From a paperback reprint cover. Artist: Gil Kane.

STAR HAWKS

Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1977
Creators: Ron Goulart (writer) and Gil Kane (artist)
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With the vast majority of his credits at DC (where he did everything from Green Lantern to Space Cabby) and Marvel Comics (where he co-created Man-Wolf, Morbius the Living Vampire and many others), Gil Kane is mostly thought of as a mainstream comic book artist. But he had a maverick streak. He made no less than three major attempts to strike out on his own, carving out new territory in the …

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… comics field. In the first of those attempts, His Name Is Savage (1968), he helped establish the principle of creator ownership. In the second, Blackmark (1971), he explored a format that non-reprint comics stories hadn't used before. The third try, which he made in 1977, was Star Hawks.

Star Hawks (no relation), which Kane did with writer Ron Goulart (better known for writing comics history than for actual comics), was his first foray into newspaper comics. Where he broke new ground this time was in formatting the daily strip in two tiers, that is, like two comics tied together. That way, he was able to experiment with the layout, something difficult to do in traditional comics, which limit the action to a single horizontal line. (The Sunday version was formatted the usual way.) This wasn't quite the first time that had been tried — cartoonist Arn Saba had done it two years earlier with Neil the Horse — but it was a first for a mainstream U.S. syndicate.

That syndicate was Newspaper Enterprise Association (Wash Tubbs, Priscilla's Pop), which launched it on Monday, October 3, 1977. The title was less innovative. With the movie Star Wars, which came out earlier that year, reverberating through the media, the word "star" was an immensely popular opening to the name of a science fiction series or group of characters during the late 1970s and early '80s. DC's Star Hunters, Marvel's Starjammers and Gold Key's Starstream are only a few examples, from comic books alone.

Nor did it innovate in storylines. Star Hawks featured pure action and adventure, like early sci-fi comics such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, rather than the more thoughtful, modern style such as Twin Earths and Beyond Mars (which were still full of action and adventure, but depended less on that). The heroes, Rex and Chavez, with their dog, Sniffer, were interstellar law enforcers, protecting the populace from evil cyborgs, mutants and other villains.

Unfortunately, trends in the publishing industry strongly favored smaller, not larger sizes for newspaper comics. The Star Hawks dailies assumed normal size as of Monday, July 30, 1979. But the damage, in terms of interest on the part of editors and consequently circulation for the strip, was already done. Ron Goulart had left in April, replaced by Archie Goodwin (Vampirella, Manhunter). Later writers include Roger McKenzie (Daredevil, Captain America) and Roger Stern (West Coast Avengers, Starman). The strip spiraled into oblivion as of May 2, 1981.

But while it wasn't popular among the newspaper editors who buy comics, it did spark interest among comics readers. It won a National Cartoonists' Society award, given by their fellow professionals, for best story strip. It was carried by The Menomonee Falls Gazette, the tabloid newspaper devoted exclusively to comics such as The Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, from its very beginning. It was also reprinted in standard paperback size by Ace/Tempo Books (Hi & Lois, Hagar the Horrible), in a larger format by Blackthorne (Nervous Rex, Kerry Drake), and in standard comic book format by several publishers. Amazing Heroes magazine, which has been called the TV Guide of comics, ran the series in 1982.

Nowhere, however, was a complete run available, until Hermes Press published one in 2004. This book has been criticized for poor production values, but it's the only way to read Star Hawks in its entirety.

— DDM

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Text ©2008-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Gil Kane.