Tuesday, March 1, 2011

BAB Book Review:The Art of Jim Starlin: A Life in Words and Pictures

Karen: I'm sure it's become apparent that Jim Starlin is one of my favorite comic book artists (and writers). His work on Warlock and Captain Marvel made a huge impression on me and is still some of my favorite repeat-reading material. So I was very excited to lay my hands on this massive book, The Art of Jim Starlin: A Life in Words and Pictures, published by IDW. This big (9 1/2" x 12") book is 328 pages of sheer Starlin beauty. Almost every page includes glossy color reproductions of Starlin's work from across the 4 decades plus of his career.

There's some of his
early fanzine art (Dr. Weird), very early Marvel art, including Thanos' first appearance in Iron Man 55, some Conan work, covers for The Rampaging Hulk magazine, Captain Marvel, Epic, Warlock, Dreadstar, book illustrations -really, just about anything you can think of that Starlin has done will be found here.
It also includes text written by the man himself, and he is remarkably forthcoming about himself and his dealings in the comics industry. Particularly the last few chapters of the book, dealing with his relationships with Marvel and DC in recent years, we see how much things have changed at both companies -and not for the better. After Starlin returned to Marvel to do the Thanos and Marvel Universe: The End series, he was interested in working with Warlock again. "So I emailed Tom Brevoort that I'd like to talk to him about a new series for the character. A few days later I received an email from one of Tom's assistants informing me that someone else at Marvel was going to do an Adam Warlock mini-series and that I could no longer use the character in the pages of Thanos." He goes on to detail how he got the runaround from Marvel about this, the story about why he couldn't use Warlock kept changing, and finally he told them that he had to think about how he was going to deal with the situation. "Within the hour I got an email back saying that if I wasn't happy with the way things were I could always quit. I have a rule: if someone tells you that if you don't like something you should quit, that's exactly what you should do. It only goes downhill from there."

So the man who made Warlock into a cu
lt favorite was basically told not to let the door hit him on the way out. No regard for someone who provided the company with one its greatest villains, along with a ton of other characters and ideas. Sure, we're only hearing one side of the story. But I wouldn't be surprised if this was exactly what happened.

In his closing comments, while Starlin states that he does love comics, he questions
the viability of the art form. He mentions both the never-ending big event mini-series and the top-heavy management at both companies as things he sees doing harm to the industry.

His final words of advice to aspiring comics writers/arti
sts are to make sure that making art is your primary goal, not money. "Creativity will take you further than being a cog in the money making machine. It is the unique that is remembered, not necessarily the best seller." And he should know.


Edo Bosnar said...

I share your appreciation of Starlin; I love all of his big epic stories in Capt. Marvel, Warlock, etc. and I also liked his more obscure work, like those Darklon stories that Pacific collected and published in the early 80s.
That part of his book that you cite is really fascinating - in the way a car wreck is. What I can't believe is that a veritable industry legend e-mails a Marvel editor, and he doesn't even bother responding but rather delegates it to one of his assistants...

Karen said...

Edo, not only did Starlin get emails from assistants, he mentions that he was never asked to have lunch or any of the usual things people do when conducting business. It sounds like almost all interactions were done via email, and that it was all very impersonal.

I don't know, maybe Starlin is difficult to work with; I have no idea. But he still deserved more respect than to basically be told to f*** off. It makes me wonder if Marvel just figures they can do anything and still make money, so why bother to treat one of their former stars with any courtesy? They can slap Thanos on a book and still sell a bunch.


Alex Sheikman said...

Hi Karen,

I am a huge Starlin fan. I have discovered his work through reprints, but i feel that his stories are simply excellent and are still able to fascinate "new" readers like myself 30 years after their original publication.

Being a fan of his work, I have tried to track down as much of his work as possible and my complaint about the art book is that (other than the illustrations from his unpublished novel and a few of his previously unpublished paintings) there is not too much new/unpublished art included in the book. In fact I was surprised to see that most of the reproductions are from scanned comics rather than reproductions from original artwork. I know that there is a healthy original art market out there and it seems like the editors could have tracked down some interesting illustrations. For example, on Alan Weiss site, I have seen a Dreadstar crew pin-up penciled by Starlin and inked by Mr. Weiss...stuff like that would have made this book a true gem.

Even though I wish the book had better art content, I do agree that it is a great book to read for Starlin fans and just fans of comics and story narrative.

Karen said...

You know Alex, I meant to mention in the review that there was very little in the way of original, unpublished art. There are a few convention sketches here and there but otherwise you're right, almost everything has been published somewhere before. That is a bit disappointing.

That being said, I did enjoy the book and for real Starlin fans, it's probably a must-have.


Tom Brevoort said...


I'm sure it will come as no surprise that I would dispute some of what Jim recounts in this book about his time on THANOS and MARVEL UNIVERSE: THE END, his reaction and behavior when he was informed about Greg Pak's WARLOCK series, and how all of this went down--most specifically that he was in any way told to **** off.

Tom B

Karen said...

Hi Tom,

It's always hard to know where the truth lies in these situations, which is why I did say we were only getting one side of the story here. But this isn't the first time I've heard an old pro complain about their treatment by the modern Marvel or DC. Again, I'm sure each side has their view on what really happened in these cases. But since I was reviewing Jim's book, I went ahead and presented his take on things, with a slight disclaimer.

As a fan, I'm just sorry that we won't be seeing more Starlin work at Marvel -or maybe DC either.


david_b said...

I'm really not qualified to talk at length about Jim Starlin. I'll definitely have to pick up the book..

I was amazed at how well he drew Ben Grimm, not an easy task as Romita and the otherwise-excellent Sal Buscema would attest to.

Marvel Feature 11 combined both delightful art and an interesting setup for another Thing/Hulk match-off. As for Capt Marvel, ish 27 and 28 were my first issues with Jim's art, and I loved his more 'gloomy' take on the Avengers in ish 28.

'Course, that sucked me right into the whole Thanos/Destroyer storyline for a few more issues, and I'm STILL buying other vintage Starlin issues at eBay.

On a side note, are there any interesting back-stories on making the 'Death of Captain Marvel' publication..? It seemed like one of Marvel's first jaunts into that deluxe format, precursuring all the '80s releases. I guess I'll have to hunt around on the 'net.

It's all just magnificent art, partially because it was majestic, yet it felt.. 'just-off-mainstream' to spur your curiousity and draw you in, a tad like Steranko. I believe it's how he drew facial expressions that really resonated with me.

Doug said...

Apparently Marvel no longer has that "soft spot" in their company heart for the creators of yore. Must have gone out the door when Stan left. Today we'd perhaps not see a Jerry Siegel, Bill Everett, or any other major contributor to comics history get the opportunity to shine once more.

But as Karen said, the truth is in the middle somewhere, and as those of us who read comics history and lore know -- it often gets buried in the name-calling and faulty memories.


Henry R. Kujawa said...

It's real simple. This is what happens when corporations, rather than creators, OWN the characters.

And in Marvel's case, we're talking about genuine GANGSTER mentality. And the company has ALWAYS been that way.

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