One of the first interviews conducted for The Comic Archive was with Richard Starkings, one of the heralds of digital comics lettering and co-founder of Comicraft with partner John “JG” Roshell. The duo spent some time talking to the fine folks at The Outhousers about their craft. Here is an excerpt:
IH: In the last 19 years of Comicraft, you have found yourself in roles other than lettering, switching the hats per se. If it’s cool, I’d like to ask you about the different experiences of each role:
RS: Hmm, is that a question? Being a Publisher is perhaps the most thankless of all the tasks you’ve listed here — I decide to self publish HIP FLASK because I wanted to hold on to my rights. That meant establishing credit terms with a printer and with Diamond. That first issue of HIP FLASK sold really well and covered my costs so when Al Davison, a friend in England told me he was looking for a publisher for his long out of print OGN, THE SPIRAL CAGE, I volunteered to publish it because I figured I’d established the apparatus for publishing so I may as well use it in-between issues of HIP FLASK. Over the next couple of years I published a handful of extant but homeless graphic novels created by friends in the business, including the brilliant STRANGE EMBRACE by Dave Hine, SKIDMARKS by Ilya, KAFKA and SOLSTICE by Steve Seagle, GUNPOWDER GIRL AND THE OUTLAW SQUAW by Don Hudson, BRICKMAN by Lew Stringer and, finally, THE NIGHTMARIST by Duncan Rouleau.
I doubt I made a single penny off any of the titles — initial orders through Diamond ranged from 400 to 850 copies and subsequent reorders would rarely top 20 or 30 copies. I realized that their were just too many titles for retailers to consider each month and the discount for retailers on independent publishers was just too low for them to give me any real attention. The most successful titles in my library, aside from the first three issues of HIP FLASK were COMIC BOOK LETTERING THE COMICRAFT WAY, which has sold close to 5,000 copies at this point, mostly via Amazon and a small distributor called PARTNERS, and the first edition of TIM SALE BLACK AND WHITE which sold through it’s 3,000 print run.
I made what I now consider the mistake of allowing creators to retain all their rights… publishing other creators’ books made me no profits whatsoever, but some of the creators sold the media rights or made money selling copies of the books I overgenerously comped them (I sent at least 200 copies of each book to each creator). I hadn’t thought ahead — for four or five years afterward I was paying my printer $50 a month per title per month to keep the books in storage. The cost was crippling.
Quite rightly, creators focus on their rights, on their ownership of material they’ve created, and I respected that, and still do. But I was naive and didn’t really recognize the obstacles facing small publishers — or the high expectations that would be placed on me, innocently enough, by the creators of those books. Larry Young, who successfully published a large number of successful graphics novels, including DEMO, LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS and ROCK BOTTOM took a lot of stick for asking for a piece of the rights to properties he published, and it was only after I followed in his footsteps that I realized why a publisher has a right to ask for a return on his investment.
I don’t regret publishing I learned a lot and met Justin Moritat Norman, who drew most of the first dozen issues of ELEPHANTMEN, because I published SOLSTICE, which Steve Seagle brought to me because he loved our edition of STRANGE EMBRACE, and because of my relationship with Dave Hine on STRANGE EMBRACE, I got to work with Dave and later Shaky Kane on ELEPHANTMEN.
I often say that the best kind of Image Creator is a former publisher/self publisher, Robert Kirkman self published long before becoming a pillar of the Image Comics we know today. He and I both know what we gain by working with Image, because we know what we lost when we published our books ourselves.
IH: I’m a big logo enthusiast, constantly trying to hand draw them out in my sketch books, but there is something to be said about what programs such as Illustrator can do with them. Having had the experience you have working with both traditional means and digital means, what do you feel 20 years later are the pros and cons of working up a logo?
JG: I’ve actually gotten back into the habit of doing pencil sketches and sending them to clients as preliminary ideas. I find once something’s on the computer, it looks so clean and perfect, it’s easy to think you’re finished, when there’s still possibilities and interesting angles left to be explored. Purely computer-designed logos can often end up kind of undeveloped and bland, as opposed to ideas that are worked up from paper and pencil (and eraser!) first.
On the other hand, some great logos have come from sitting there in Illustrator, trying out the word in every font on the menu, finding some that “click”, and going from there. I suppose the great thing is that we now have such an amazing array of tools to work with. Between Illustrator and Photoshop, we can fully realize a logo in perfectly straight-edged, shiny 3D glory, which simply wasn’t possible until 20 years ago.
For the whole interview (which is well worth the read) head over to The Outhousers.