Pure Comics Id: Discussing `Stardust The Super Wizard’ With Writer Van Jensen

by Tom Smithyman

Stardust the Super Wizard debuted in Fox Feature Syndicate’s Fantastic Comics #1 back in 1939 and has made a bit of a comeback in the past several years after being reprinted by Fantagraphics Books. Now, Van Jensen – who has written Flash, Superman and Green Lantern – has organized a crowdfunding campaign through Zoop to introduce the unique character to a new generation of readers. In a Comicon exclusive, Jensen discusses what attracted him to this character and whether a Stardust Cinematic Universe is in the offing.

Tom Smithyman: How did you first hear about Stardust, and why are you so passionate about bringing him back to life?

Van Jensen: I had seen some strips floating around the internet back in the late 2000s, and it seemed like pure comics id. Unhinged and extreme but also so singular in voice (a voice belonging to artist/writer Fletcher Hanks). And then Fantagraphics released a collection of his work edited by Paul Karasik, and I just fell in love.

For me, Stardust represents the unique capacity for superhero comics to be big and fun and weird. Nothing against modern superhero stories – which, of course, I’ve written – but they’re mostly so staid. A bit white bread.

This anthology is an opportunity to create without any inhibitions or limitations. To be weird and experimental and let go of the need for things to be logical, to adhere to some continuity. And it seems a lot of other creators felt the same pull, based on the hundreds of people who reached out.

Smithyman: Stardust is “the most remarkable man who has ever lived,” yet we really don’t know much about him. Will you try to flesh out his backstory, or his mysterious nature part of the allure? 

Jensen: The format for the anthology is going to be a smaller number of longer stories, with one maxi-story by myself and Pete Woods to tie it all together. I wanted to create something that feels like a coherent whole, even though there will be a huge range to the material in aesthetic and content.

Which is really me avoiding your actual question, I suppose. Probably a good sign that we’ll keep things mysterious. 😉

Smithyman: Yeah, I noticed that! What else can you share about the makeup of the book?

Jensen: It will include about 15-20 stories ranging in length from three to 10 pages each, all by top creators in comics. It’ll also have some pinups, and an essay on the history of Stardust and creator Fletcher Hanks.

Here are some highlights:

  • Mike Allred’s cover and an eight-page story.
  • James Asmus writing a story with his kids.
  • Jeff Parker and Tom Fowler teaming up.
  • A surreal vision of villain hell from Buster Moody and Adam Smith.

Smithyman: Beyond getting funded, what is your goal for Stardust? Is this about bringing him back into the public’s consciousness? Do you see a movie in his future?

Jensen: My goal is to have as much fun as possible making comics with a big group of friends while honoring Fletcher Hanks’ creative legacy. This is a group of top creators making fan fiction.

All I care about is making a beautiful, entertaining, weird-as-hell book that comics readers will enjoy almost as much as we’re enjoying creating it. Since Stardust is a public domain character, I can’t imagine that we’re looking at a Stardust Cinematic Universe…but who knows?

Smithyman: Fletcher Hanks created the character and regularly wrote and drew him. What did it mean to you when you learned that his grandson,, will have a story in the book as well?

Jensen: At the outset, I reached out to Paul Karasik to get his blessing, I suppose. He put me in touch with Ian Hanks, who was just super lovely and supportive. And when I found out that Ian is an artist, I immediately knew I wanted him to contribute.

Ian has crafted a deeply thoughtful and also challenging story that both honors his grandfather and reflects on his failures as a parent and human.

Smithyman: You’ve also assembled quite a breadth of top talent including Allred, Francesco Francavilla and Tom Raney to draw for the book. What is it about this character that attracts artists of their caliber?

Jensen: I can only speak for myself, but again I think a lot of it comes back to the freedom of it. What if you turned off your rational brain and just cut loose? That’s the lure of Stardust. Forget rules. Forget continuity.

It’s like playing in the sandbox as a kid. Just you and whatever your imagination can create.

Smithyman: Stardust’s radiation belt enables him to project all manners of beams, including a cleaving ray, an agitator ray, a radiophonic thought-recording ray and a transmuting ray. What ray would you unleash if you strapped on the radiation belt?

Jensen: Hm. It would have to be the time-stretching ray. It would make time go slower, so I’d have more time to balance editing this anthology, all my writing work (check out my new graphic novel ARCA!) and parenting.

Smithyman: That would be really helpful to reporters on deadline as well! Best of luck in bringing Stardust to life!

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