Richard discusses his days as Editor in Chief of Marvel UK, the formation of Comicraft, Buddhism, and the beginnings of Hip Flask and Hedge Backwards with Andrew Wheeler from NinthArt.com.
Where were you born, raised and educated?I was born at an early age and I grew up in a converted railway station in the North of England with an old English sheepdog by the name of Boot. Throughout my childhood I always dreamed of one day becoming a great comic strip artist, but my hopes were crushed late one night when my Dad made me turn off my bedroom light while I was tracing pictures of Superman Red and Superman Blue.
What did you do before joining the comics industry?
I spent an inordinate amount of time sanding down the pieces so they’d fit together snugly. I took day jobs as a proofreader at The National Computing Centre in Manchester & Medi-Cine Communications in London in order to pay for all the equipment.
How did you get started in comics?A friend of mine lent me his jumper cables.
How did you come to head Marvel UK?Subterfuge, sabotage and subversion.
In your opinion, what happened to kill Marvel UK?
It’s not really a question of what “killed” Marvel UK, but more accurately your perception of Marvel UK having “died”. Personally, I’m actually perfectly happy with Marvel — um, Panini — UK. I pick up DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE every month, just as I did five, ten, fifteen years ago. Peri Godbold, who I hired as an art assistant way back in 1988, is still working over there and, I think, doing an incredible job designing the magazine.
The bigger question you’re asking is really “What happened to British Boys’ Adventure comics?” The truth is that the “Boom” market of the late seventies and early eighties was fuelled by the passionate work of a handful of exceptionally talented and creative individuals working at IPC and Marvel UK. John Wagner, Pat Mills, Carlos Ezquerra, Kevin O’Neill and Dave Gibbons poured enormous amounts of energy and imagination into their work on ACTION, BATTLE and 2000AD in the late seventies; Dez Skinn, Paul Neary, Alan Moore and Alan Davis did the same over at Marvel UK back in the Camden Town days of the early eighties. The Boys’ Adventure market rolled on the momentum created by these guys throughout the eighties and into the early nineties. The stories and artwork I was reading in my teens unquestionably inspired me to work in the British industry.
I was lucky enough to jump on board (as an art assistant; I answered an ad in THE GUARDIAN) during a period of strong sales. Numbers on weekly titles such as TRANSFORMERS, THUNDERCATS & THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS justified the cost of commissioning British writers and artists to originate new material and editors such as Ian Rimmer, Simon Furman, John Tomlinson and I enthusiastically did so. Nevertheless, we had to make money to spend money and even though TRANSFORMERS outsold 2000AD in its heyday, its success, as well as the success of most of our licensed properties, was shortlived. During my last year with Marvel UK, I focussed my energies on original material featuring original characters.
I argued with the powers-that-be that, had we offered Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons (who had worked on CAPTAIN BRITAIN and DOCTOR WHO respectively) more than just work-for-hire rates and licensed properties, we might have found ourselves publishing WATCHMEN, which had gathered a lot of press and publicity at the time. I was lucky in that Robert Sutherland, who was the publisher at Marvel UK back then, responded well to my enthusiasm and subsequently green-lit DRAGON’S TEETH (which became DRAGON’S CLAWS for legal reasons), a project which had begun as part of a proposal for a publication called FAST FORWARD which Tom DeFalco and Ian Rimmer had initially devised as a weekly to rival 2000AD. Editor-in-chief Jenny O’Connor and I originally approached John Wagner and Alan Grant to work on the book for us, but it was clear to me that they were jaded by their experiences with JUDGE DREDD, which made money for IPC and TITAN BOOKS, but not for John and Alan, so I recruited Simon Furman and Geoff Senior, whose work on TRANSFORMERS had made them legends in their own lunchtime.
I’m often asked if the subsequent launches of DEATH’S HEAD and THE SLEEZE BROTHERS were all part of a publishing masterplan. The real truth of it is that IPC/FLEETWAY had been approached by EPIC COMICS (the “mature readers” imprint of MARVEL COMICS GROUP) in regard to the US publishing rights for THIRD WORLD WAR and NEW STATESMEN which were the two main features of 2000AD’s “mature readers” spin-off, CRISIS. Robert and Jenny got wind of this and we all felt that we couldn’t let our parent company publish our principal competitor’s works. Robert protested to Marvel president, Jim Galton, who agreed to put a stop to the books… but only if we came up with two new projects to take their place.
