Elephantmen Writer Richard Starkings
Look who visited Spoiler Country, Richard Starkings took a seat and talked with our own Casey T. Allen. EVerything from Elephantmen, Generation X, to his career in general this hang out has it all!
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Interview scheduled by Jeffery Haas
Theme music by Good Co Music:
Transcript is automated, misspellings, bad grammar, and completely different words are bound to happen. Please excuse Steven the drunkin robot.
Richard Starkings RAW.output
[00:00:00] Casey: All right, everybody. Welcome again, to another episode of spoiler country today on the show, we have a guy who wears a ton of hats and you might know him by the name of Richard starckings, Richard starckings. How are you? You were the first letter that I ever knew about like, could name recognize.
Richard Starkings: Wow.
That’s a compliment. Thank you. I’m fine. I’m always known by Richard stocking, so I’m interested in any non, the plumes you may have heard of, but good to meet you. Nice to
Casey: meet you as well. Yeah, yeah. So, right when generation X was coming out, it was the the first comic that I was really, really into and collected every single issue of.
And so, Your name for a while was synonymous with that. And then when, you know, elephant man came in, I was like, Holy crap. He, Oh, he does. And other stuff. He’s amazing. So
Richard Starkings: I try
Casey: tell me, like, obviously you you have, you have a little bit of [00:01:00] a New Jersey accent, so, so tell me about where you grew up and how you ended up in,
Richard Starkings: in comics.
Well, the short story is, you know, I always wanted to work in comics from a very young age. I was pretty single-minded about it. So after I. Graduated from college. I ended up moving to London. I had worked for a medical publisher for a short time Sora ad in the guardian newspaper. And it was for an, a, what we call an artist system, which is really a graphic designer, sort of junior graphic designer at Marvel comics.
And I applied for it. I did not get it, but I was doing lettering on the side, so to speak and. I got lettering assignments on the British transformers comic. I also was getting work for 2008 D home of judge dread. And eventually I visited the Marvel offices often enough that they gave [00:02:00] me a steady job.
And I worked on Marvel, UK reprints, such as Spider-Man comics, weekly secret Wars, and eventually worked on the real Ghostbusters transformers Thundercats as an editor doctor who magazine as the editor of the comic strip. And I was at Marvel UK for four years. During that time I got to visit the New York offices of Marvel decided I wanted to live in America.
So I moved to America and I worked as a freelance lettering artist and as many people know, I pioneered digital comic book lettering because the deadlines. That Marvel U S editors gave you, which is just insane. And, you know, I was, I was never one who could work through the night, a lot of New York based Marvel letters where we’re working through the night and sleeping in the day [00:03:00] in order to meet deadlines.
And that’s never been me. So I sort of put my mind to how can I work in comics and meet these crazy deadlines. And in the very early nineties, 90 19, 1991 I bought my first Macintosh computer keyboard mouse printer cost me four and a half thousand dollars for a Mac to CGI, which was basically the kind of computer they had on Apollo 11.
Maybe it was a tiny bit more powerful. And you know, slowly picked up a lot of work. In the States. I moved out to California, built a studio, which is the common craft studio. And that’s when you came across generation X, because that was, that was sort of, that was when we were getting it right.
That was when we were using the computer as an enhancement, rather than as, as a you know, simple tool, you know, it, some of [00:04:00] our early lettering was pretty crude, but by the time generation X came around, I really wanted to show what we could do, you know, with Macintosh technology. So there were a lot of little innovations that I brought in on generation X, which, which at that time it led us to work on, you know, at one point we were doing every single X-Men comic book in the late nineties.
That was sort of the golden era of comic craft. Well, you, you
Casey: did speaking of generation X, I mean, you did so many cool things with those letters. They really popped out because you, the variety of characters and how they talked in that comic kind of gave you a chance to, to go be a little experimental or not, maybe not even experimental, but to show the characterization and the personality of a character.
Well getting the, the point
Richard Starkings: of the comic across. Yeah. And that was something, you know, I [00:05:00] always tried to do in some ways, you know, I’m always reluctant to do too much with the style of lettering, you know, I don’t want to get to that point where every character seems to speak with their own flattering.
That sounds exciting. Yeah. And some writers wanted us to do that and I always feel it’s, it’s easier to. Make a, a good script look better than a bad script. Look good with just the lettering. So there were a lot of writers who let’s say were, were not as accomplished as others and they, they wanted to lean on some of the lettering tricks that you could play.
And I don’t think that always worked out. I actually was never a fan of Thor’s. The font that we created for Thor, for the abandon, you’d be distracting. Yeah. I, I fought that and I lost Kurt got his way. And that’s one of the things that [00:06:00] has stayed with that character. Evermore, you know, I always feel like he should talk in a way that makes you think he’s a North scarred.
I don’t think the font should tell you that he’s he’s Noah Scott. So he, there’s a very fine line. I liked in generation X that we were able to have certain characters, villains with a certain style of lettering, especially if they didn’t really look very plain human beings. So generation X I would say was more of pushing graphic design to the fore.
I was lucky to be working with John Richelle. Who’s worked with me for 28 years and he had, he was just getting into the swing of working in comics and, you know, I was pushing him to do more elaborate. Title pages. I designed the little footnote captions, which looked like little buttons, and I was [00:07:00] trying to play with the graphic elements rather than specifically characters, styles of speaking.
And I’m always resistant to use the word type style because even digital lettering is designed by with, with, you know, a pen. So, I was feel like, you know, if you’re going to have a specific lettering style for a character, firstly, let’s call it lettering. And secondly, let’s think really carefully about how, how you put that character across.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. I you were talking about the design aspect earlier in I, I hate to go back to generation X again, but Oh my gosh, it was just such a good looking book, especially issue number one your first introduction to this group as a team and everything just looks so well at pops off the Patriot Lou.
Well, and then when you get to a character like in [00:08:00] plate and his, his type or his, his lettering rather just looks sinister.
Richard Starkings: We sold that grimly fiendish. I actually did that in a, a little pad. I think I was on, on, on a, on a plane back from San Francisco, somewhere to LA. And I had a bowl point and a pad and we needed a style of lettering for input.
