Interview: Richard Starkings


 This interview was done through emails in december  2003

Matthieu-David: Which artists influenced you the most ? And what are your influences in general ?

Richard Starkings : The artists that drew me into the world of comics were Frank Bellamy, for his spot illustrations of DOCTOR WHO in RADIO TIMES, Harry Linfield, Gerry Heylock, Michael Noble, Ron Embleton and Frank Langford, for their work on DOCTOR WHO, UFO, FIREBALL XL5, SPACE 1999 and CAPTAIN SCARLET in COUNTDOWN/TV ACTION and LOOK In in the seventies.

The artists who influenced my own work were strip cartoonists, like Dennis Collins on THE PERISHERS, Posy Simmonds on THE SILENT THREE in THE GUARDIAN, or children’s book illustrators like Raymond Briggs and Herge, of TINTIN.

The Perishers

Silent Three

The lettering artists whose work influenced me were Sam Rosen and Artie Simek on CONAN, Tom Orzechowski on WARLOCK and UNCANNY X-MEN, Steve Craddock on CAPTAIN BRITAIN, Tom Frame on JUDGE DREDD and Annie Parkhouse on PRESSBUTTON and DOCTOR WHO.

In general, I am attracted either to Science Fiction stories like JUDGE DREDD, ALIEN, STAR WARS or BLADE RUNNER or down-to-earth, kitchen sink drama and comedy like BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, AMELIE, FAWLTY TOWERS, NOTTING HILL or VICAR OF DIBLEY. In these two genres, I think we learn the most about life... Comedy and Fantasy.


M-D: If you hadn’t worked in comics, what would you have done for a living ?

R.S.:  I would have worked in publishing at some level. I got into comics after working at two small publishers in England as a proofreader/ copy editor. I daresy I would have sought to work at the BBC in England in some capacity, preferably in TV drama. My mum would have like me to have been a doctor but medicine never truly appealed to me. 


M-D: Could you describe your typical day ?
R.S.: Only inasmuchas I have no typical day. For me, one day may be paperwork, writing checks to pay bills or selling books through Diamond, or ensuring that a new book we are publishing goes to the printer, or maybe lettering CONAN or BATMAN, or today I was working on my new column, FATHER’S DAY for the website, COMICWORLDNEWS, which relaunches next month. Last week I wrote the script for the next issue of HIP FLASK which the artist Ladronn will be starting to draw very soon.

There’s never a dull day, never a day with nothing to do.


M-D: you designed many logos for comics, could you tell us how does it work, do the editors have specific requests or are you free to create ? do you make many propositions for them to choose from ?

R.S.: I create very few logos myself — John JG Roshell, who has worked with Comicraft more than 11 years, has created most of the logos on our site. But, yes, we submit ideas which editors or creators ask us to modify or refine. I co-created the BATTLE CHASERS logo with Joe Madureira. He had some specific ideas which we tossed back and forth. He very much wanted a logo that looked like a logo for a PlayStation game. Some time later the creators of JAK AND DAXTER ripped off our BATTLE CHASERS logo for their PlayStation game!

M-D: About lettering,I think people generaly won't notice it when it's nicely done and will only notice it when it's bad ( similar to the work I do in movies ;) ), can you explain to us a little bit of the lettering process ?

R.S.: Unfortunately, I think that although the digitization of comic book lettering — for which I’m either praised or blamed -- was inevitable and essential, lettering is STILL regarded as little more than a necessary evil -- a mechanical production task assigned these days to the lowest bidder. Marvel's recent one-font-fits-all approach is the clearest example of this mindset.

Having worked closely with top artists and writers like Brian Bolland, Tim Sale, J Scott Campbell, Joe Madureira, Kurt Busiek, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee we learned the importance of creating lettering styles that suited each of the
books presented to us. Artists always appreciate the extra level of attention and seek us out when they're working on new projects.

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 on HULK GRAY or the upcoming CATWOMAN series suit his work.

