Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the recent releases of your new comiXology Originals series, Elephantmen 2261: The Death of Shorty and Ask for Mercy! What was the impetus behind your decision to release the two series through the digital platform?
Richard Starkings: As the pioneer of Digital Comic Book Lettering and the founder of the biggest catalogue of unique comic book fonts in the world, I have always been aware that the digital market exists on a very different plane than does the market for physical media. When David Steinberger established comiXology nearly twelve years ago, I was very much ready and willing to distribute Elephantmen digitally; I signed up some two years before my publisher at the time, Image Comics, was ready to do so, and I lobbied Image for same date publication of physical and digital editions long before they dipped their toes in with The Walking Dead.
So, signing up with COMIXOLOGY ORIGINALS was something I was ready to do even before COMIXOLOGY ORIGINALS was ready to debut!
BD: As a continuing thread of the larger Elephantmen universe, what can you share with us about the premise of The Death of Shorty, and what can you tell us about your shared creative process with artists Axel Medellin and Boo Cook?
RS: Years of working for and with Marvel Comics as an editor, writer, lettering artist, and even colorist taught me that every issue is a first issue for someone, so I always make story arcs accessible to new readers as a matter of course. The Death of Shorty introduces a new character, Scherezade or Shorty for, um, short. Shorty is dead at the beginning of his story and so we learn about his life, and the history of the Elephantmen through his friends and associates. It’s a Whodunnit, as Shorty has died in slightly suspicious circumstances, and I think the story will keep readers guessing.
I’ve worked with cover artist Boo Cook for TEN years now, and I’m very happy that he agreed to create the covers of all five issues of this series. Boo is very much a writer and creator in his own right, and very much in demand, so having his input on the covers is very much appreciated. Boo understands the Elephantmen in a very visceral way, he gets the brain AND the brawn, our creative association is exactly that – he’s not afraid to call me out if he thinks a cover doesn’t pack a punch. The cover of #3, my favorite of the five, was a result of Boo rejecting my first idea. His affection and commitment to Elephantmen is a very valuable asset, and his color palette is like no one else’s!
Axel has been with me on Elephantmen almost as long as Boo, but he has clocked up way more pages – over a thousand at the last count, I think. There isn’t anything Axel won’t take on as a challenge – a two-page cityscape of Los Angeles 2261? No problem! Robots? Femme Fatales? Over-sized rats? No problem! Since working with Ladrönn on the initial Hip Flask series, Axel and I have remodeled the lead characters, stripping Hip of his greatcoat and hat and making him much more of an action figure. This series features my favorite of all Hip’s sidekicks, the wise-cracking Jack Farrell. We introduced him after 50 issues, and I wonder why we didn’t do it sooner. Hip and Jack have a great buddy-cop relationship and we see that in a big way in this series.
BD: You have also been paired with up-and-coming artist Abigail Jill Harding for the series, Ask for Mercy. For readers who may be unfamiliar, what do you hope that they will find most intriguing about the series?
RS: I met Abigail in my favorite UK comic book store, Travelling Man in York. I was aware of her work on a one-page strip for the Thought Bubble Anthology and was immediately impressed. When she showed me her portfolio of work during the Thought Bubble Festival (the world’s GREATEST comic book show!), I asked he if she wanted to draw an issue of Elephantmen, which she did, you can find that in digital form on ComiXology, issue #72, "Strange Medicine." At around that time, we started talking about an original series and that evolved into Ask for Mercy. It’s an inter-dimensional horror story with more monsters than you can shake a stick at! Abigail is in her element and I’m having a blast coming up with a story that keeps up the monster quotient she demands! It’s a peek into Abigail’s crazy imagination, and it is NOT for the nervous!
BD: For fans who may prefer printed versions of your work, will there still be opportunities for them to purchase printed copies of the two series?
RS: When Chip Mosher at comiXology approached me last year, he had Print On Demand samples in his bag ready to show me. Chip will testify to the fact that he first thing I did WAS smell them – I’ve come across too many cheaply printed books with low print runs that stink to high heaven of bad ink, so that’s my first question – does it smell of a recently painted kitchen? I’m happy to report that it DIDN’T. The next thing I did was look at the top and bottom of every page to make sure that the art wasn’t chopped off outside the bleed area, and again, the POD samples passed muster. On top of those pet peeves of mine, I can also report that the line quality and color reproduction were excellent. I can’t wait to see how Elephantmen and Ask for Mercy look when they are available as POD later this year!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
RS: I just wrapped up The Beef for Image, which is also available to read digitally on comiXology. It’s the first series I’ve done with artist Shaky Kane outside a few issues of Elephantmen (available as a collection ONLY on comiXology!) and my first collaboration with Tyler Shainline. It’s a crazy story about a man who eats too many beefburgers and acquires the Power of the Cow! Suitable for Vegetarians and NOT for the weak of stomach. It’s a comic book about bodily functions.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about The Death of Shorty and Ask for Mercy?
RS: COMIXOLOGY at amazon.com! Everything you need to know is on the site. You can read our books for FREE if you have comiXology Unlimited or Amazon Prime! It’s the future! Wait until Christmas and BINGE READ them! It’s Netflix for Comix!