And I, I do think that he was creepy enough that he deserved a creepy style of lettering. So, I literally, you know, got my head into a creepy style and lettered that letter form. I have to be so careful not to use the word font, but it is a font, but I prefer, I prefer to acknowledge that, you know, the letter forms that I created with a pen.
Casey: Yeah. And I mean, it, it really kind of goes to [00:09:00] show you that it’s one of those things when people make comics that when it, when it works, you, you either don’t notice it. Or you’re just like, Oh my gosh, this is, this is fantastic. Or it’s, if it doesn’t work, it’s so distracting that you can’t get through it.
So you guys are always kind of like walking a tight rope of. Just making sure that the story gets across and also like it’s an art, you guys are truly making some amazing art
Richard Starkings: with. I think, you know, I’ve often said that lettering is almost more of a performance because you are taking a script that someone has written and you’re hopefully communicating it in such a way that.
The [00:10:00] intonation can be read. The, the emotion can be read. Obviously the way it’s written is, is first and foremost, but the way you emphasize a word, the way you choose to, to represent a whisper balloon. And I think it was in generation X that I decided we would use gray for rather than a broken line, because I never quite understood what a broken line meant.
Whereas, you know, something slightly harder to read because it’s gray, then you can, you sort of, you have to strain your eyes, you way, the way you have to strain your ears. So, you know, there were little subtle things like that, that, that I wanted to introduce. I think that the way you place a balloon can affect the reading order.
Of a comic and that’s, that’s the nature of performance. The letter a brings, he is the first to read a comic as a comic. [00:11:00] The writer has written a script without pictures. The artist has drawn a comic strip without words. And as the lettering artist, you are combining the two. So you have to be very careful not to obscure important storytelling and Hance the storytelling and in some ways get out of the way of the storytelling.
So it is a tight rope. That you are walking. Sometimes you’re pushed onto the tight rope, you know, steam punk, which was also by CRISPR cello who drew generation X. We were asked to go way overboard with the lettering and it was appropriate because the artwork was overboard. You know, everything was a cliffhanger comic.
It was steam punk, and it was a very rich serving. It was like chocolate cake with a side of chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, chocolate sprinkles, and Graham crackers with you know, melted chocolate on the side. So [00:12:00] in case steam punk was to my mind, a little too rich, especially for a comic that, that needed to come out regularly.
It took two of us to letter side, Tema Fante who still works for DC. And I, you know, Had to, she had to do a first pass. I did the second pass just to get it to the level of intensity that the Joe Kelly and crisper Chella wanted it. So, you know, I think generation X, you know, it’s some of the favorite, my favorite work as a left-wing artist, because I think that we got the balance.
Right. The problem was people saw what we did on generation X and wanted us to do more. And I think it has to be part of the whole, you know, so again, steam, punk, it was okay because everything, yeah, yeah. Turned up to 11. But in actual fact, and if you look at my lettering and elephant, man, I’m a [00:13:00] much quieter letterer when I’m not, not being told, jazz it up, you know?
You know, one of my favorite collaborations is with Tim sail and Jeff lobe on the Batman long Halloween and the Marvel color books. Spider-Man blue and gray. Oh yeah. Yeah. And you know, what we, what we do on those books is very simple. We’re not trying to, you know, score the comment. We’re not trying to put too much icing on the cake.
It doesn’t need it. It’s a good, strong story. And Jeff’s a good storyteller. Tim’s a good storyteller and you don’t need to amp anything up with the lettering or the coloring. You know, that’s one of those books that reads very easily and it’s very satisfying to
Casey: kind of go back about what we were talking about earlier.
I was kind of describing to my wife who is not a comics fan at all, why you’re a bad-ass and it came down [00:14:00] to like, he saw a need. In the nineties after kind of the image thing happened, a bunch of people were kind of away from Marvel and you said, Oh crap. I know how to fix this technology. And you went in and, and made a, I guess, a program or something that allowed for an efficient process to, to get a page done.
Richard Starkings: And well, it wasn’t, you know, we didn’t invent anything. We use the software that was already there. We used photographer, we used illustrator, we use Photoshop. And we used, you know, pen and ink to do, to design lots of forms to create new styles of lettering. And it is true. That image blew the doors open for me.
But I was ready. I had been working in the States since 1989 and. [00:15:00] You know, doing I did a book called sleepwalker, Oh, I love sleepwalker. And I did that with, you know, pen and ink. And I was working with, you know, one of the masters of comic books, Brett Blevins. And he was being inked by Mike Manley.
And you know, it was just before the image explosion, it was, it was Rob Liefeld was drawing X-Force Jim Lee was drawing X-Men Wells was drawing the other X men book and Todd was doing Spider-Man and it was, everything was just ready because you know, the relaunches of X-Men and Spider-Man sold like 3 million and 8 million copies, which made the image creators wealthy enough to launch their own companies company.
And when a lot of letters got. Stolen from Marvel, you know, Thomas accounts key who is by far and away, you know, his work is, is my favorite [00:16:00] lettering work. Tom’s work definitely inspired me to be a comic book letterer his work on uncanny X-Men, but specifically warlock Jim Stalin’s warlock.
I wanted to do lettering like that. And I wanted to work on the X man and Todd McFarlane hired Tom away to let a spawn. And suddenly there was an opportunity that hadn’t been available for like 15 years. Tom had lettered X men for 15 years. So, so I was ready. It’s what I wanted to do as electric artists working in America and As I say, you know, not being able to work overnight, I, I let it an issue uncanny X-Men I think two 86 and I let it half of it.
And my brother came to visit me in Santa Monica. And I couldn’t finish the book. So, so it was taken away from me and somebody like Rick Parker finished that issue. And I didn’t want that to happen again. So that’s why I started [00:17:00] working with assistance, developing fonts so that I could effectively work overnight without working overnight so that I could put my look on a book from page one to 22 and not get tired doing it.
That was really the impetus, you know, And yes, you know, all those image books came out. There was suddenly twice as much work, but only the same amount of letters because these days there’s a lot of letters because we sell our fonts. Some people buy them and, you know, DC people working for DC use our fonts and other fonts are available.
