Around these parts, there's no doubt you already know all about Jim Starlin. He's the legendary comics creator behind Marvel titans like Thanos, Gamora, and Drax the Destroyer, all of which have become household names thanks to the sprawling empire that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Starlin's also the creator behind Dreadstar, a creator-owned cosmic tale that's sat dormant for the better part of three decades. Now, sometime by the end of the year, Starlin will release his first Dreadstar story in 25 years with Dreadstar Returns, an original graphic novel that is now being funded on Kickstarter.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Starlin, who's hunkered down in the Northwoods as he waits out the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Over the course of our chat, we spoke about Dreadstar Returns and the future of the space outlaw, the anniversary of his cameo role in Avengers: Endgame, and all sorts of other tidbits strewn about.
Keep scrolling to see our full chat with the comics icon:
ComicBook.com: So right out of the gates, if you don't mind me asking, how are you keeping busy these days with quarantining, self-isolating, and such?
Jim Starlin: Basically working my ass off on this Dreadstar pencils and occasionally going out and clearing deadwood around the house and clearing the trail that goes back into the woods. I live up in the mountains.
Dreadstar Returns comes across the newswire and is total surprise and shocker to many. I think I remembered watching you out at a con in 2018, where you had said, at the time, you were looking for an artist to help you bring back the Dreadstar legacy, with your hand injury and such. At what point did you just kind of throw your hands up and say, "Screw it, I'm going to get back to the drawing board myself."?
I never gave it up completely. I mean after my hands healed, with quotation marks around the healing part. I tried drawing and I'd get to about... I can only do about 10, 15 minutes before my hand cramped up terribly because I really blew a lot of muscle out from between my thumb and my forefinger. I had like an inch wide hole going about an inch and a half deep between my thumb and my finger. So they stitched up and I did physical therapy and I continue to go back to the drawing board. I had this rubber ball. I'd sit there when I'm watching a movie or the news and I'd squeeze that and doing these other exercises. And occasionally I'd have these dreams where I was drawing and I'd get up in the morning and I go, "Shit, that was just a dream." So the desire and the process was there.
When we did the Dreadstar Omnibus nobody seems to notice that those are new covers. They took me about a week a piece to do. I actually had to get help filling in the blanks and stuff like that on it. But basically I had done some new work about a year ago, but still I was down to about 20 minutes before I cramp up. This past summer, there was a charity thing at one of the conventions and they guilted me into trying to do a drawing and I did a quick Thanos drawing and to my surprise, it wasn't that hard. Basically I came back and I did some more drawing just for myself. And at this point I'm good for about two hours before the hand starts going this is not working anymore. So I'm getting along here. And it was just a matter of giving the thing time to heal and rebuild with all this ball squeezing.
Speaking of conventions, they're obviously all closed for the foreseeable future. Once things settle down, are you planning on hitting the circuit again or has this stuff all changed your outlook on the whole con setup?
My outlook on it is somewhat changed, especially after this last convention down in Mexico where everything went south. We didn't know that the organizer was being pressured by Mexico City's government not to hold it. And so we came down, we didn't think anything about it. My inker came with me, Jamie Jameson, and we had a good time and all that. But on the way back there was somebody on Jamie's flight that was coughing consistently behind her. And by the end of the week, she had the Coronavirus. She made the mistake of then announcing to the world, so that people would be aware of what had happened. And this organizer who was down there in Mexico City, needing to divert blame from what he was getting from the press said that Jamie was patient zero down at the convention and the paper changed it to patient zero in Mexico.
And so the poor gal started getting death threats all the time over her Facebook and that, so she ended up shutting that down. So I'm a little leery about going back out there. Not all conventions are like that. This one here, the guy was trying to save his ass and threw her under the bus instead. So my last convention was a little bit on the strange side, but I most of the time enjoy them and I'll probably go back out. I'm going to be taking my time about rushing out there. Most of the conventions that I had this summer have already been canceled, so I'm not exactly sure what we're going to do at this point. The virus itself will decide when we get out there.
You're keeping busy with Dreadstar. Obviously, there are no worries about getting everything funded on Kickstarter. How far are you in to the project?
I am about to start on page 61. I have it up on the board right now. So I'm well into it and by the time this quarantine ends I should have most of it done if not all of it. So we're going along here quite nicely.
Jamie's a little bit slow right now. She got up to about page 19 before the virus hit her, so she hasn't started up again. But she does a page a day. So I'll be able to sit down and color the rest of the book while she's finishing off the inks. We're hoping to get it out by the end of the year.
Looking through these Kickstarted packages, you mentioned the new covers and the stuff looks as phenomenal as ever. Coming back to a character like this after such a long hiatus, do you think that poses a challenge to you after getting a bit rusty or is it more of a coming back to a family reunion and picking up the threads there?
Almost like visiting family, but it was also an opportunity. It's been 25 years since I worked on this book and the first thing that occurred to me is where are all these characters going to be 25 years later? I mean, Willow ended up running the show on the Empirical Galaxy. Eddie, he would have found his spot someplace. The one that was really interesting was Dreadstar. What would this malcontent do for the last 25 years? I mean he was the ultimate anarchist, pretty good at breaking evil governments, but not much good at doing things afterward since I've been doing it. So I came up with a job for him to do that he's been doing for quite a while and I think everybody will get a kick out of it. It's the start of the story.
