Well, a letterer is responsible for helping tell the story by translating the scripted dialogue, sound effects, and any other copy into visual elements on the page. Good lettering can be flashy or (most often) so clean and subtle as to be unnoticeable. Bad lettering is an eyesore that grinds story flow to a halt and yanks you right out of the reading experience.
I interviewed Josh Krach, Action Age letterer extraordinaire, about lettering, tools, and the Fresh Beat Band. Check it out after the jump.
N: So, for anyone who doesn’t know, could you explain what letterers do, and why they’re important to a comic book’s production?
N: If you wouldn’t mind, could you give me a quick rundown on how you letter a page, from start to finish? I’m thinking more general things, like outlines, tools used, length of time, etc.
• First thing I do is build an Illustrator template for a new project with three basic layers: “Art,” “Balloons,” and “Text,” with “Text” on top.
• Art gets imported into the appropriate layer, which I then lock.
• I copy-and-paste from the script to get the copy into the appropriate panels, convert it to the proper font, size, leading, and kerning.
• Next, I make the dialogue “balloon-ready” by breaking the text into compact bricks of copy.
• Then I draw and place the balloons.
• Finally, the fun part: sound effects and display text. That’s where I get to go a little nuts with fonts and colors, if I’m working with color.
I’ve never really timed myself on page production, though I know my speed greatly depends on factors like amount of dialogue, number of panels, importance of backgrounds to the story, etc.
N: How did you get your start lettering and what was your first finished work?
The first thing I ever lettered was a story I wrote for the defunct NextComics site. I was, and remain, self-taught in the sense that everything I know about lettering I learned from reading comics and (crucially) the tips and tutorials at Comicraft and Blambot’s sites. A couple of years later, Kevin Church asked me to letter his webcomic WAIMEA, and from there it was a short jump to lettering AWESOME HOSPITAL and MONSTER PLUS for my other pals, Chris Sims and Chad Bowers.
N: What is one of the things you’ve done that you’re most proud of in a comic?
Actually going professional this year with DRACULA WORLD ORDER, Monkeybrain’s WANDER: OLIVE HOPKINS AND THE NINTH KINGDOM (out July 17!), and a couple of other things I can’t talk about yet.
Also, Awesome Hospital’s Nurse Emo.
That’s an example of a showy balloon schema that you can only get away with because of AWESOME HOSPITAL’s premise and approach. If you did a balloon like that in, say, BATMAN, it would severely clash with the established tone, the readers would all go “Whuh?”, and the editor would rightly throw you out of a seventh-story window.
N: Do you have letterers whose work you really admire, and if so, what in particular?
In no particular order: Gaspar Saladino’s fantastic cover copy, logos, and titles on Bronze-Age and early-’80s DC titles; Tom Orzechowski’s seminal X-MEN work; John MUTHAFLIPPIN’ Workman on THOR, John MUTHAFLIPPIN’ Costanza on absolutely everything, Dave Sim, Bob Lappan, Adam Warren…
N: What advice can you give to someone who has an interest in lettering?
Read comics with an eye on how the lettering helps or hinders the story being told. Learn Adobe Illustrator, learn to draw letterforms (I still need to get on this one), get some training in design basics. Read interviews and tips by the pros. Practice. Remember that lettering is way more than cutting-and-pasting.
N: How many times have you had to fix a writer’s grammar or spelling?
I’ve worked mostly with writers who have a pretty good grasp on that stuff. At most, I’ve caught a typo here and there; the few times when I have, I’ve brought the mistake to the writers’ attention and asked them if they want me to change it. Fixing grammar and spelling is more of an editor’s job; just straight-up going in and changing things as the letterer would be presumptuous, I think.
N: What’s the most recent song you’ve listened to?
God help me, “A Friend Like You” by the Fresh Beat Band. I have a young daughter who’s taken control of the family playlist.
N: Do you have a dream lettering job, or anything that you feel like needs a redesign?
Any job that pays is a dream job! [fingerguns] But no, nothing in particular. I do think that mainstream comics lettering has become fairly staid with the rise of computer lettering, and it would be fun to see letterers take more illustrative liberties.
Thanks to Josh Krach for the interview, and you can find his incredible lettering at Awesome Hospital with Chris Sims, Chad Bowers, and Matt Digges, Monster Plus with Chad Bowers and Jojo Seames (who really likes Space Jam), Dracula the Unconquered with Chris Sims and Steve Downer, Dracula World Order with Ian Brill, and finally Wander, with Kevin Church and Grace Allison, available July 17th!