F-Zero may not be on Nintendo’s radar at present, but it’s a series which is close to the heart of many a Nintendo fan – and part of its appeal is the colourful cast of comic book characters which have populated the franchise since it made its debut on the Super Famicom / SNES way back in November 1990.
Takaya Imamura – who recently parted company with Nintendo after 32 years of service – is credited as the artist on the game and created such iconic characters as Captain Falcon and Samurai Goroh, and if you didn’t know better you might assume that the American-style comic illustration on the front of the Japanese version (as well as the comic strip contained in the manual, which also found its way into the western version) was penned by him.
However, as has been common knowledge for a while, it was actually the work of Valiant Comics, which was founded in 1989 by former Marvel Comics editor-in-chief Jim Shooter and businessman Steven Massarsky. Shooter left in 1992, and two years later, Valiant was purchased by video game publisher Acclaim. When that company went bankrupt in 2005, it was reborn as Valiant Entertainment with Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari at the helm.
Valiant had previously worked with Nintendo on the infamous album White Knuckle Scorin’. Shooter explains how the gig came to be on his blog. It’s pretty wild:
My partner at VALIANT, Steve Massarsky was fond of making deals that personally benefitted him. He was supposed to give up his law practice when we started VALIANT, but since he was sleeping with a woman who happened to be a principal of the venture capital firm that funded us, controlled the board, stipulations of his contract were not enforced. Therefore, as a lawyer, he represented Nintendo for entertainment, represented us, of course, and, being previously involved in the music business, had connections at MCA. With a couple of record producers, dealing mostly with himself, he put together a deal to produce for MCA a licensed Super Mario Bros. album. If that sounds strange to you, well, you have no idea how hot Super Mario Bros. was at that time. To me, even at that time, though, it sounded unlikely to succeed. I couldn’t imagine video gamers buying a music CD just because the Super Mario Bros. were on the cover.
Shooter then recounts what it was like working on the F-Zero project:
The most impressive custom job we ever did at VALIANT was for Nintendo of Japan for their F-ZERO game. We did an in-pack custom comic book for the game.
Why is this impressive? Because this work was done for a product to be soldonly in Japan.
The Japanese were and are very proud of their comics industry. As a rule, at least at that time, they didn’t think American comics were anywhere near as good as theirs. The consensus opinion was that they were the pros and we were quirky, amateurish second-stringers.
But, on the basis of our licensed Nintendo comics for America, Nintendo of Japan picked us, Americans, to do their custom comic in-pack and box cover art. An honor.
I wrote it, Art Nichols penciled it and Bob Layton inked it.
As Power rightly points out, the fact that Nintendo used an American company to create the artwork for one of its most important Super Famicom launch titles is a pretty massive event; at that point in time, it was very rare for western art to be used on Japanese releases (outside of games based on western comic book characters, of course), and that certainly makes F-Zero unique.
Ironically, Nintendo didn’t use this western artwork on the western version of the game, instead choosing to create an entirely new piece of artwork which, in our opinion, isn’t anywhere near as good. However, it’s clear that’s not an opinion shared by everyone, as you guys voted the western cover as superior to the Japanese one in our Box Art Brawl feature. There’s clearly no accounting for taste.