That said, I think that Comicraft's Greatest Accomplishment is our library of commercially available typefaces at If I had a penny for every self-publishing artist or writer who has come up
to the Comicraft booth at conventions and thanked us for making our fonts available... Well, I'd have a lot of pennies


M-D: If you were a comic book character, who would you be ? and why ?

R.S.: I’d be HEDGE BACKWARDS, because he IS me, and I am he. His misadventures are on the web at I must find time to create more!


M-D: What’s your favourite movie ?

R.S.: That would have to be either ALIEN or BLADERUNNER. These are films I can watch again and again and never get bored. The work of Ridley Scott is always rewarding, I find. I also like movies like MINDWALK, AMELIE, NOTTING HILL, the original PLANET OF THE APES, LOCAL HERO, CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG, JEAN DE FLORETTE/MANON DE SOURCE, MONTY PYTHON’S MEANING OF LIFE & LIFE OF BRIAN.


M-D: What’s your favourite song ?

R.S..: Ohhh, it’s hard to pick out just one, but I listen to the soundtrack of BLADERUNNER all the time, especially when working. I also like the work of Mark Knopfler, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, The Pet Shop Boys, Lloyd Cole and Leonard Cohen. A favorite song might be “The Wind” or “How Can I Tell You” by Cat Stevens or “The Way it Always Starts” by Gerry Rafferty and Mark Knopfler (from the movie LOCAL HERO).

M-D: do you listen to music when you work ?

R.S.: Yes, we listen to a lot of soundtracks like those mentioned above, as well as THE STRAIGHT STORY, AMELIE, PULP FICTION and bands like RADIOHEAD, QUEEN, U2, PINK, EMINEM, VANGELIS. We also listen to Public Broadcast stations like KCET and some books on tape — we just finished listening to WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR by John Irving -- and radio shows from England like JUST A MINUTE, DEADRINGERS, I’M SORRY I’LL READ THAT AGAIN and THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THTE GALAXY.


M-D: What’s your favourite book ?

R.S.: These are difficult questions! Here I’d have to pick either LETTERS TO A YOUNG POET by Rainer Maria Rilke or THE LITTLE PRINCE by Antoine de Saint Exupery. Books to read again and again.




M-D: Is there a comic book character that you really can’t stand ? which one and why ?

R.S. : No, but the American obsession with super heroes is hard for me to totally understand.


M-D: Did you have some hard times in your career ? which ones and how did you deal with those ?

R.S.: Working as a freelancer is always hard, but financially some years are harder than others. It was very hard for me to build a new living and career in America when I moved to New York, then LA, in 1989. For more than a year, I was barely getting by, but I was very determined and used my Buddhist practice as a source of energy and focus.

This past year was also very difficult, as the big publishers have sought to save money by using inhouse resources for lettering and design. However, every such cutback forces us to reevaluate our goals and capabilities and 2003 was a great year for ACTIVE IMAGES as a publisher of fonts and books, even as it was a tough year for COMICRAFT as a design studio.


M-D: What is your best achievement so far ?

R.S.: My greatest personal achievement has been raising a family in Los Angeles — it’s much harder than anything I confront in comics! My greatest professional achievement has been working with Ladronn on my character HIP FLASK, and publishing the work myself.

Captain Haddock

M-D:  How did you get the idea for Hip-Flask ?

R.S.: I’ve always liked wordplay — I loved the names of characters like Various Flavius and Obelix in the Asterix books, and I was constantly on the lookout for nouns or phrases that sounded like they might make good names. As a kid, my Mum would often remark that I looked like I'd been pulled through a Hedge Backwards, so it only seemed like common sense that my comic strip persona should go by the name "Hedge Backwards!" I had high hopes that my strip would slowly gather momentum and develop into an adventure series rather like my all-time favorite comic series (of all-time), TINTIN. Unfortunately, Hedge seemed content to merely wander around the strip just kind of passing the time -- much like I wandered around Los Angeles passing the time when I moved out here in 1989, not surprisingly enough. I created Hip imagining that he would be the Captain Haddock to Hedge's Tintin. Take a look at half of the TINTIN books and you'll see that it's mostly his friends who get him in trouble, the whole "investigative reporter" thing was dropped by Tintin's creator, Herge, very early on. Unfortunately, Hedge seemed content to merely wander around the strip just kind of passing the time -- much like I wandered around Los Angeles passing the time when I moved out here in 1989, not surprisingly enough. A hip flask is, of course, a small metal bottle from which hard boiled characters take slugs of whisky and so Hip Flask seemed to me the perfect name for a PI in the Hedge Backwards strip. He wasn’t a hippopotamus then.

