Saturday, 15 June 2013

Cerebus: In My Life - Richard Starkings

Richard Starkings is the creator/writer of Elephantmen published by Image Comics. Richard was an early pioneer of comic-book lettering with computer fonts and his company Comicraft has been an industry leader in that field since 1992. Dave Sim's recent Elephantmen short stories will be collected in Elephantmen Vol 6: Earthly Desires to be published in July 2013.
A Moment Of Cerebus:
How did you discover Cerebus?

Richard Starkings:
I remember seeing CEREBUS #1 at one of the Comic Marts Gez Kelly used to host in Leeds at a hotel near the railway station -- shame on me for not buying one there and then, although it might have been one of the pirate copies that circulated a couple of years later. I have to believe that I started to read good things about it in Martin Lock's BEM fanzine. I started buying it when I lived in Manchester near a store called ODYSSEY 7. Alan Moore was writing SWAMP THING with Steve Bissette, Howard Chaykin was putting out AMERICAN FLAGG and there was an air of independent spirit even if it wasn't necessarily independence in fact. Was LOVE AND ROCKETS on the stand at this point? If it wasn't, it was close. SWORDS OF CEREBUS sat on the shelves there for a while before I saw the Barry Smith cover on volume 5 and decided to pick up the lot. The concept of catching up on a series by reading trades was in its absolute infancy back in the 80's, but once I'd read SWORDS I immediately picked up the last few issues of HIGH SOCIETY from the rack, and I remember tracking down back issues stretching back to 25, 26 through a mail order comics supplier called CONQUISTADOR.

Do you have a favourite scene/sequence from Cerebus?
The issue that sealed the deal for me was CEREBUS #36 "The Night Before." Even if you read that issue not having read the previous 35, you can figure out what's going on between Cerebus and Jaka. It's a beautifully observed character piece with seemingly effortless dialogue and it's set in ONE room with just two people. The background -- a sea of window panels -- ebbs and flows with the mood between the two and the last page is a sword through the heart. Years later that last page bubbled up from my subconscious and informed the first issue of ELEPHANTMEN, which also ends with a gift and a teardrop.
Cerebus #36 (March 1982)
Art by Dave Sim
How has your own creativity/comics been influenced by Cerebus?
It seems very obvious to me now that ELEPHANTMEN is my creative response to books like CEREBUS, LOVE AND ROCKETS and 2000AD -- my favourite comics in the 80's. CEREBUS spawned and inspired dozens of creators to create their own characters and self publish. It seems obvious now, but back in the 70's the industry was dominated by the Big Two, and self publishing seemed to be exclusive to Underground Comics and creators like Robert Crumb. CEREBUS offered a continuous narrative with a cast of entertaining characters and a stable creative team -- something Jack Kirby's run on THE FANTASTIC FOUR had convinced comic readers was possible before Marvel and DC's approach to creative teams became more like a game of musical chairs.

Dave's bold determination to produce 300 issues of CEREBUS allowed other creators not only to conceive and create comics that they owned, but also allowed them to consider that commitment and longevity was just as important as ownership. Readers get that. We understand that we're following the gestation and evolution of writers' and artists' ideas and we're disappointed when we realize we've been sold a shallow imitation or a fill-in issue that jars with the overall tone of the creators' original intent.

The fact that Dave turned down offers from Marvel and DC to buy CEREBUS or publish colour editions of CEREBUS, or to work on Marvel and DC properties is also worthy of note. Dave didn't spend time helping to develop company owned characters to help jumpstart sales of CEREBUS -- his creator owned work can't be judged alongside a run on BATMAN or DAREDEVIL, it stands on its own merits.

Has Cerebus influenced your approach to working in the comics industry?
I've said before that Dave's Notes from the President that ran on the inside front cover of CEREBUS were invaluable sources of information for anyone interested in self-publishing. Dave's openness about being a publisher as well as the creator was extremely useful in the pre-internet age. Conventions and comic book gatherings were not as organized or as accessible as they are today and creators working for the Big Two didn't have the same kind of information to share that Dave shared in his editorials... I'd even suggest that many mainstream comic creators today have better deals than they'd have been asked to sign thirty years ago because of the free exchange of ideas and ideals creators like Dave Sim, Scott McCloud, Steve Bissette, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird shared in the Bill of Creator's Rights. I used to distribute copies of the interview regarding Creator's rights that was published in THE COMICS JOURNAL in the mid 80's to everyone in my department at Marvel UK.

Would you recommend others read Cerebus, and if so, why?
CEREBUS should be essential reading for anyone interested in the art and form of comics and comic book storytelling. HIGH SOCIETY and CHURCH AND STATE are high watermarks in the field, and even though later volumes are more challenging reads, Dave's constantly shifting -- yet paradoxically consistent -- approach to storytelling is a marvel to behold.

Elephantmen: Ebony Dreams (2012)
Art by Dave Sim

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