One of the risks of writing fiction is getting wrapped up in the world you create. Sometimes a writer’s characters take on a life of their own, but what happens when one of your creation comes to life in order to take your life? Writer Daniel Way and legendary artist Richard Corben answer that question and more in “Starr the Slayer,” a four issue mini-series from Marvel Comics mature readers imprint, Marvel MAX. CBR News spoke with Way and Corben about the series, which was announced by Marvel yesterday at their “Pint O’ C.B” panel at HeroesCon.
Many of the names and concepts of “Starr the Slayer” may be familiar to readers of Warren Ellis’s “New Universal” series, but they aren’t the original creation of the popular Brit writer. Ellis was actually a similar thing to Way and Corben are doing by expanding and reimagining the original “Starr”story by writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith. Originally, Starr was a barbarian warrior who inhabited a fantasy world, and his tale was part of the 1970 Marvel anthology comic “Chamber of Darkness” #4. “Legend has it that ‘Starr the Slayer came about because Barry Windsor-Smith desperately wanted to do ‘Conan,’ and at that point Marvel was already publishing a Conan book,” Daniel Way told CBR News. “So as kind of a tryout, he did this story story called ‘Starr the Slayer’ which featured a Conan-type character, but the twist was that Starr was the creation of a pulp writer named Len Carson and at the end of the story he actually came to life and killed Carson. So it tied itself off quite neatly and it was a good story. It looked incredible.”
For their “Starr” series, Way and Corben are taking the original story back to square one keeping many of the original elements intact. When the new series begins, Len Carson is a pulp writer living in New York City who was quite successful early on his career thanks to his creation of Starr the Slayer. “That really wasn’t what he was aspiring for though,” Way said. “He wanted to try something a lot more literary. He did try and fail and ended up burning a lot of bridges. He burned everyone who propped him while he was doing ‘Starr,’ thinking he was going to write the great American novel.
Carson’s literary misadventures and bridge burning have left the writer broke and desperate. So when Way and Corben’s story begins, Carson has decided to go back and revive Starr the Slayer as a potential meal ticket. “He goes back to his publisher and pitches the idea of writing the origin of Starr the Slayer,” The fact of the matter is, though, that he doesn’t have a real secure handle on the story and doesn’t know how it’s going to end. He just needs the money. His publisher gives him the go ahead, he sits down at his typewriter, and really with that first key stroke we cut to Zardath, which is the kingdom Starr the Slayer will eventually rule.
“When we first meet Starr he’s a hunter/gatherer type with his family and his tribe. I don’t want to give too much away, but we really do start at the beginning,” Way continued. “You learn where Starr came from, and we all know he’s going to end up being the ruler of this savage land, but the questions is how does that happen? That’s what this story is about. Also, Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith’s original twist was just too good to leave on the table, so that’s in this story as well.”
“Starr the Slayer” is a series that will operate on a couple of different levels and explore several types of dynamics. “There is the relationship between creator and creation. When you spend so much time in these make-believe worlds, are you going here? Or are they coming here?” Way remarked. “And a lot of things happened behind the scenes for Starr to become Starr. The landscape alone of Zardath can kill you. We’re not even talking about the inhabitants yet, and Starr ends up being top dog there, king of the savages. There’s a process he has to go through to become the alpha male of the whole realm.”
“Starr the Slayer” marks Way’s second collaboration with Richard Corben. The duo previously worked together on a two part tale that ran in “Ghost Rider” #6-7. “I love working with Corben. He’s one one of my favorite type of artists, in that you can look at even just a small section of his art and know it’s Corben,” Way remarked. “Other guys like that include Mark Texeira and Steve Dillon. When you look at their work, you know no one else could have done it but that artist. There’s no doubt that Corben has that signature style.”
Way also feels that the other thing Corben brings to the project is a wealth of experience, especially when it comes to depicting “Sword and Sorcery” fantasy worlds like the one found in “Starr the Slayer.” “I had written a fairly bare bones pitch for Marvel; just enough to get them to say yes. Then we reached out to Richard Corben and basically asked, ‘What do you want to want to do with this story? Where do you want to go?'” Way explained. “In like four or five paragraphs, he built the entire realm of Zardath. He laid out and created a whole world. It was so visual, and that was just Corben’s writing! He hadn’t even started drawing yet! I essentially used every one of his ideas. The guy is tops as a collaborator.”
