If you've been following By the Letters since the series inception early this year, you know that I've been spotlighting the fine art of comic book lettering and have featured a few interviews with letterers, including Ariana Maher. We're a big fan of roundtables at WWAC, so I asked Maher if she'd help me get
If you’ve been following By the Letters since the series inception early this year, you know that I’ve been spotlighting the fine art of comic book lettering and have featured a few interviews with letterers, including Ariana Maher. We’re a big fan of roundtables at WWAC, so I asked Maher if she’d help me get a few questions out to her lettering colleagues currently working in the industry to spotlight their work, and have some fun too, by first telling us—and showing us—what font best represents them.
Great question. I like Blambot’s Silver Age, because it can be used for most kinds of comics.
I’ve never been asked that, and I’m not quite certain. I wish I were represented by a clear, clever font that totally has her shit together like Blambot’s Spinner Rack font. But I’m probably just an oddball like Comicraft’s Slaphappy Dropcaps.
That’s a fantastic question and one I’ve never really given much thought! I absolutely love Blambot fonts, such as Tough as Nails and Imaginary Friend, but I often find myself gravitating towards his Eurocomic font. I love the style of it, the weight of the characters, and the character it brings to dialogue. But if we’re describing myself with a font, I’d definitely be Blambot’s Boogers. It’s big, bouncy and round at the edges … like me!
The answer to this should be in every letterer’s portfolio, it’s such a poetic question and an awesome exercise in self-knowledge!
Without much doubt and at a first glance, I’d have to say I feel really identified by Blambot’s Imaginary Friend. It’s a quirky, not-your-run-of-the-mill-superhero-comic-book font that has a very slight left inclination (not usual) and a bold variant that is REALLY bold and provides a very strong contrast (my favorite feature of this font).
I think I see some of those traits in me, being somewhat odd and going against the current; calm and collected when talking, but very loud (more in intensity than in volume) about what I’m passionate for.
Honestly, none. These days, the letterer has to blend with the art, and that’s how I see myself. However, I can be in best service to the story is what I do. I see my role similar to a studio musician, adapting to what is needed. Hence, no font.
I don’t know if I have ever thought about identifying myself with a font. My current “logo” uses Tough As Nails BB, because I love the look of it. Plus Tough As Nails is an awesome name.
I think that’d be my own font Mighty Mouse. To me, it represents my restlessness and playfulness when it comes to lettering. I started creating lettering fonts because I felt that I’d be a better letterer if I knew how to design type—if only to better understand how letters worked, and Mighty Mouse was the first one I feel I got right, and I like to think it reflects my attitude towards everything I do. (Comics Shaman is what my regular collaborator Ram V calls me, and I quite like that.)
Not necessarily a font in particular, but when I started to get into comic lettering, Comicraft’s signature style struck me as the one I’d like most of my lettering to be reminiscent of. I like a lot of other lettering styles now that I am more versed into the medium, but my foundations started from chasing the kind of feeling you get from seeing Comicraft’s work on Astro City. That became my own standard to look for.
It would be a cop-out to say “I’m my own handwriting as a font,” right? Nothing could represent me more literally and truly, but I do like the fun of choosing something designed by someone else, so … hmmmm. Maybe the Blambot font Full Bleed. It could represent my love for traditional black ink on white paper comics, as well as the organic, emotional approach I take in my comics writing.
What inspired you to become a comic book letterer?
Rae: I’ve worked as a graphic designer for many years and always loved comics. I had the applications needed for lettering, so I started working on some projects with friends. Turns out I was pretty decent at it and started being requested for projects from friends of friends. Ariana Maher has also suggested me for projects (Thanks, Ariana!), so it snowballed from there.
Maher: After learning how to letter and participating in a few projects with mixed results, I wasn’t sure about myself as a letterer. It was around then that my friends Jayd and Alex hired me on to letter their webcomic Sfeer Theory long-term, as well as other stories they were working on for their Little Foolery projects. The creative push and encouragement they provided for me early on inspired me to grow into a more confident letterer. That’s how I went from being interested in lettering to becoming a professional letterer.
Jones: When I decided that I wanted to write comics, I felt I should be ambidextrous and multi-skilled. So I learned to letter from scratch. Which was a stupid idea, considering I had no background in graphic design whatsoever. It’s an often overlooked contribution to the comic book creation process, and one I am sad to say, I took for being “easy.” It is not. It is skilled, it involved having a creative flair, a good eye for positioning and readability and knowing how to accentuate and compliment the artwork you’re working over. Starting to letter pushed my own competitiveness button within myself, so I wanted to get better and better at it. Eventually people saw my work on my own stuff and started hiring me, and that was that.
