Trivia: Marvel Once Turned A 'John Carter' Story Into A 'Star Wars' Story

This is a comic book story, not a movie story, but it's a good one. It's the sort of thing that happened in the comics industry of decades past, but would probably never happen today. The tale comes to you now thanks to a reminder by the tremendous artist Walt Simonson, who worked on Marvel's Star Wars comic in the '70s and '80s.

In the late '70s, Marvel had a John Carter comic book series; it was a good attempt to turn the Edgar Rice Burroughs property into the sort of pulp success story that Conan had been for Marvel. John Carter lasted just over two years, and when canceled there was still an issue's worth of art in Marvel's files. Though a "use every part of the buffalo" business approach, all that John Carter art, with as few changes as possible, was turned into a two-issue Star Wars comic story.

This story has floated around for years; it came to mind when Simonson recently posted his original cover art for Star Wars #53 on Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, he explained,

The basic idea was to use as many of the JC pages as possible with as few changes as possible. Some extra pages had to be done and some panels altered to a greater or lesser degree to get everything to fit together. That was my job, along with the covers.

Chris Claremont wrote the issues and, I presume, wrote the original JC story. I've forgotten. I don't know that it was the best way to make comics, but it was an interesting intellectual puzzle to try to solve in a readeable fashion. And it was the second time I got to do something like that. I'd helped Steven Grant convert an issue of Tarzan into a couple of Battlestar Galacticas a little earlier. It was fun, challenging, interesting and curious to do, whatever the final outcome.

The original John Carter art was by Carmine Infantino, and so Simonson had to imitate his style to the greatest degree possible in order to do wraparound pages and whatever new panels and alterations were necessary to turn a story set on the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs' mind into a Star Wars story.

Here's the cover art. Click to enlarge.

Does that Stormtrooper in the right foreground look weird? He should, because he's huge. There's a reason for that, as Simonson explains:

...the issues had these giant stormtroopers in them, stormtroopers that I presume never appeared in any Star Wars stuff again. And we had giant stormtroopers in the issue in the first place because they were converted Tharks.

Those Tharks-turned-Stormtroopers only have a passing appearance in the story, but there is the fun of seeing Leia cry out "Enormous Stormtroopers!" when they show up. (Click the panel below to enlarge.)


And since Star Wars was partially the product of a huge set of pulp influences anyway, even the John Carter art managed to look somewhat appropriate. Kinda. Well, OK, parts of the story are still pretty obviously John Carter pages.

Here are a couple pages, via CBR:

That's John Carter, by the way, swooping in at the bottom of the page on the left. Well, it's not him in the published version of the story, but it would have been ol' JC if this art had run as was originally intended to in the original series.

And speaking of influences, this issue is from 1981, but check out how much this conception of John Carter looks like He-Man, whose toy development was taking place at the same time. Appropriately, Mattel went for He-Man in a big way in part because the company was still stinging from turning down the biggest toy license of the '70s: Star Wars.