A moderately long time ago … in a galaxy suspiciously like our own … a strange and entertaining Maine-made comics series is taking place.
In it, a rakish smuggler named Hansel and his fringe-jacketed, unintelligibly hulking companion from another land, Chuey, race around the dusty reaches of 1974 Barstow, California, in their custom van (the Bicentennial Falcon) in order to save his rich girlfriend, Princess, from the evil machinations of her politically ambitious father, Dr. Don Vaeder, who is in the thrall of the dark lord of all the land, Richard Nixon. Oh, and there’s a naïve, adventure-seeking farmboy named Lucas in there, too.
That’s the set-up for “Summer of ’74,” an ambitiously satirical and silly graphic novel from Maine movie producer and now comic book creator Scott Taylor. Taylor (who’s produced Maine director Kyle Rankin’s feature’s “The Witch Files” and “Night of the Living Deb,” among other things) is deep into creating and planning a sprawling, suspiciously “Star Wars”-esque tale of 1970s rebels, oppressive government types, fast vehicles, derring-do and more cultural references than you can shake a lightsaber at. For Taylor, the melding of political satire, comedy and George Lucas’ “Star Wars” universe is an obsession that’s occupied him for a long, long time.
All the way back in 2012, Taylor says he and his late friend Liam Scheff were talking “Star Wars,” like two self-respecting “Star Wars” geeks do, when Scheff asked him, “What is ‘Star Wars’ when you take away the space wizards and laser swords?” Naturally (to them both, anyway), the answer came back as a wide-ranging, free-form reinterpretation of George Lucas’ sci-fi, mythic space opera of good and evil as a 1970s adventure of cops, smugglers, an evil president, shadowy corporate intrigue and the occasional ill-advised jaunt through time. The pair eventually turned all of their transformative ruminations into a stage play called “Summer of ’74” that played at Portland’s PortFringe festival. Now, Taylor is continuing his journey into unauthorized spinoff adventure with a planned three-part (and beyond) graphic novel series alongside Maine comics artist Bob Tkacik.
With Tkacik (“rhymes with magic,” explains Taylor) giving vibrant, witty life to the ideas that have long been whooshing through his febrile imagination, Taylor is planning a December release of the first volume of his saga. As to why he went the comic book route, moviemaker Taylor was succinct. “I didn’t have $2 million for proof of concept.” Fair enough. But while the self-published comics format is more economical, it’s hardly free, which is why Taylor has taken his quest to the online crowdfunding site Kickstarter.
With a hard deadline for the all-or-nothing campaign encroaching like an especially slow-moving Star Destroyer (his $11,000 target must be reached by May 31), Taylor is hoping enough of the sci-fi faithful will hop on board his own customized “Star Wars” vehicle to help make his unique dream a marketable reality. Explaining that fan-funded Kickstarter is now the third-largest publisher of comics (behind Marvel and DC) in the country, Taylor calls the collaborative approach it represents the first step – as one Jedi master once said – into a larger world.
“I just want it to keep going,” Taylor said. “These stories just give me joy. They’ve been in my head for seven years, and now it’s time to get them out.” As to why his particular “Star Wars”-meets-1970s-America milieu makes sense to him, Taylor points to “Star Wars” creator Lucas’ adaptation of the myth-making universality written about by Joseph Campbell as his inspiration. “ ‘Star Wars’ defined my childhood,” Taylor said. “It excited my mythic imagination. Lucas drew from Campbell’s concept of archetypes and perfectly captured lightning in a bottle, with all of the myths of the past repackaged in a way exciting and new to a generation of kids and young adults.” (For illustration, Taylor traces “The Empire Strikes Back’s” snow speeder tow cables tactic back to J.R.R. Tolkien, then back to Hannibal’s elephants.)
And “Summer of ’74’s” setting allows Taylor to apply those same good and evil archetypes to American history, a cheeky marriage of movie references and the messy, sometimes downright Vader-esque machinations of an American government whose rapaciousness doesn’t always line up with the myth of American exceptionalism. “The art of satire means taking something familiar and adding in a little twist,” said Taylor, pointing to his Chuey’s experience as a refugee from Guatemala as one cleverly layered example. “Chuey’s fled from the 1954 Guatemalan coup (led by the CIA) to America. He’s got PTSD and self-medicates with cannabis, which is one of the reasons why nobody in the story can understand him.”
But what about that whole copyright situation, especially now that Lucas has sold his entire “Star Wars” universe to the questionably evil, undoubtedly litigious empire that is Disney? Taylor, citing the “fair use” doctrine, says that his affectionate satire of both America and the “Star Wars” franchise won’t run afoul of any squadrons of Disney lawyers. “It’s a comment on society and the source material itself,” Taylor explained. “Like Lucas did with people like Campbell, and Tolkien, and other sources, it’s about taking the archetypes and refining them.” (Taylor also notes that his band of rebels will run into some other well-known sci-fi properties, like “Doctor Who” and “Back to the Future,” along the way.)
So if you can’t get enough “Star Wars” or think the incessant strip-mining of Lucas’ characters for mildly disappointing spinoff films needs a quirky, potent refresher, then the “Summer of ’74″ is out there, just waiting for your assistance. And remember, help them – you’re their only hope.
COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS
Starts Friday, May 24: “Ask Dr. Ruth.” This documentary looks at the eventful, often painful life of everyone’s favorite thick-accented, diminutive, unlikely sex expert. The now 90-year-old sex therapist and Holocaust survivor still has plenty to say about the bigotry, misinformation and hangups that continue to plague Americans’ sex lives and policies.
Wednesday, May 29: “Wonder Woman.” The Bayside Rooftop Summer Movie Series continues with the one decent attempt by DC Comics to make a decent superhero movie.