My original intent was just to throw Hip into the Hedge strip just to liven things up a bit and see what happened... but I never actually got around to it. Long before then, I had contributed "Vanity Case," a female PI character, to my friend John Carnell for the spoof private eye series he co-created with Andy Lanning, THE SLEEZE BROTHERS. SLEEZE was the only EPIC comic published by MARVEL UK during my stint as Grand High Poobah there. Of course, I didn't let them keep the name for long. Vanity Case is now the name of Hip's fellow Information Agent, the Scully to Hip's Mulder, as it were. "Hip Flask and Vanity Case." A Vanity Case is like a purse, full of make up and other feminine essentials. I wonder how well they translate into French?

M-D: What type of script do you write ? Highly detailed ones or very short ?

R.S.: The third issue of HIP FLASK, MYSTERY CITY, is the first to be blessed with a full, detailed script. The first issue, UNNATURAL SELECTION was based on a three page “ashcan” I wrote for Ladronn after we had discussed Hip’s origin. Over the course of several months, Ladronn and I added extra sequences to the ashcan unbtil we found ourselves with 31 pages — which was again expanded for the hardcover edition. The second issue was built around a twelve page script which Joe Casey and I put together three years ago when we first started talking with Ladronn about Hip. Ladronn had actually pencilled five or six pages of ELEPHANTMEN before we started work on UNNATURAL SELECTION.

M-D: Do you plan on writing other comics in the future ?

R.S.: I’ve always imagined HIP FLASK as an ongoing series, with covers by Ladronn, of course.

M-D: if you could write an issue of any other published comics, which one would you choose and why ?

R.S.: I wouldn’t choose to write anyone else’s character, I don’t see the point. All the BATMAN or DAREDEVIL stories have been told, we know all we need to know about SUPERMAN and SPIDER-MAN. I prefer to chart the fortunes of my own characters, whose nature and stories are as much a mystery to me as they are to readers. SPIDER-MAN was appealing when he was a mystery. STAR TREK was appealing when it was new and fresh.

M-D: I suppose you saw the really nice french edition of Hip-Flask, were you involved in the format, paper and so on ?

R.S.: I designed and lettered the French edition of HIP FLASK UNNATURAL SELECTION as well as the Spanish and German editions and our own English language edition. Ladronn and I had gone to great pains to prepare the artwork of HIP FLASK for the European format, which we both prefer, having grown up accustomed to wider pages in comics (TINTIN, METAL HURLANT, EAGLE, 2000AD etcetera)


M-D: Is there a question no one ever asked you in interview  and what would be the answer ?

R.S. : No, I don’t thinks so!


M-D: And since My website is on Dr Doom mainly :

How would you describe the character : DR DOOM ?  

R.S.: He’s a very strong character. Not necessarily evil but he is a fascist who sees the world in a very particular way.


M-D: Who do you think wrote Dr Doom the best ?  

R.S.: I loved the way John Byrne handled the character, especially in INTERLUDE and THIS LAND IS MINE. Those were my favorite FF stories. There’s a little bit of Doom in the character of Nikken, creatoir of the Elephantmen in HIP FLASK.



M-D: Who draw Dr DOOM the best in your opinion ?

R.S.: I’d have to say LADRONN! He drew a shot of Doom and Apocalypse for me which was never used. I’ll see if I can find a scan....

M-D: arghhh I'm so jealous ! :) 


Thanks a lot Richard !


 Go check Richard's compagny at

And Hip-Flask official website: