A decade before he wrote Thanos wielding the Infinity Gauntlet, Jim Starlin created Dreadstar through Marvel’s Epic line of creator owned comics. In fact, it was the first comic to be published by Epic comics, launching the line on the name recognition Jim Starlin had built up writing Marvel’s cosmic line of heroes.
Dreadstar is the story of Vanth Dreadstar, the lone survivor of the Milky Way galaxy. The series could be regularly spotted on the walls of comic shops in the 1980s and made a brief return in the 1990s through Malibu Comics’ creator-owned Bravura line. And now Dreadstar is back! Following the massive success of two Kickstarter campaigns, one to reprint Dreadstar in omnibus form, the other to launch an all-new Dreadstar original graphic novel, Jim Starlin sat down with The Beat to talk Dreadstar, recovering from an accident that robbed him from the use of his drawing hand, and why he’s done with Marvel and DC.
Billy Henehan: First off, I’m happy to see you recovered from your accident!
Jim Starlin: Yeah, that’s a few years back and the hand is pretty much operating again after some work.
Henehan: How much physical therapy did that require?
Starlin: It was a bit at the beginning, but it was mostly squeezing a rubber ball and doing hand exercises. It was about 3 years before I got back to [drawing].
Henehan: I’m really happy for you about that. But let’s get right into Dreadstar. When did you decide you wanted to relaunch Dreadstar through Kickstarter?
Starlin: Well, we’d already done the Dreadstar Kickstarter for the omnibus, and that had been quite successful. Seeing that I was drawing again, and Jaime Jameson, the inker, had come on board, it was just a natural fit to continue on with Ominous Press. It worked out nicely. For a while there we had the [Kickstarter] record that Keanu Reeves came on and beat us for, but for 5 minutes there, we were the top. I had no desire to work with the majors, so this was the best way to finance it. We were hoping to get enough to pay for printing, but we got more and it worked out nicely.
Henehan: ‘More’ is an understatement.
Starlin: Yeah, we did alright.
Henehan: The new campaign is about to launch this month, right?
Starlin: I’m a little hazy on when things happen on Kickstarter. I pretty much focus on the production and Ominous takes care of the back end of the operation. This next one will be for a new Dreadstar OGN, and that will be coming pretty soon.
Henehan: Do you foresee this being an annual thing, a new Dreadstar graphic novel every year?
Starlin: That’s what the plan is. I’ve got about 5 of them mapped out in my head. I’m 60 pages into the pencils and script of the next one. Jaime is close to 20 pages with inks. The third one is very solid in my head. The fourth and fifth are in that nebulous stage. As they get closer, they congeal. They’re more in the concept stage at this point.
Henehan: That’s amazing, because that takes us with Dreadstar into 2024 for fans to look forward to.
Starlin: That’s what I want to do.
Henehan: Jaime’s inking is so faithful to your pencils.
Starlin: She’s quite a prize. She’s also responsible for me getting back to drawing. I had been working on the Dreadstar omnibus with a stylus mastering the colors, which is a lot different than the pencil, a lot less pressure. I guess I had been building up my hand without realizing it, using the stylus. Jaime, I met at a convention. She wanted a sketch of Doctor Doom and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, one night after the convention, I sat down with a piece of paper and it worked. I got the sketch out. Later on, I did a few more drawings as convention sketches to sell.
Jaime mentioned she had been working as Keith Giffin’s inker and had nothing to do, so I said “Why don’t you try inking me?” I really liked it and asked her if she wanted to take on the job of inking the book and she said yes. After some trials and tribulations and angst, she did it, and I’m quite happy with her.
Henehan: Looking at her inks, it’s very similar to looking at your own inks over your pencils.
Starlin: She has her own style, but there is a similarity.
Henehan: I don’t mean that as an insult. It just seems seamless, which is nice.
Starlin: Yeah, she tries to stay very faithful to the pencils.
Henehan: How was it reuniting with so many collaborators on the last Kickstarter campaign? You had Ron Lim, Rick Leonardi, and George Pérez all draw variant covers.
Starlin: George was a prize. I didn’t expect that. I think Spencer Beck [Pérez’s longtime friend and art dealer] got him into it. He said he never got the chance to draw Dreadstar before, so he couldn’t stop drawing.
Henehan: So that was new art! That wasn’t something in the file from years and years ago.
Starlin: No, he sat down and drew that just for this.
Henehan: With his health issues, I’m glad he was able to do that; it looks so great. Looking through that list of creators doing the variant covers, I feel like we are taking a trip through Jim Starlin’s decades long career.
Starlin: It was really quite interesting seeing some of the art, like Bart Sears and Andy Smith. They had really interesting takes on it. I’m used to see it limited down to myself and Angel Medina, and a couple of others. It was kind of jarring and at the same time pleasurable seeing other people’s takes on it.
Henehan: Between Epic, Bravura and now Ominous/Kickstarter, which has been your favorite way to publish Dreadstar?
Starlin: They’re all of their time. Epic Illustrated is where it started off at what was the most creator friendly place around at the time, period. Archie Goodwin, the editor, created the perfect environment for people to create. A few of them, like Eclipse, were kind of nice. Malibu at first was a necessity. Slave Labor was just something we wanted to see what we could do with the reprints. I have to say out of all of this, in terms of production values, Ominous is the best so far. They did a terrific job on the omnibus. I can’t rhapsodize about it enough. They did a terrific job.
