More British Letterers Part 2

From WARRIOR #12, Aug 1983, © Quality Communications

I first saw and loved the art and lettering of Steve Parkhouse when he teamed with writer Alan Moore on “The Bojeffries Saga,” which initially appeared in WARRIOR, as seen above, and was later collected as a trade paperback. The art is creative, funny and appealing, and so is Steve’s lettering. By this time, he’d been in comics for a number of years on both sides of the Atlantic.

Steve Parkhouse, 2019, courtesy of Annie Parkhouse

Steve Parkhouse was born May 2, 1948 in London. He’s a comics creator who can do it all, working as an artist, a writer, a letterer, and a colorist, though not always all at the same time. He first placed some pin-up art in British weeklies FANTASTIC and TERRIFIC in 1967.

From WESTERN GUNFIGHTERS #4, Feb 1971, image © Marvel

In 1969, Steve and his college friend Barry (Windsor) Smith came to New York and did some work for Marvel, Steve as writer and Barry as artist. Steve said he also did lettering for some of that work, and since there’s no lettering credit on this story, I’m guessing he lettered it. If so, he did a fine job imitating the Marvel house style of Artie Simek and others. Steve returned to England in 1970 and began working on staff at IPC, where he met his future wife, letterer Annie Halfacree. In the mid 1970s he met Dave Gibbons there and helped him get started with lettering comics.

Doctor Who Monthly #58, Nov 1981, Marvel UK, image © Marvel

In the late 1970s he was working as a writer for Marvel UK with artists Paul Neary, David Lloyd, John Bolton, and Dave Gibbons or Mike McMahon on Dr. Who stories, as seen above, where he also did some of the lettering. I like the sound effects on this McMahon page, and Steve’s lettering is full of personality.

From WARRIOR #1, March 1982, © Quality Communications

When WARRIOR began from Quality, Steve was there from the first issue, as seen above, and it’s in that title he and Alan Moore first published The Bojeffries Saga.

From WARRIOR #12, Aug 1983, © Quality Communications
From WARRIOR #19, June 1984, © Quality Communications

Two more great samples from Bojeffries with an excellent variety of lettering, sound effects, signs and titles by Steve. Parkhouse did many more comics in various roles over the next few decades.

From 2000 AD #1426, Feb 16 2005, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

Steve had begun digital lettering by the time of this story, using fonts he created from his own hand lettering, which I think work well.

From RESIDENT ALIEN #1, Sept 2011, Dark Horse, © Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse

More recently, Steve and writer Peter Hogan have produced a hit series for Dark Horse, RESIDENT ALIEN, for which Steve does the art, coloring, and lettering, using a different digital font. It became a popular TV series starting in 2021. Steve and Peter continue to work on new stories.

From CAPTAIN BRITAIN #4, April 1985, Marvel UK, image © Marvel

Another busy letterer in British and American comics starting in the early 1970s is Annie Parkhouse, seen credited with her maiden name in this example. I always felt Annie’s lettering was more like American work than many of her contemporaries, with well-made letters that combine angularity and roundness as well as slight curves with an appealing result that’s a pleasure to read.

Annie Parkhouse at work, 1971, courtesy of Annie

Annie Halfacree Parkhouse was born in Rye, Sussex, in 1951. She studied ceramics at Carlisle College of Art. In a 2021 interview with Chloe Maveal at The Gutter Review, Annie said:

My mother worked as a bookkeeper at a printer and newspaper publisher. They printed many of the comics for IPC Magazines. In 1970, my mother had been complaining about me being unemployed after leaving school, as I had turned down a University offer. The sales director of the printing company said he would take me to IPC in London to see if they had any jobs going. That’s when I began work on Lion, preparing art for printing. Cleaning, drawing up if the artist had left too much room for the lettering — as if that happens these days! — and making lettering corrections/changes. I was there for two and a half years, I went freelance [as a letterer] in 1972. Being freelance was my dream job!

From MARVEL SUPER SPECIAL #26 (Octopussy), 1983, image © Marvel

I haven’t found any art images from Annie’s lettering work in the 1970s, here’s part of a page from early work for Marvel, an adaptation of a James Bond film. As with Dave Gibbons, the lettering seems more obviously hand-made than much of what was appearing in British comics at the time. I like that.

From VIGILANTE #17, May 1985, image © DC Comics

British writers and artists also liked her lettering, and asked for it when they worked for American comics, as in this example. The title is classic block letters, but with a modern feel.

From DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE #102, July 1985, Marvel UK, image © Marvel

Annie’s lettering was also in demand in Britain, where she worked on many titles. Annie and Steve Parkhouse had been together since 1972, and moved to Carlisle in 1975 when they were both freelancing. They married in 1987.

