I met Starr shortly after he retired and learned a lot from him. I've often written about his work and I posted a tribute to him after he died this year. Starr lived in a large home in Westport Connecticut and in his attic we discovered mountains of detritus from a career in the arts-- a career that spanned both the heights and the depths of the comic industry. I've now spent a lot of time going through dust covered boxes in that cold attic on my hands and knees, . I'm working to make sure that much of that material ends up in the Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. But for now I'd like to share some of my anthropological discoveries with you.
The original drawings in Starr's attic spanned the glory years when newspapers featured elegantly drawn, richly detailed soap opera strips reproduced large enough to be savored...
It's difficult to believe that the same artist's hand drew both styles. But Starr won "best strip" awards from the National Cartoonist Society for each style he adopted.
I particularly enjoyed the piles of sketches everywhere. There were old character studies showing how Starr developed the faces for his strips:
There were also sketches left over from his bachelor days in the late 1940s.
One thing I admire about Starr is that he went to art school mid-career. He began freelancing as a comic book artist in 1941, when he was just 16. He desperately needed the money and in those days, almost anyone could find work drawing crude figures for low rates. Starr was naturally talented and found work drawing the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner and other popular comics. In the 1950s he earned his first nationally syndicated strip and was doing very well. But he always regretted his lack of formal art training, so he sought out the best art teacher he could find and continued to study anatomy and perspective in between writing and drawing his strip, On Stage.
Starr's attic contained several battered boxes filled with awards and plaques and trophies. Judging from the dust, the boxes hadn't been touched in decades.
Starr recognized that a fancy bronze plaque designating you a "living legend" was no guarantee that either you or your legend would live.
What remained after Starr passed away was the contents of that attic. This week I plan to share some of the lessons I learned-- artistic, philosophical, cultural, socioeconomic-- from going through that material.