But comic craft fonts are everywhere now. And I’ve considered myself to be very lucky that, that I still have a studio producing lettering work, but you know, my intention was never to sit still, you know, I, I wanted to work in the American industry. I wanted to sell [00:18:00] fonts because I wanted to self-finance my own comic books.
Yeah, that was true 30 years ago. And it’s true today that, you know, I, I had learned from English creators, how important it was to retain ownership of your work. I’ve been friends with John Wagner, the creator of judge dread. I interviewed Pat mills you know, who created nemesis and robusters and martial law.
I worked on the first hardcover collection of martial law. I worked briefly at graffiti designs and Anaheim and we used to do a hardcover collections of. Trade paperbacks before anybody was doing hardcovers. This is back in the early nineties. Bob Chapman at graffiti designs did the first dark Knight returns hardcover.
He did a hard cover of a book called MoonShadow [00:19:00] straight toasters by Bilson cabbage, such a beautiful book, hated a lecturer the electro Sasin series in hardcover that, that Frank Miller and bill Kevin did. And we did, we worked on Marshall law. So, so I had a lot of encouragement from writers who did not control their creative property.
So I always wanted to make sure that if I created something, I would own it. And toward that end, you know, we sold fonts and I financed elephant, man. That’s not an elephant man. It’s coming up to 20 years old, already. Crazy.
Casey: So as, as a person that obviously has a deep passion for comics, why comics, what about comics made you go like, Oh, I want to do that.
Richard Starkings: I don’t know really. I mean, my brother who’s [00:20:00] a good 12 years older than me was a big collector. And he really got me reading Marvel comics. I was reading a comic book in England called countdown countdown, nothing to do with the DC comics countdown of recent years. But countdown had comic strips featuring all your favorite Saifai TV shows at the time.
That was Dr. Hu UFO Thunderbirds, fireball XL five. And the comic strips were just gorgeous because they came from a tradition of of art. That was, it was painted. It was two pages a week, you know, British comics tend to be weekly. And I loved Dr who I loved UFO, but most of all, I loved art. I love drawings.
And in some ways, especially with UFO, I preferred the UFO comic strip to the TV show. And it sort of looking back that I’ve realized that when I used to [00:21:00] buy record albums, vinyl albums, almost. Exclusively. I bought albums that had painted art on the covers. So I was attracted to albums by ELO, which had spaceships on the cover war of the worlds by Jeff Wayne, which had beautiful paintings of the Marsh and invasion armed forces by others.
Castello had paintings of elephants on the cover and, you know, there was an artist called funny enough, John Patrick Byrne, nothing to do with John Byrne, but he painted covers for Gerry Rafferty and stealers wheel. And though I was always attracted to art on books on record albums in comics, the books that I was attracted to were Frank Herbert’s dune, which had beautiful paintings by Bruce Pennington.
I didn’t realize at the time when I was a 15 year old, that I always was attracted to Bruce Pennington’s art. I just, I just, I just thought I was attracted to science fiction books, but all the ones I [00:22:00] read, I read these the series of Isaac Asimov books called pirates of the asteroids and What was the other one?
Space ranger and all the covers were by Bruce Pennington. And then sometimes I would like to, yeah. Work of Chris FOSS, but always I was attracted to art. So comics was art, right? So, that sort of fascination with science fiction led me to the countdown comic countdown folded. There was a comic called lookin.
Which was also weekly. It was also based on TV properties, including space since 1999 Battlestar Galactica. It was just there was a lot of beautiful artwork, the tomorrow people, which was a TV show. That was a little bit like the X-Men in the, the the tomorrow people were quote unquote homo superior.
They were in an evolution of human beings. Wasn’t a very good TV show or artwork and look in was phenomenal. It was just [00:23:00] gorgeous, gorgeous work. So there were artists like Mike Noble, John M. Burns, B U R N S and M John Bolton, who became a very well-known artists. In America. He did a beautiful cold graphic novel.
He has drawn alien Very beautiful painterly style in the style of Bernie Wrightson. You know, a lot of incredible British art artists kept me reading comics, but in the mid seventies, Marvel UK sprang into life. And because I had full access to my brother’s collection of comics. I thought, well, I’m going to start reading you know, my own Marvel comics and that’s, that’s what I did.
I, I, I always preferred the fantastic four. Really to Spider-Man the Hulk, because the fantastic four is a science fiction comic. Oh yeah. That makes sense. And you know, my favorite character is the thing. And [00:24:00] you know, I definitely think that, you know, in elephant man, the character hip flask, if he’s inspired by any character in Marvel or DC, current comics, it’s the thing, you know, some trapped in a body, you know, he never made, you know, and he you know, was just very likable, you know, he was a monster, but he was okay with that.
And the elephant man is sort of monsters that are either okay. It or hate it, you know? They are sort of, somebody described it once as elephant man is like the X-Men meets blade runner. I think that’s, that’s quite a good description. I mean, it’s not a superhero comic. It’s definitely a science fiction comic.
But blade runner is certainly my favorite movie alien being a close second.
Casey: We were, we were just talking, we have a ten-year-old and we were just talking about possibly letting her watch the original blade runner with us. [00:25:00] And we’re like, ah, I might need to rewatch it again, but Oh my gosh, it’s so good.
And she’s such a, like a nerd for fashion and we were talking, my wife was talking to her about it and like, Saying this movie really kind of blew my mind with the the design and the fashion in it. And my daughter’s like, Oh,
Richard Starkings: maybe I do need to watch this movie. So the only thing I would say about blade runner and, you know, I remember seeing that, you know, in theaters when it was released at that time, you know, Harrison Ford was very much seen as an action hero.
You got to remember that in blade runner, he kills two women. One of them, he shoots in the back, the other one he shoots when she’s lying down, freaking out about
Casey: the stripper scene too. Yeah, probably
Richard Starkings: not nudity, but you know, Hey, don’t be too American. You know, nudity is okay.
Casey: Vitality is [00:26:00] for baths and
Richard Starkings: blade runner is much more disturbing.