The Final Dreadstar Story
Did you have a general idea of where you wanted the story to go, at least? You're working on the characters and it's a very character-driven tale. Did you have a general idea of an overarching plot or story arc or you just hit the ground running and see where I went?
Well, my original idea was to do a final Dreadstar story and I still have that all plotted up here. I'm going to eventually script it for somebody else to draw somewhere down the line. But I realized that Dreadstar was becoming a commercial entity again. I'm talking with folks about all sorts of different things involving Dreadstar. And so I said this is not the time to end this thing. So I had this one idea about, let's see how I'd say this without revealing... About being scared. About being so scared that you are scared of everything else in the universe and that started as the groundwork of a new character that I want to introduce with the new Dreadstar series, a villain.
I thought I don't want to throw this guy out here and I had some loose ends left over from the original series. One in particular that always used to bother me. And so I started thinking about how that would work as a prelude to be introduced into this more scary, ominous character that I had in mind. I decided to expand out on that one side. Latched onto that, everything sort of fell into place. I'm having a little difficulty with working out the mechanics of the last 10 or 12 pages of how this story ends. I've tossed out a couple of things so far, but I think it's going to work out pretty good at this point. It's going to be a very poignant little story.
So the new graphic novel is called Dreadstar Returns. And you mentioned a final Dreadstar story, so it's pretty clear there are immediate plans for more Dreadstar, right?
Yeah. I talked with other artists. This is going fairly well. I might like to try and do another one here, a hundred pages is a lot of pages. So we'll see where we go from here. The plans are not set for anything much more than coming to the end of the year and then we'll see where we're at when we're done with this story and we'll figure things out from there.
You mentioned some commercial interest in the property. There was a TV show in the works or in development five years ago about, four or five years ago. Any movements on that at all?
Well, the producer of that particular TV show died, so that was the end of that one. No, I'm talking to some other people now. There's nothing finalized at this point, so there's nothing to say except that we are in discussions again.
Happy Birthday, Endgame!
Shifting topics a little bit. Avengers: Endgame came out a year ago, almost to the day.
I think it was the 27th or something. I remember it was near the end of the month.
It feels much longer than a year. Let's just put it that way.
Last week seems longer than a year.
Not many people get to cameo on the biggest movie to hit theaters, you know that right?
And have more lines in that movie than Samuel Jackson had.
Isn't that something. That goes on the resume now, right?
I should put it on there. Yes.
The Mad Titan
You can't mention Thanos without Jim Starlin. No movie franchise has ever done this where they build something up over 10 years and that's exactly what Marvel Studios did with Thanos. Now that you've had a year to reflect, as the co-creator the Mad Titan, are you satisfied with how they ended this story arc in Endgame?
Well, I understand that the story's not completely ended. They've already announced that. I think a young Thanos appears in The Eternals. I remember reading that somewhere. They made a shit load of money off this guy. So I don't see them retiring him anytime soon. Comic book characters tend to have an extended lifespan beyond the actors who work on them. I'm half expecting to see much more Thanos down the line.
But the way they handled him, I know I thought they did a terrific job. Russos and Markus and McFeely, they had a really great feel for the character. They didn't follow the letter of it. They certainly followed the spirit of it just faithfully. How can I say anything wrong about it at this point? It didn't get the Academy Award but it was talked about. It was a terrific little movie that'll be around from decades to come. This is the new Star Wars.
So I mean that cameo work, do you have any more acting gigs lined up?
Nothing yet. I got to have my fingers crossed for Shang-Chi. I'd like to do a scene with Stevie Englehart here somewhere, even if we're just sitting around in the background. But right now, everything's on hiatus with the virus. That poor production's had a hell of a time. First off Australia, all of Australia catches on fire and now this thing. So this is going to be a long project that I can't wait to see, whether I'm in it or not.
You mentioned that they're true to the essence of Thanos. And you know more than anyone that Lady Death's kind of a big part of that origin. I mean, did you expect to kind of see her pop up at all or any point?
They told me early on that they didn't feel like abstract entities were something that the movie going audience was ready for. But with the next Dr. Strange movie, they're stepping into that realm. So if there's more Thanos movies down the line, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Mistress Death showing up there.
Pip the Troll
I mean, looking at the characters you've helped creator, we're talking Thanos, we're talking Drax, we're talking to Gamora, Starfox, Shang-Chi, Mentor, all of these incredible cosmic characters.
Don't forget Pip.
Oh man, how did I manage to forget Pip? I have a little shrine dedicated to Pip in my office, even.
Every time I see Kevin Feige I try to lobby for Pip the Troll character kind of showing up.
Do you have a fan casting in mind for Pip? Or you just want to see Pip, regardless of the actor?
Before I saw the Infinity War, I was looking through the IMDB and it had Peter Dinklage listed, but uncredited and I was certain that he was going to be Pip. I was absolutely certain that he was going to be Pip. As for casting, boy there's not that many actors out there at that height. No, he's going to be a difficult one. They may have to CGI him for the most part.
Marvel's a No-Go
Your most recent work with Marvel, would be the original graphic novels and things of that nature. Do you have any intentions of picking that up again, or do you want to focus more on Dreadstar and creator-owned projects?
I'm strictly on Dreadstar. I have no intention or desire to work for Marvel again.
What character is your favorite Starlin creation? Think it over and let us know your thoughts in the comments section! You can also reach out to me on Twitter at @AdamBarnhardt, especially to chat all things cosmic Marvel!
Cover photo by Angela Papuga/Getty Image