Simon Furman and I had always envisioned DEATH’S HEAD (who had been created as a supporting character for THE TRANSFORMERS) in his own book and John Carnell and Andy Lanning — who had been working for me on GHOSTBUSTERS — would always keep us all in stitches in the pub with their ideas for SLEEZE BROTHERS. I pitched both books to Robert and Jenny and they were quickly added to our publishing schedule.
The humbling postscript to this story is that the nicest man in comics, Archie Goodwin, was infuriated when he discovered that his negotiations with Fleetway were scuttled by our protestations. He was still steaming when I visited his office in July, ’88. “But, Archie,” I ventured, “Wouldn’t you feel the same way if we were to reprint DC books in the UK?” Archie looked at me directly in the eye and replied: “No. Quality work is quality work. It should be exposed to as many readers as possible. It’s origin is irrelevant.” Suitably chastised, I went back to work at Marvel with a completely new perspective and was humbled further still when Archie stopped by our offices that September. I was struggling to convince Robert and Jenny to grant creator ownership of THE SLEEZE BROTHERS to John and Andy. Archie took a look at the material and proposed that it be published as an EPIC comic. Reluctantly, Robert and Jenny agreed. To this day, THE SLEEZE BROTHERS is the only wholly creator-owned title ever published by Marvel and a testament to Archie’s sublime ability to influence the shape of the comic book industry simply by walking through a room. His graciousness and all around good will has affected me to this day.
Marvel UK had a great track record for finding fresh talents – Bryan Hitch, Carlos Pacheco, Gary Frank, etc. What was the secret of your success?
I would have to point once again to the high standard of work produced by Mills/Wagner/Grant/Moore/Bolland/Gibbons/Gibson et al. It wasn’t really a question of discovering new talent as recognizing it when it was presented to me. If Bryan Hitch, Dougie Braithwaite, Andy Lanning and Liam Sharp had never knocked on my door, I’d have had to knock harder on the doors of the more established talent. I was very fortunate to be in the position of reaping a harvest of inspiration sown by far greater talents than myself.
As to the real secret of my success, I can’t tell you; it’s a secret. Curse that gypsy wench!
Do you miss editing and being involved in the overall comics creation process?
I don’t miss it at all, because I still feel very much involved in the overall process, perhaps more so than ever. Although I’m not officially involved in the editorial process, I am often asked for input and advice, probably because I was raised to offer praise only if its richly deserved and, on this side of the Atlantic, such honesty and forthrightness seem to be in short supply.
Do you think the UK can support its own comics publisher beyond 2000AD?
It’s important to remember that, were this 1975, you’d be asking pretty much the same question. EAGLE was gone, TV21 and COUNTDOWN were gone and
LOOK IN was one of the few comics publishing high quality comic strips (remember Asbury on SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN; Bolton’s BIONIC WOMAN; John M. Burns on THE TOMORROW PEOPLE and Michael Noble on MAN FROM ATLANTIS?). What’s lacking right now is talented and creative men or women of vision to inspire a whole new wave. There’s obviously no shortage of talent in the UK; take a look at DC’s VERTIGO imprint or Quesada’s MARVEL KNIGHTS line. Garth Ennis’s ADVENTURES IN THE RIFLE BRIGADE was very much like the BATTLE/ACTION stories of old. What’s most important is that talented artists and writers, who happen to be English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish, are finding outlets for their work. Whether that’s 2000AD, ACTION MAN or THE INCREDIBLE HULK is surely by the by.
What was your favourite Marvel UK work? And, because I’ve been asked to ask you: Do you know where Geoff Senior is now? 🙂
Working at Marvel UK was one of the happiest experiences of my life. I was particularly fond of my time on ZOIDS. Editor/writer Ian Rimmer created a really sound scenario which allowed us to tell great stories and feature the toys TOMY wanted us to promote. ZOIDS was the first regular professional work for my good friend Kev Hopgood and my first script for Marvel UK, illustrated by Steve Parkhouse, was a six page ZOIDS story. Later on the strip was to become my first editorial responsibility which allowed me to work with Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell. When the weekly was cancelled, we asked Grant to redevelop the series as a monthly for the US market. He produced three terrific scripts, one of which was completely pencilled by Yeowell. Unfortunately, interest in ZOIDS was on the wane and the project was cancelled.