Then the nudity, you know, so, but you know, I will tell you that I had a family tradition, I’ve got three children, they’re all in their twenties now, but when they turn 10, I let them watch alien with me at 10 o’clock at night. And each one sat next to me because I felt that after that, you know, alien now is like some of the 50 scifi movies, where, to me, I was really scared.
The first time I saw a war of the worlds, the George Powell version, because that alien is creepy and that scared the shit out of me when I was, you know, 12 or 13. And there were some other movies, you know, from, in planet, this Island earth there were a lot of. Seinfeld movies that scared me, but I [00:27:00] knew it was science fiction.
I knew it wasn’t real. So I sat with my kids, you know, hiding their eyes in my chest and watched alien with them. And, and they they have a very healthy. Evolved approach to movies. You know, my daughter went on to watch the shining 2001, you know, she, she developed an interest in movies because I didn’t protect her from movies that inspire the imagination.
And she’s actually graduating with a degree in art. Oh, cool. This summer. So, you know, I don’t, I’d say don’t be afraid of showing your daughter certain movies, but be aware that you, you, you should definitely talk to her about the violence towards women and in both blade runner movies it’s quite prominent in both movies.
And even though the replicants are treated as disposable, you know, As you know, [00:28:00] the press is a, basically a prostitute replicant. And the, the other woman is a stripper. Yeah. Oh, those are not good role models. And you know, that’s, that’s. There were lots of problematic movies in terms of how women are represented.
I’m afraid to say blade runner is one of them. It’s still beautiful. It’s still my favorite movie. It’s got the best soundtrack of any movie.
Casey: Was that Tangerine dream
Richard Starkings: or was that no, it’s fine. Gala is legend. Yes, yes, yes. Yeah. But van is Sue’s work. You should definitely check out everything he’s recorded is beautiful.
Check out his album themes or voices. You know, his, he was a founding member of the band. Yes. And yes, yes. Had incredible cover on Roger Dean as a fantasy illustrator. He was associated with Elric Michael Moore, Cox character, but he did most of the yes. Album covers in the seventies. [00:29:00] Everything’s interconnected.
But yeah, no, I was much more of an alien and blade runner fan than star Wars. And, and that’s good because it’s much cheaper to buy alien and blade runner toys.
Casey: So I recently got to watch alien with my wife for the first time for
Richard Starkings: her.
Casey: Wow. And during the chest burster scene, I had to kind of like sit back and instead of watching the movie, I was watching her. It is so much fun to watch somebody see that for the first time. I bet it, it it’s it goes from like zero to a hundred, like in no time.
Richard Starkings: Well, one of the things people forget about alien as opposed to aliens. Oh, sorry. Yeah. Alien is a thriller. It’s a haunted house movie set in space. Whereas [00:30:00] aliens is an action movie. You know, that they’re very different, same species, different style of movie making. So, you know, a lot of alien. And I remember at the time that John hurt was the only name in the cast.
So when I started watching alien, I was like, okay, John Hertz, the survivor. I know. And then of course, boom, he’s dead. He’s the first one to die. So, you know, when that was released, it, it upturned a lot of your expectations straight away. You didn’t. We had not seen. A woman as the action hero at the end, she is the, she makes all the right decisions.
She she’s the wear a mask stay in doors. We can’t risk contamination of the crew. You know, she’s the smartest character on the space ship. And, and that, [00:31:00] in that way, you know, that’s, the alien is a much better, a much better female role models, or at least Ripley is a great female role model. And, and Ripley sort of gave way to Sarah Connor in Terminator to Ripley in aliens and, you know, Lara Croft, tomb, Raider, you know, there was a.
Aiden kind of pushed along the idea that an action hero could be female. Whereas blade runner, even the sequel or the women are secondary, the women are play things. So again, Bladerunner, it’s beautiful. I love it. I love blade runner 20, 49 as well. You’ve just got to, you’ve just got to see it through careful eyes.
Let’s put it that way. Yeah.
Casey: So, so just to kinda go back around to your, I’m [00:32:00] guessing a lot of this stuff is a big inspiration for you. What’s when you are not writing, when you’re not lettering, when you’re not doing the act of creating is that something that you, you kind of return to like cinema.
Richard Starkings: Well, I think you know, we live in a much more visually literate world. I actually returned to comics because the, you know, moving these and TV are way too accessible today. You know, you do not have to go to the movies anymore. You can have a big screen TV, turn the lights off, and you’ve got a movie experience in your home.
There’s a lot of incredible storytelling going on in TV. So the thing that I want to put into my comic books is, is the enjoyment I got out of them. And I think some comics are too [00:33:00] slow. These days. Some comics have abandoned the vocabulary of comic books. I love cover lettering. I love deceptive covers covers that promise something that’s not going on inside.
I love title pages. I love sound effects. I love thought balloons. I love footnotes captions. I love all the things that were unique and are unique to comic books. So, I try to put those into my comic books. I put them into elephant men, the beef, the beef was so many every lettering trick I’ve ever learned, put it in the beef.
And that is just one of my proudest achievements. I wrote a five issue series suitable for vegetarians. It’s about the beef industry and it’s about a guy that turns into beef. Very much inspired by the Hulk, but not the Hulk. You know, and With elephant man, you know, we’re currently actually I re acquired my, the digital rights to [00:34:00] elephant man.
So comic craft craft is now publishing the elephant men library on Comixology. It’s it’s, you know, elephant man is still ongoing on Comixology originals. We’re in our fourth, we’re in our fourth season of elephant men with Comixology originals. We just finished season three, a couple of months ago.
We’re also in our fourth season of ASFA mercy, which is a fantasy horror monster comic that I create with a young British artist called Abigail Jill Harding. Oh, she’s fantastic. Yeah, she is amazing. And we’re actually, we were just working on a, it’s sort of a one shot, but it’s a prologue to season four and it’s set in a forest and we’re trying to do our spookiest forest horror story.
But you know, I, I don’t. Take the titles of individual issues out [00:35:00] of the, of the collections. I think a lot of Marvel and DC comics, now they take out the title pages, but to me that’s part of the, Oh yeah, the uniqueness. So comic books. So, you know, when I say I returned to comic books, I’m currently rereading Conan the barbarian and the Marvel omnibus.
