Richard Howell Interview



Editor of the "Elvira, Mistress of the Dark" comic through Claypool Comics.

BUZZ: First off, just to introduce yourself to the readers here, could you start off with a quick little bio of yourself and some of your career highlights thus far?

RICHARD: Sure. I--Richard Howell--am a long-time comics fan who got into the business around 1980 or so, trotting around with samples for pencilling, inking, coloring, lettering, and with some editing credits already in place. I've done work for Marvel (Vision and Scarlet Witch, Wolverine, Patsy Walker, Marvel Masterworks), DC (Hawkman, All-Star Squadron), Eclipse (Liberty Project), Comico (Jonny Quest), and my own Portia Prinz of the Glamazons, (which was later re-published by Eclipse), among others. I was the editor/packager who reintroduced Vampirella and Creepy into the 1990s, and while I was there, Ed Via approached me about what would eventually become the Claypool line. We agreed that having some already-established character as the lynchpin of our line would be a great way to begin, and Elvira was definitely on the short list of applicable properties.

BUZZ: What made you think you could do a comic with Elvira, given DC's previous effort with her character did not succeed?

RICHARD: Well, to be honest, neither Ed nor I thought that the DC version (Elvira's House of Mystery) was a very fair test of Elvira's suitability or potential in the comics medium. The lion's share of each of those issues was taken up by those same-old-same-old predictable "mystery" anthology stories which didn't feature Elvira at all. I think that series actually did some damage to Elvira's value as a comic-book headliner, because too many people only remember that it wasn't popular. The point, though, is that anyone who actually wanted a comic book featuring Elvira was bound to be disappointed in the DC comic; and anyone who liked that sort of anthology "mystery" story wouldn't have cared if Elvira were the book's host or not.

BUZZ: How did you get in contact with Elvira to get the comic going?

RICHARD: I got a little help on that score from some West Coast pals whose careers involve comics and show business: Mark Evanier and Paul Dini. They took that first meeting with Mark Pierson (Elvira's personal manager), and the ball got rolling right there and then.

BUZZ: Have you actually had direct contact with Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson? Does she have much say in the comic at this point?

RICHARD: I did indeed. I met Mark and Cassandra the next time I went out the West Coast; we had (or "did") lunch and we hit it off very well. They're both very bright, very energetic people who want the very best for any merchandising that involves their beloved Elvira. We wanted the same, so there was no disagreement at all. Cassandra has every opportunity to be as involved in the Elvira comics series as she wants to be. Sometimes both she and Mark go over the incoming pages, and sometimes it's just Mark, but the attention is definitely there. Like I said, we're all very concerned with putting Elvira's stylishly-shod best foot forward on this project. We all want to produce the best comic book Elvira has ever had--or ever will have!

BUZZ: Any idea how long you can keep this project running? It seems like it has shown amazing longevity for an independent comic.

RICHARD: Well, we're nowhere near out of ideas for stories and various nutty things to happen to Elvira, and there's still a huge amount of enthusiasm among our various creators, so that's not a limiting factor. The dolorous state of the comics industry and the retail chain IS a limiting factor, but we're doing our best to maintain a presence for our books, and have set up alternative distribution avenues (such as a back-issue service, since attempts to get re-orders are so rarely successful; mail subscriptions for readers who want to be sure they get every issue), and we're MOST of the way done with the Claypool Comics Web Site (http://www.claypoolcomics.com), which will connect up with subscriptions, back-issues, news, advance art, and--of course--a link to the official Elvira Web Site. Maybe we could link up with other Elvira pages, too--like this one here!

BUZZ: When are you going to feature another of Buzz's stories, I think most agree his issues have been the highlights of the series? (sorry, couldn't help myself!)

RICHARD: I'd like to continue with the text stories (which, for the unititiated; the Elvira comic has featured two of these, each written by the same Buzz who's in charge of this Web Site (and interview)), but my first responsibility is to make sure the comics material gets in on time, then--theoretically--earlier and earlier, so we have more time to do promotion and advance mailings. That's not an excuse, nor a dodge, just a statement of fact.

