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Jim Starlin talks 'Breed' omnibus, Malibu Comics, his artistry, Marvel/DC, and hurricanes

Comic Books

Jim Starlin talks ‘Breed’ omnibus, Malibu Comics, his artistry, Marvel/DC, and hurricanes

The ‘Breed’-centric crowdfunding kicks off this week.

In June 2021, I spoke with Jim Starlin, creator/co-creator of everyone from Thanos to Shang-Chi, about his beloved comics baby, Dreadstar. Starlin has some real love for that space-faring hero, as Dreadstar seems to exemplify his art style and love of big-time adventures.

But there’s another hero in the Starlin bibliography that may be just as essential and informative: Breed.

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Debuting in the spring of 1994 for Malibu Comics, Breed starred Raymond Stoner, a Vietnam vet who discovers he’s half demon and subsequently fights demon spawn to save mankind. There were three series released — including a second in 1994/1995 from Malibu Comics and the 2011 revival at Image Comics — with a total of 19 issues following Stoner’s half-breed ass-kicking adventures.

“I continuously get somebody, at least once every show, who brings up some Breed to sign,” said Starlin during a recent Zoom call. “I also get people that come up with a Space Knight book to get signed, and who remembers those?”

Sure, anything Starlin has touched in his decades-long career is likely to be celebrated and admired. But with a Breed omnibus launching this week (June 4) via Zoop, we get a chance to revisit just how special Breed truly is to Starlin’s larger career.

For one thing, it got him back into comics after some time away from the industry.

“My ex-wife, Daina Graziunas, and I were writing horror novels at that point,” said Starlin. “I’d been taking a break from comics for a bit and wanted to become the new Stephen King. That obviously didn’t happen.”

It wasn’t just new dreams that pushed Starlin out of the Big Two; 1994 was a weird time for DC and Marvel, and creators were exploring more of their professional options.

“I didn’t really want to work for Marvel or DC again at that time,” said Starlin. “I went back and did some more work for them later, but [those stints were] shortly after they had done the whole revision on the copyright laws. You didn’t have to sign away your work when signing your check. Basically, I was trying to do as much work for the newer companies that would allow me to keep the copyrights as I could. And Breed was a good entry into it. It was something different. It wasn’t spaceships. It was horror stories and monstrous people and things that I wouldn’t have been able to do at Marvel or DC just for the Comics Code and nothing else. There’s some nudity in Breed and some other strange depraved things here and there. Bit of cannibalism and what have you.”

Jim Starlin talks 'Breed' omnibus, Malibu Comics, his artistry, Marvel/DC, and hurricanes

Courtesy of Monkey Wrench Press.

At the same time, Starlin was very much interested in going beyond comics, regardless of the publisher attached.

“I wanted to bring back the illustrated novel,” said Starlin. “That was my intention. And so Breed originally was going to be a text novel with illustrations. I actually had done some drawings for it. They’ve appeared in one of the art books somewhere along the line. And basically he was a human who was running around in a trenchcoat fighting demons. So when Malibu decided that they were going to start publishing, and asked if I wanted to do something, I said, ‘Well, I’d like to do this.’ So it being much more visual, I decided to bring on the horns and the massive persona.”

But, in rather typical Starlin fashion, the character quickly evolved once again.

“It turned more into a cosmic story as we went along because that’s what I do,” he said. “In one of the later issues of Breed, I brought in Dreadstar and a number of other characters just to create this ‘Starlin Universe’ of sorts. He was a lot of fun at the time. Elsewhere had always been plotted as a part of the storyline.”

It turns out that’s a decidedly ongoing occurrence when Starlin is creating anything.

“And I’ve always liked being able to change in midstream,” he said. “If I get an idea, I will toss a couple pages out to change something just so that the new idea, which is better, can be put into use.”

It’s probably why he was so keen on working with Malibu in the first place. Circa 1994, the publisher was something of a comics maverick, and plenty of writers/artists turned to them to get the creative and financial support to do some lofty creator-owned stuff.