And I’m just, you know, I just Marvel literally, you know, at how the story. Moves at such a great pace. You know, we always say that character is action. And so many Marvel comics in the sixties and seventies, those characters were acting all the time. They were doing something all the time, read some modern comic books and there’s a lot of sitting around and talking.
You know, because when you watch too much TV, you think storytelling is sitting around talking while on TV. They sit around and talking because they don’t have the budget. [00:36:00] The MCU has, you know, and even the, you know, even one division, there was a lot of action. There was a lot of movement even. Yeah. When they were stuck in the sitcom episodes, there was, there was always something going on.
And if you look back at what Stan and Jack did on fantastic four, or what Ditko or a meta did on Spider-Man, there was always something going on. And there’s always a lot of hand acting. There’s always a lot of shit of great short cut storytelling to move you along. You know, somebody does not take two pages to cross the room.
And I, I, I see a lot of superheroes with their arms folded on the covers of Marvel and DC comics these days. And it’s boring and there’s no cover lettering to tell you what might be happening inside. You know, and I always learned at Marvel UK, that, that, you know, the most important thing that you have the most useful tool in your [00:37:00] box is your cover.
Art is your cover can get someone to pick up your comic. Like in a, if you know, doc Hawk is back, right, then you’re going to pick it up because wait, Dr. Octopus is in jail. How can he be back? You know? So I like to use cover lettering. I like to use all the gimmicks, all the things that made me want to read comics.
And when you look at Mongo, which seems to have a stronger appeal with younger readers, they do that too. They, they reach out to the reader. Oh yeah. There’s, there’s, they’re not afraid of crazy sound effects. You know, they’re not afraid of little icons in balloons, you know, there’s, they’re much more playful and I think.
Mainstream American comics have lost some of the playfulness. I’m sure there are a lot of comics out there that haven’t, but, but we’re a little too eager to have a older readership. I like to hit the [00:38:00] 15 year old readership, which I think that’s when I was really enjoying comics. I started reading comics very young when I was eight or nine, but I was really, I was really, really enjoying them when I was in my mid teens.
And I think that’s, that’s the audience to go for. And I think alien is, you know, for, for elephant man, I’m, I’m trying to get the teenager that would have gone to see alien, right. Because it’s slightly intellectual, but it’s a B movie. It doesn’t pretend, you know. There’s a, there’s a lot of. Horror tropes in that movie, you know, the, the girl and dresses at the end, that always happens in a horror movie that makes it a B movie.
We might want it to be, you know, regarded you know, with up there with gone with the wind, but it’s not, it’s alien, you know, it’s, it’s not a work of art. It’s a work of commerce and it’s a work of [00:39:00] energy and enthusiasm and industrial design. It’s, you know, that’s what I, I always try to put into my comics.
You know, my, my my goal with ask for mercy, which is a monster comic, is that there’s a new monster, every five pages. Because growing up in England, when you read a comic, maybe you would have five pages of story a week. So if you’re, I only have five pages a week, you better have something going on in those five pages.
And I think that’s why a lot of British writers were very polite pillar when they moved from British comics to American comics, because they knew they had to keep the beat, keep it moving. You know, Alan Moore’s scripts are very tightly packed. John Wagner, you know, John Wagner is to me 2008 D. Was to British comic book readers.
What Marvel in the sixties was to American comic book readers, 2008. He was [00:40:00] packed with ideas, packed with action.
Casey: There’s a local comic shop down the road from me that gets like old issues of 2008 D. And every time I go in there, I just grab a handful of them because they’re so good. Yeah. And I mean, I guess the parallel would, would be heavy metal, but I mean, even that, I mean, there, there’s still like a, quite a bit of difference between the two.
Richard Starkings: The big difference between having met in 2000 ID is that 2080 delivers characters that return every week, having metal was short stories have metal was, was an adult version of the Twilight zone. Right. You know, there was always nudity and heavy metal. 2008 D was, again, it was aimed at that 15 to 16 year old readership that wanted science fiction, but they also wanted a rough, tough lawman or a Western set in space, which is what [00:41:00] strontium dog is, or a war story set in space, which is rogue trooper or ACE trucking, which is a comedy about scrap metal collectors, you know, th or, and quench, which isn’t like a sitcom, you know, it was like the young ones, which is a British, Oh, I’ve seen,
They used to play it on MTV when I was a kid.
Richard Starkings: Yeah. So they are on quench. Was Alan more sort of young ones. And I think that, you know, w w what I also, you know, I created elephant men. You know, having read 2008 D for years. So it elephant man would fit into 2008 D because there’s a recurring characters it’s spread over a number of years.
There’s there’s there’s development of the characters, characters, live characters die. You know, and I think that the there’s the episodic quality that heavy metal didn’t deliver heavy metal might have some recurring artists, but not [00:42:00] necessarily recurring characters. So heavy metal was more aimed at, it was much Trippier.
It was much more for pot smokers as opposed to people buying touring you know, at the corner store. And I think 2080 really. It bridged the gap between American comics and European comics. And I think Dave Gibbons has always struck me as being the perfect 2000 idea artists because he could work in Europe.
He could work in England or he could work in America. He absorbed British comics. He absorbed European comics from like Mobius. He absorbed American comics and, and can, can, can work in each market. So, you know, 2008 was the perfect launch pad for creators like Dave. And of course, Dave is probably the most successful British artists that worked in the American [00:43:00] market because of Watchman.
Oh yeah. You know, but the art in 2000 idea again, was what pulled me in, you know, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill Mackman Mon, who was just a giant in British comics at that time. But the stories were great. The stories artwork will bring you in, but the story makes you stay, you know, so that’s, that’s what I’ve sought in elephant man is a ongoing series with characters that don’t that have a reason to keep getting involved in stories.
Casey: That’s that’s awesome. W when you’re writing I always like to ask this I’m just out of curiosity, do you listen to music or have the TV on or anything like that, or is it just no, Richard is, is writing right now and he needs complete silence.
Richard Starkings: I’m often writing in my head and get interrupted and that’s when I know I’ve been lighting.