From HELLBLAZER #1, Jan 1988, image © DC Comics

While continuing to letter many British stories, Annie also worked on quite a few American comics. She may have the most U.S. comics lettering credits of any British letterer working from her home country, at least in the pre-digital age. Her work on edgy titles like HELLBLAZER was excellent, her down-to-earth approach helping to keep it real.

From 2000 AD #847, Aug 7 1993, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

A close look at a few balloons. The angled horizontal strokes on the L and E add interest, and almost every line has a very slight curve and variation in stroke width, complementing the variety of line weights and widths in the art.

From 2000 AD #1887, June 25 2014, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

Annie continues to work on 2000 AD, having taken over as the main Judge Dredd letterer after the passing of Tom Frame. She now uses fonts created for her by Steve that I think work well, and which make effects like the reversed lettering here easier. Both she and Steve have been mainstays of British comics for decades, long may it continue.

From DOCTOR WHO MAGAZINE WINTER SPECIAL 1981, Marvel UK, image © Marvel

I’m not sure when letterer Elitta Fell first began working in comics, the earliest credits for her in the Grand Comics Database are for 1981. Her style is organic and leans a bit to the left.

Elitta Fell, date unknown, image found online

Elitta spoke of her start in comics in an interview at the Inside Kent website:

Looking for a home occupation many years ago in the USA, I applied to become a layout artist for the Yellow Pages in New York. On return to the UK, I joined Marvel Comics UK, based at that time in Sevenoaks, and eventually became a freelance letterer, writing the text in speech balloons for Marvel, DC, and 2000 AD, etc.

From WARRIOR #16, Dec 1983, © Quality, color from the US reprint

Elitta was one of the letterers on Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s “V for Vendetta,” sample above. This closer look at her work shows it’s similar to that of Annie Parkhouse in some ways. I like the borderless burst balloons, though that may have been artist Lloyd’s choice.

From HELLBLAZER #23, Oct 1989, image © DC Comics

On this page, Fell’s letters lean more to the left except for a few emphasized words, and the letter shapes are somewhat different, more rounded.

From WEIRD WAR TALES #2, July 1997, image © DC Comics

The style on this page is about the same. I like the very jaggy tail on the radio balloon in the first panel. In her 2018 interview, Fell said:

[My comics work] led me to becoming a freelance graphic designer for local and national companies. As I was, by then, completely computer-oriented, I wanted a more hands-on craft for my free time, so tried a few different ones such as pebble mosaics, rag rug-making and batik before I finally fell in love with silk painting with its wonderful colours and different techniques – a whole new world opened up to me!

The article has some beautiful examples of her silk painting, and mentions she has a studio where she gives instruction. I hope that continues to be the case.

From WARRIOR #3, July 1982, © Quality

Another letterer who worked on “V for Vendetta” is Steve Craddock. Steve was a letterer and writer for British and American comics from about 1982 to 1988. I’ve found out nothing else about him, or what he did before or after that. On this page, he’s used a wide wedge-tipped pen, something rarely seen in British comics, perhaps at the suggestion of artist David Lloyd.

From THE MIGHTY WORLD OF MARVEL #13, June 1984, image © Marvel

By 1984, Steve was lettering with a round-tipped pen like most British letterers, and his style is not too different from 2000 AD regular Tony Jacobs. I wouldn’t have put Craddock’s name to this work if it wasn’t credited in print.

From ESPERS #1, July 1986, © Eclipse Comics

Steve followed David Lloyd into American comics like this one, where his mixed case captions work very well.

From AARGH!, 1988, © Neil Gaiman, Bryan Talbot & Mark Buckingham

In England, Steve lettered this story for Alan Moore’s protest comic against homophobia in the British government. All proceeds and services were donated.

From WASTELAND #10, Sept 1988, image © DC Comics

Back in America, Steve again worked with David Lloyd on this horror anthology. His lettering always looked professional and well made. And that’s all I can say about Steve.

From REVOLVER #2, Aug 1990, © Fleetway

Ellie de Ville’s lettering work began appearing in British comics in 1990. This early example is very angular with narrow letters and angled horizontals.

Ellie de Ville, date unknown, image found online

I have no information about Ellie DeVille (the actual spelling of her last name rather than the comics one) before 1990 other than that she was a teacher who professed to have no interest in comics. Becoming a letterer was “serendipity,” she said, though dating a comics artist and swearing at a comics editor helped her get work. In an interview, she mentioned teaching English as a second language.

From JAMES BOND 007: A SILENT ARMAGEDDON #2, May 1993, © Dark Horse

Once started, Ellie became one of the most prolific letterers for British comics, and she also did a fair amount of lettering for American ones, as seen above, though by this time her style had changed, becoming easier to read.

