The Spring of 2011 is a big time for Starkings’ Elephantmen franchise; in addition to this one-shot, in January he’s releasing a spin-off OGN subtitled Enemy Species with Boo Cook that’s a sequel to the acclaimed miniseries War Toys and is also releasing a collection of covers and sketches by Ladrönn & Cooke subtitled Cover Stories in February. For more on these series and the entire Elephantmen universe, let’s talk to Richard.
Newsarama:. In March, you’re putting out an Elephantmen one-shot subtitled Man And Elephantman. The series is going strong, so what led you to spin-off to do this one-shot?
Richard Starkings: IT'S A NEW NUMBER #1! The perfect opportunity to get covers by Ed “Hulk” McGuinness, Ian “Marineman” Churchill and J Scott “Danger Girl” Campbell! What's not to love? [laughs]
And not only that, I'm very happy to say that retailers and potential new readers can see a 5 page sneak peek of Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman in February's The Walking Dead #81!
In our industry today it's so important to reward regular readers but also respect and attract the attention of retailers, and so Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman is designed to encourage retailers to up their orders, put a pile of enticing copies back out on the racks -- as they would any new first issue -- and to help them invite new readers to jump onboard. Kirkman did this recently with the Invincible Returns one-shot, which also featured variant covers and a self-contained story that would bring new readers up to speed and move the story along for fans who were reading since the beginning.
I do a lot of shows throughout the year, and I know that awareness of Elephantmen is very high, but often readers want to start picking up the series as single issues in stores and aren't sure where to start. Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman is for them, and it's for retailers who want to help promote the series and grow the numbers on the book in their store.
Elephantmen has a lot of solid support at stores throughout the country -- I know of at least one store in Chicago where Elephantmen is the biggest selling independent title after The Walking Dead -- but I'm acutely conscious of the fact that it's easy for retailers to not see the potential for new readers on a steady selling book like Elephantmen.
I'm also supporting this issue, and the two subsequent issues, Elephantmen #31 and #32, with a triptych of retailer incentive covers by J Scott Campbell and colorist supreme, Nei Ruffino, which are available as 1 in 15 variants, so retailers don't have to bump their orders up too much to get the Campbell cover. I'm also getting the book back on a monthly schedule -- HOORAH! -- which wouldn't be possible without the Mighty Axel Medellin, whose painted art on this issue, and issue #30, is going to Blow-People-Away!
We're also releasing the next hardcover collection, Elephantmen: Questionable Things alongside Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman that month, so it's a great opportunity for retailers to spotlight the book alongside the three volumes already available. We just put volume 1 back into print after selling through over 10,000 copies and I'm not stopping until there are eleven hefty Elephantmen volumes on shelves, so readers can rest assured, their will be at LEAST another FIFTY issues to look forward too!
Nrama: Cut us some slack and tell us what’s going on in the Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman one-shot, Rich.
Starkings: All I can tell you is what you saw in the Previews solicitation: Hip Flask awakes one morning to find everything is not as it seems... okay, the covers of that issue tell you more... has Hip somehow become HUMAN?!?!
Nrama: We’ll let the art take it from there, but maybe you can talk about the size of Elephantmen: Man and Elephantman -- 40 pages. Is it a bigger story, or what’s going into those extra pages?
Starkings: We're collecting the first twelve pages of Charley Loves Robots, our backup strip by Comicraft's Secret Weapon, John JG Roshell, Gabriel Bautista and André Szymanowicz. Up until now it's been serialized in 2 page chunks but we're running the first four episodes along with two new episodes so that new readers get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about Robots and Charley's love for them. We'll also be running a new episode of English and Media Studies and Comicraft tips and tricks! I think we've always given great value but we're going with 44 pages for the foreseeable future so that readers get EXTRA value for their hard earned money!
Nrama: Going back to the lead story, it’s drawn by new series artist Axel Medellin. I first ran across Axel’s work when he won Frank Cho’s 50 Girls 50 contest; How’d you hook up and what made his art something you wanted to add to the series?