BUZZ: Have you ever considered a Q&A session with Elvira as a backup in one of your comics?

RICHARD: I think if we do something like that (real questions, real answers), I'd like to work it into a story somehow. It would be a shame to shift something as direct-from-the-source as that into a featurette.

BUZZ: Do you have a favorite story or issue yourself up to this point?

RICHARD: I have issues I like more than others, naturally. I've been extremely pleased with the level of talent which we've been able to attract on the Elvira series, and I hope we'll be able to continue with that. Frank Strom, who's our main Elvira scripter, has a ferocious imagination and is a tireless collector of exploitable aspects of pop culture, so it's impossible to predict what sort of weird launching-point he's next going to use for an Elvira epic. Usually, Frank and I caucus over the phone once a month or so and bat ideas around; some spark a story concept, some don't. Some come from me, some from him. Some come from something working between us that's hard to trace. The whole three-part "Crisis" story in #37-9 (in which Elvira got gifted with a pair of magic boots which took her to Gorilla Town, Cam-Bell, and Glamazon Island) came out of a conversation Frank and I were having about Nancy Sinatra, and my mentioning that Elvira should get some boots like that, only magic ones. Frank seized upon the idea immediately and no matter where I tried to steer the conversation after that, Frank returned to "magic boots." It was like his mantra. Other stories come from more direct editorial advice like, “I want to see Elvira at a TV syndicator's convention” leading directly to #40's “Married to the Syndicate” or Frank's wanting to shoot Elvira into outer space resulting, with editorial clearance, in #41's “Red Scare.”

I'm also very pleased that we've been able to regularly include such widely-respected (and horribly overcommitted) talents as Paul Dini, Kurt Busiek, and Neil Vokes, who obviously are working on Elvira comics because they really want to do so, even though they're wa-a-a-a-y overbooked elsewhere. (Is there anyone out there who doesn't know that Paul's first two published comics stories appeared in Elvira #1 and #8?) I've had creators (like Bob Wiacek and Tod Smith) call up out of the proverbial clear blue sky to ask if there's something they can do on the Elvira series, and that's very flattering. Obviously, they're mostly impressed just because it's The Elvira Comic, but if the comic itself were an embarrassment, or somehow artistically disreputable, they wouldn't want to be part of it.

To get back to your question: I have a huge soft spot for #32-3's "The Curse of Coffinwood" and "Night of Dark Houses," mainly because I'm a huge DARK SHADOWS fan, a huge fan of Roy Thomas and Marie Severin's "Darn Shadows" spoof from SPOOF #1 (1970), to which I think this Elvira epic is heir, and I think James ( W. Fry III, the penciller) and I did a terrific job capturing exactly the type of parody we wanted to achieve. James, I should mention, is one of the great joys about working on the Elvira series, being both tremendously talented as an artist, and a great collaborator in all sorts of silly jokes, references, and back-of-the-panel gags. He really understands comedy tone and set-ups, and that's invaluable on a book like this. He also draws a very effective Elvira, and--in this story--got a wonderfully lush and complementary embellishing job by one of our undiscovered assets, Art Viscardi.

As far as the Elvira issues I didn't write (that's most of them); I got a major kick out of "Night of the Living Fruity Faces," which is an uneasy amalgamation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and those old Funny Face drink mixes (I forget the exact circumstances of the call in which Frank and I came up with that, but I suspect we were both blasted on Sodium Benzoate and artificial coloring). Most of Frank's stuff is so off-the-wall and amusing it's hard to center on just one story; it's like an oeuvre, speeding down the street dangerously over the speed limit, in the MacabreMobile, with silly string on the windshield. I'm also very peased with the various Elvira adventures Kurt Busiek has written (or co-written) for us, ‘cause I think Kurt¹s a great humor writer and he was the first one who really captured Elvira¹s personality on the comics page. Our plots here tend to be wild and unpredictable, but it's not a great Elvira story unless it showcases Elvira's personality, which is why I'm also very pleased we get work in like Kurt's, like Jo Duffy's, like Paul's, and like Frank's. As far as those “wild” plots go, I tend to favor the stories which feature Elvira's mega-villain Skelloween, and those with the rivalry between Elvira and DEADBEATS' own Spooky Suzie--mainly 'cause I dig all that classic Lois-and-Lana stuff.