Henehan: The omnibuses look fantastic.
Starlin: I remastered it, but their production of it blew me away.
Henehan: Do you miss newsprint at all?
Starlin: I like the new slick pages. I have no nostalgia for the dots for skin tones, the strange mistakes that remain from the hand separations. I remember one Iron Man in particular where one of the plates was missing, so Rhodey was green throughout the entire issue. This is pretty much the best. What you get on the printed page is what I’m intending on the computer. I like the new ways.
Henehan: With Covid infection rates dropping as more people get vaccinated, do you see yourself taking Dreadstar on the road?
Starlin: Actually, I [recently went to] a convention in Washington State. After that, the next one is in Connecticut, Terrific Con. It’s the last weekend in July.
Henehan: Do you think you’ll be at New York Comic Con this year?
Starlin: No plans at this point, but you never can tell. That’s not until October. I’m living on the west coast at the moment, so I’ll more likely be out this way than that way.
Henehan: Makes sense. Any plans on Dreadstar merchandising? There was the t-shirt and the sweatshirt in the Kickstarter, but anything else coming down the pipe?
Starlin: there’s a few things in the works. There’s a really nice statue that they put together of Dreadstar for the Kickstarter, but I don’t know if they got enough people to hop in on it to make it worthwhile doing. That’s in the works. Other stuff? I’m talking to folks about a TV series. I have no wish to do a movie. It’s just too complex a story for it. There’s nothing to report at this moment, but we’re working on it.
Henehan: That would be really exciting if someone were to develop that into a Dreadstar TV series, whether live action or animated.
Starlin: We had one in the works a few years ago, but the producer ended up dying on us, which tends to affect things in an adverse way.
Henehan: That certainly will get in the way of things. Let’s talk about the Guidebook for a moment. I was a big fan of Who’s Who and The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in the 1980s as a kid. I loved seeing that Dreadstar Guidebook.
Starlin: I didn’t have a lot to do with that. That’s mostly Bob Greenberg’s project. They’d show it to me as they went along. Bob’s a historian, and he’s really great at it. He made it entertaining and informative.
Henehan: Can I see what’s on that drawing board behind you, or is it top secret?
(Jim swivels to reveal the art on his drawing board. It’s a huge explosion rendered in pencil, taking up most of the page.)
Starlin: It’s not top secret. It’s just an explosion. Something gets blown up in the story.
Henehan: Is this for book 2?
Starlin: This is for book 2. We’re 60-some odd pages into it, and running along.
Henehan: What was the reaction when you saw the Kickstarter number just explode?
Starlin: I didn’t believe it at first. And then it kept going higher.
Henehan: With the success of Dreadstar, do you see yourself doing any work for Marvel and DC at all?
Starlin: That’s all behind me. I’ve done my shots there. I don’t have any interest in doing work at either company. Dreadstar is my baby, and why squander the time I have left on something unless I really love it?
Henehan: Hopefully that’s a lot of time left.
Starlin: Fingers crossed.
Henehan: And I’m glad you could cross your fingers so easily too!
Starlin: Yeah, I couldn’t do that not so long ago.
Henehan: I can only imagine how frustrating physical therapy was for someone whose livelihood comes from his hands.
Starlin: It was actually the thumb that gave me the most problems. I blew a hole through this area. For the longest time, it would cramp up after five minutes of trying to pencil. I do occasionally get a cramp, but it’s much better now.
Henehan: What’s your typical workday like?
Starlin: It usually takes me about a day to do a page in pencil. I send a bunch of them off to Jaime and she starts inking them. She’ll scan them after she’s done and send me back a digital file. I then color them in Photoshop. I just moved out to the west coast, so I don’t have the same hours I did out there. I’m still transitioning. I used to wake up at five and work until six in the evening, doing stuff in between. In LA now, I’m still trying to move into a regular schedule.
Henehan: Any plans to sell the original art from these OGNs?
Starlin: Not right now, no. It’s sort of a retirement plan or inheritance. I don’t see any reason to do it as this point. I’ll hold onto them. Jaime gets a chunk of them, but I’m not sure what she’s doing. I think she’s holding too.
Henehan: That’s a good retirement plan.
Starlin: Walt Simonson basically did that throughout his entire career.
Henehan: I’m thankful for that because we got those beautiful Simonson Artist’s Editions of his art from IDW. Any plans for that size book of Dreadstar? Any chance of an original art book?
Starlin: We don’t have anything in the works but that doesn’t mean it’s not something we may do down the line. You’ll just have to wait and see. I want to get the Peter David issues of Dreadstar reprinted in an omnibus. But there’s only so many hours in the day, and right now, this is taking up most of it (referring to his drawing board).
Henehan: I look forward to seeing that explosion in the book.
Starlin: It will look better in color.
Henehan: Your pencils are gorgeous. A black and white Dreadstar would not be a bad Dreadstar. But I agree. The coloring looks fantastic. Any final words for the fans?
Starlin: Thanks for keeping me alive all these years. And keep doing what you’re doing. See you next year with another book!