I tend to focus on the writing side of comics given my background in literature, but more so than writer/artist collaborations, separating the art from the writing when both are done by a single individual is damn near impossible. I’m able to do it with Jim Starlin usually because he has such a large back catalogue of work solely as a writer that it’s easy to pick out elements of his writing based on that work. However, he uses his art to tell so much of the story that I find myself attributing those things to Starlin the writer rather than Starlin the writer/artist or even just Starlin the artist. What I’m trying to say is that it’s time to begin talking about the art.
These days, where I tend to focus my attention when it comes to Starlin’s art is the inking. The first thing that I notice is the inking job done on his art, because, more than any other artist that I’ve paid close attention to, the inking can make a very big difference. For example, I fall into the same category as many Starlin fans in thinking that Al Milgrom’s inking where Starlin’s art looks the best. He inked the three six-issue stories that Starlin did for Marvel previous to his recent return and Starlin’s line work looked great as a result. There was weight to his lines, the line work was intricate without being overbearing... basically, it looked most like what Jim Starlin art looks like in my head. I’ve made it clear on several occasions that I’m not a fan of Rob Hunter’s inking of Starlin’s art over at DC. It takes away a lot of the weight of the line work and winds up with a final product that looks very scratchy and near-incomplete. Like the art was scanned and everything didn’t get picked up. It almost looks like a bad hybrid of Starlin’s art and that of Jim Lee.
I find it interesting that, on his creator-owned work, Starlin tends to ink himself. His recent ’Breed III mini-series was all him (aside from the lettering). But, that’s not what happens with his work-for-hire jobs for whatever reason (either he doesn’t want to dedicate that much time/effort when he’s already writing and pencilling the comics, or the companies don’t want him to do more). For both Thanos: The Infinity Revelation and Thanos vs. Hulk #1, Andy Smith inks Starlin and I like the job he does. I mostly remember Smith in relation to Bart Sears as he inked some of Sears work in relation to Wizard magazine when I was a kid – and, I believe, they were alternating artists for a period on X-O Manowar. Smith has had a long career outside of that, but childhood impressions are hard to shake...
One thing that Smith gets right in his inking, for the most part, is the ‘Starlin face.’ That distinct face that Starlin draws and is probably the largest signifying that he’s the artist on a comic. It’s right there on the first page with the SHIELD flunky. Textbook Starlin face. And it’s reliant on some very specific bits of line work that it could be lost in the inking process. Oddly enough, Maria Hill’s face on that page doesn’t look quite like a Starlin face; it could be the eyes. It looks more compact than the way Starlin usually draws faces (and not necessarily like Hill’s face/head shape in other comics drawn by different artists). It also doesn’t look in line with Hill’s face throughout the rest of the scene. I wouldn’t put that on Smith necessarily as it’s also the only full-on shot of Hill that we get that isn’t a small panel. It stands out on the page, though.
Aside from that little oddity, the rest of the issue looks very much like Starlin’s work and that’s what I’m looking for/admire in an inker of his at this point. The art looks like Starlin and it looks good. It strongly resembles how his art looks when he’s inking himself. Tomorrow, I’ll talk a little about the colouring, which also falls in line with Starlin’s creator-owned work where he colours his art.