“They basically just let me do what I want,” said Starlin. “That’s always been the best way to handle me. Roy Thomas said early on, ‘I’m just going to let Starlin loose, and he’s going to do what he does.’ And it worked out; we got Captain Marvel and Warlock out of that.”

Starlin added, “With Malibu, they had these new facilities for the coloring. They were very friendly about letting us come out, and I [co-started] my own little coloring company at that time called Electric Prism. We looked at how they did things; they were doing some things different than we were. Some we incorporated, and some we stuck with what we had.”

Unfortunately, though, Malibu went belly up circa 1994.

“I thought that they were going to be around for a while,” said Starlin. “I was very sad when I heard that Marvel bought them. I thought it was a complete waste because they had a lot of potential there as a company. And Marvel took the coloring department. I don’t know if they ever did anything with it. That’s what they basically bought it for, the coloring company. And apparently there was some kind of legal snafu with the characters that had been created there. None of those had been ever used again.”

Breed

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

Starlin’s experience with “indie” outlets haven’t always been as fruitful as with Malibu. When he re-launched Breed with Image Comics around 2011, the processes were markedly different.

“They pretty well let you be whatever you wanted, but they weren’t very helpful,” said Starlin of Image’s management at the time. “I lived up here in New York at that time and [Hurricane] Irene hit, and so we didn’t have any internet or any power in that. You’re supposed to approve the books, each issue, online. I called them up — I go to drive to where there was some cell phone service — ‘Hey, I can’t get to a computer to do this.’ The response was, ‘Well, there’s a penalty if you don’t approve this on time.’ And I’m going, ‘I’m in the middle of a hurricane.’ We wouldn’t have any power for a week. So that sort of left a bad taste by the time that was done.”

Once again, though, creating Breed wasn’t just about working with any specific publishers. It was very much a chance to further develop interesting characters, and Breed came at a time when anti-heroes were both big ticket items and still very much evolving.

“Well, I’ve always tried to give the characters complexity,” said Starlin. “Breed is a monster, but also as he went along, just like Thanos, he occasionally did something nice. He does terrible things for a just cause. There’s one sequence where he comes upon to another [half-demon] who has been torturing and killing some woman, and he has this sense of justice of how he wants to deal with this guy. And it’s a monstrous way he deals with it.”

He added, “When you do a character, you want them to go on a journey. And that journey usually involves some kind of change in revelation. And Breed had that on a number of different points, where he goes off between the first and second series and learns martial arts at the Tibetan monastery, which brings out a different aspect to him. He’s still a monster, but he’s got some rounded edges now.”

Starlin even sees some notable connections with another famous ’90s anti-hero type.

“And it was interesting because Breed and Hellboy almost came out simultaneously,” said Starlin. “I was on one side of the country and Mike [Mignola] was on the other. Mike’s been luckier; he got the movies out of it. I haven’t got a movie yet.”

Heroes like Breed may seem a touch outdated by today’s standards, but Starlin thinks these figures play an important role even to this very day.

“I think with what we have going on today, anything that makes you think is a good thing,” he said. “I mean, our basic job is to entertain, but I’d like to think that I sneak in a bit in the story, a little something that makes you go, ‘Well, I hadn’t thought about that,’ Or, ‘Maybe I should think about this or this is a new way of looking at it.’ Maybe that’s just ego on my part, but that’s the intention.”

Breed isn’t just a way to do a different kind of hero. Starlin is very much an artist first, and in 1994 he was interested in embracing new technology to tell the kinds of stories he had floating around in his head.

“If nothing else, just in the technology of the coloring during that time, everything became much easier to do,” he said. “Up until Breed, I had never actually got on the computer and colored a book. It opened the whole world. When I first started doing Breed, if you made a mistake on these early Macs, you would have maybe two or three hours of work ahead of you.”

Jim Starlin talks 'Breed' omnibus, Malibu Comics, his artistry, Marvel/DC, and hurricanes

Courtesy of Marvel Comics.

And though he may wear many comics-related hats, Starlin very much believes in the power of effective coloring.

