I never pass up an opportunity to ask people whose work I idolize about Star Wars. And I recently had the chance to speak to Art Spiegelman about his art, the Pulitzer Prize he won for his anthropomorphic tale of the holocaust, Maus, and the rest of his career. He has a show of his work going on in New York at the Jewish Museum, though it contains nothing from the Star Wars saga.
Spiegelman worked at the Topps card company for a long time (he even came up with the idea of Garbage Pail Kids) and I thought he might have an interesting take on Star Wars, since Topps produced my favorite collectible from the ’70s, the Star Wars bubblegum trading cards.
You can listen to the whole exchange on the Full of Sith podcast, but here’s the most important bit for your entertainment:
I asked what his first experience with Star Wars was, and got an answer I didn’t quite expect.
“I’m a little older than you, and I was working at the bubblegum company, which I started doing when I was 18 and it was a very small group. [It was myself,] Woody Gelman, and another kid they’d found, who became the lynchpin of that department named Len Brown. And Len Brown loved the science fiction/fantasy comic book world. I was exploring other edges of popular culture and very early on he said, ‘I saw this movie Star Wars, it’s amazing, we’ve got to get the license.’
So I was marched out to see Star Wars as well and said, ‘Yeah, it seems like a good movie,’ and this was at a time when Star Wars was not a licensing phenomenon or even a full cultural phenomenon yet. It must have been an early screening. And the result was those Topps baseball style cards for Star Wars were as big a hit in their own way as Garbage Pail Kids were because there wasn’t any other licensing for that first round of movie and it took, as you say, the imagination by storm — or Stormtrooper or something. And so I got to be involved in the graphic design of the cards and looking at stills and figuring out what might be on the back with my cohort Len Brown at Topps.”
The Topps Star Wars cards were the one thing I could afford as a kid to collect and I treasure them greatly. To find out that a Pulitzer Prize winner whose work I admired had a hand in the design of something so iconic just blew me away.