Monday, September 8, 2008

On Starlen Baxter

I just found out that Starlen Baxter is dead. I hadn’t seen any press about it on any of the comic sites which isn’t too surprising as Starlen hadn’t been active in comics for a few years. It was sad news as Starlen was a talented writer and creator and somebody I got along with quite well while he was at Caliber.

I can’t give a detailed of Starlen’s accomplishments in comics but I am familiar with his work on Nerve Magazine and of course, the work he did for Caliber which involved Mack the Knife and Suppressed: A History of Violence in America. For the Iconografix line from Caliber, he did a one shot called Channel X. He was also involved in Go-Man, also from Nerve and Caliber plus he did Columbus, a one-shot biography of the famed explorer with Jack Jackson from Dark Horse.

I first met Starlen at my first Chicago Con as the publisher of Caliber. I had just launched the initial line which included The Crow, Baker Street, Caliber Presents, Deadworld, and The Realm. Starlen was linked tightly with Bill Widener at the time as they were producing Nerve Magazine. They pitched me Go-Man which was a very raw and edgy look at a futuristic superhero/media star named Go-Man. At first glance, I thought it was too edgy but as soon as I got into it, I knew I wanted to do it. Go-Man was Bill Widener’s project but for the two of them, I ended up talking more to Starlen as he seemed to be the more vocal. Starlen had his own project, Mack the Knife, about a cartoon character put out to pasture and took a resemblance to Tex Avery and twisted it.

Go-Man became a series from Caliber and I collected the previous material into a graphic novel which was presented in a flip book format with the collected work of Mack the Knife. Mack also came out from Caliber in a one shot. I think both may have appeared in Caliber Presents as well.

Both were, as I said, raw and edgy but I thought both were exceptional and Go-Man, as I have stated many times, was one of my favorite projects ever produced by Caliber. Go-Man got an introduction from Matt Wagner and accolades from the likes of Dave Sim, Chris Gore, Michael Zulli, Matt Howarth, Bob Schreck, and Steve Bissette.

In fact, it was during a podcast interview with Chuck Moore of Comic Related that I mentioned Go-Man that Chuck told me he knew Bill and would get us back in touch. I talked with Bill about bringing Go-Man back into a new collection and that’s when I found out that Starlen had died June 8th of this year and it was apparently listed as a suicide. Someone mentioned that it was two years to the date that artist Jack Jackson, who worked on the Columbus book with Starlen, had committed suicide due to inoperable cancer. Could be a coincidence, I don’t know and not about to speculate.

After the Go-Man and Mack the Knife projects, Starlen released two other one shots through Caliber. Channel X was a one shot of his unique style dealing with monsters, both real and perceived. Suppressed: A History of Violence in America was one of my favorite releases from another imprint of Caliber’s, Tome Press. It examined acts of violence in American history and was very successful for us. The first print sold out almost immediately and we had to go back to print. Even though the internet was in its infancy at that time, it was ordered frequently by the “non-comics” audience that Tome Press seemed to attract.

Starlen did the Columbus book with Jack Jackson that came out from Dark Horse and I remember he was pretty excited about it. The last time I saw Starlen was when he was living in Lexington, Kentucky. My family was heading off on a vacation and driving to Florida and we met up with him and had lunch with him and he showed us around Lexington. Like most Caliber creators, over time, I fell out of touch with him.

So, I didn’t know him real well but got along with him as much as any other Caliber creator. A publisher and creator have a certain relationship which can be as friends but I also distinguish as a professional friend rather than personal. I’ve read some of his blog writings and knew I didn’t know him that well but I enjoyed the relationship that we had.

I don’t know why it affected me so much, as we weren’t close, but for some reason, it hit me harder than I would’ve expected. Maybe because as you get older you realize just how important life is and to end it on your own just doesn’t make a lot of sense.I don’t know…I guess I thought someone should at least acknowledge his death.

I just got word from a production company that they’re interested in signing up Renfield for a film. Of course, as with any properties being signed up, it’s hard to get too excited but I’ve always had a good feeling about Renfield in that if it found the right place, it could be a very cool movie. It’s not a blood and gore type movie so when I discuss it with someone, their approach is vital to me as then I can see if they “get” it. I still get fan letters on the book even after all this time and of course, as I mentioned before, when it was put into the curriculum at Northern Illinois University, that was just a very cool thing.

Another project, Red Diaries, is currently in the Diamond Previews, as Image and Desperado Publishing are making it available again. This is probably one of my most re-ordered books, usually from fans of Marilyn Monroe or JFK conspiracists, so it’s good to see that it is officially relisted.

I hope to have news soon about Deadworld that should be exciting. The comic series, Slaughterhouse, is moving along at a fast clip. The first issue isn’t even due out until next month and the artist, Sami Makkonen, is already hitting the third. It looks great.

I’ve spent my summer working on a number of projects that will be released over the next few months and I’m pretty excited about them. I have A Murder of Scarecrows coming out early next year with artist Wayne Reid and deals with a smuggler in Pre-Revolutionary America. That will be an original graphic novel. Another one I have coming out is a murder mystery set during the turn of the century South (the last turn of the century, not the recent one…). An anthology of spies, traitors, rebels, etc. will also be coming out in early 2009 and there’s a action/adventure thriller that is due out in the middle of the year. Summer time is when I do most of my freelance writing but since artists work slower than I do (wonder why….), it usually ends up spacing along the entire year following.

Outside of comics, the college courses I teach always seem to be a bit over-whelming at first as I have to reign it all in at the beginning of the semester. Even though I have 15 weeks to teach it all, I have to lay it all out, including all the text reading before the semester starts so actually, when school starts, my load lessens. School has started so I expect my workload to settle down to primarily class time from now on.

The political race is now fully steamed and rolling along towards November. That means loads of half-truths and mis-representations on both sides. The whole political process nauseates me but I still vote although it seems I usually vote against someone as opposed to voting for a candidate.

That’s it for now. Remember to vote…and don’t follow blindly any one party or someone else’s belief. Look for the truth which when dealing with politicians, can be very hard, I know. But try.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind blog on Starlen. I am his ex-wife (divorced 2000). His family was/is devastated. I think your words would mean a lot to them.

Starlen had battled drug addiction and his own soul for a long time. I think he just got tired. It makes me sad to think that he thought that suicide was the only option; that he felt he had nothing left. I hate to think of anyone getting to that point. very lonely, very heart breaking.

Thanks again for your message. would have meant a lot to him.

Anonymous said...

I knew Starlen in Lexington. I designed a t-shirt for his Hypnotic Eye shop. Any one reading this about Starlen and might know me, contact

Tim Scammell, PTech said...

Aw no. I've been trying to find information on Go-man and roaming through Google to learn about it. I bought Nerve when it came out and still have them. I've always loved them but had not looked at them in at lest 10 years. This saddens me. What a talent he was. I'm so sorry to hear that he's gone.

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