BUZZ: Any teasers you can give as to what folks can expect in the future?

RICHARD: More hilarity. More weirdness, with occasional dollops of sociopathology. We want to make sure that the Elvira series is completely unpredictable, except for its consistently high entertainment value. As for specifics, though, what we're working on now is a trio of book-lengthers: "Role Models," in which Elvira is incensed at being lumped in with the "Bad Girls" trend and goes out on a mission to meet some of those heinous harlots who've unwittingly sullied her own glowing reputation. She meets Lady Moribund, the cycle slut gang The Tramps, and dismo-rocker Polly Syrene; then, in "The Mammal Maid of Southern Cal," Elvira gets Spooky Suzie's "Mammal-Ring" stuck on her finger, a ring which enables the wearer to turn into any kind of mammal. This is a direct parody of those goofy old Weisinger-era transformation stories and also features the villainy of evil entrepreneur Lax Lothario and his brainy alien ally Cerebellax. We're hoping to get this story inked by Kurt Schaffenberger, but it's not 100% secured; then we have the book-length "Christmas Stalking," in which Dracula's daughter (!) Vladia wants an authentic Elvira outfit for Christmas, so Daddy sets out to get one from Elvira. Unfortunately, Elvira's not in a giving mood, since she's being threatened with an IRS audit and she never keeps any receipts, so she and Dracula have to go back in time to solve the problem, with many bizarre (and funny) distractions along the way. That issue, by the way, will be pencilled by Tod Smith, who's doing some great work for us. His first Elvira stories can be seen a bit earlier in the year, in a two-part back-up in (I think) #52 and #53 called "All's Fair," inked by Al Vey. The Christmas issue will be Tod's first lead feature for us and I'm sure it'll be a blockbuster--a great issue all the way around. It'll be a great way to close out the year with Elvira--and get everyone primed for the next year.

BUZZ: What's the most gratifying part of working on this comic? The most annoying?

RICHARD: Easy to answer on both counts: The most gratifying aspect of working on the Elvira comic is being able to turn out a genuinely funny humor comic that works on enough levels to be suitable for anyone, young or old, male or female, living or undead, as long as they have a sense of humor and a funnybone available to be tickled by Elvira's antics. The most annoying part is that it's so tough to get our comics noticed by retailers and readers who would enjoy them. We're turning out some of the most enjoyable, most intelligent, most committed and most heartfelt comics material that exists nowadays, and some days it just seems that not enough people care about that sort of comic.

BUZZ: Folks seem to always want cross-overs, and I know you've done one with the characters from one of your other titles. Any other crossovers planned?

RICHARD: We're not overly impressed with the thinking that goes into most crossovers, and there's a lot of legal rigamarole that would go into an inter-company event like that, so we don't have anything like that planned for the immediate future.

BUZZ: Can you tell folks a bit about the other titles you are involved with at this point?

