This snippet of an interview with George Lucas on comic books appears in one of two episodes of the program Camera Three on CBS, called The American Comic Strip, which aired in 1978. It comes originally from Edward Summer's film project The Men Who Made the Comics and was filmed in 1975 during the making of Star Wars. Ed Summer and George Lucas were business partners around this time in the Supersnipe Comic Art Gallery.
Ed told me that he lost the footage from the interview, but that he still had the audio. He also recorded interviews with a bunch of other people, in his own words:
"Somewhere around this time. I got a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to do a film interviewing all the great living comic book and comic strip artists, it's how I met some more people. Milton Caniff, Chuck Jones who actually wrote a comic strip, people don't know it, Ray Bradbury, some Disney people, Dick Cumer and Hal Foster who did Prince Valiant, Jack Kirby, I'm sure you know who Jack Kirby is? Jack and I had been very good friends before he moved to California. And most, well maybe not most importantly, but Carl Barks who was the guy that invented Uncle Scrooge, and was a really key figure in my life. He was my hero."
Several of those interviews appear alongside this one with George Lucas, in these Camera Three episodes from CBS. I don't think Ed ever finished his documentary, he mentioned to me that it "ended up in fragments on CBS," and I think what he was referring to were these episodes of The American Comic Strip.
To the best of my knowledge, these episodes and any of the interviews in them, including the ones originally filmed by Ed, haven't aired for about 40 years.
Narrator: George Lucas the director of American Graffiti and Star Wars is a longtime dedicated fan of the comics. He collects the artist's original drawings of Prince Valiant and Flash Gordon
GL: Basically, you know, my main interest in school and ever since has been cultural anthropology and sociology and those related social fields. And so my take on art is more culturally oriented, and I look at art as a sort of a way of judging a culture and understanding— not really what it looks like or anything, but what the people were thinking, and what the people were feeling, and what was going on in a particular time. And the comic books and comic art is a really strong and a very— it's a very close to the pulse of the culture kind of art.
It's really a cultural signpost of the times in which it was drawn, which is to me the most important aspect of art. I think it's a lot more important than say, you know, New Hampshire landscapes or anything like that. I mean it really tells you what's going on in a country or what the people are feeling at a particular moment in history.
And that way I don't think it'll ever die out. I think what is drawn today will be come very important. It's the hieroglyphs, or the graffiti of our times.
Edward Summer Interview on May 19, 2012
This excerpt talking about the George Lucas interview is from a series of recordings I made of Ed and I in 2012. The rest will go up soon.
ES: And when I made the film on the National Endowment Grant [The Men Who Made the Comics, unreleased] one of the people I interviewed was George. We went over to Ralph [McQuarrie]’s house. Ralph had a little studio out behind his house, I remember it had a screen-door on a spring that would slam closed every time you opened and closed it. He had a drawing table and it turned out I had the only photographs of George and Gary and I and Ralph McQuarrie together in his studio, and the only photographs of the drawings sitting out on his drawing board and on the wall. They've been reprinted a million times now, they're in The Art of Star Wars books. It's like the frontispiece in The Art of Ralph McQuarrie.
And I had George on camera as the only person that ever interviewed him on camera at the time (red. that’s not accurate, Lucas had appeared at least twice on camera previously once for The New Cinema and once for Maker of Films), and I kept asking him… What I used to do is pre-interviews. This is how it used to work in those days, this is sort of interesting to know. 16mm film was very expensive and you couldn't just turn the camera on and record the way that you're doing now. You're not even using tape, this is going on to a computer chip and you'll upload it to your computer. I don't know how you work, but it's a little file of dits and dots, not literally but figuratively, and with 16mm film you had to buy the film, you had to develop it, you had to workprint it. It was a whole long process. In those days it cost tens of thousands of dollars, in modern terms it costs hundreds of thousands dollars to shoot in 16mm, which is theoretically the cheapest of all the forms. And today you can go buy a little cassette for six bucks and shoot two hours. You can use a hard drive and just reuse it, I mean you don't have to use materials.