Grant was actually more mysterious back then than he is now. He struck me as being extremely polite over the phone and shy in person. He came to Marvel UK’s lustful but lacklustre Christmas party in 1987 and was dressed all in black with dark glasses, like a negative zone Andy Warhol. No one knew quite how to approach him and, looking back, I’m sure this was all part of his act. His work on ZOIDS was just terrific. I had written a couple of stories for ZOIDS myself, and I was bowled over when Grant picked up on characters and concepts I’d introduced and used them as springboards for his own ideas. Grant also contributed one of the more offbeat DOCTOR WHO stories I’d commissioned, which was illustrated by a young Bryan Hitch, and the rather splendid Quick Kick/Shang Chi recap in ACTION FORCE which hooked him up with Steve ZENITH Yeowell.
A couple of years later, at UKCAC, I was chatting with Grant and Jamie Delano, while Jamie was poring over every single page of the latest issue of HELLBLAZER. Grant asked Jamie what he was doing, and Jamie replied; “Checking to see what they’ve rewritten!” Grant smiled, “Oh, Yeah, I always do that too.” I swallowed hard, I’d rewritten Grant at least a dozen times. But not again.
I also had a lot of fun working on ACTION FORCE with Simon, Kev and, of course Geoff Senior, who was last seen working on storyboards for Trev Goring’s old company, Helicopter, in London. He visited me here about three years ago and we recently worked together on a 26 page TRANSFORMERS story for BOTCON. Written by Simon Furman, colored by Andy Wildman with a cover by Lee Sullivan, it was just like old times.
Do you ever look at contemporary kids entertainment and weep for the likes of ZOIDS and the classic ACTION FORCE and TRANSFORMERS? (You probably don’t care, but I had to ask.)
No, I weep for THUNDERBIRDS, CAPTAIN SCARLET, UFO and ACE OF WANDS. I think we develop an affection for the shows and toys that reached out to us (and our pocket money) in our youth. In the midst of working on TRANSFORMERS back in the late eighties, Simon Furman lamented that we couldn’t get top talent to work on the book because all they wanted to do was work on JUDGE DREDD. I pointed out to him that the kids reading our books would one day get all misty eyed about Simon and Geoff’s LEGACY OF UNICRON just as we get all nostalgic about Wagner and Bolland’s JUDGE DEATH story. And, what do you know, Simon gets flown out to the US every other year for’Botcon!
On a related note, could you do licensed properties again? Do you envy Dark Horse or feel sympathy for the company
Every property in mainstream comics is a licensed property. Whether you’re working on BATMAN, JUDGE DREDD or STAR WARS, someone else owns the character and you can produce stories that shine or suck. Grant’s work on ZOIDS, Simon Furman’s work on TRANSFORMERS (LEGACY OF UNICRON being his finest hour, I think!) and Michael Golden’s work on GI JOE, all prove that the material is not as important as the enthusiasm with which you approach it.
The licensed properties available at MARVEL were a tremendous projects on which to learn the ropes, and I worked variously as a writer, colorist, color separator and, ultimately, group editor. However, after nearly five years there, I found myself simultaneously at the top of my profession and at a creative dead end. The editor-in-chief and I were clearly pulling in different directions so naturally she and I fought often. I was recently divorced from my first wife at the time and in consequence, I was fiercely reviewing any and all limiting circumstances in my life. The writer of THE SLEEZE BROTHERS, John Carnell, had introduced me to the Buddhism of Nichiren Daishonin and, to cut a long story short, after one last particularly frustrating altercation with my editor-in-chief I felt that it was time for a leap of faith. I typed up my resignation that night and handed it in the next day. Of course, I should also mention at this point that for a number of months I had been seeing a young girl who had recently returned to her home in California. I decided that for once in my life I’d listen to my heart and not my head. I worked a six week notice, in order to ensure that the various projects I had initiated were going to be well looked after, and then jumped on a plane at Heathrow for what I imagined would be a trip round the world taking in New York, LA, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Although I never made my trip round the world, and I broke up with my girlfriend shortly after moving from New York to LA, this was the best decision I ever made in my life.