RICHARD: Sure. The rest of the Claypool line at the moment are the two remaining FEAR CITY books, Soulsearchers & Company and Deadbeats. Soulsearchers is written by Peter David and me, with art by Dave Cockrum and Jim Mooney. It's about the wacky adventures of a group of supernatural investigators--ghostbusters, if you will--who have individual powers and off-the-wall personalities to add to the mix. Soulsearchers is an actual business in the small Connecticut town of Mystic Grove, a town which sees so much supernatural activity it's been nicknamed Fear City, so SS & Co. sees a lot of business. The team is led by Bridget Lockridge, a former Olympic athlete who'd fallen on bad times after her stage-manger mother exploited her fame and likeness to the limit, then cut her loose. Bridget is seizing control of her own life and spearheading SS &Co. as hard as she can. Her opposite umber at SS & Co. is Baraka, an Arabic fire-demon (with all sorts of flame-powers) whose lusty, hedonistic personality causes Bridget no end of problems--especially since she finds herself drawn to his lusty joie de vivre. They fight a lot, but there's an obvious attraction there. The group's younger contingent include Kelly Hollister, a sweet but somewhat flaky local college student who's in training to be a sorceress (someday . . . !), and Janocz, a gypsy boy from the re-e-eally tiny European country of Pastramia who inherited the ability to turn into various bizarre creatures and monsters from his late father, a gypsy who was killed for having the power to turn into, well, you know. Peter P. Peterson, the team's accountant, graduated to being a full-fledged team member after the group found that he had a magic bag, out of which he can pull practically anything (and usually does). Finally, the group's founder/mascot Arnold Q. Stanley is a sarcastic, vociferous individual with questionable leadership skills, who has been permanently transformed into a prairie dog--a talking prairie dog, that is!

Soulsearchers & Company features a remarkable variety of stories, from freewheeling parody to straight-ahead adventure, with a few surprising nods to the characters' real depths. Peter David has given full rein to his range as a writer here, and the book is always satisfying, and always surprising. The art on this series has been consistently superb, and always very lively and personable; beginning with Amanda Conner, through Neil Vokes and John Heebink (who've each done work for Elvira also), up to the current penciller Dave Cockrum (who's done his share of Elvira stories, too). Inker Jim Mooney has been the constant factor in the artwork, lending his dark and sure tone work to the pencilling. Amanda Conner has remained as the cover artist for this series, her breakthrough project.

Claypool also publishes Deadbeats, our vampire soap opera/adventure series. This, too, takes place in Fear City and details the highs and lows of the ongoing war between the people of Mystic Grove against the attack of a group of vampire punks known as the Deadbeats. As the story progressed, it became clear that the Deadbeats (Dodger, Colleen, Martine, and Mickey) were also in a centuries-long contention with the forces of a predecessor: Hermano, the self-declared King of Vampires, and that the attack on the town's population was a gambit in that struggle. Central to the war is the Collier family, led by teenager Kirby and his brainy younger brother Mason. Kirby has since gotten involved with neighbor Jo Isles (and saved her brother Frank from one of the initial vampire attacks), but Kirby has lost his own brother to another vampire campaign and Mason now dwells in the caverns beneath the town, learning the ways of the undead from King Hermano. The kids' teacher, Christine Robbins, is suffering some sort of backlash that's undercut her psychic abilities and is currently undergoing a bizarre personality transformation. Kirby's father has just returned to town to continue his former ways as an unscrupulous dealer in forbidden antiquities, and the repercussions of the ravagement of the Soul-Snatcher creature include the permanent death of Deadbeat leader Dodger. The Deadbeats series involves a large complement of vivid, lively personalities, both human and undead, with large dollops of violence, action, poignance, humor, romance, and sex. The script and pencil art are by me, with spectacular inking by the wonderfully talented Ricardo Villagran. Deadbeats can seem a little overstuffed at times, but it's packed full of intelligence and heart, and has won some seriously dedicated fan attention. (Diamond Previews called it "Astonishing!") I think there's nothing else like it on the market. Incidentally, both Ricardo's and my work can also be seen in various places in the Elvira series, too.

Claypool has also published the limited series Phantom of Fear City and three trade paperback compilations of Elvira, Soulsearchers & Company, and Deadbeats, all of which can be ordered over the Internet at: http://www.luckymojo.com/comicswarehouse5.html.

BUZZ: Any last words or comments you'd like to share?

RICHARD: Only that I hope anyone reading this goes out and gives Elvira and the rest of the Claypool line a try. Thanks for your time, and thanks for the forum.

Glad you came by. If you would like to go back to my main Elvira page, then go

Thanks for stopping by! If you'd like, you can email me at Buzz

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THIS PAGE CREATED AUGUST 10, 1997

© 1996 Buzz Lovko



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