But I, I work in, you know, I’m not someone that can just [00:44:00] sit down and, and type all day. So I will go for a long walk. I’ll go and have breakfast by myself somewhere. I’ll, I’ll take a mole skin exercise book with me, you know, it’s just, just most blank pages because I draw, I often draw pages before I write them.
Oh yeah. I do little thumbnails. With elephant men, I’ve always, thumbnailed pretty much the whole book and sent it to Axel axles in Guadalajara, Mexico. And he speaks fluent English, but I like to give him. The stage directions as thumbnails. Whereas with Abigail, I tend to talk about what’s going on in the book.
Then I write her a script because she, she has a, she. She, her imagination is so vast. I wouldn’t dare try [00:45:00] to give a thumbnail. Sometimes I’ll help her break down at sequence. But with elephant, man, I’m so closely involved with it and axle is not the first artist I’ve worked with. So I’m very much more controlling quite honestly with the elephant man, because I have the scene in my head.
You know, so I don’t sit down and write. I do listen to music. I listened to the blade runner soundtrack. I listened to instrumental music. Exclusively when I write, I can’t hear lyrics, I can’t listen to a radio show when I’m writing. And I tend to work when I, when I actually sit down and write, it’s almost always between 12 and four in the afternoon.
I don’t know why. But I don’t do second drafts. That’s one of the problems of working for yourself. There’s no one to tell you to rewrite something. But that’s usually because I’ve spent a week thinking about it. And if I think about a story and it doesn’t feel right in my head, I just don’t write that down.
Casey: also used to be an editor though. So you know, when to cut the fat and [00:46:00] then with the stove.
Richard Starkings: You’re very generous, Casey. I wish that was true. I could go back through some of the earlier issues of elephant man and make some tweaks. But I have, I feel gotten more confident. I often start a story, not knowing how it’s going to end.
You know, if you’ve read the Stephen King’s book on writing he was the one that gave me the confidence, not necessarily know what the ending was of a story arc. He, he often starts, he almost always starts a story, not knowing how it’s going to end. Whereas some of my other, you know, writing heroes like Steven Moffett, who worked on Sherlock and doctor who he, he told me that he knows his ending before he starts Russell T.
Davis. And he was the guy that relaunched Dr. Who in his book. A writer’s tale. He juggles he’s throws things in the air, not knowing how he’s going to catch them. And, and I, I work that way. I throw a lot of things in the air. I’m pretty confident [00:47:00] now I can catch them. On the recent ask for mercy, we sort of ended season three on a sort of cliff hanger because the world has been destroyed kind of, I was gonna deal with that one, but it’s, but actually season four is the second part of that story.
So it’s worked out well for us, but but I was very satisfied with the ending, even though it was a cliffhanger. So you sort of learn, okay, well, there’s a lot more story to tell. You learn about your characters sometimes. I was really surprised how much information you get back from people who really read your book.
You know, I’ve had friends and fans tell me about my characters and it’s important to take note about what people respond to. So, you know, there’s a character in element called Mickey who wasn’t going to be in it for long. And she’s been [00:48:00] around a long time now because people really respond to her and a friend of mine whose name is Nova.
Dressed up as her and came to the show and it’s gotta be gratifying. Yeah, I know I’ve had, there’s a there’s half a dozen characters that have inspired people to do cosplay a Sahara. I’ve had three Sahara’s and Sarah is very good looking and dressed in very loose clothing. So I have to be very careful about, you have to be very careful about, you know, the clothing your characters have.
But clearly, you know, when somebody dresses up as one of your characters, it’s because they respond to something. And one thing I didn’t realize when Sahara was on the cover of one of the early issues, it’s not often you see at that time in a 12, no, 15 years ago, Fe black female characters were not featured on the cover of American comic books.
Alone. Like, you know, there’s a picture of Sahara working through the desert [00:49:00] and I was just amazed how many young black women stopped and bought it. Just, just for that, just because they’ve never seen a black female on the cover of an American comic book, so prominently before. And that’s very gratifying because I didn’t really, I didn’t, I didn’t put her on the cover in order to get more sales.
She’s, she’s one of the key characters in the series. So, you know, you get a lot of positive response, you get a lot of input and feedback and, and it all goes back into the story
Casey: and you may, may very well have brought these people that, that responded to Sahara into comics. Yeah,
Richard Starkings: that’s true too. Yeah, I’ve had a lot of people who’ve told me when elephant came out there weren’t many science fiction, comic books at image.
I was one of the first as opposed to superhero or horror. They’ve been more since, [00:50:00] you know, saga and black science very successful science fiction comics, that image. But there were people who told me that they didn’t like superheroes, but they liked elephant men because it was science fiction and it brought them into comics or brought them back into comics.
So that again is very flattering. And I do feel, you know, that I found my audience with elephant, man.
Casey: That that’s awesome. I I really respect just your. Tenacity and keeping at it and going places that other people really haven’t with comics and kind of exploring new ways to do the form. When you first started in comics was there anyone that kind of took you under their wing?
Richard Starkings: I, I wish there was I was very lucky, you know, the lettering artists that were working at Marvel weren’t necessarily [00:51:00] threatened by me at the time. And I’m thinking of Annie Parkhouse and Steve Craddick, who was lettering captain Britain. He was a particularly excellent laughing artist who.
Stopped lettering. In fact, he worked in my local hardware store. I lived in Redding in England and I re I ran into him in the hardware store and he had found it too stressful to work as the lettering artist, because there’s not an there wasn’t enough work and you had to turn it in overnight.
Right. But, but he was really encouraging Tom frame at 2008. He was really encouraging the editors at 2008 D Steve McManus and his assistant Simon gala. And the art director at 2000, a D Robin Smith were great. They were very welcoming. They were fun people that they, you know, we used to play softball against 2080.
I was the captain of Marvel UK. And John Wagner was the captain of 2008 and they always thrashed us. [00:52:00] We didn’t really know what they were doing, but John Wagner had grown up in American and play little league. So, you know, Alan Davis, I worked with Alan Davis. He was very helpful. Paul Neary, I worked on the Batman detective series.
