By Gabriel Neeb
“GOOD MORNING COMIC-CON!”
With this wildly enthusiastic greeting, Moderator Coy Jandreau welcomed both the audience and the star of the panel “Jim Starlin: Celebrating 50 Years” to which the man of the hour responded, “Don’t ask too many precise questions.”
With that, Coy began with a series of well crafted questions and topics which Jim was happy to discuss as a way to illustrate the extent of his fifty years in the comics business as both writer and artist.
It all began in Detroit. Comics were his culture, because, well, Detroit. His father worked as an illustrator for Chrysler and as such, he’d bring home art supplies in the hope that he’d be working on the occasional project at home… which he wouldn’t, but Jim would! Jim would grab the unused art supplies and start tracing images he’d find in comics. One of the comics mentioned was Adventure Comics.
Coy then asked where the “headiness” and intellectual thought of some of his stories would come from. Blame parochial school which Jim attended until 8th grade [approx age 13]. While the nuns were crazy, and often John Birchers (far right lunatics, common in the 1950s), he was able to absorb many of the lessons they’d impart, because to Jim, everything is input. As a brief digression, he did mention that he has been fortunate to work with great collaborators like Ron Lim (INFINITY GAUNTLET) and Berni Wrightson (BATMAN: THE CULT).
The subject of Marvel Comics in the 1970s came up. Jim stated that the whole of Marvel Comics would have fit into half the size of the room we were in (7AB). He was assigned one cubicle that was right next to HOWARD THE DUCK creator Steve Gerber… who was narcoleptic- leading to hearing the occasional “thump” when Gerber would fall asleep.
“It was kind of surreal.” The camaraderie was strong and probably contributed to the “headiness” as the off hours was spent both drinking and discussing philosophers like Carlos Castaneda.
The low points at Marvel started to come in the 1980s, when it would seem like Marvel would be sold and resold every week. One of the nadirs was when Ron Perlman bought the company. Jim left around then once he’d completed the INFINITY CRUSADE series (circa 1993).
Then, Jim noticed there was a cup of coffee nearby and was delighted that it was for him.
This segued to a brief discussion about an accident five years ago which left him unable to draw for a few years. As a seltzer enthusiast, Jim was using a soda machine and it malfunctioned while he was filling a bottle. The bottle, a 16 oz water bottle, swelled to the size of a football, and his wife asked that he get rid of it. Jim took it outside and while doing so, it exploded, severely damaging his right hand. He could still write, but he didn’t get back to drawing until future DREADSTAR inker Jaime Jameson asked for a picture of Dr. Doom, which Jim provided.
The next topic was about the creation of Death. Not the character from SANDMAN, but the “love” of Jim’s character, Thanos. “That was an accident,” Starlin said. There were two characters in shadows in one of Thanos’ early appearances. Jim hadn’t thought them out too much, but he decided to give one of the characters breasts, and the ideas spread from there. Originally, both figures would have been shape-shifting Skrulls.
Since Thanos had come up, the discussion turned to Jim’s thoughts on the cinematic incarnation of Thanos. “They stayed with the spirit of the character if not the letter.” Which was fortunate, since he was afraid the character would suffer interpretation fates which befell that characters of the 2017 JUSTICE LEAGUE film which he saw just before AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR premiered.
Jim spoke of another cinematic effort inspired by a creation: SHANG-CHI, which he did only a few issues on since… it involved drawing cars and horses- which Jim isn’t fond of, and the integration of pulp character and racist trope Fu Manchu into the backstory. He was thankful to then get onto CAPTAIN MARVEL because, space! Which is a lot more fun to draw and the Gil Kane designs were really good. Plus, it was at a time when science fiction stories could be about more than ray guns, thanks to the influence of STAR TREK.
Thus began the times when Jim became famous for killing characters. The first was when he killed Captain Marvel at the suggestion of editor Jim Shooter, and the second was the death of the Jason Todd Robin. Jason Todd’s fate was one put to a vote via phone- and Jim knew comics fans were a bunch of ghouls, so he was sure Jason was doomed. That there was a 72 vote difference between the two was surprising. It also led to Jim being fired from DC since the company needed someone to blame.
DC’s loss was comics’ gain since he soon returned to Marvel to begin the INFINITY GAUNTLET stories (though Jim did express interest in creating some Joker and Clayface stories).
Jim’s most famous independent character is probably Dreadstar. To that end, there is intense discussion about a movie or TV show. Dreadstar is a complicated story and there are more examples of poor treatments of comic characters than good ones, though Jim did express admiration for the DOOM PATROL show from Warners and a few of the Marvel shows.
Dreadstar is, “An anarchist without a second act.” Jim is continuing work on Dreadstar stories. He’s 46 pages into the third book and is plotting out the fourth and fifth books.
One development Jim is glad for, overall, is that the two majors [Marvel and DC] no longer influence careers as they did.
The Q and A portion addressed a few things like Drax the Destroyer (“The movies did Drax better than I did. I was never comfortable with him.”) and Adam Warlock, at least his possible cinematic incarnation.
Jim wouldn’t give anything away but… “I know things, and I’m comfortable with what I’ve heard.” That being the extent to which Jim would discuss any involvement in the upcoming James Gunn film GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Volume 3.
Finally, in response to a question about the existential drive of his characters, Jim would only quote Joseph Campbell: “Find your bliss and follow it.”
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