John Jackson Miller: A New Dawn Interview

We’ve spoken to our latest guest on three previous occasions, back in 2006 and 2012 and now he’s back once again with the first novel in the new ‘canon’ era, A New Dawn. Please welcome back to Jedi News John Jackson Miller.

JN: Dark Horse Comics has arguably changed the landscape of licensed comics by delivering sustained duration, quality and diversity – something the industry had began to struggle with in licensed properties. Many say that they have redefined and reshaped that part of the comic world. As a comic historian through your site www.comichron.com, how do you think Dark Horse Comics tenure as Star Wars licensee will be defined and remembered?

JJM: It’s up there with some of the really important long-duration licensed comics relationships in history, for sure. It’s as long as Marvel’s relationship with the Conan properties from the 1970s to the 1990s — yet I’m pretty sure the output in terms of number of pages produced for Star Wars was greater. For duration and number of releases, you might have to go back to Western Publishing and its Disney and Warner Brothers comics, which published under Dell and Gold Key from the 1930s to the 1980s to find something longer-running.

And yet what Dark Horse was able to do was a difference of more than scale. By working closely with Lucasfilm and its other licensees, it was able to participate in some unprecedented projects, like Shadows of the Empire, really adding to our notion of what comics inspired by a film series could do. So I think, yeah, it will be remembered as very important for a long time. They certainly helped me.

JN: You are perhaps in a rare position in Star Wars literature in that you have worked in comics and novels for Star Wars, including comic / prose hybrids such as your Knight Errant / Lost Tribe of the Sith series, and later the novel Kenobi, which many may not know began life conceptually as a graphic novel. How does the creative process differ for you in writing in either format, and has working with a story group changed that at all?

JJM: In prose, of course, you don’t have the artist to convey the appearance of characters and settings; it’s all on you. And while that is an added challenge, there are added benefits, in that you can really get into characters’ minds and delve into some issues that might not be very visual. After the thought balloon vanished from comics in the 1990s, that eliminated one tool we had for conveying characters’ motivations; in prose, it’s not a problem.

The Lucasfilm Story Group assists in the conceptualization of a story in the beginning, making sure it fits with what’s going on elsewhere in other media; they’re also able to suggest some things that might be done in a story to tie it in better with something that’s coming up down the road. In the NEW DAWN case, it didn’t feel like too major a change from what had been done in the past; it added some additional pairs of eyes and additional voices at some stages, which made sure that everything synched up properly. It was pretty smooth.

JN: You have previously mentioned that Marvel’s Star Wars was the one of the first comic series you actively purchased, and back in the late 70s Star Wars was one of a number of drivers that re-envigored the comics industry. We are now in something of resurgence in comic buying once more, certainly helped by Marvel’s highly successful movie series. With Star Wars and Marvel back hand in hand, how do you feel about the future of the comic industry, and specifically Star Wars comics?

JJM: The industry is in pretty good shape in relative terms; as I reported in my joint analysis with ICV2, 2013 was a great year, with combined print and digital comics sales in North America reaching $870 million. The important part is that comics sales are no longer solely reliant upon the periodicals; they’ve also got collected editions (which was one place which Dark Horse really helped to pioneer things) — and digital, too, is serving as an additional leg supporting the table, so to speak. Add in the attention from films, and that’s gravy.

Marvel has taken the baton back, relay-race style; I’ve seen some of their announcements and they look interesting. It’s nice to see that they’re reprinting Dark Horse’s material; it would be great to see it all remaining in print, as it’s been constantly available for a long time.

JN: Kenobi succeeded on both commercial and critical levels. It is fresh out in paperback adorned in splendour with the Legends logo. You decided to tackle the character from the viewpoint of the other unfamiliar characters in the novel. This is perhaps a structure more akin to comics, but rarely tracked in novels. What was the motivation behind this structure?

JJM: Well, the structure may owe more to film — and movies like SHANE, which has a lot of similar themes. It just struck me that if we did a story in which we were in Obi-Wan’s mind all the time, it might well come off as overwrought, with him always thinking about what had happened to the Republic and to Anakin. And while he does think about those things often, he’s not an overwrought character; he’s a cool customer. And so it struck me that the best way to make a little Obi-Wan go a long way was to show most of his actions through others’ eyes. It seemed to work, and I’m glad we got to take that chance.

JN: You now have the pleasure of introducing us to a new canon in Star Wars, and the chance to introduce the characters and events of the new Star Wars Rebels TV series with your new novel A New Dawn. It’s a novel that goes quite deep in developing the nature of the Empire and touches on motifs found in the Soviet Union of old in showcasing the corruption and impact on normal peoples life’s through initially subtle but ultimately devastating actions; but it also gives us the fun and not stop thrills that readers of your work such as Knights of the Old Republic will love to experience once more in your writing. What were your objectives for the novel, and what can readers expect from this latest adventure?

JJM: My objectives were as they always are, to tell a good Star Wars story — but additionally, I was looking to explore what life would be like in this little-seen era, when the Empire is really beefing up its military and beginning to take control of more and more spheres of public life. It struck me that there would be people who were true believers, who would be actors in the novel; and also people who were beginning to ask questions, and that’s where Hera comes in. The rebellion didn’t spring up overnight; people had to be moved to action. And then throwing a wild card like Kanan in there makes it even more interesting, since he has both a reason to hate the Empire and a reason not to want to get involved.

I found out about its introductory role later on in the writing, but it didn’t change my approach a whole lot: I always try to write novels so as to be approachable to readers who aren’t that familiar with the milieu. I drew on the past works some, just as Rebels does — a lot of locations and concepts will sound familiar. How a story fits in with other stories really isn’t the way to judge a book, ultimately: it’s how reading it makes you feel. But I tried to do my best to write a story that addressed the Story Group’s needs and that felt like the Star Wars novels we’ve been used to reading. If people end up remembering this novel because of the story and the characters more than anything else, it really will have succeeded, as far as I’m concerned.

You can visit John at his websites Faraway Press, Comichron and on Twitter @jjmfaraway. John Jackson Miller Interview Copyright 2014 Jedi News. No part of this interview can be reproduced without prior written consent from Jedi News.

Mark Newbold
Former Daily Content Manager and Program Director for Jedi News and the podcast network. Co-host RADIO 1138 and Take Cover on the Jedi News Network.