goulart: The syndicate had no idea about that. When the strip started, two or three people wrote letters saying, “Oh, my God. It’s Ron Goulart. I love his books about Barnum and it’s taking place in Barnum.” My fan base was not like somebody who had millions of readers. I wasn’t Phil Dick. I said what the hell. I’ve got this world and I know all about it.

Something that bothered the syndicate was that I was doing things where there were cat people or dog people. They didn’t understand that. They said “How come these characters have human bodies but animal heads? What’s going on?” I was just picking things up from the books I had been doing. I already had the whole world. I didn’t have to invent another Mongo or Barsoom or something; I had my own planets.

The other thing that happened at the syndicate was when the first Superman movie came out, they said, “How come the Star Hawks guys don’t fly? Can they fly?” I said “They could fly if they had something on their backs. They don’t have super powers.” They said, “Could you have them fly?” We had a new editor and she said, “A lot of the salesmen said that if these guys could fly it would really pick up because Superman’s really hot now and this is like Superman.” I said, “It’s not” but I think we had things they strapped on their backs and they flew.

Another thing we got from some of the salesmen was “When does this take place?” When I wrote the introduction to the series, I said this takes place in the future and this is what’s happening. But they wanted to know when. I said, “It’s like Buck Rogers; the 25th century.” That made them happy.

I was probably not the guy best suited to do this because I wanted to do real science fiction and not do what everybody thought was science fiction – a lot of spaceships and people killing each other in space. We had a lot of that in there because that’s what they wanted. Gil was great at designing and drawing spaceships.

A mystery begins

A mystery begins


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Goulart: People say the strip was innovative, some people said it at the time, and it’s too bad no one followed up on it afterwards. The reason no one did is because from the time we did the strip till now, comics are not as important in the newspaper. It’s nice to be able to say I was involved in an innovative comic. It would have been nice if it had taken off and was still running and I was still writing it.

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Star Hawks Vol. 1 HC

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