So you'd pre-interview people.
My crew and I—Michael Sullivan and Sam Grossman and I—went over to George's house and pre-interviewed him for an hour or so. I remember Sam fitting a microphone on him, and I think we have a photograph of it—I have photos of this, so if you get your act together I'll give you some of the photos—but you have to do something nice with it.
MH: I'd love to.
ES: So we were pre-interviewing George at his house. He and Marcia had a little house on Lucas Street, I said "is it anything?” he said "no, it's just a coincidence.”
And it was a sweet little house, it had the strangest backyard which was entirely taken up by one tree. There was no room for anything else except this tree. There was no grass. There were no flowers. There was just this tree from the back of the house to this fence and then to the sides of the houses next to it. And I remember they had a really great little rocking horse, a wooden rocking horse, in the house. And it had a little bedroom and... [food arrives]
Georgia had just come back—I don't remember what he did, maybe a radio show—somebody interviewed him for something and I remember him saying that he mentioned this book, The Hero With a Thousand faces, the [Joseph] Campbell book. And I remember him saying that he told them that he was interested in that kind of mythology, and he said "do you think that's a good thing?" and I said "yeah, I mean, that's a good book. It's an interesting thing." So far as I know that was the first time he ever talked about that in an interview.
But over the years he and Joe Campbell became friendly and a lot of the interviews for PBS were done at George's house, so it went way back. I guess he'd taken an anthropology course at one time or another. It seems to me he went to a junior college someplace, but I could be wrong.
But he and his sister had a big comic book collection and because I was making a film about the influences of cartoon art, comic strips, comic books, I kept pressing him about that and he said that there wasn't a comic book influence on Star Wars. I've always suspected that that was because at the time comic books were considered so low class that he may not have wanted to have stigmatized it. I even asked him that on camera. I thought I could nail him, and he wouldn't answer the question, he was annoyed.
I didn't interview Ralph on camera; we didn't have enough film. I mean these days you'd walk in with a digital camera. You could interview the cockroaches.
I have quarter inch tape of that interview someplace, If or somebody comes up with a budget I'll find it. Nobody has ever heard that interview.
As an addendum, Lucas also wrote 'An Appreciation' for the Edward Summer edited Carl Barks compilation Uncle Scrooge McDuck - His Life and Times. I don't have a better place to park this for now, so I'll leave it here:
I grew up in a time when television was just beginning to present itself in the American living room. Prior to that, comics were my main form of home entertainment. Some of the very first comics I obtained were written by Carl Barks. I had a subscription to Walt Disney's Comics and Stories and liked the Scrooge character so much that I immediately went out and bought all the Uncle Scrooge comics I could find on the newsstand.
My greatest source of enjoyment in Carl Barks' comics is in the imagination of his stories. They're so full of crazy ideas - unique and special and bizarre - not in the sense that, to a child during the fifties, they were extremely exotic.
The stories are also very cinematic. They have a clear beginning, middle, and end, and operate in scenes, unlike many comic strips and books. Barks' stories don't just move from panel to panel, but flow in sequences - sometimes several pages long - that lead to new sequences.
Carl Barks' world view involves poking fun at the materialistic tendencies that all people have and praising their more sociable, brotherly aspects. Donald Duck and Huey, Dewey, and Louie (especially as Junior Woodchucks) are all other-oriented, generous, and charitable. While Scrooge is an individualistic miser, the others participate more in the family relationship. Scrooge uses Donald and the nephews for help, but he is really separate - yet never really opposed to them. The lure of material things is clearly a main theme throughout all of the Scrooge stories.
I think the reason Carl Barks' stories have endured and have had such international appeal is primarily their strength as good stories. Yet on a deeper level, they display American characteristics that are readily recognizable to the reader: ingenuity, integrity, determination, a kind of benign avarice, boldness, a love of adventure, and a sense of humor. Even the foreign reader is given a certain perspective on American culture.
