Former Detroiter and comic book legend Jim Starlin was inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame at the San Diego Comic Con in mid-July. Known for his epic space saga work at Marvel comics, Starlin was the first Detroit native to join comics’ galaxy of its brightest stars.
The Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame recognizes those who have made great strides in the medium through creativity, time, work, and importance to its advancement. It is named after Will Eisner, who was one of comics’ first great innovators and was credited as the creator of the graphic novel.
Starlin joins such comic book giants as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Mort Weisinger (a major player in Superman’s ‘50s adventures), R. Crumb, creator of MAD, Al Jafee, Chris Claremont (who made the X-Men Marvel’s most popular property), and a whole host of names that made the industry and its media tie-ins as rich as they are
“I’m honored and a bit humbled by the acknowledgement,” says Starlin. “It hasn’t always been easy. Even big publishers go through bad spells, and it’s always the talent that takes the hit at those times. But in the end, things have worked out pretty well, especially with so many of the characters I created showing up in the Marvel movies (Thanos, Drax, Gamora and the Infinity Gems).
“Would I do it all again? Probably. My 40-some years drawing and writing comics have had more to do with addiction than dedication. It’s an art form that gives you tremendous freedom, if you play your cards right.”
Starlin often tackles themes like death, suicide, mental illness, addiction, depression, religion, fanaticism, godhood, and the effects of violence, played out across fantastic and often cosmic of backgrounds.
Born in Detroit in 1949, his long line of work has made him a fan favorite. He wrote and drew Warlock and Captain Marvel stories, created Dreadstar and wrote Cosmic Odyssey and the Punisher P.O.V. as well as the story about the death of Batman’s sidekick, the second Robin.
With the Marvel movies becoming such critical successes, Starlin’s creation of Drax and Gamora, both major players in the surprise hit the “Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, has thrilled countless people.
One of his most famous creations, Thanos, is the major villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (movies Marvel studies has put out), and will be in the next Avengers film, which appears to be based off of his story, “The Infinity Gauntlet,” taking the name from another work of his, “Infinity War.”
Starlin was also one of the first creators to bridge the gap between underground comix, the counterculture of comics, and the mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC, with his work in the early issues of Star*Reach. It allowed established creators to flex their creative muscle away from the restraints of the commercial comic book world.
While born in Detroit, Starlin grew up in Berkley. He says his Catholic grade school education had deep effect on his work, especially during his early career. This is most evident in his work on Marvel’s Warlock, who looks at the complex themes of religious institutions.
He says his three-year stint in the Navy also had a major impact on his work.
Like many metro Detroiters he tried his hand at working in the auto industry. After a workplace mishap during his brief stint working the line at a stamping plant cost him a protective glove and gave him a brief scare about his drawing hand, he realized factory life was not for him. A high school friend, Alan Milgrom, and Mike Vosburg, both fellow future comic artists, introduced him to the comic book fandom.
“From them I discovered there were these things called fanzines, who would publish your stories and art and not charge you anything to do so,” Starlin says. “Yes, my relationship with publishers has changed markedly since then.”
Ironically, while Detroit is often described as the birthplace of fandom, Starlin says he was never part of it.
“I was never actually part of the Detroit fan scene before moving to New York and becoming a professional. I believe I attended one convention shortly after I got out of the service and before I left town,” he says. “I briefly met the marvelous artist Russ Heath at that con, which inspired me to go off a month or so later to New York, seeking comic book work.
“Fortunately I arrived just as Marvel Comics was expanding from about eight books a month to something like 23 books a month. They were quite literally hiring anyone who came across the state line and could hold a pencil in order to keep up with the deadlines.”
He headed to New York before Milgrom and got set up. “I called Al and convinced him this was the time to take his shot also,” Starlin says. “He got work over at DC Comics. Al and I have been working in the business ever since, often as collaborators.”
In his four decades of work he has accumulated an impressive list of credits as both writer and artist. Even being in his 60s hasn’t slowed him down. Perhaps his Detroit roots played a role.
“Detroiters seem to share something roughly equivalent to the Protestant Work Ethic; they all want to work. GM and Ford did not breed a city of dilettantes.” Those words were written by writer and occasional 70s Starlin collaborator Steve Englehart in the introduction of the Dreadstar Graphic Novel.
It is hard deny the Detroit working spirit lives in Starlin. Earlier this year he wrote a weekly comic book mini-series called “Guardians of the Galaxy: Mother Entropy” and has written and drawn a near 100-page graphic novel each year for the last three, with a mini-series in between each volume that he either wrote or wrote and drew.
Starlin is clearly a symbol of the unique and individualistic talent Detroit can produce. His induction into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame shows that type of talent is respected and appreciated on a grand scale.