They worked on when I was in England. So I picked up, I always wanted to read about how to make comics. So I read the comics journal. I read amazing heroes. I read a magazine called BEM bemusing magazine, which was a British fanzine. And I I’ve always read books about making comics. I’ve always been interested in behind the scenes.
No that wasn’t a sort of mentor as such In rumor was the editor I worked with originally at Marvel. He was he was a good editor I learned from him. But in fact, when Tom DeFalco was posted to Marvel UK for two months, he was pretty great. Tom DeFalco was a [00:53:00] really a nice human being and definitely gave us some workshops about how Marvel U S developed stories.
So I, you know, I was lucky to meet people like Tom shooter came over for a week. Archie Goodwin, Archie good, and made it possible for me to publish the first Epic UK comic. Also the last Epic UK comic that was these brothers.
Casey: I’ve never heard a bad word, said about Archie, by the way, he’s like a gem of a human being.
Richard Starkings: He was, he was the nicest human being in comics. Really helped us out. So I encountered, you know, I saw people out. I definitely, you know, when there was an opportunity to go to lunch with shooter, I went to lunch with shooter, you know, you know, I’ve been lucky to work with Brian Bolland. Dave Gibbons was always very generous with his encouragement and advice.
And then I moved to America [00:54:00] and worked with Bob Chapman at graffiti designs, learned a lot there, learned about merchandising, learned about, you know, book plates and numbering. I numbered a lot of hardcover books. But I, you know, so, you know, I wanted to make comics, you know, and a lot of people at mistook me for a lettering artist And I did a good job of pretending to be electric artists for a long time.
And I’m glad that I have that skill because when I led to my own comic book, I’m also rewriting it, you know? So, Oh, you rewrite
Casey: it on the fly as you go.
Richard Starkings: Yeah. I write much more of a full script now than I used to because sometimes I would forget what I was intending to write. So I’ve learned to sort of let the characters talk on paper so that I have.
A basic outline of the dialogue. I don’t, I don’t think I worked traditionally. I think other writers work much more traditionally than I do. I, I am. [00:55:00] My intention is always to make a comic, not necessarily to write it. And all the artists that have worked with me would probably concur because sometimes I’ll say, I know what the splash page is at the end of this issue, draw that.
And then, you know, I sometimes work with a scene or a splash page. But I rarely changed my mind. I am confident once I start of the direction the story is going in. And I think you’re right in that my skills as an editor come into play. I, you know, again, I re I try to read a comic every day. Last week I read November the four graphic novels by Matt fraction and Elsa
And that was great. I couldn’t do anything like that. I don’t think you know, but I wouldn’t want to either, I like to read a crime comic. I don’t want to write one. When, when I came up with the beef with my [00:56:00] co-writer Tyler Shane line I was like, Oh, this is going to be really wacky. You know, and, and I had no idea where it was going.
Tyler worked on it most, he worked on some of the dialogue and he worked on, he co plotted the first issue with me, but then I just went off on my own in this strange direction. And learned a lot about dairy cows and mass production of beef. And if I had, hadn’t been a vegetarian, when I started, I would have been by the end.
Casey: Were you inspired by Upton Sinclair’s work in the jungle?
Richard Starkings: Nope. Never heard of it. Really? Yeah.
Casey: Since St. Claire was a, he was what they call now a yellow journalist during like the turn of the century. And he wrote a book called the jungle, which at the time I think his intent was like, socialism is great.
And what happened instead was people went, Holy shit. They let people get away with that in the meat industry. And that’s when they [00:57:00] started the like controlling what goes into food. I think that’s what kind of spearheaded people’s argument to form the FDA.
Richard Starkings: Yeah. And unfortunately, you know, the state of the country right now is not the best state we could be.
In. Part of the reason I became a vegetarian was I read a book called animal ethics. And I read about the mistreatment of animals in slaughter houses and meat processing plants and chicken processing plants. And I was like, I don’t think I want. To eat things that have basically been tortured their entire lives.
You know what, you know, if we are what we eat, then no wonder there’s so much anxiety. And I wonder one and two people will get cancer, you know, because we don’t treat the food that we eat with the respect it deserves, you know? So I’ve been vegetarian almost 20 years now. Long [00:58:00] before I, I wrote the beef, but the beef was very much a consequence of studying how animals are treated for elephant men.
You know, a lot of my research in elephant men, you know, there’s a lot more Hybridization of animals going on, then you might be comfortable with, there are a pig embryos that have been fertilized with human DNA that were allowed to just eat for a month. There are endangered animals being brought back from extinction or, you know, extinct animals.
There’s a lot going on. George W. Bush in his, his you don’t have to be nice. No, no. I put his his speech, one of his very first what’s the speech say to the nation, you know, speak to the state of the union speech, say to the union. Yeah. He said that he wanted to introduce laws to stop the hybridization of animals with humans.
I was like, wait, what? You know? So I, I had that as a quote in the first issue of elephant man, because I was like, that’s just, that’s a [00:59:00] gift. You know, if he’s put that in the, his state of the union address, then it’s happening. You don’t, you don’t address something. That’s not happening. You know, you put it right out there because it is happening.
So. You know, the more I looked into the science behind human animal hybrids the more frightening it is, you know what I mean? You know, we, we’ve already hybridized tomatoes with chickens, you know? There’s so much gene splicing going on in order to preserve food better. It’s very difficult to find pure few foods anymore because there’s so much messing around with the DNA, the genetic content of food.
Casey: Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s, it’s getting harder and harder to eat ethically.
Richard Starkings: Very hard. Yeah. Although there is, you know, I mean the word vegan is now very well known. [01:00:00] You know, soy milk is much more common in America, almond milk, oat milk, we drink. There are more vegan restaurants. There are vegan burgers, even at burger King.
Yeah. I think they sell the impossible burger, which is freaking delicious, you know? So there’s lots that, you know, slowly society changes. When young people want things to change. So there’s always hope for the world. Because the old guard always loses control, you know, so right now the old guard is hanging on a little bit too tightly.
And younger people are coming up and questioning the system that they’ve been, you know, driving into our lives for way too long. So, I’m hopeful even in these bleak times.
