A bazillion years ago, my current atoms — and yours — arrived on Earth thanks to exploding stars.
About a month ago, I heard about painter-turned-graphic-novelist Charles Glaubitz’s Starseeds, specifically the publication of volume two from Fantagraphics. At my local comic book store, I picked up volume one, which blew my brain into my mind and my mind into my brain. I had never read such a confident, surreal, mythological, entrancing comic. As Tom Scioli has said of New Gods #7 (“The Pact”), you could build a religion around this comic.
I then picked up volume two, and I went from admirer to acolyte. Volume two deepens the story of volume one, and the art kicks up several notches. Every page, whether of pinheaded Illuminati members, multiversal creation, optical infection via pure hatred, or classic comic-book brawling, would make the best tattoo ever.
There are hints of Kirby influence in volume one, but Kirbyesqueness is everywhere in volume two, with oodles of Kirby Krackle, plus references to new gods and fathercubes. So I put on my cosmic pants and talked to Charles Glaubitz about his ongoing epic, which might be the most mind-expanding, rereadable, quantum-tastic comic going today.
Glaubitz described “two main forces” pushing the evolution of Starseeds, which began as a series of paintings. One is “Joseph Campbell, comparative mythology, and his ideas on society needing a living myth that has to be concurrent with the understanding of present science in order for that myth to speak to the present generation or society.”
The other, related force is “how crazy quantum physics is. I’m not a scientist, but I remember ever since I was a kid watching Nova with my dad on PBS. Then in 2003 or 2004 I remember The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene — that related to all the science I could see in comic books. Those two things are converging and creating this story as it’s happening…”
This simultaneity makes for a unique reading experience. In a sense, book one is happening at the same time as book two — as well as future volumes. Glaubitz said, “Quantum physics, as I understand it … everything’s happening at the same time. So it’s an attempt to try to tell the story that everything is happening at the same time: past, present, and future and in parallel dimensions.”
Starseeds is unique in many ways, none more so than its genesis as a series of paintings. I asked Glaubitz how Starseeds evolved from gallery to page.
“It didn’t really evolve,” Glaubitz said. “It was more of a necessity. I was like, damn, I’m not selling my paintings. And I have all this story. Maybe it works better as comics, and I think it happened when I was doing The Crystal Sigil in 2010. It was 3 or 4 in the morning, and I was doing the first comic, and it was long hours. I was having some tequila shots just to be able to get through the work. My hand hurt, and I’m asking myself, ‘Why the hell am I doing this?’”
“And then I came to the realization, when I just started sobbing, and I was like, wow, the reason I drew as a kid was I wished to make comics. And it took me, at that time I was 37, and I started drawing at 2, so it took me 35 years to come full circle. And I said, wow, if that’s my true wish or true dream, this might be the path. Because the art world is really difficult and hard and it just wasn’t clicking, and I think that comics garner more response quickly, much faster than my artwork, and I was like, OK, I think comics is my path. I need to teach myself to make comics.”
Kirby wasn’t part of Glaubitz’s education at first. It took some time for him to appreciate the King’s work.
“I never got into his Fourth World until I saw a talk at ComicCon with Deepak Chopra and Grant Morrison. I’m a big Morrison fan. And they were talking about the seven spiritual laws of superheroes, and then Grant Morrison goes off on this archetypal, mythological rant about comics as present myth, and he began talking about the New Gods, what Kirby was doing with bringing these New Gods and being a modern William Blake. So I went and I grabbed a really bad black and white copy — the cheapest one I could find — of New Gods, and read it, and I was just taken by Kirby’s writing. I was not at all into how he drew. I was like, that’s just wonky, that makes no sense.”
But Kirby’s big ideas had a big impact on Glaubitz.
“Conceptually, that helped me create the first show, which I called Los Nuevos Dioses in Spanish, which means the New Gods. They appear in the second book; I changed their names to the Quantums. The basis of Kirby’s mythology was the idea of creating new gods, present gods. I was like OK, I can create present gods or ideas of present gods, but combine that with quantum physics, which is the present science of what we understand, and then take a little bit of riff on the new age idea of Indigo children and Crystal children, and grab that and combine it.”
Eventually, Glaubitz came to appreciate the nuts and bolts, as well as grandiose aspirations of Kirby.
“I started looking at Jack Kirby’s comics. Why am I pulled to them? Oh, wait — Jack Kirby’s a great designer. All those lines, all those black spotted lines, all those squiggles, the Kirby Krackle. It’s just a play on positive and negative space. And creating a visual dynamics of how the dots are put together and how the dots vary in rhythm and are distributed on the page, like, wow! That’s just basic design 101, but it’s not easy.”
This insight helped Glaubitz turn a corner with his artistic approach: “Everything was coming out really realistic, and it wasn’t looking good. And I’m like, I don’t draw realistically. So I went back to Kirby and Mike Mignola, and what they do is they design everything they draw. They throw out anatomy and use design as the function to create the visuals. Then Kirby had me. He had me conceptually and he had me visually. And I’m his bitch now.”
As are we all. Cosmically speaking, of course.
Tune in soon for part two, featuring more talk on Kirby, Starseeds, quantum physics, and phallus-worshipping creeps.