I want to wish a very happy birthday to comic book creator Richard Howell, who was born on November 16th. Not only is Richard a fantastic artist and a talented writer, but he is also a genuinely nice guy who I have had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions.
Looking back, I probably discovered Howell’s work when he was penciling Tony Isabella’s great Hawkman stories. The two of them collaborated on the four issue Shadow War of Hawkman miniseries in 1985, which was followed the next year by a special and then an ongoing series.
Isabella had a great conceit for his storyline: Hawkman and Hawkwoman discovered that their fellow Thanagarians were covertly invading Earth. Unfortunately, Carter and Shiera Hall were forced to combat this infiltration completely on their own. The Thanagarians possessed a device called the Absorbacon which enabled them to read the minds of anyone on Earth (the Hawks were immune because they were also from Thanagar). So there was no going to Superman or the Justice League or anybody else for help. Their only ally came in the unlikely form of their old enemy the Gentleman Ghost, who took it as a challenge worthy of his larcenous talents to “steal back” Earth from the Thanagarians (being dead, presumably they were unable to read his mind). As a ten year old kid, I found this set-up majorly chilling & spooky, the idea that Carter and Shiera were seemingly all on their own, everyone else on Earth was compromised, and their one source of assistance was an untrustworthy villain.
Unfortunately, Isabella departed the ongoing Hawkman title with issue #7 due to disagreements with editorial, and his successor wrapped up the invasion storyline in a rushed, unsatisfactory manner. Nevertheless, the work that Isabella & Howell did do together was really great. Howell really showed his versatility, rendering the Kubert-designed Hawks with their combination of high-tech & primitive weaponry, the science fiction designs for the Thanagarian invaders, and the supernatural aspects of the series.
Around this time, Howell was also over at Marvel, penciling the twelve issue Vision and the Scarlet Witch series written by Steve Englehart. This took place in real time, which meant that we saw Wanda get pregnant and, in the last issue, give birth to twin baby boys. Unlike some, I was never terribly bothered by the notion that Wanda used magic to conceive children with an android. (I was quite annoyed when a few years later John Byrne did a major retcon, wiping the twins out of existence, but fortunately Allan Heinberg eventually reversed this and brought them back into being as super-powered teenagers in the pages of Young Avengers.)
Howell did some really great work on this series. The wide range of guest stars that popped up enabled him to render a significant portion of the Marvel universe. A few years later, Howell again had the opportunity to draw the Scarlet Witch in the four chapter serial “Separate Lives” which ran in Marvel Comics Presents #60-63. He also wrote, lettered, and colored the entire story, demonstrating he was a man of many talents. Between that story and his work a few years earlier, I thought that Howell drew one of the most all-time beautiful, sexy depictions of the Scarlet Witch. Years later, when I told him that, he modestly responded “It’s not difficult drawing a beautiful woman who was visually created by Jack Kirby and then developed into a star by Don Heck.”
Another group of characters who Howell drew really well were the Inhumans. In addition to drawing their appearance in Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Howell penciled a “Tales of the Inhumans” short story written by Peter Gillis and inked by Sam De La Rosa which saw print in the back of Thor Annual #12, of all places. I just found a copy of that comic about a year ago. The splash page by Howell & De La Rosa is gorgeous. Howell also penciled & colored a double-sized Inhumans Special written by Lou Mougin published in 1990 that delved into the history of the Royal Family immediately prior to their first appearances in the pages of Fantastic Four. Vince Colletta inked that one and despite his tendency to do rush jobs, especially in his later years, Howell said he was generally satisfied with how the art turned out. If you want to check it out, that Inhumans Special was just reprinted by Marvel in a trade paperback along with their 1988 graphic novel written by Ann Nocenti.
In the 1980s, Howell also drew All-Star Squadron, the Green Lantern feature in Action Comics Weekly, various profile pics for Who’s Who, DNAgents, and his creator-owned Portiz Prinz of the Glamazons. That last one first originated as a self-published project in the late 1970s.