Sociologists have studied comics as reflections of the society of their times. In addition to the artistic pleasure given by comic stories and drawings such as Carl Carks', comic art has something to say about the culture that produces it.
What I think I enjoy most about Uncle Scrooge is that he is so American in his attitude. These comics are one of the few things you can point to that say: like it or not, this is what America is. And it is for just this reason that they are a priceless part of our literary heritage.
I'm also including this introduction by George Lucas to a 1991 re-release collection of the Star Wars comics drawn by Al Williamson (who was also a prolific Flash Gordon artist) for two reasons, firstly because it's on the topic of Lucas's relationship to comic books, but also because Ed Summer mentioned the collection in one of our interviews, and so it helps draw the broader picture.
By George Lucas
This book is a tribute to the wonderful comic art of Al Williamson. It depicts only a small part of Al's vast contribution to the genre—his work on the Star Wars comic strip during the early 1980s. Combining Al's talents and the Star Wars saga was a natural, but few people know that it almost didn't happen.
I grew up in the era of comics. Even after television permanently entered American homes, I loved the fantasies of Alex Raymond. They showed boundless imagination, heroism, and a remarkable cinematic dimension.
I didn't know it back then, but Al Williamson shared my love for the genre, particularly the Flash Gordon series. It was no wonder that I became a real fan of Al's work for EC Comics.
When Marvel was looking for an artist to illustrate the first Star Wars comic book, I immediately thought of Al. Unfortunately, Al was tied up on a newspaper strip and unavailable.
After Star Wars was released, we decided to do a syndicated comic strip as well as the continuing series of Marvel comics. Again we approached Al. For a variety of reasons, the time just wasn't right and we had to go forward with another artist, who soon became very ill and could not continue the strip.
Now Al approached me. He wanted to revive the strip, in collaboration with Archie Goodwin, a very talented comic writer. We were about to begin shooting The Empire Strikes Back, so I was more than a little preoccupied. With some hesitation, I agreed to go forward.
I'm glad we did. The result is a body of work that makes a great contribution not only to the art of Star Wars but to comic art in general. I'm especially happy that we can present Al's work in this collection, reproduced with the quality and detail that shows it best. I hope that it will inspire a new generation of artists and filmmakers.
Finally here’s the introduction Lucas wrote for the 2007 book Alex Raymond – His Life and Art.
Alex Raymond – Introduction by George Lucas
Growing up in California, I was enchanted by two things … race cars and Flash Gordon. The first love I put to use in American Graffiti; the second eventually turned into Star Wars.
As a boy I was enthralled by the escapades of Flash Gordon, both in the Saturday Matinee Serials, starring Buster Crabbe and the Sunday Comic pages. The unending adventures always left me wanting more. It provided the perfect “escapism” for my young mind.
Not many remember this, but before Star Wars was born, I first approached King Features Syndicate, the license holders of Flash Gordon, about securing the rights to make a feature film. The idea seemed perfectly fitted to the screen. Due to monetary differences this never happened.
I was still determined to make an epic fantasy film—something the kids would enjoy. I chose to make my own variation on the space fantasy theme. Just as Raymond had drawn inspiration from Jules Verne and others, I drew inspiration from Raymond. Combining it with bits and pieces from all my favorite mythologies. I put together the initial ideas for Star Wars. Had it not been for Alex Raymond and Flash Gordon, there might not have been a Star Wars.
In looking at Raymond’s illustration work, what is most evident was the versatility the man possessed. He could draw a fantasy creature or a Marine writing home and make you believe it. His illustrations contain the same grace and power, the same sense of dignity as found in the comic strip work. The quiet, thoughtful serenity of his Marine paintings give us a glimpse into the character of the man behind the pictures. One also notes the care that went into the work itself.
Alex Raymond’s boundless imagination has inspired me and countless others to pursue their own fantasies. His presence is still felt and remembered so many years after his death, and he has directly or indirectly touched u all. I for one, am very thankful for his inspiration.
San Rafael, California