The success of the french Métal Hurlant, featuring artists like Jean Giraud (Mœbius), Enki Bilal and Alejandro Jodorowsky and the subsequent American Heavy Metal, which took on much of the same violent, dark and often erotic tones in its anthologies of fantasy and sci-fi stories, caused a shift in the comic book world in the mid–70s.
These weren’t barrel chested superheroes protecting innocent bystanders from maniacal super villains; they were anti-heroes with morals almost as questionable as the those of the forces they were up against. The stories were less about saving the world from doomsday weapons, and more about simply surviving where life was cheap. Curvaceous, scantily clad women and hard-boiled, one-liner spouting man’s men in stories where drugs, prostitution and hyper-violence was everyday business. It was all underlined by experimental stylistic directions, sociopolitical commentary and an often dark sense of humor that kept the stories from drifting too far overboard.
One of the artists working at this time was Howard Chaykin, whom Lucas ended up getting in touch with through his comic book art gallery business partner at the time, Edward Summer. They met in 1976 and saddled with a box of 4000 stills and copies of Ralph McQuarries conceptual paintings, Chaykin went off to work on the very first advance poster and the Marvel adaptation of the film. "The stills were incredibly dead and inert. They looked like a high school science project. What freaked me out when I saw the film was it ended up looking like the McQuarry paintings, and that was the most profound effect, that they managed to do all the work in post. It’s a tribute to what was done to that film after it was shot. […] Had I known, I probably would’ve worked harder on it. I still haven’t gotten over the resentment of the fact that it existed in the pre-royalty times so I got chump change for those books.” He left after only ten issues to return to his work on more experimental and adult books.
One of his early characters was Ironwolf, featured in the last three issues, of the short-lived Weird Worlds. Ironwolf was an officer in the Empire Galaktika, who got caught between two warring factions and ended up turning space pirate with his ship, the Limerick Rake. It’s hard not to see certain parallels to Han Solo, and Ironwolf even at one time seeks refuge with a rebel leader (who turns out to be as corrupt as everyone else). “They took away his world, now he’s fighting an empire to get it back…” even appears on the cover of one of the issues. Associations with Star Wars come fast and hard.
Ironwolf was short-lived, but Chaykin soon revisited the Alex Raymond-like concept of a swashbuckling space-pirate with Cody Starbuck, who premiered in Star Reach magazine #1, published in April, 1974. Complete with cutlass and six-shooters, Cody Starbuck could easily have been an x-rated prototype of Han Solo.
Whether that’s the case or not is hard to say. Han Solo is more gunslinger than swashbuckler. And while it’s easy to say space-pirate and think they’re two birds of a feather, fact of the matter is that Chaykin’s stories were of a considerably different type and tone than anything Star Wars ever was. Yes, they abound with ambassadors, star fleets and an emperor, and yes Cody Starbuck even went so far as to rescue a princess. But where Han Solo was a scoundrel, Cody Starbuck was often decidedly vicious and amoral. “Thus begins an odyssey of violence,” reads one panel, and indeed it did.
Howard Chaykin: Back to the Drawing Board by Philip Schweier. ComicBookBin, March 13th, 2006. Retrieved March 11th, 20013.