Starkings: Axel was petitioning me for work on the book at two successive San Diego Comic Cons, some time before he won the contest to draw 50 Girls 50... he and I have very similar sensibilities and share the same love for comics like Fantastic Four, Conan and Incal, as well as movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Terminator and Planet of the Apes. I asked him to draw a page for the jam issue, #25, and it was easily my favorite page in the book, so when Moritat realized he couldn't stay on Elephantmen when he took on The Spirit, Axel was mystically all ready and waiting to jump in. I'm very lucky! And I can't WAIT to see 50 Girls 50 which ships later this year with covers by Cheerful Frank Cho!
If you saw Axel's color sample page in issue #27, the one he prepared for Comic-Con, you'll already have an idea of what he's capable of, but you ain't seen nothing yet, buh-buh-buh baby, you just Ain't Seen Nothin' yet!
Nrama: I know you’re excited!
You’ve always had a keen eye for talent and continuously got an all-star list of talent on covers and interiors; it seems DC liked it so much they got Moritat and Ladrönn doing the The Spirit. How to you get these guys & gals into the mix and keep them happy?
Starkings: I love what David Hine, Moritat and Ladrönn have been doing on The Spirit... Dave's writing and drawing an Elephantmen story for me right now called “The Long and Ghastly Kitchen”; I just got a new page this morning. Dave's the mangled mind behind Strange Embrace -- one of THE most terrifying horror comics ever produced (and still available from Image in hardcover form) -- and he also imagined the insanity of Bulletproof Coffin illustrated by British industry legend Shaky Kane. Shaky's also drawing an Elephantmen story right now, a chiller called “The Bones”…
But the answer to your question, I think, is that I love comics and I try to make sure that that passion shows on every page of Elephantmen. I like to think that I play to artists' strengths; I'm very proud of the three issues I wrote for Marian Churchland. Issue #12 by Rob Steen and #16 by Chris Burnham are also favorites. DAMNIT! I LOVE THEM ALL!
And the good news is that Ladrönn is finishing Hip Flask #4 (of 5) very soon. I've waited seven years for this. Let's hope #5 doesn't take as long!
Nrama: In addition to all that, you’ve also got a graphic novel called Enemy Species coming up with frequent Elephantmen artist Boo Cook. What’s that about?
Starkings: It's a sequel to the Elephantmen: War Toys mini series collected as War Toys, Vol. 1 a couple of years ago. As readers of the ongoing Elephantmen series already know, Resistance leader Yvette survived her encounter with Horn in the war and, in Enemy Species we find her hunting down the Elephantmen on the Asian continent alongside a band of rebels. Boo is doing The work of His LIFE on this one, we're coloring it over Boo's super tight pencils and it's like nothing you've ever seen before -- every page is like a bazooka blast to the brain! It also introduces a new enemy for Hip AND Yvette and has ramifications for our characters in their here and now too.
Nrama: Through all the stories and series of Elephantmen, you’ve painted a picture of a pretty stark future, Richard. How do you get your mind to thinking about this – is this a prognostication on a possible future, or your mind having too much fun, or both?
Starkings: We're LIVING in a pretty stark future, Chris! I don't think the world of the Elephantmen is as dystopian as you might imagine... If you came from 1911, 2011 might seem pretty polluted, bleak and overwhelming. And don't forget America has been engaged in wars overseas for nearly eight years now -- how will THAT look a hundred years from now?
The dark grey worlds depicted by movies like Alien and Blade Runner look that way because they are largely dimly lit interior environments or rain soaked streets devoid of daylight... walk around New York on a rainy November evening and you'll find yourself in that same depressing world. As a comic book creator, you get to control both the weather and the time of day, but y'know what? I LOVE rain! And I love the Elephantmen characters too... they're very human and real to me, and full of hope. Perhaps I turn on the rain, switch off the daylight and generally make their lives miserable to make them shine... you always have to put your characters where they least want to be!