A conversation with Jim Starlin

The legendary artist talks about […]

The legendary artist talks about his new novel, why he is not interested in working in comics at this time and why he has soured on the current state of the industry.

First Comic News: I guess I want to start out Jim by talking about something you were saying before the tape was rolling and that is that you are not actively working in comics now. That stuns me because you have been so productive with the DC work you have been doing, specifically Adam Strange. I bought that series and I was so happy when you went back to the original Infantino design uniform and you seemed to be doing a lot with DC and now nothing, so why?

Jim Starlin: I just sort got tired of doing it, I mean it was, you know, financially I am in good shape where I don’t have to work and just suddenly had no fun doing it anymore. DC there were a lot of problems editorially… and uh I just suddenly said why am I putting myself through this grief? I don’t really need to, so lets go do something else.

1st: So what is something else now?

Jim: For the past few months I have been working on a novel, my agent got it here this week and he is reading it as I am speaking to you here hopefully, so we’ll see where it goes from there.

1st: Anything you want to share about it?

Jim: Lazgood Boys. It is a science fiction social commentary.

1st: Which you are of course renowned for.

Jim: Yeah.

1st: I think like me you were raised Catholic?

Jim: Yeah there’s a bit of the Catholicism in it this time but it is also about aliens who make contact with the earth and they’re businessmen, they don’t conquer the earth. They just start making commerce and they make better mousetraps and before you know it they run earth.

1st: Really?

Jim: And it is the story from there.

1st: The original idea for the concept came from the work you have been doing in comics or somewhere else?

Jim: Oh newspapers, everything, it has been, actually this has been a story that I have carrying around with me for about 15 years. It started off with about three friends of mine down in Mexico and we were going to do a movie and wanted to do a cavern inside the Chihuahua area. We never got around to doing it but there was one little element in the story that we came up with that I always liked and I ended up building the novel around this one little element that is like a scene near the end of the book.

1st: I want to backtrack here for second because I want to make sure that I got the title right?

Jim: Lazgood Boys.
It is 15 years in the process and now it is before your publisher or actually your agent.

1st: How long do you think it takes to go from your agent to actually seeing it in print in publication?

Jim: Probably about a year that’s about the run it takes, predators and other books took about that time.

1st: Is it something you can self publish now because we are in a different world than say 20 years ago where you had to go though a certain book publisher, like say Ransom House or Simon and Schuster, etc? I have a friend who self publishes himself and it is on Amazon and he prints on demand as needed. Is it a different process for yourself since you have a much larger name?

Jim: That helps and also the fact that I am extremely lazy and I will not even think about self publishing because that means you also have to do some work Also, what I like doing is writing these days and an occasional drawing, I am not a businessman.

1st: I am kind of curious about your evolution, because my first introduction to you was through Marvel stuff. I think it was Marvel Two-in-One where I first saw you and then Warlock and everything else that you have done since then and Captain Marvel of course.
It has been interesting to see you go from being an artist, to a writer/artist, to a creative force who also happens to draw really attractive pictures. What is the process in your mind, do you see yourself as an artist, or a writer or a storyteller?

Jim: Well to be truthful, my passion for drawing is not very strong these days, I have much more fun writing. You just ask my wife, the last few months when I have been working on this novel I have been in a great mood. The fact that summer was coming and I was about to get on the boat had a lot to do with it. But I started in January and I guess I finished it last week, so about four months there.

1st: I used to write for a living, but I never wrote creatively, the way you did. For me it was facts and I would just lay them out and then create. What is the creative process and is it that different than being a reporter which is what I used to be, in terms of you have an idea and you nurture it and flesh out the characters? My brain doesn’t work that way. I’m kind of curious as to how creative people nurture that seed?

Jim: With me a lot of times it is at the end of the night going out on the deck at the back of my house and I kind of wrote this novel all wrong. I just started setting down I had so much of it in my head, I thought I could get by without doing the thumbnails and the cards and the outline. I did have the story down, but I did not have who the characters were. So, the last couple of months has basically been sitting about why is this guy doing this and it is learning. It is not all that different from being a reporter, because I may be making these guys up, but I am learning about them as I go. So I write myself into corners and suddenly realize, well this doesn’t make any sense this guy doing this. Because nothing else has prompted him to do this before. So why is he doing it now? So I have to figure out what it is about him and what happened and sometimes go back, some chapters back and add something that would have elicited this reaction. So in some ways it is a lot less footwork I have to do that you do as a reporter, but as a writer it is the same thing you have to understand what you are writing about.

