Thanos Creator Jim Starlin Is Drawing Again And His New Work Is A Blast
Jim Starlin may not be a household name, but he has created some of the most valuable intellectual property of the 21st century: Thanos, the “big bad” behind Marvel’s multibillion dollar movie franchise, plus Drax and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s also co-creator of the next big MCU headliner, Shang-Chi. Despite his relative anonymity in the mainstream entertainment universe, Starlin enjoys a stellar reputation among comic fans for both his cosmic imagination and his clean, dynamic artwork. But a few years ago, a freak accident stilled the hand that brought these notable creations to the page, and a lot of people, including Starlin himself, assumed he would never draw again.
“I blew a hole in my hand with a compressed air soda stream machine,” Starlin, 71, explained. “They fixed it up at the hospital, but afterwards, I was having difficulty with the simplest things like buttoning my shirt, so I figured it was all over for drawing.” Even after the wound healed, Starlin said he could not hold a pen for more than five minutes without experiencing pain and cramping.
Finally, after several years of exercises and therapy, Starlin discovered he could start drawing again without pain using a digital tablet and stylus, which he had taken up to “remaster” some of his older work for a new omnibus edition. He also discovered a new creative partner in inker Jaime Jameson, who finishes Starlin’s layouts and pencil drawings in a style reminiscent of his most classic work.
“I had done a few pencil sketches for a convention appearance,” Starlin said. “Jaime had been working with [fellow comic artist] Keith Giffen and I asked her to ink a couple of them for me. She did a great job.”
Starlin says the presence of Jameson convinced him to undertake his most recent project, an epic new adventure of Dreadstar, his creator-owned property whose universe he’s been expanding since the early 1980s, as both writer and artist.
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With Jameson’s help and the enforced isolation of the pandemic year, Starlin was able to complete a new 128-page Dreadstar graphic novel, which he’s publishing through Ominous Press, an independent publisher he’s worked with for the past decade. Starlin, who says he no longer has a working relationship with Marvel’s publishing side despite good relationships with Marvel Studios, prefers the freedom and flexibility of working with a smaller press. “Ominous is doing the best job of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” he said.
Ominous editor-in-chief Ron Marz says he was pleasantly surprised that Starlin was willing and able to do the artwork on the book. “We were talking with Jim about who we could get to draw the script he wrote, and one day he called and said, ‘I think I’ve got an artist… a guy named Starlin.’ Little by little, he started to draw. 15 minutes, then an hour, then a few hours. Over a period of a few months, he got back to drawing the way he always did. Once the pages started piling up, it was pretty stunning.”
Dreadstar dates back to stories Starlin created in the early 1980s Marvel magazine Epic Illustrated and continued in several different forms for different publishers over the years. He was able to take this unusual path for a mainstream property because he worked in the industry at a moment when even the large companies were carving out space for creator-owned work. Starlin had built a fanbase and a reputation as comic’s “cosmic guy” with his work on Captain Marvel and other titles, and sought to build his own unique mythology for his creations.
What he didn’t know at the time is that some of his biggest fans would eventually take important creative and production jobs in Hollywood in the 21st century, where they could bring his stories to a much wider audience. The famous snap that climaxed the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was first drawn in a comic by Starlin back in 1991. “I’ve been incredibly lucky in that respect,” he said.
Marvel Studios acknowledged Starlin’s contributions to the MCU by giving him creator credits and a cameo in Avengers: Endgame. He said he sometimes talks to Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn, who helped turn Starlin’s creations Drax and Gamora into unlikely marquee attractions, but that Gunn is keeping mum about his plans for Starlin’s other famous Marvel storyline from the 1970s, the saga of Adam Warlock, which got a big Easter Egg in the post-credits scene of the second Guardians movie.
Starlin’s satisfaction with his creative and business situation appears to come through in his new work. Dreadstar Returns is a glorious, goofy space opera – a B-movie experience in the best sense. Though the mythos he has built up in stories going back more than four decades can seem daunting and ponderous in its more serious moments, Dreadstar Returns is pure action, seasoned with a few thankfully no-longer-relevant political barbs and other moments of levity.
Best of all, for fans of Starlin’s artwork, the volume is full of the dynamic figures, unusual panel sequences, and cosmic vistas that made him a favorite. Considering that it was not clear that he’d ever draw another page, seeing such a strong return to form is encouraging.
So is Dreadstar Returns a last hurrah? Not on your life. Starlin says he’s 60 pages into the next volume and has plotted out at least two more chapters. “It may outlive me,” he joked. “I enjoy working and the hand still works, so I’m going to keep going.”