Casey: Oh yeah. Yeah. Hopefully we’re, you know, hopefully the sun is starting to come out because, Oh my gosh. It’s been [01:01:00] pretty
Richard Starkings: crazy.
You’re in, you’re in Alabama, right? Yes, yes.
Casey: Yeah. Anytime you hear my state and the news generally, it’s nothing good. Especially in, in regards to. Our wonderful politicians we have. How did you end up in the American
Richard Starkings: South of all places? My wife I met my wife in long beach. Five years ago.
She suckered you into coming. Well, we were actually looking to buy a house in long beach and the prices were just going through the roof. So. We happened to come to Atlanta. We went to an, a wedding in Atlanta and came to visit Chattanooga because my wife’s father and her sisters, her three sisters live here.
So we came to visit and I just happened to ask her dad how much the house costs. And he lives in a lovely neighborhood in, in the woods. And, you know, his house was only about 300,000. [01:02:00] And we were looking at places, we were looking at two bedroom bungalows for 700,000. So I just said, doesn’t matter where I work.
Casey: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And it’s such a nice place. Yeah. I lived
Richard Starkings: half my life in Los Angeles and I, I do enjoy Los Angeles. I’ve got lots of good friends there. It is very expensive. It’s very transient people move in and out all the time. It’s very stressful city to live in. Traffic is exceptionally stressful.
I didn’t realize how stressful until I didn’t have to drive in that traffic anymore. So I came to Chattanooga and it’s generally is actually a kind of little progressive bubble. In Tennessee. It’s very picturesque. We have beautiful Tennessee river running through town, a beautiful pedestrian bridge.
The longest in, in America. We have art museum. We have terrific comic book store, a [01:03:00] five minute drive from my house called infinity flux with wonderful owners Jason and Megan. And I’ve become friends with them very quickly. Actually, they have a comics. Co-op Chattanooga comics co-op, which still meets.
Actually we meet on zoom every two weeks an art community. There’s a lot of young people moving here. It’s very lively, small city. So I’ve definitely relaxed a lot more here. There some money left at the end of the month, which, you know, Los Angeles there’s always too much month left at the end of the money.
So we were ready to move out here. My, my wife had lived in California 20 years. I lived there nearly 28 years. And we haven’t really looked back. I mean, it is a little Republican.
I say a little, you know what I mean? But, you know, California has its red neighborhoods too.
Casey: They had more voters for Trump than any other state in the nation, just [01:04:00] because they’re so damn big.
Richard Starkings: Yep. So it’s not like California is 90% blue. It’s 55% blue and Tennessee is 55% red. So it doesn’t matter where you go, you can encounter bigotry you know, anywhere.
I mean, you know, there was an attack on an Asian woman in San Francisco yesterday, you know? So it doesn’t matter what, where you live, you know, w we’ve really got to sort of, unite in our hearts. And I actually do find people in the South, you know, really warm and welcoming, you know, Southern hospitality is real.
You know, a lot of having lived in New York and LA, you know, I had a lot of, you know, trailer, trash stories about Tennessee and Georgia. And but again, th that exists in California, too. It’s just, you don’t see it. If you live in LA, LA is not California. It is how it’s
Casey: portrayed in the popular media too.
Richard Starkings: Yes, [01:05:00] exactly. And, and I’ve, I’ve encountered that coming from England. You know, a lot of people think that England is just like Harry Potter or shell up homes that, you know, I, that I used to walk the small Gladen streets of London and the, I went to a school where I had to wear a uniform, which I did you know, but, but they caught some steam train in order to go to school.
It’s not like that. It’s just like America. It’s just that we have a better sense of humor and better cups of tea.
Casey: Anything you want to to, to talk about before we for we go ahead and land this
Richard Starkings: plane. Not at all. You know, I think you’ve covered everything. You know, elephant man is ongoing. I encourage everybody to check it out on Comixology. You know, if you have Amazon prime account, you can read all comics, ology, originals for free.
If you have Amazon prime, [01:06:00] so you can read three seasons of elephant men, 2261, you can read all of ask for mercy for free. So, and that’s, you know, we’ve already done 30 wait, 15 plus 1833 issues of the two books for Comixology originals. And we’ve got five more issues of elephant men to come. Six more issues of asked for mercy.
And again, you know, my entire, the entire elephant men digital catalog can be found on Comixology under the comic craft section of. You know, Amazon. So I encourage everybody to check it out. I do think that print on demand and digital comics is the future of comics. I think we’re in a very, we’re evolving into the way people read comics, the way they support comics through things like Kickstarter is giving a lot more power to creators.
Casey: First kickstarted the [01:07:00] other day.
Richard Starkings: Congratulated last Friday, so well done, not an easy task. You know, so it’s much, it’s much easier to own what you create these days. There’s, there’s much more support available for comic books. There’s much more awareness of comic books. Amazon makes a fortune selling comic books.
I encourage you to support your local comic book store, always support brick and mortar, all always go to your local comic book store every week. And if you’re in Chattanooga, I highly recommend infinity flux on Hixson pike. So, you know, there’s. There’s w w where there’s an embarrassment of treasures in comics right now.
And I’m really enjoying making comics. I hope people pick them up if they see them in the store. Again, one of my proudest achievements is the beef it’s in trade paperback from image. If you see it, I guarantee you’ll enjoy it. It’s, [01:08:00] it’s very bloody. It’s very funny. And it has Gandy in it.
Casey: Well, that’s, I mean, that hits all of my my selling points for a comic.
I didn’t have, if it didn’t have Gandhi in it might have to pass. There you go. Richard stockings. Thank you so much for coming on, man.
Richard Starkings: Casey, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
Casey: It’s been a pleasure. Take it easy. And I’m so shocked. Anytime I talked to somebody from the South and There are that lives in the South.
I’m. I’m so glad that you found it to be the place that it can be.
Richard Starkings: Yes. So, yeah. Beautiful.
Casey: Yes. Yes, Richard. Thanks again, man. Thanks Casey
Richard Starkings: DVDs, brother. Stay safe. Alrighty. Same to you. Bye.