1st: Do the influences of your life shade all the characters or just certain characters?

Jim: More so the male characters. Of course, a lot of people I know, one of the characters in the book is a female Sikh and so I had to hunt up a friend who I thought she was Bengali but it turned out she was Sikh herself, I didn‘t know this at the time. She was very helpful in helping me figure out who this character was.

1st: When you go to somebody for reference do they then become the model?

Jim: She is 47 and the character is 17 and her mother is alive and the character’s mother is inside a tube. So her personality was pretty set, it was more her background. I knew about Sikhs but I did not really know about Sikhs. I knew who they were, they were the guys with the turbans and they are supposed to be great fighters, they beat everybody in India during the British occupation and a few other facts But then you start getting into it and you start finding out that not only does their civilization, their religion It is only a 400 year old religion. The five attributes; don’t ask me to read them off, but it is the hair, the turban, it is the blade, it is the iron ring, it is the underground. I didn’t know anything about that. Finding out the history, I wanted to name her after some kind of famous Sikh woman and then realized only after I got into the research, that there is a whole slew of them to cull from. Sikh’s are born warriors, even their women have had some very big battles under their belts.

1st: It sounds like you are dong a lot more reference than I would as a reporter.

Jim: Well a lot of this I got over lunch with my friends. It was something that was in the net, you find out and I fit it in where it has to be.

1st: Let me wish you good luck with that. Let me ask you about this convention (Heroes Con) because I have been coming since I got involved with the hobby again the last five, six years it is a nice convention, Sheldon puts on a good show and it seems family friendly. I think this is the first time I have seen you here.

Jim: It is my first time here. It is a nice size, you don’t get lost here like you do in San Diego I’ve had a nice time sitting around talking and signing autographs, I don’t do too many of these and this has been painless.

1st: Which is always good. What’s it like interacting with the fans? You’ve got people my age who grew up with you and you’ve got fans who have been introduced to you through your most recent stuff and all of a sudden they are Jim Starlin fans too.

Jim: How is it interacting?

1st: For example; first time I met some of you guys, I was tongue tied and I have interviewed Vice Presidents, Senators, no problem. Now you’re a guy whose work has entertained me, whose work meant something and it is very difficult to talk to some like you until you go in to professional mode and then it is a job. When you deal with folks who say “Oh my gosh you had such an influence on me, oh my gosh you gave me such enjoyment.”

Jim: Well I’ll turn to humor, usually, if somebody comes up to me and they are tongue tied, I’ll make a little fun of them about that and then we will get everybody around and everybody relaxes and you go off and have a conversation at that point.

1st: I was talking to Sean Chen a little bit earlier and he said the job is a lonely job, you are in a studio or you are by yourself in a room and you are busy doing work. Does the dynamic of interaction at a convention like this help hearing I really enjoyed issue 52 page 17 or something?
It is a little specific but you know what I mean.

Jim: Yeah, I know what you mean. My ego doesn’t need that much stroking, that’s why I don’t go to these things. I know some folks go to these things all year long,

1st: That’s the joy of being in your forties and fifties.

Jim: Yeah, I did it a little bit in my twenties but now I’d rather be out on the Hudson River in my Kayak than sitting here, but it is part of the job. I have projects that come out, I have to promote and I have to eat like everyone else, so I come around and do these things. It is not a necessity, but it is good to hear. I’m glad to sit with the people who are reading it.

1st: Is it important for you to have your legacy valued in the industry?

Jim: That’s an odd… that’s a question that hits on different levels. You know the fan base I have, I appreciate it, that’s very solid, always has been and I appreciate it. Inside the industry, I can sometimes be difficult to work with because I want my stories to make sense and that is not a prerequisite these days in fact it gets in the way sometimes. So I don’t think I am valued inside the industry all that much any more, because my art style is a bit dated compared to what is out there right now.

1st: Not in my eyes.

Jim: Well, you‘re also fifty something, so I don’t worry about that. I continue to do writing but like I said writing is discounted, they field it out to committees these days. I basically, on this last job on Strange Adventures I ran into an editor who wanted to rewrite everything and we would butt heads, basically I said, “Why am I doing this why and bothering at all?”

