Thanos Creator Jim Starlin On Marvel Movies, A Dreadstar TV Show & More [Interview]

Jim Stalin is a name that will go down in pop culture history. At one point or another, it would have been in the circles of those who read and appreciated comic books. Now? His name will be mentioned right alongside some of the biggest films of all time like "Avengers: Endgame" as he is the man who created the Mad Titan they call Thanos. Because of the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the long arc that Thanos had, it might not be unfair to say that he is arguably one of the biggest villains in cinema history. That all started with Starlin.

Long before Thanos became a gargantuan figure in the broader pop culture sphere, Starlin, a wildly accomplished comic book artist and writer, initially created the character in the pages of "Invincible Iron Man" #55. He would later go on to write "Infinity Gauntlet," one of the most cherished comic book events ever published, not to mention the book that served as the loose inspiration for "Infinity War" and "Endgame."

But Starlin's work extends well beyond one mere creation, having co-created Marvel's "Shang-Chi" as well, among many other characters. These days, he's largely not working for Marvel or DC anymore but is busy putting together a series of graphic novels based on his character "Dreadstar," including "Dreadstar Returns," which is available now.

I recently had the good fortune to speak with Starlin at his booth on the floor at Phoenix Fan Fusion in Arizona. In between signing autographs for his many fans, we discussed how Thanos has evolved, his hope to see a "Dreadstar" TV show, his thoughts on comic book creator royalties, and more.

'I like telling stories. I'm a storyteller'

So I know you just had COVID. I hope you're feeling okay.

Yeah. I'm still highly contagious. You're probably going to die before the afternoon's over. No, I had it about three weeks ago and I've been testing negative for a week, so it wasn't too bad.

Well, that's good to hear. You seem to be ...  Some people sit at these booths and they kind of have an air about them. You seem to really enjoy this. You seem to really love being with people. What's it like for you being here after the few years we had?

It's fun. I sit at a drawing board all day by myself, so when I get out and be around people I like to have fun and this is fun. I got a bit of a dour assistant this time, [gestures to his assistant], but she's ignoring me still.

I've seen quite a few people picking up your "Dreadstar" book here, man, and you said you got four more coming out.

Yes. "Dreadstar vs. The Inevitable" is next. Then, the next one is "Dreadstar vs. Dreadstar," and we're not sure what the titles for the last two are. I have the stories done.

I know you're not doing so much work for the big two [Marvel and DC] anymore, but, at this point in your career, what keeps you doing stuff like "Dreadstar?"

I like telling stories. I'm a storyteller. "Dreadstar" was a character I lived through for a decade in the 80s, and, basically, coming back to it was like going to a family reunion. It was fun doing the renovations on the characters. Just having a good time with it.

Obviously, at this point, the whole comic book movie boom isn't going away anytime soon. Marvel and DC are locked up at Warner Bros. and Disney. Do you, at some point, see a point where someone's going to come up to you and say, "Let's do a Dreadstar movie." How would you feel about that?

I'd say I'd rather do a "Dreadstar" TV series.

Oh really? Why is that? Why do you think it's a better fit for TV?

Especially with streaming, because it's a long story. It doesn't fit into even a three-hour format, easily. It's about a revolution. It's about an anarchist without a second act. Basically, I would rather see a streaming TV series with maybe a little bit less special effects than you would in a movie. I think the story, itself, would support multiple episodes rather than trying to squeeze it all into one or two movies, or three movies.

'Nobody at Marvel ever thought much of him until he showed up in the movies'

That does make sense and I do think, especially now, streaming budgets are going so high anyway that you can really do some really cinematic stuff on TV. Speaking of the cinematic stuff, Thanos was always a pretty big character. I think him getting into the movies, at some point, made sense.

Actually, he wasn't a really big character.

Right, but he was a big villain at least.

Nobody much used him, except me. Nobody at Marvel ever thought much of him until he showed up in the movies, and that's the reason they proceeded to try to keep him from me as far as they could.

I was going to mention, Shang-Chi though, I don't know that you would have ever thought, even in your wildest dreams, that Shang-Chi was going to be in a movie, did you?

Actually, "Shang-Chi" was optioned for a movie several times before. Long before the "Spider-Man" movie, they were talking about doing a "Shang-Chi" movie, because the kung fu craze was out there and it was an inexpensive movie to produce, because it was just going to be a bunch of kung fu fighters back then. What they created now is a whole different animal. Much the way they did with Thanos, they took the basic structure of it and stayed true to the spirit of the character. I was blown away by the movie.

I tell you, it's kind of funny because "Shang-Chi" and "Eternals" were coming out at relatively the same time, and everyone was predicting that "Shang-Chi" was going to be the lesser movie, and "Eternals" was going to be the much better movie. It didn't quite work out that way.

It did not quite work out that way.

They did have Pip and Eros at the end [of Eternals].

If you can't talk about this, I understand, but I heard you mention to someone earlier that it seemed like you were saying they're going to do more Thanos in the movies. Are you aware of that?

I've heard of rumors. It's just nothing to be quoted and say that, "Jim said..."

I didn't want to miss quote you.

There have been things online, but there's nothing officially coming out.

'The character has gone on without me'

At this point, like you said, Thanos was a big villain in the comics, but you were the one keeping him alive Now? One of the biggest villains in cinema history. How has your relationship with Thanos and the work that you did changed now that he's the subject of some of the biggest things in all of pop culture?

Well, I don't work for Marvel anymore.


It's changed in the fact that I don't work for Marvel anymore. The character has gone on without me, and that's the way it is when you work with Marvel. To tell you the truth, I haven't worked at Marvel Comics for several years. I don't know what they're doing with Thanos. I just saw him on an "Eternals" cover.

You mentioned the whole idea of work for hire and stuff like that. Guys like Ed Brubaker, recently, have gotten very open about the idea of Marvel and Disney not paying the comic creators particularly well for the appearances in the movies. Do you have anything thoughts on that whole notion? My feelings, as someone who loved the movies and the comics, I feel like people like you and the creators should be paid well for these characters inspiring million-dollar movies. How do you feel about it?

It's going to be different with everybody. My relationship with Editorial was bad. My relationship with Marvel cinema is good. They have been very generous with me on a number of different levels; I have no complaints. I hear Mr. Brubaker every so often and I don't know what his situation is with them, so I won't comment on that. Everybody has got a different slant on what's going on there because it's a lot of mixing what they're using there. A lot of the guys who created these things are gone. Should their families be getting something? I would say yes. Is that what the situation is? I don't know.

In my book anyway, as far as comic book artists go you are at the very top of that food chain. I think a lot of people look up to you. What would be your advice to people attempting to get into the business right now, if you have any at all?

Draw everything and write everything, including more than comics. Don't limit yourself down to getting your influences through comics because that gives you re-tread. Everybody who is really good at what they have done in this business has brought in stuff, going back to [Jack] Kirby. Kirby brought cubism into the comic book artwork. Drove a lot of artists crazy, but I loved it, myself. My advice is soak everything up you can and see if you can infuse it with your work.