Interview #39: The Comicraft of Lettering with Elephantmen Creator Richard Starkings

December 8, 2016

Today we have Richard Starkings on the show. If you don’t know Richard’s work as a letterer, editor, and writer, then I highly recommend you check out Elephantmen, his Image series that’s run for over 70 issues. He’s running is first Kickstarter right now, with the goal of raising $15,000 to create a complete 6,000 character Japanese font for lettering comics. Check it out by clicking here.

Here is his bio from Wikipedia:

Richard Starkings (born 27 January 1958) is a British font designer and comic book letterer, editor, and writer. He was one of the early pioneers of computer based comic book lettering and as a result is one of the most prolific creators in that industry.

Starkings' lettering style was originally inspired by British comic strip letterers Bill Nuttall and Tom Frame. Starkings' UK career began with lettering jobs in 2000 AD'Future Shocks and various strips in Warrior. From there he moved to Marvel UK where he lettered Zoids in Spider-Man Weekly and Transformers before becoming an editor for the company in the late 1980s. However, by the beginning of the 1990s, he devoted himself exclusively to lettering, finding work in the much larger comic book industry in the United States.

In 1992 Starkings founded Comicraft, a studio which trains and employs letterers and designers and provides "Unique Design and Fine Lettering" services for comic books from many different publishers. In the mid-1990s Comicraft, online as began to sell their Font designs as software applications through their Active Images publishing company.

Then we talked about the problem with publishing people’s work. Richard published other people’s work back in the day and talks about the problems with putting a lot of your heart and soul into other people’s work, and not getting a piece of the pie when something gets made into a movie. Richard specifically talks about nobody being able to expect more the 35% of an overall project. That includes creators, too. I never thought about publishing that way, but it’s a very interesting thought I will definitely think about in my own business.

Probably my favorite part of our conversation dealt with conventions and making a connection with fans. Richard said that when he started he was determined to find an audience. That determination led to him going to shows, doing signings, uploading Youtube videos, and Richard is somebody that has worked with everybody. He’s a known commodity in the comic book space. He’s lettered everything. Everything you can think of there’s a good chance Richard has had a run on, and even he had to go around to shows hand selling the book one to one.

I love how he put building a brand into two parts. The first is building your world. The second is finding the audience that didn’t know that world existed. Richard told a story about how even after 70 issues, people still review volume one and say things like “I didn’t even know this comic existed”.

We also talked about the idea of making something once and selling it forever. Richard is a master at making things, and I liked that he talked about being able to sell books, and move them into movies and television. This is something nobody talks about, but it’s essential to the process of creating. You only make things once, but you sell it for the rest of your life, your kid’s life, and your ancestor’s life all the way down the line.

One of the coolest things about our conversation was when we talked about the name Elephantmen. He said something that he loves is when people look at Hip Flask, a hippo, on the cover of his book and say “that’s not an elephant”. That simple line allows him to have a conversation with his audience, and it was all built on that moment of engagement. The title sells everything about the book, and that was very important to Richard. It should be important to you as well.

It was also really interesting to hear Richard talk about his favorite creators. There is one thing that is similar among them, and that is they are all nice. The creators his loves, like Kurt Busiek, have a great team in place, trust them, and involve them in the process. Creators like that, he said, elevate the entire team around them from the editors to letters.  

One thing that Richard really believes in is creating your own stuff, as much as he enjoys working in the worlds of other people, it’s clear he LOVES the idea of creating your own stuff. He kept coming back to that over and over, even as we came around and talked about his company Comicraft, and lettering as a whole.

Lettering is about being invisible, but it’s about being very good at being invisible like Richard said. He’s been lettering for 30 years and started pen lettering back in the day. He’s lettered the Killing Joke for fuck sakes. This guy knows lettering. So much so that he created a company that creates and sells fonts to other letters.

And that’s why he was really on the show. He was on the show because he launches his first Kickstarter, where he’s trying to raise $15,000 to build a Japanese font for lettering manga. Check it out here.

What’s fascinating to me about his Kickstarter is that there is so little out there to letter comics in Japanese. It’s not that hard to see why. After all, there are 6,000 characters in Japanese, compared to 125 in English. I didn’t realize how desperately needed this font is until now. I did a quick search to find something similar, and my search didn’t turn up much. I know it’s not a sexy thing, but many this font seems awesome.

And Richard really loves the idea of it. He’s been asked by companies like Blizzard and others to letter comics in Japanese and has piecemealed it up until this point, but the idea of having a complete set of letters is desperately needed, and having this font will get you a leg up if you speak Japanese. I highly recommend you check this one out by clicking here.

If you like this episode, check out the Kickstarter by clicking here, and find Richard on Twitter @comicraft. Please also subscribe, rate and review on iTunes by clicking here.

And don't forget to check out my Kickstarter toolkit to help launch and fund your own project by clicking here



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