THE SLEEZE BROTHERS – I remember that title fondly, so I’ll take a little detour here. Was there much of an audience in America for that kind of humour?
No. I didn’t realise why at the time, but Sergio Aragones once told me that he feels very strongly that people stopped looking toward comics for laughter when the sitcom started to dominate American TV programming in the late sixties. Why pay for a quick laugh when you can turn on network TV and laugh for free?
Why didn’t the book lead to any other creator-owned books being published at Marvel?
Because none of the powers-that-be thought creator owned properties were worthwhile.
Has there ever been an attempt to reprint or revive the BROS?
Yes and no. The rights have reverted to John and Andy. John and I are very close friends and we talked for a while about reprinting the original series, but while I was working out all the logistics, I saw a shrinked-wrapped set of 1-6 on sale in the local store for $5, and I realised that reprinting the series (which was widely regarded — by US retailers — as a flop) during an industry slump would be insane. John is actively pursuing the possibility of a movie or animated series. The Sleeze’s foil, Vanity Case, lives on in name alone in HIP FLASK. She was my small contribution to the series, and John kindly let me take her name back.
Are you still in touch with the Marvel UK alumni?
Simon, Kev Hopgood, Mike Collins, Lee Sullivan and John Higgins.
Where did the idea for Comicraft come from?
Back in 1991, I was working at Graphitti Designs in Anaheim & living in Venice Beach with another
ex-pat by the name of Griff Rowlands for a roommate. He was, and still is, a carpenter and his business card bore the legend “Proudcraft”. I was introduced to the Macintosh at Graphitti and, left to my own devices, taught myself Quark Express. Even though I was lettering bits and pieces for Vertigo and Marvel US, I had barely looked at mainstream comics since living in New York in 1989, but somewhere along the line I spotted John Byrne’s computer lettering in an issue of NAMOR. “Uh-oh,” thought I, “The clock’s ticking on hand lettering!” I caught Byrne in a hotel lobby during the San Diego show that year and picked his brain enough to know what I should be doing to get started. Marvel Ex-Man Marc Siry hooked me up with a friend who taught me how to use Fontographer and Illustrator. A year down the line I was working with an assistant (John “JG” Gaushell/Roshell, still with me today) who asked me how he should answer the phone back in the days when we worked out of my Santa Monica apartment. Remembering my old roommate, I suggested “Comicraft.” It stuck.
How did the company get started?
A friend of mine lent me his jumper cables.
How important do you think it is for different comics to have their own lettering ‘identity’?
Essential. In America the search for guaranteed success creates an homogenous world in which you can drive to a 7-11 on the East Coast and fill your basket with exactly the same candy bars, sodas and magazines you would find in a 7-11 on the West Coast. Pull into a Motel 6 anywhere in any state, and you can turn on the TV and watch M*A*S*H or I LOVE LUCY reruns at pretty much any time of day. Travel the equivalent distance from LA to New York in Europe and you’d be lucky to find a store that even remotely resembles a 7-11, let alone the same sodas and magazines you’d be able to find at home. Turn on the TV in Rome or Madrid, and even once you got past the language barrier, you’ll be hard pressed to find your favorite show. I find Europe’s infinite variety very reassuring, and America’s pop tart accessability completely unnerving. German graphic design is radically different to French graphic design. Dutch design is easily distinguishable from Italian. The personality of each culture is captured and communicated in each country’s typography and yet, nourished by the sensibilities of their neighbors, continues to evolve.
When I moved to New York from London, I was surprised to note how much one letterer’s work resembled another’s. I soon discovered that I was the only letterer working in the states with German technical pens. Most every letterer working out of the Marvel and DC offices worked with American “Speedball” nibs and so right there and then my work was regarded as “different.” It’s ironic, therefore, that when I first approached US publishers with the concept of “computer” lettering that they were afraid to lose the personality provided by hand letterers. Whether by accident or design, hand letterers in the States had already created amongst themselves a somewhat soulless uniform style. Having worked on 2000AD, I was accustomed to a variety of very different styles. TINTIN, which had always been a favorite of mine growing up, was lettered in a gentle lower case style. ASTERIX was lettered by the artist, Uderzo, in a fluid, warm and humorous upper case style.