1st: You bring up an interesting subject which is the dynamic seems to have changed so much from the days when Broome or Fox would bring in a script and the artist would draw it or Stan would give a plot synopsis and say, “Make it happen.” Now it seems there is so much editorial, I don’t want to say dictatorship, but editorial input?

Jim: Interference, anything you want to use.

1st: Is that difficult for the creative process? Because somebody like yourself who is so creative and has been a story teller for gosh, three decades now.

Jim: Well, when I started on Warlock and I went into the office and I talked to Roy Thomas and he said what do you want to do and I said, “Let’s do Warlock” and that night I went home and I drew my first page. Now they want you to have a long outline which if you start diverging and go off the outline at all they start hitting the roof. The creativity and the spontaneity of it is gone. As a result, I don’t find it much fun anymore. I hate to sound like a sour old grape, but you know.

1st: My issue is they are not a lot of fun to read anymore. I buy them for the art now. The stories are always going to be six issues long and some can be told in 22 pages.

Jim: I can’t understand why anybody buys these crossovers. I mean 52 was okay but ever since then every one of them has been a mess! They don’t make any sense. I don’t understand why people keep putting out money to buy these things?

1st: I bought issues of Trinity, for the longest time I had the collector mentality, then that stopped. Now I might want to buy an art page so I’ll buy some of them, but I have stopped. My budget now is about 20 bucks a month and it used to be anywhere from 80 to 100 dollars.

Jim: The story value, there really is no story any more.

1st: Since we are talking about this subject I am just curious, how you feel about death in comics? When you killed somebody in the seventies, (A) they were Bucky dead. (B) It had major impact. Now it seems like every week you turn around and they are killing somebody off and the final straw for me was when they ripped off Roy Harper’s arm and it was a cover and I was why is this entertainment? That really was an issue for me.

Jim: Well, this comes back down to why are we buying these things? If you get into these big mini-series it is a bunch of heroes that run into a bunch of villains who have some kind of plot thing and everybody sprawls and everybody is dead. The heroes run into the villains, they fight, then they run into another bunch of heroes and they fight the heroes and then some type of character gets killed off and the story concludes with the villains being fought again and some conclusion with a lot of loose ends so they can run you off into the next run. You are just being led by the nose to buy book after book without any real story.

1st: Yes.

Jim: I just don’t see the point of it and they are the biggest sellers right now.

1st: Yeah, they are, but I also think when you look at the sales numbers, those may be the largest sellers but that’s all that is selling. The industry is not cultivating a new generation they are all designed for people 25-65 and that is it. If you don’t grow your base, if you don’t grow your industry, then where is your next generation of readers, where is your next generation of collectors?

Jim: I don’t see where you can do that without self contained stories.

1st: I agree.

Jim: That is my big gripe that everything has to be long and has to be connected. They want you to spend a hundred dollars a month on something that is not going to make any sense to you. Because you can’t write a long story with a half dozen writers. You need one writer or two writers, tops. They managed to do it okay with four writers on 52, but after that, none of this works. I’ve gotten a lot of them in bundles and I have stopped reading most of them before I am halfway through and I am getting them for free. So I don’t know why anyone would buy them now.

1st: Politely put. Let’s end this on a positive note because you have had an impact on me, I have appreciated your work throughout the years. What was the most fun project you worked on throughout your career?

Jim: Oh boy there were a couple of them. Working with Archie Goodman who was the best editor.

1st: Everybody says that

Jim: Yes he was. Working with him on the Dreadstar, him and Jo Duffy that was fun Working with Craig Anderson on the Silver Surfer; Gauntlet stuff that was a lot of fun. Batman was a lot of fun even though Denny and I butted heads a lot. I still had a lot of fun writing those stories. I’d say the Thanos, Dreadstar, those are the most fun.

1st: I think I know the answer but out of curiosity your favorite character is?

Jim: That is one that varies also to me, Dreadstar, Bleed or Thanos.

1st: I would have said Thanos.

Jim: Well Thanos is obviously my most popular one. It can be argued my career started off at its zenith with the first Iron Man issue I drew and its been going downhill ever since.

1st: Some people might politely disagree.

Jim: Those are about the top three, Thanos pretty much tops it off.

About Michael Dunne

Michael Dunne has loved comics since he can remember, he gave them up for awhile to pursue real life priorities, then original art and his love for the JSA brought him back. In his professional life Michael is an award winning writer and has a very tolerant wife.