Interview: Tom Hodges on The Clone Wars webcomic

With the start of the third season of The Clone Wars webcomic this week, fan-favorite Star Wars artist Tom Hodges has broken some new ground – adding the role of the story writer on top of the art work. Tom took the time to answer a few questions from Club Jade about this season’s webcomic, “The Valsedian Operation” and the creative process.

James: Season 3’s webcomic picks up the continuing story of padawan Tyzen Xebec, one of the main characters from last season’s webcomic. What’s in store for him, his new Master Keelyvine Reus, Commander Ganch, and Agricorp member Sanya in “The Valsedian Operation”?

Tom Hodges: This time out we’re going to be incorporating Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka into the mix. Keelyvine, Tyzen, Obi-Wan, Anakin and Ahsoka are sent out on a mission together, so we’ll get some great interaction between the group. But we’ll also be finding out more about Master Keelyvine in this particular story, which I’m really excited about because I had a large hand in creating her.

We also get a a glimpse at the Clones in a bit of “down time” in this story… it’s short lived, but will feature the RSO (Republic Service Organization) in a supporting role, a group near and dear to me as well. Sanya will be accompanying Ganch during this. So we’ll have two separate stories going along at the same time.

James: Glad to see that Ganch’s trip to the RSO with Sanya isn’t a sideline action, but a whole separate plot. Tell us more about the type of people who volunteer to support the clonetroopers.

Tom: It’s essentially the “USO” during the Clone Wars. The ladies of the RSO (and in a few cases, men) take care of the clonetroopers by providing entertainment, hot meals and small comforts of the regular world. While they’re clones, they’re still people and it’s a side you don’t get to see and showing it makes them more human, not just copies built for War. In my mind, brigades of ladies in support of the Republic’s Army head to safe zones of battle to bring them these things. I’ve also pointed out that they are provided with basic training on the off chance they are put in a situation. Rather than run and cower in a corner, they can stand along side the clones and assist.

You’ll see human women as well as Twi’leks and eventually other species helping out. This particular sub-plot takes place in the RSO Club on Coruscant.

James: Will the story in “The Valsedian Operation” be a season-long arc, like “Act on Instinct” was for season two?

Tom: As of right now, this storyline will cover the first half of Season 3. We’re still working on what direction the second half will go.

James: How is working on “The Valsedian Operation” different for you than your work on “Act on Instinct” with you now doing double duty on story and art? How does collaboration work between you, Pablo Hidalgo, and the rest of the team?

Tom: Originally, “The Valsedian Operation” was going to be a summer story. It was going bridge the gap of Season 2 and 3. What really wound up happening is we (Pablo and I) were both so busy with things like Celebration V, San Diego Comic Con, Grant Gould’s schedule (he’s coloring this story) and all the other randomness of work and life that Pablo just decided to bring it out as the Season 3 webcomic. I asked Pablo if I could take a crack at writing the summer comic. He had so much going on that he said to go for it. I had already had something in mind and being it would have been a summer comic, I was able to use characters like Anakin, Obi-Wan and Ahsoka as well as other Clone Wars regulars like Rex and Cody. It also gave me a HUGE opportunity to actually write a Star Wars story and flesh out not only Keelyvine Reus, Tyzen and Ganch but the RSO. I sent Pablo the story outline, after some tweaking this and removing that, we had an approved story.

As for working with Pablo, it’s been excellent. The advantage I have is that I am literally 8 minutes door to door from the Presidio and if Pablo needs to discuss some things face to face or I need to screen an upcoming episode, I can be there at a moments notice. He’s really open to ideas and I pretty much have had free reign on how I go about the art so long as I tell the story. As for the double duty, I like it! I hope to be given the opportunity more.

Working with the other artists has been pure hell though. Grant Gould has what I like to call a “J-Lo complex”… he’s nasty and evil at the drop of a dime. Jeff Carlisle is abusive… likes to throw heavy objects at your head. Katie Cook has a mouth on her like a sailor and Daniel Falconer is the Howard Hughes of the group… I hear he collects bottles of his own urine for future testing.

I’M KIDDING! (Except about Katie’s potty mouth.) They’ve all been great. When we started planning the web comic a couple years ago, Pablo asked me who I wanted to work with and I said without hesitating Grant Gould and Katie Cook. Pablo brought in Jeff and we had the Season 1 team. After that, Pablo had another Katie project in mind and he brought in Daniel, I believe at Jeff’s recommendation and it all worked out great. I wouldn’t imagine working with anyone else on this stuff.

James: As the summer story, “The Valsedian Operation” was going to fit between Seasons 2 and 3. Now as the Season 3 webcomic, does it still serve that role, or will it end up catching up in time with other developments in this season?

Tom: One of the great things about the animated series and what George Lucas and Dave Filoni have been doing is they haven’t exactly been showing episodes in chronological order as they occur. So this particular story, while it takes place after last season’s events, fits in events that may or may not have already happened in the Cartoon Network series. So that allows a bit of freedom so long as we don’t interrupt what they’re doing.

James: At Star Wars Celebration V, you and the rest of the webcomics team released the trade paperback to the first season’s webcomics. Anything you’d like to tell us about getting your webcomics into print?

Tom: It was a collaboration between Dreams & Visions Press (The Art of Ralph McQuarrie), StarWarsShop and of course, Dark Horse Comics. Stan Stice (D&V) approached Pablo and me about putting out a limited edition volume for CV. We were excited and went to Matt Martin at StarWarsShop. Matt was a fan of the webcomic and went through the channels and Dark Horse gave it the thumbs up. We sold A LOT of copies at CV and SWShop has gone through quite a bit as well, but they’re going fast, so if anyone missed out, I suggest snagging it while they can.

James: You’ve brought a distinctive style to your Star Wars art – how do you feel about having a particular style and being known for it?

Tom: When I was starting out, I was trying to be Jim Lee. I would look at his work and just be blown away at every turn. When I look at his work and then go and do my own thing, it made me crazy! I couldn’t get around how he did what he did and he always got better. He always progressed.

I got fed up and decided to just go back to school for animation. While there, I started developing myself a bit. Started looking at a lot more artists as well as started paying closer attention to Disney animation, old and new. So lots of other things started to influence me other then Jim’s work. He’s still there, just mixed in with everything else. The fact people can tell my work out of a line up is great, but I don’t think I’m done progressing. I think I am better then I am now and won’t stop trying to take it up a notch at every turn. I see work of mine from a year ago and cringe… stuff I did 10 years ago is EMBARRASSING to me. I just think if an artist stops progressing and stops trying to take it to another level that they don’t do themselves credit. Look at J. Scott Campbell’s work from 15 years ago and look at it now. It’s amazing and the guy keeps getting better. Adam Hughes gets better with every piece he does. I can only hop I can keep developing and progressing like those guys. There’s a reason they are where they are. I have a long way to go.

James: Well, your art now is fantastic, so I hope ten years down the road, you’ll look back at this time and be proud of your work. Congratulations on your first Star Wars story, and thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

See more of Tom Hodges’ art on his DeviantArt or follow @hodgesart on Twitter.

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