I have never felt content lettering all the books I’m involved in in one set way. Even today, some letterers and artists regard the computer as the enemy of personality, but in reality, it is the liberator. Thanks to the imagination of the programmers who created Illustrator and Fontographer, we are able to provide each book we letter with its own unique style. Most recently we have created a series of fonts based on the handwriting of the artists who create the books on which we work. Naturally enough, only the rhythm of THEIR penwork, the pressure THEY place on each stroke and each period, can truly complement the mood and rhythm of their artwork.
When James Cameron spent over $200 million dollars on his movie TITANIC, he did so in order to guarantee a level of authenticity that he felt would make his story that much more convincing. Although I’d be pretty ticked off if JG or any of the other guys here turned in an expense report adding up to $200 million, there have been occasions when we’ve lavished more time and attention on a project than might appear to make financial sense. I doubt whether very many people noticed that the cutlery on the tables in the dining room set of TITANIC matched the ones that sank on the real ship in 1911, but I’m sure the success of that film had a lot to do with the fact that Cameron cared about that kind of detail. I think the same is true of the lengths we go to to ensure that the unique styles for STEAMPUNK suit Chris Bachalo and the letters we create for Tim Sale suit his work. Just this week I’ve been hand lettering (!) the title and credits for the splash page of DAREDEVIL: YELLOW #1 before Tim has even pencilled the page, thus allowing the graphics to work in harmony with his illustrations, and vice versa.
Although you argue against homogeneity, a lot of readers think computer lettering is actually responsible for reducing lettering to a formula. How would you respond to that charge?
Computers aren’t responsible for bad lettering. People are. You don’t need a computer to do a bad lettering job.
Where does Richard Starkings end and Comicraft begin?
At the “s” and then at the “C”.
Do you still do much lettering yourself?
I letter pretty much all the title pages in Comicraft books; I lettered all of WITCHING HOUR & the first three issues of STEAMPUNK and I watched over every single page of DARK VICTORY even though Ace Comicraftsman Wes Abbott did all the page-after-page lettering. DC don’t allow us to credit individuals so in their books sometimes you’ll see the credit line “Richard Starkings” and sometimes just “Comicraft”. I’m always involved in the BATTLE CHASERS and DANGER GIRL books and I’ll often tweak pages in books like FF, SUPERMAN and X-MEN.
Is lettering ‘just work’, or is it a labour of love?
Always a labor of love. Sorry, labour. You bloody English.
Are there any books you work on which you think best display what Comicraft is all about?
Chris Bachalo’s run on GENERATION X and STEAMPUNK leap to mind. He and I gel very well. BATMAN: DARK VICTORY and the forthcoming DAREDEVIL: YELLOW. BATTLE CHASERS. DANGER GIRL. SAM AND TWITCH. The ASTRO CITY trades. FANTASTIC FOUR. THE INHUMANS. ULTIMATE X-MEN. WILDCATS.
How has the new regime at Marvel affected the lettering industry?
There’s no perceptible change. Computer Lettering no longer has the stigma or mystique it used to carry and both Marvel and DC have in-house lettering and design services. The comic book industry has always been very competitive, so there will always be a demand for the kind of commitment and attention Comicraft can bring to a project.
The famous ‘kike’ typo in an issue of Wolverine brought the lettering process some undue attention. Do you think people only normally notice the lettering when it goes wrong? Is it an under-appreciated contribution?
You’ve answered your own question. We only ever complain about public transport when the bus or the train runs late. My personal approach to work in general and lettering in particular was shaped by a story shared with me by a Buddhist in New York by the name of David Kasahara. At the time I was lettering just to make a living and I was struggling to enjoy what I had once enjoyed struggling to master. At a Buddhist meeting in New York, I approached Mr Kasahara with my complaints. He listened kindly and then proceeded to tell me the story of a dishwasher in a restaurant who was unhappy with his lot because he just hated cleaning up dirty plates. He complained to his wife who chastised him and suggested that, instead of bemoaning the circumstances his life had delivered to him,
he should express his gratitude to his employers by taking it upon himself to make the plates and glasses shine so brightly that the customers would come back to the restaurant just because the crockery was so clean! At the time I remember rolling my eyes and saying to myself “What does THAT mean?!” but I couldn’t stop thinking about what he’d said and began to see how his story was relevant to my work. Generally, you don’t pick up a comic book and rave about the lettering any more than you would sit in a restaurant and say: “Wow! These knives and forks are shiny!” But then again, nobody likes to eat a meal on a dirty plate. From this perspective, the matter of discretion is somewhat immaterial. At the risk of stretching the analogy too far, a dishwasher can’t guarantee the quality of the dishes, but he can guarantee the polish.