Howell did some work on Vampirella for Harris Comics in the early 1990s. He then co-founded Claypool Comics with Ed Via in 1993. I first found out about Claypool several years later. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to see artist Dave Cockrum quite often at conventions & store signings. When I asked him what he was currently working on, he told me he was penciling Soulsearchers and Company for Claypool. Since I loved Dave’s artwork, I had my comic shop order the current issue, which was #30. I read it, and thought it was awesome. The series was a supernatural comedy written by Peter David, with co-plots & edits by Howell. I was soon following Soulsearchers and Company on a regular basis.
Claypool also published three other series. There was the twelve issue Phantom of Fear City, written by Howell’s old collaborator Steve Englehart, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, an anthology featuring the campy, vampy horror hostess, and Deadbeats, a dark vampire soap opera written & penciled by Howell, with rich embellishments by Argentine illustrator Ricardo Villagran. Howell acknowledges that Dark Shadows had an influence on Deadbeats, and series actresses Kathryn Leigh Scott, Nancy Barrett & Lara Parker have each written introductions for the three trade paperbacks.
It took me a while to get into Deadbeats, simply because I’ve never been a huge fan of vampires. This was around the time that Interview With A Vampire and Vampire: The Masquerade were really popular, and I just thought the whole notion of the undead as these refined, romantic, aristocratic beings was so annoying & pretentious (you can just imagine what I think of all that Twilight nonsense nowadays). And so I unfortunately assumed that Deadbeats was more of the same.
However, corresponding with Howell via e-mail, he wore down my resistance, and I finally picked up the first two TPB collections, “New In Town” and “Learning The Game.” And I have to confess I loved them. Yes, the vampires in Deadbeats were super-sexy (both the women and the men, got to give Howell points for fairness) but most of them were unabashedly evil, committing brutally violent killings in their quest for fresh blood. There were also a few morally conflicted members of the undead, as well as some who had relatively benevolent agendas, such as the vampire king Hermano (no relation). There was also a really interesting cast of humans who were batting against the vampires of Mystic Grove, led by teenage couple Kirby Collier and Jo Isles. Anyway, once I was done with those two TPBs, I started following Deadbeats with issue #50.
One of my favorite covers from Deadbeats is #53, penciled by Howell, with lush inking by Steve Leialoha. I don’t know who did the coloring, but it looks fantastic. One of the subplots in Deadbeats concerned Kirby’s long-lost father Adam arriving in Mystic Grove and recruiting vampire hunter Dakota Kane in an attempt to track down the mysterious bat cult that had kidnapped his wife years before. It turned out that sultry lounge singer Countess DiMiera, currently performing at Mystic Grove’s popular social spot the Bat Club, was a member of that secret society, as well as a conduit for their dark deity, Murcielago the Bat-God.
I really loved Howell & Leialoha’s depiction of the sinister songstress on that cover (in hindsight, she might have reminded me of a more wicked version of Howell’s Scarlet Witch). I asked Howell to let me know if he ever wanted to sell the original artwork. He responded that he typically held on to all of his originals. But a few years later he was kind enough to do a really nice sketch of the Countess and her disciples for me. You can view that, and a few other beautiful pieces he has drawn for me, on Comic Art Fans:
Unfortunately, due to low sales, in 2007 Diamond Distributors decided they would no longer carry any of Claypool’s titles (this is the kind of thing that happens when you are stuck doing business with a monopoly). Deadbeats, Soulsearchers, and Elvira were all canceled. Since 2007, Howell has continued the Deadbeats story as an online comic at the Claypool website. I’m glad he’s been able to do that, but I really hope that one of these days he has the opportunity to collect those installments together in print editions.
As you can see, Richard Howell has had a very diverse career, during which he has written and drawn some amazing comic books. I really enjoy his art, and I hope to see more from him in the future. Happy birthday, Richard. Keep up the great work.