Lettering for Lenny Henry

First of two autobiographies by Henry, 2019. Images © Lenny Henry.

Lettering comics, and the friends one makes doing that, can lead in some unexpected directions. I’ve worked with artist Mark Buckingham (known to me as Bucky) for many years. In addition to working with him on FABLES from DC Comics and other projects for the larger publishers, we did a signed print together, available on my website, and he’s often asked me to letter small side projects for him. Around 2018 he asked me to letter some pages that would become part of actor Lenny Henry’s autobiography, cover above. I knew the name vaguely, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing Mr. Henry’s comedy or acting work. Still, I was happy to do it for Bucky. After a bit of research, I discovered that the BBC TV series “Neverwhere,” which I thought began as a Neil Gaiman book, was actually the idea of Lenny Henry and Gaiman, the book came later. And more recently, I enjoyed Henry’s work in the “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” series on Amazon Prime, where he played a proto-Hobbit with warmth and humor.

There were several short comics sequences in the book above, illustrating moments in Lenny’s early life, this is the first page of the first one as best as I can scan it from the book.

Here’s the page as I turned it in, script by Henry, art by Buckingham. I have to admit I didn’t understand everything on these pages, but recently I finally read the book, and that made it all clear. Here, Lenny’s mother is speaking in a Jamaican patois, as she did in life, for instance.

A closer look at one panel. Bucky’s art is simple but perfectly effective, bringing out the characters well.

Recently I asked Bucky how he’d come to know and work with Lenny Henry. Here’s what he told me:

I was first introduced to Sir Lenny Henry at a meeting to discuss plans to release a Comic Relief Comic to raise money for the Comic Relief charity, of which Lenny was one of its founders, along with writer Richard Curtis, of Love Actually/ Four Weddings and a Funeral fame. They produced a one-shot title published by Fleetway in 1991. It featured Lenny, Jonathan Ross, and other celebrity hosts of the annual TV event, caught up in an adventure along side comic characters from 2000AD, Viz magazine, The Beano, The Dandy, Marvel, DC and more. Neil Gaiman, Richard Curtis, Grant Morrison and Peter Hogan created the story and edited the book. Dave Mckean painted the cover. I drew the opening sequence (with help on a couple of pages from D’Israeli and I was delighted to find myself jamming on page 1 with the chaps from Viz). A fantastic group made up of dozens of Britains best comic creators at the time worked on it. It was huge fun.

I met Lenny again during the filming of the TV series Neverwhere, and he approached me about doing some production drawings for another TV show he was developing. Sadly that one never made it to production, but we have kept in touch since, and occasionally worked on odd little things together, and I’ve been encouraging him on his move into writing. After doing some concept paintings for a film project he was developing, Lenny took me out for dinner and asked if I’d illustrate the first volume of his memoirs. As well as contributing graphic novel chapters to his novel, “Who Am I, Again?” in 2019, some of the pages were animated for the BBC  TV show “Imagine”, and one of the strips was also incorporated into Lenny’s Stage show for his national tour of the same year. We have been doing a book a year together since. And you’ve lettered them all, Todd.

As Bucky said, there have been several more short collaborations. In 2021, Henry was working on a novel for young readers, “The Boy With Wings,” and this story was added to it.

Also in 2021 we worked together on a short autobiographical story that appeared in THE MOST IMPORTANT COMIC BOOK ON EARTH: STORIES TO SAVE THE WORLD from DK Books. This one had fine coloring by Lee Loughridge.

In 2022 we again worked together on brief comics stories for the second book of Henry’s autobiography, “Rising to the Surface,” sample above. All of these projects probably went unseen by most comics readers, but they’re out there if you look for them. Perhaps there will be more in the future, I always enjoy working with Bucky, and these were all fun.

One thought on “Lettering for Lenny Henry

  1. Scott Wilkinson

    Don’t know where you stand on AudioBooks, but you should do yourself a favour and listen to Sir Lenny’s reading of Neil’s (no Knighthood yet) Anansi Boys…
    I think Neil has said it was written in response to Sir Len’s assertion that there were no real Black Horror Stories…
    Sir Lenny is helping adapt the TV adaptation with Neil.

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