We don’t hear a lot about Buddhism in comics. Do you know if there are many other Buddhists in the industry?
John Carnell, who introduced me to Buddhism, Donna Wickers, who I introduced to Buddhism and who now works over at Redan Comics in London. Al Davison, whose excellent book THE SPIRAL CAGE is not just a good read but an interesting introduction to the philosophy.
What is the doctrine of Nichiren Daishonin?
For me, in a nutshell: Live in the moment. Earthly desires are, at the same time, enlightenment.
How has it influenced you professionally?
I’m more likely to respond to difficult circumstances as challenges. I’m more likely to take lemons and make lemonade.
What is the essential practise of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism? Is there a ritual element involved?
I chant the title (“Daimoku”) of the Lotus Sutra, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, to a scroll called the Gohonzon on which is written, in ancient chinese calligraphy, the enlightened life condition of Nichiren Daishonin, a thirteenth century Japanese monk who practised and taught the Lotus Sutra, the highest teaching of Siddhartha. Daimoku is usually performed during a morning and evening ritual known as Gongyo, during which one also recites two chapters of the Lotus Sutra. This is very much an energizing and cleansing spiritual exercise based on the belief that commitment to an enlightened daily life will draw the support of the forces of the universe which will point one in the direction of one’s ultimate happiness.
Can you describe the company headquarters to me?
Go on then. I’m curious to know about where you work.
Yellow, Purple and Green. Comics and computers everywhere.
Do you ever worry that what happened to Steve Oliff’s studio could happen to yours?
Not until just now..!
Who are the unsung greats of lettering?
The UNSUNG greats are Dennis Collins, the artist who co-created the DAILY MIRROR strip, THE PERISHERS; Frank Bellamy, whose display lettering in various RADIO TIMES illustrations and GARTH titles was just fantastic; Posy Simmonds whose SILENT THREE strip in THE GUARDIAN was a huge source of inspiration to me, and Steve Craddock, whose lettering on CAPTAIN BRITAIN back in the day was just beautiful.
Are there classic books we should be looking at to appreciate the craft?
There are no books which focus solely on comic book lettering, but check out the bookshelf at our www.balloontales.com website, where we’ve listed a whole bunch of books which we look to for inspiration. I’m very fond of any book compiled by Steven Heller et al.
Are there people you admire?
Having worked inside the comic book industry for sixteen years, and having been exposed to just about every facet, I have to say I admire all the go-it-alone artists and writers who meet self-imposed deadlines, create new ideas and stories out of thin air and refuse to lean on the corporate giants for support. Those people would have to be Dave Sim, Dan Clowes, David Mack, David Lapham, Brian Michael Bendis, Ilya, Eddie Campbell, Paul Grist, Scott Mcloud, Joe Sacco, Joe Matt, Chester Brown and Peter Kuper to name but a few. I’m also an avid reader of anything and everything by Posy Simmonds, Raymond Briggs and the aforementioned Dennis Collins.
Tell me about HEDGE BACKWARDS. I know it’s a comic strip, but I know nothing else about it. When is the public going to see it?
Quite a few years ago, Dave Gibbons pointed out to me that British comics lacked a character as universal in appeal as Tintin or Asterix. I have always been a huge TINTIN fan, and was intrigued by the whole “clear line” school of comic book art which Herge inspired. In the early eighties I was very much into Paul Gravett’s ESCAPE magazine, and thought Phil Elliot (who I later hired to work on GHOSTBUSTERS) and Glenn Dakin were doing some incredibly interesting and funny work. In my heart of hearts, I’m more indie than mainstream, and I had read enough “Notes from the President” in CEREBUS to know that I couldn’t really call myself any kind of an Artist unless I did everything myself. I had drawn a regular strip by the name of THEN AGAIN for the student magazine at college, and dozens of DOCTOR WHO gag strips for various fanzines, but HEDGE BACKWARDS was my first attempt to create something that I might present to the newspaper syndicates out here. Although I never quite got that far (I submitted it to the LA READER — a weekly listings paper — shortly before they went out of business), I was featured in THE HERALD, the free newspaper of El Segundo, a small mid-western style town next to LAX, where I was living at the time. Although it was always my intent that Hedge should be an adventurous newspaper reporter, in the spirit of Tintin, the strip developed a philosophical tone all of its own, and after two years it moved on, and Hedge spent another year or so in the pages of THE WORLD TRIBUNE, the weekly newspaper of SGI-USA, the Buddhist organization to which I belong. One of these days, I’ll get back to him and post the strips on the web.