Gattoni: Basically, I’ve always had a true and deep love for the written word in all their forms, so being a comic book fan since my early teens, lettering always struck me as a possible job. While majoring in Graphic Design, I started paying more attention to the trade just as it made the transition to digital, so my first “wows” were those gorgeous opening titles on Generation X, Superboy, and so many other titles done by the groundbreaking Richard Starkings and his Comicraft team. After majoring, I specialised on typesetting (a stronger market locally), but around ten years later, with the uprising of payment platforms and broader internet connection, I finally decided to give lettering a go.
Esposito: I fell into it. I had no plans to be in comics when I got into it. I just always liked typography, and when I got laid off from the Marvel staff in 2011, I just picked it up and started from there. I kid that my time in comics is either fate or random chance.
Myers: Since high school, I had about twelve “careers” in ten years. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I was working in a group home overnight and going to school for graphic design during the day. I was hoping to get out and work in advertising or something like that. I also am a huge fan of a podcast called Crankcast that is comic artist Mike Norton and letterer Crank talking each week. It isn’t really about comics all that much, but I kept hearing Crank talking about lettering. At school, I was learning about typography, so I thought that it was similar field with lettering. I sent in an e-mail to the show and got some tips on getting started. I played around with it for like a year or so and then started applying for jobs. I got one, then another, then another, then I was laid off at the group home. I spent half a year looking for a new day job while getting more and more gigs. My wife finished nursing school and got a job. So I asked if I could just pursue this as my career, and it worked out. There are times when it gets lean with money, but I am 1,000x happier than any other job I ever had.
Bidikar: It was my own terrible letterer. I’d written and lettered (sloppily, using Photoshop’s default typeface) my first-ever comic, and a fellow creator gave me a thorough critique of the lettering, which made me realise how important lettering was in the storytelling. I made it my business to learn how it worked, and I realised I actually enjoyed it more than writing. As much as lettering is the final polish on a comic, it’s also the first thing the reader tends to encounter, and I feel that gives me a lot of responsibility in how someone experiences a comic.
Brice: I like to joke that I became a letterer by accident, so to speak. When I started to get into the industry as a writer, it took me a while to realize that you could letter your own work as well, like Robert Kirkman did with his early published works until giving the lettering keys to Rus Wooton. I had some basic experience with Illustrator, so it didn’t take me long to realize that lettering was something I’d do on my own. So I ended up loving both sides of the process, writing a script and then lettering it, which has some amazing benefits as a creator.
Gil: My lettering story is a classic case of “fake it ‘til you make it.” I was in dire straights ten years ago: literally homeless and penniless with no prospects. An online friend of many years had just gotten into self-publishing and noticed that I was asking for commissions on DeviantArt. He asked if I could digitally letter a comic for him as a small gig, and I said yes, even though I had no idea how to do that! I, of course, figured it out (kinda). Over the course of years-worth of ongoing gigs from this friend, my lettering powers grew exponentially, and it ultimately became my favorite type of work as a freelancer!
Describe a defining moment in your career as a letterer.
Rae: Maybe getting to the point where I’m lettering monthly books for Image, Dynamite, and other indies at the same time. Having credits at multiple publishers was a pretty great moment.
Maher: This may sound weird, but when I started to use Twitter, that became a way to open a lot of doors for me. I’m not particularly interested in social media, but I’ve gotten to meet dozens of other letterers over tweets to talk about the medium and make good friends, such as fellow letterer Taylor Esposito, who has provided me with helpful freelancing advice when I’ve needed it most. Twitter, despite its many flaws, has been a useful medium to share who I am and what I do. I believe a good deal of my current projects are thanks to having a social media presence, a portfolio, and a clear means for creatives to contact me.
Jones: I’ve been lettering now for five years, and I think that first offer of a paycheck for working on a book was probably the most defining. Knowing that someone valued my work enough to pay me for my contribution was incredible to me. Especially since I always feel like I am an impostor or pretender. I think following that, to work on the 24 Panels comic from Image Comics—which was to raise funds for victims of the Grenfell Tower catastrophe here in the UK—was a proud and defining moment for me, similarly being asked to work on British institutions such as Commando and to letter the weekly Broons and Oor Wooly strips for the Scottish Sunday Post. It’s incredible to think anyone would trust me with such historic books over here in the UK. Especially since I still have the occasional pang of self-doubt. I think as well, being accepted into the lettering community has definitely been a defining moment too, and being able to call upon so many of my peers for advice and feedback as well. We’re a close knit bunch.