From JUDGE DREDD MEGAZINE Vol 3 #1, July 21 1995, Fleetway, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

de Ville’s lettering was appealing and had an organic style with angled horizontal strokes. Her letter U here is distinctive for a long extension at the bottom of the right vertical, and her balloon shapes were always done with templates, perfectly round or oval. Her question mark has a very wide and angular loop.

From FLEX MENTALLO #3, Aug 1996, image © DC Comics

Her tree-shaped balloons on this page were a lot of extra work, but they look great, and I love the heart symbol in the balloon above. Ellie’s mixed case caption lettering is perfectly done for comics, with very short extenders allowing the lower case to be larger and read well.

From HEARTTHROBS #1, Jan 1999, image © DC Comics

The scroll captions and decorative initials on this page are all fine examples of de Ville’s lettering skill.

From 2000 AD #1460, Oct 12 2005, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

By 2005, Ellie was using digital fonts based on her hand lettering, including a quirky Q with the cross stroke on the left side. It all works fine.

Ellie died of pancreatic cancer on Dec 24, 2019 after a brief illness. She was lettering right to the end from her hospice bed. Many tributes to her can be found online. Her editor at 2000 AD, David Bishop wrote:

First met her in the early 90s, was delighted to get Ellie lettering on the Meg. A consummate professional, always ready with a smile and a witty aside. A total gem, will be much missed.

Her friend, editor Jenny Wackett said:

The main thing I will remember most about the amazing Ellie DeVille is that her door, her home, her heart was open to everyone, and all those that entered fell in love with her — whether you were strangers, work buddies, next door neighbours or faraway friends from India, Mexico and Japan. Everyone was welcome.

From 2000 AD #398, Dec 29 1984, image © Rebellion 2000 AD Ltd

After receiving that letter and lettering sampler from veteran Bill Nuttall in late 1983, as seen in Part 1 of this article, Richard Starkings began to get lettering assignments at 2000 AD and WARRIOR starting in late 1984. His early style seen here is similar to Nuttall, while also having the consistency and regularity of Tom Frame, the other letterer Rich cites as an influence, though it’s wider than Frame’s work.

From CAPTAIN BRITAIN #4, April 1985, Marvel UK, image © Marvel

Soon Rich was also lettering for Marvel UK on stories like this with a dynamic rough title. His caption lettering is getting a bit more rounded. He was soon hired as an editor there as well.

Richard Starkings early in his comics career, photo by Steven Cook

Richard Alan Starkings was born Jan 27 1962 in Liverpool, UK. In an interview with Robert Piotrowski, originally published in Marvel Vision magazine, 1996, Richard said:

I spent most of my time at school designing logos for the names of the particular classes I was sitting through. I was always fascinated by letters. I would rarely draw pictures. I preferred to write down a word and try to make it look interesting instead. I came out of college with a degree in English Literature and found a job as a proofreader. I think being able to spell is one of the unstated qualifications for being a letterer, so it was actually a good start. Ironically enough, it was at the National Computing Center in England. I was an editor and designer at Marvel UK for five years before I decided to give my attention to lettering full time. When I moved to the States in ’89 I was basically just doing books to get by. 

From DETECTIVE COMICS #575, June 1987, image © DC Comics

Even before that move, Starkings was lettering American comics, brought along by British artists that liked his work. Here his style is definitely rounder and more organic than earlier examples, with a little bounce, a slight lean to the left, and more curved strokes. This is the work I first saw by Rich, and I liked what I saw.

From BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE, July 1988, image © DC Comics

This book really brought Rich’s name to people’s attention. The story by Alan Moore and art by Brian Bolland were both groundbreaking and controversial, and the lettering was a good complement to the art. By 1992, Starkings had moved from New York to California, and was beginning learn the programs he would need to letter comics digitally. He hired designer John “J.G.” Roshell as his assistant and eventual partner, and together they designed digital fonts and founded Comicraft, offering digital lettering to comics publishers like Marvel and Image, and soon selling fonts. I’ve written more about that HERE.

From SWAMP THING #146, Sept 1994, image © DC Comics

While some publishers were more willing to consider digital lettering, in the beginning it was often printed out and pasted on the comics art. At DC Comics, even that was a hard sell, and Rich continued to do hand lettering for DC for a while, as seen above. His interpretation of Swamp Thing’s rough balloon shapes here, originally created by Gaspar Saladino and continued by John Costanza, works fine. Comicraft’s digital fonts took a while to catch on, and digital lettering in general was slower to take hold in Britain, but by the 2000s, it was being done there too. While Starkings is still doing digital lettering, it’s mostly on books he writes and publishes like ELEPHANTMEN and ASK FOR MERCY, which have found success with readers.

I’m sure there are more British letterers that could be included in these articles, perhaps information about them will be written by others. I’ve done my best with the limited resources available to me on this side of the pond.

Continue to next article. Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

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