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It may be difficult to find silver linings in the perpetual dark cloud we're all living under at the moment, but they're there to be discovered. Maybe it's the nightly rituals of musical tributes to the frontline workers, the stories of people checking in on their elderly neighbors, or the teachers going the extra mile to help students keep up with their studies.
For me, I found one in the title of a press release about an upcoming Kickstarter project. It was straightforward and to the point: "Jim Starlin returns to drawing with Dreadstar Returns!"
Any new project from the cosmic comics legend is worth celebrating – and worth supporting. (Here's the link to the Kickstarter campaign, by the way.) But the news that Starlin, co-creator of Thanos, Drax, Gamora and other classic Marvel characters, was back at the drawing table really brought a smile to my face.
Nearly four years ago, Starlin's Sodastream machine blew up and injured his hand so badly, he never thought he would be able to draw again. Imagine a freak accident taking away your ability to do something you were great at, something that made you a transcendent talent; how devastating would that be? I reached out to him to learn how he regained his ability to make magic with a pencil once again.
"Yeah, it took a while," Starlin said during a phone interview with SYFY WIRE. "A lot of ball squeezing and other stretching exercises while I was watching the news or a movie. And it eventually got better where if I really took the time, I could do a sketch. It took about three years, maybe more, to regain the strength in my hand."
Obviously, he could still dream up and write stories. But losing the ability to bring his ideas to visual life had to be devastating to Starlin at some level. He was one of the very first dual threats in mainstream comic books, following in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Jack Kirby. As the writer-artist behind meditative space operas in Captain Marvel and Warlock, Starlin became an industry superstar. I wondered if not being able to draw made him feel incomplete as a creator in some way.
"While I was not able to draw, I'd dream about drawing," Starlin said. "I'd wake up in the morning and say, 'Gee, I wish I was drawing.' And I still couldn't draw. It was really frustrating."
The artist admits he's still not able to draw quite like he used to. "I use the French curves for sweeping lines more often than I used to," he said. "There are some things I've had to compensate over. And besides, I'm getting on in years. And so it's been an adjustment. But I think it's been worth the effort and the time spent on it. Now I can do about two, sometimes three hours without taking a break and that's remarkable to what it was."
The 100-page graphic novel he's working on (with Jaime Jameson on board as inker) for Ominous Press marks the first new Dreadstar tale in decades. If you're not familiar with the story, Dreadstar is a creator-owned project begun by Starlin in 1982 for Marvel's Epic Comics imprint. It follows the adventures of Vanth Dreadstar and his motley crew of space pals. Dreadstar's mission from the beginning was to bring an end to the conflict between the dueling empires of the Church of the Instrumentality and the Monarchy. This new story uses the space between adventures to provide perspective when Vanth gets the gang back together.
"It brings all our characters, Dreadstar, Willow, Oedi, and Tuetun, and [shows] where they're at in their different situations 25 years after we last seen these folks," Starlin noted. "Oedi is now middle-aged and Willow has still been occupying the computer system that runs everything, which is now called the Willow Consortium that used to be the Monarchy and Instrumentality. And this terrible menace comes along threatening the entire empire that she runs and she's forced to turn to Dreadstar to deal with the menace they're facing. As they go on, it turns out it's something from their past and they're horrified to find out what it is."
The big hook for this new story came to Starlin a few years back when he was working on the remastered omnibus of his series. "As I was going through and looking at the pages, I re-read the stories," he said. "It hit me that I'd never ever wrapped up something the way I wanted to, and that started me thinking about this particular aspect of the story. I realized I had this pretty ripping yarn that I wanted to tell."
Starlin wanted to offer a fresh jump-on point for readers who weren't familiar with the Dreadstar mythology. "Just starting off the day after [the last issue of the series] just didn't make any sense to me. I felt like I'd grown, my life has changed, so would the lives of these characters," he said. The Kickstarter campaign for Dreadstar Returns also includes the Dreadstar Guidebook, a hardcover companion book that provides a handy guide for new fans to navigate the ambitious universe Starlin created. While he readily admits he doesn't plan to draw Dreadstar indefinitely, it certainly sounds like he has more adventures swirling in his head.
These are pleasantly busy times for Starlin. Along with scripting and drawing the new graphic novel, he recently did a variant cover for Dan DiDio's Metal Men series at DC. There is no new work on the docket for Marvel Comics, in case you were wondering, and Starlin says he doesn't expect to ever do anything for the publisher ever again. He had a falling out with the company a few years ago and those fences don't appear mended at all.
While his relationship with that corner of Marvel appears permanently severed, he's getting along just fine with Marvel's moviemaking team. Another of his co-creations is about to get his theatrical close-up when Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings arrives in theaters in its new release date of May 7, 2021, and Starlin has high hopes for the MCU's first Asian-American title player.
"He could easily be there with Captain America. Shang-Chi could easily become sort of that heroic role model that the Marvel Universe likes to throw out there," Starlin said about the character he brought to life with writer Steve Englehart in 1973's Special Marvel Edition #15. "I'm rooting for it and the whole production group, which has had so many downfalls. Those fires out of Australia and now coronavirus. Who knows when they're going to be starting shooting again. Soon, I hope."
Having already graced the screen with a neat cameo in Avengers: Endgame, he's ready for one more callback. "I'm hoping for another cameo, but who knows?"
Call me greedy, but how I wish Starlin and Marvel publishing would bury the hatchet. Because now that the master has picked up the pencil once more, I can't be the only person who wants to see a Jim Starlin-drawn variant cover to a Shang-Chi comic next year, can I?
And don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained during these strange and stressful times we're in. Our video series is chock-full of my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.