Esposito: Ari, I’m beyond honored to have helped so much. (Haha!) As for a defining moment, that’s hard to say, but I guess when I started to be recognized and acknowledge by the pros I admired and respected. Having folks like Nate Piekos recognize my work, and then because a mentor and friend is sometime that finally told me “Hey, maybe you aren’t quite that bad after all.” A couple of other such instances was when I filled in on an issue of Flash, and Brian (Buccellato) went out of his way to say how much he loved my work, or when JM (DeMatteis) told my editor to thank me for the work I was doing for him the past few months, as it had been a favorite of his. Even more recently was Warren (Ellis) referring to me as “one of the best letterers of his generation.” It’s been a very satisfying career to say the least.
Gattoni: Well, the first of those came in the form of a true artist scammer. The first job I landed was for an unknown publisher that put out very amateurish comics, but had me signing contracts and it felt very real. Long story short, me and a lot of pencillers, inkers, and colourists are still waiting to see a single buck from them (of course they don’t publish anymore, and I don’t think they made a single penny out of those pages, but still). That was very disheartening, but at the same time I had enjoyed so much the process via the editor that I knew this was the right job for me. After that bitter pill, I try to make sure any new experience is a defining moment for me as an opportunity to grow as a professional and to help others grow too. (The indie market has a lot of very passionate creators still on the learning curve!) Looking forward into the future, I think being published by any of the major companies will be a defining moment for me, and what I’m working my way through to!
Myers: I think when Ryan Ferrier had an injury and he needed someone to fill in for him on an issue of Rat Queens, and he came to me was one of my proudest moments. He is a big deal creator, not only in lettering but in writing also. He came to me because he had seen my work and thought I could do a good job. If anyone knows that he went to other people first and I was a last choice, don’t ever tell me. 😉
Bidikar: It has to be the day I finished hand-lettering an entire graphic novel—Grafity’s Wall, with Ram V and Anand RK. I’d decided to hand-letter it (with pen and paper) in a moment of hubris, and after that, it was a year and a half of learning how to do it well (by studying folks like Gaspar, Darwyn Cooke, and John Costanza) and then painstakingly doing it, always with the fallback option of digital. When I finished the whole thing, it felt like I’d managed something even I hadn’t been sure I could do. I know people used to do it all the time before digital, but it was still a pretty big deal for me.
Brice: I feel I’ll have to cheat on this question, but I have two moments in particular for different reasons. The first one was when I volunteered last year for the Where We Live benefit anthology. The topics featured on the book were really close to me, and since I didn’t have any lettering work on the short notice, I decided to volunteer during those months to letter as many pages as needed for the anthology, so I ended up collaborating in about 23 entries, or around 100 pages total. Not only I was happy with how much the anthology made to the benefit of the survivors and the victims of the shooting, but also having the chance to collaborate with several creators that I have been looking up for years was like a fanfare of dreams coming true one after the other, and I still keep in touch with a lot of them.
The second one later that year when I was hired to letter the first entries on the Valve Software’s Artifact comics, which are tie-ins for their card game set in the DOTA 2 universe. At first I was meant to just adapt the lettering in Latin Spanish (my native language), but then the producer came to me and said (paraphrasing) “hey, we really like your lettering work. Would you be up to letter the comic in English and in seven more languages as well?”. Now, what makes this a defining moment for me is the fact that I have been playing Valve’s games for as long as I can remember, so the fact that they were willing to hand me the keys to letter their comics (which were lettered in-house until that moment, IIRC) was a huge deal for me. To this day it’s one of my work highlights, and I hope I can keep doing that in the long term.
Gil: Other than my serendipitous entry into the craft, the defining moment of my lettering career to date was when I signed with Oni Press to letter Archival Quality, the Dwayne McDuffie Award-winning graphic novel by Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz. That was my first time lettering a full-length graphic novel and my first time working with a major comics publisher, period. It still means so much to me that I was given that opportunity when I had zero “big name cred” as a letterer.
The lettering community is filled with many talented people, all of whom play a critical role in shaping the comics we read. Many thanks for these letterers for taking the time to share a few words with us!