“The coloring is underrated because each part of the job facilitates part of telling the story,” he said. “The writer comes up with the story. The penciler is the engineer of the story, and he basically sets in motion and tells you how the pacing is going to be. The inker comes along and gives the story a style. The letter, of course, communicates the story so you can know what’s going on. But the colorist is the one who adds the mood to the story. I find it an essential element within the mix, as opposed to just an afterthought. I easily spend as much time on each page coloring as I do penciling.”

Part of that progressive approach is because, as an old-school comics artist, Starlin knows what the limitations were like until the dawning of comics’ own “computer age.”

“When I started off in comics, we had a little shop over in New Jersey where all the separations were done and there was a bunch of little old ladies sitting inside a room with no windows, working down plastic sheets,” he said. “And we had like 36 or 70 shades of color that we could use. We had 100%, 25%, and 50%. So you work out those combinations. It’s not a lot of different range, or not much range. And as we went along, things got better. New printing styles came out. We suddenly got 75%, even 80%, that we could play with.”

All of this experience means that Starlin knows not only the “technical” limitations of making comics in the past but also how these limitations regularly affected stories themselves.

“Remember those early Marvel comics — the horror and monster books — every third panel was a knockout color of red on top of yellow,” he said. “And that really wasn’t horror; that was just making it as easy as they could to knock it out as fast as they could. I never wanted to do that. I spend as much time coloring as I do penciling on a page just because I think it’s such an addition to the mix.”

Just as Breed is moving into a new era of sorts, so too is Starlin further interested in the power of technology. It goes beyond just computing, though, into some exciting, and potentially terrifying, new terrain.

“I always like to try whatever new thing comes along,” said Starlin. “Like right now, we have AI, and everyone’s freaking out that it’s going to replace artists, but I don’t see that happening. I’m actually utilizing some for backgrounds and things like that. There were diehards for a long time, but I don’t feel like being a diehard, and figured I’d try and incorporate [AI]. It’s still my work; it just has an added dimension to it now.”

And how does he respond to critics of the technology?

“You know, the buggy whip came and went,” said Starlin.

That same attitude, however, informs another, slightly more accepted practice in modern comics: crowdfunding. While the Zoop campaign isn’t his first rodeo, Starlin appreciates what this direct outreach offers to comics creators.

“Well, anything that takes you away from the big corporations I like,” he said. “I can’t knock the big corporations too much because what I made out of the Avengers movies, gave me the money to sit down for a couple of years and just work on Dreadstar without anything coming in.”

Breed

Courtesy of Image Comics.

He added, “But at the same time, I’m not dependent on them for the printing, I’m going directly to the readers. And so I’m grateful for them coming in and supporting us. We’ve been pretty lucky on how we’ve done so far on the crowdfunding. It’s a whole new world out there. We don’t have to be slaves to either [Disney] or Warner Brothers or whatever.”

Plus, he sees crowdfunding as a way to get back into traditional comics shops and play up his older, more established audience.

“The Dreadstar books will be distributed by Dark Horse here shortly, and that’s what will get us into comic book shops,” said Starlin. “And eventually down the line, Breed will probably end up there as a collected volume.”

All in all, Breed makes for a really interesting story, and one that you’ll maybe hear even more about with the omnibus (in addition to unreleased art and other bonuses/incentives).

“I was thinking about writing a little essay for the back end if I get time,” said Starlin. “Just a couple pages, give a little history and then talk about the character. I’d like to write about what it was at that time that was going on, where I was at…the changes that took place technologically as we went along and working with Malibu and stuff like that.”

But then all of this leads to one inevitable question: could we eventually see a fourth Breed story/series? While Starlin is “tied up with Dreadstar for the next couple of years,” some creations are just too big and too important to abandon for good.

“I got a vague idea where I’d like to go with him,” said Starlin. “But there’s no telling if I find myself an artist who wants to draw Breed…I might just start writing stories again.”

If you’d like to contribute to the Breed omnibus campaign via Zoop, head here.

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