HIP FLASK seems to have been advertised for a while now, but has the book ever hit the shelves, or is it all an elaborate spoof, as the website would seem to suggest?
HIP FLASK was originally the name of a very human, stereotypical private eye I created for inclusion in HEDGE BACKWARDS. However, I got so tied up with Comicraft, HEDGE fell by the wayside, and Flask never even got to appear in the strip. A couple of years later, after my efforts to secure either the X-Men or Wildcats to promote Comicraft fonts came to naught, I decided to give the job to HEDGE instead. But HEDGE BACKWARDS was such a personal strip, pretty much detailing my life and loves in California, I quickly realised that it was not an appropriate vehicle for promoting fonts such as “Clobberintime!”, “Phasesonstun” or “Comicrazy”. Hedge didn’t carry a phaser and wasn’t into Clobbering in a big way, so I started casting around for another, more suitable salesman. While I was looking through my HEDGE BACKWARDS sketches, I found my original drawing of HIP FLASK and proudly announced to my lovely wife, Youshka, that I’d found a character to promote our line of fonts. She liked the name, but, when I told her he was a private detective, innocuously asked me what made him different to any other PI. “Oh, Er…” I said, thinking quickly, “He’s, um…, he’s Hip, he’s a — He’s A Hippopotamus!” She liked the idea, and it stuck. I later abandoned his PI identity when I became aware of the existence of the Australian character HAIRBUTT THE HIPPO, PRIVATE EYE. Who’d’ve thunk?As to your question, at one level, yes, HIP FLASK is an elaborate hoax, one which will probably backfire when I solicit orders for his book next year and no one believes its real!
RED STAR: What’s the extent of your involvement in that book? It seems to be very experimental, so what are you aiming to achieve, and are you achieving it?
RED STAR is very much Christ
ian Gossett’s baby. Chris called me up a couple of years ago when he was planning on taking the book to DARK HORSE’S MAVERICK imprint. I gave him my best “Notes from the President” speech over lunch and as a consequence, he took the book to IMAGE instead. We’ve worked with him on the design, website and lettering and he and I have become very good friends, but it is very much his book. Drop him a line.
Do you think you’ll ever return to the UK, or are you an American now?
It’s February. The temperature here in Santa Monica was close to 80 over the weekend. What do you think?
Do you think ‘Richard Starkings’ is regarded as a hero, a villain, or someone no-one pays much attention to at all?
My wife and kids think of me as a hero. What anyone else thinks is by the by.
And finally; Are comics doomed?
I’m surprised at how often I have to field this question. When sales were high and publishers, retailers and creators were all making money hand over fist, it felt like the comic book industry stood tall and rubbed shoulders with the movie industry and the magazine industry. Now that the money poured in by speculators and “collectors” has gone, it might feel as if the industry has been knocked off its feet — and wasn’t it an awful long way down?! But y’know, just because you’re lying down, doesn’t mean you’ve lost your value or your stature. When I was in my teens, the only MARVEL US trade paperbacks were PROJECT: PEGASUS and HAWKEYE. The only trade in England was the first JUDGE DREDD album. If you could take a look at the bookshelves in stores today from the perspective of a teenager in the early eighties, you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven. Whether we’re aware of it or not, the American direct sale system is evolving and moving closer to the European and Japanese models. Comic books are now regarded as source material for trade paperback and hardcover collections, and DC have proven that there is a lot of money to be made from a backlist. Trade paperback publishing plans may not be as sexy or as exciting as the launch of IMAGE or CLIFFHANGER, or the announcement of HEROES REBORN or MARVEL KNIGHTS, but I think they represent the future of comics.
The one thing I will say is that comics CREATORS are doomed if they continue to sell their creative souls to the highest bidder. If you’re young and you want to get into comics, create something you OWN and stick with it.