“Starr the Slayer” was clearly inspired by the work of “Conan the Barbarian” creator Robert E. Howard, and as an artist, Richard Corben is no stranger to producing Howard inspired work. Howard was one of the several influences on Corben’s work, “Den,” and the artist even adapted a Howard story into the graphic novel “Bloodstar.” “Starr may look a bit like Bloodstar, but he’s a completely different character. In fact, I wanted to make Starr as different as I could from Bloodstar and the other Howard characters,” Corben said. “But I think the promotional staff at Marvel wants to maintain a link with the barbarian type, because it’s familiar to the distributors, retailers, and readers.”
“Starr the Slayer” does play with many elements of “Sword and Sorcery” fantasy stories but Corben wanted to approach those elements from a different way; making some more realistic and others more mysterious. “Sword adventure portrays power struggle at its most basic. I found this very appealing as a young man. Later, I wanted a bit more sophistication. There’s more to sword play than using it as a club. And there’s got to be more ways of getting out of a tough situation than hacking your way. Poul Anderson wrote a great little satire on the genre a few years ago called: ‘The Barbarian’. It is hilarious and sums up my attitude about ‘barbarian characters’. In Starr, I wanted to have the physical conflict, but with enough intelligence to think about motives, strategy, and tactics,” Corben stated. “Magic is usually used by writers as a crutch to get them out of a hard spot. My concept of Magic in Zardath is that it is a force that exists, but it isn’t fully understood and it’s not easy to use as a tool by Sorcerers. Generally it will be downplayed, but when used, it just might have unexpected results.”
While the new version of “Starr the Slayer” is staying true to roots of the original series, Corben wanted to do something visually different with the mini-series. Part of that meant redesigning the book’s barbarian protagonist. “My original concept was a big dude, of unclear race origin, not very handsome, but with an ingrained sense of right and wrong,” Corben explained. “This didn’t fly. Our Starr is big all right, [but] incredibly handsome, and tawny of hair and complexion.”
Corben also redesigned and reworked several of the series supporting cast members. “Our version of the story has a leading female. My concept was an amazon in physique, a tomboy, maybe even gay, but she didn’t fly either,” the artist said. “Maybe a bit of her made it into Moonja, the manager of the gladiator’s arena.
“The lead woman, Kira, is beautiful, but I did make her a tomboy, and she does have a chip on her shoulder when it comes to men,” Corben said. “After all, she competes with them on an equal basis every day in the arena.
“I got the impression that the minstrel, Morro, in Thomas’ story, was gay. In ours, he is not quite human, a subspecies,” Corben explained. “He idolizes Starr, a case of hero worship.
“The giant monster is Man-Dragon in Thomas’ story. He/It is smaller than a giant in ours, but definitely a supernatural threat,” Corben remarked. “Thomas’ villain Trull was old, knew all kinds of magic stuff, and power was his only goal. Our Trull is not much older than Starr. His hatred of Starr has escalated from a class/sexual slur he made when he first saw Starr and his low country family.”
As Way mentioned, it was important to both he and Axel Alonso that Richard Corben be given as much artistic freedom as possible in bringing to life this new version of “Starr the Slayer,” so their collaboration was done in a way that allowed Corben a large voice in many aspects of the story. “Dan, Axel and I are using the old Marvel technique of comic/story production. Roughly, the editor and writer create a synopsis and allow the artist to interpret it, adding the staging and bits of pictorial business and character development,” Corben said. “The writer then completes the writing with the final text and dialogue. I’m very grateful that my imposed structure and pacing has been acceptable to the story so far.”
“Starr the Slayer” also reunites Corben with another one of his collaborators from “Ghost Rider” #6-7, colorist Jose Villarubia. “Jose and I are collaborating on a way that I can add tonal effects that won’t turn everything a muddy gray when he colors it,” Corben explained. “Basically, I’m adding some tones in Photoshop that Jose can incorporate into his coloring.”
While Daniel Way and Richard Corben have had a blast working on “Starr the Slayer,” neither had heard of the character until they were approached to work on the series by Editor Axel Alonso. In fact, both creators feel it was Alonso’s enthusiasm for the project that really made it become a reality. “Axel is a big fan of these Conan type characters, and I think he’s had this one in his back pocket for quite awhile now. He wanted to do a ‘Sword and Sorcery’ style book, but not follow all the old tropes; to do something for today, and having Richard Corben attached adds an incredible amount of legitimacy to what we’re doing,” Daniel Way said. “So as far as what attracted me to this, it was a mixture of Axel being really excited because we talked about this for almost a year and a half to two years before we actually did it, and as soon as we knew we could get Corben, that sealed the deal.”