Interview with Sal Cipriano


This month we’ll be talking with Brooklyn-based comic book letterer and action figure reviewer, Sal Cipriano (AKA Ultrazilla). He’s currently lettering Invisible Kingdoms, The Batman Who Laughs, Female Furies, Mary Shelley: Monster Hunter, and Gryffen.

Sal, I usually start these off by going back to the beginning, but recently it was announced that the Vertigo imprint is coming to an end and I wanted to hear your thoughts. You and I, and a number of our lettering pals, got to work on some great books under the Vertigo banner over the years. You had a healthy run on Hellblazer and carried the Scalped torch to the finish line. What do you think about the end of the Vertigo era?


Man, Vertigo ending was a gut-punch. I hadn’t worked on anything there in a bit, but yeah, Hellblazer, Scalped, Saucer Country, various others were always so much fun to work on, and more liberating in terms of style. It also carried class and prestige and you were always just honored to contribute to such a storied imprint. Sandman was like the first time I really noticed lettering when I was in high school and most definitely planted the seed of interest in me, so it means a lot in so many ways. I always feel like there’s ways to save an important imprint like that, but sometimes it’s also good to start fresh. Obviously, mature themed books will continue at DC, so the future is still bright in that aspect. What’s in a name, ultimately, would be the argument not to try something new, especially in this environment.


You letter a lot of different titles for a number of publishers. Do you approach each book the same way, or do you come at each one differently?


My approach is ALWAYS the same. I don’t get bogged down with fear of starting something new. I’m pretty good at seeing the art and picking up the tone right away and then I just go. At this point in my career I’m just confident with what I do, so I let that carry me through. We’re in a biz of constantly changing stuff anyway, so getting it right the first time does not concern me AT ALL. (lol, cut to most other letterers cringing. Par for the course, so whatevs.) 


What does a typical day in the studio look like for you? What about your workspace? 


My Cintiq died late last summer, which SUCKED, so coupled with ramped up reviewing for Ultrazilla, I changed my workspace a lot. I’m more compact with lettering now with just my Macbook Pro, I’m using just a Trackball! Don’t laugh, but I’m super fast with it. DC had to rip my old one away from me back in the day, lol. I’m probably upgrading soon on everything, though. My deskspace is more geared towards reviewing toys, as you can imagine with a turntable, backdrop, lights and stuff just taking up more space. 


Your wife Marilyn is also a freelance artist. Do you guys ever have studio conflicts? Do you get to work together on anything?


We work at separate spots, her office is in the apartment, mine in the basement, so we don’t get in the way in those terms, but schedule-wise, yeah, sometimes, especially with a 5yo. Who’s watching him when, making dinner, etc., plus we don’t do the same things so we have different ideas of scheduling. Definite conflicts there ALL. THE. TIME. But we manage, we’re lucky to be doing what we do and enjoying it.


You also review action figures as Ultrazilla. How did you get into this? Do you get free toys? 


I’ve always been into toys, collected heavily in my younger years, but stopped when I was trying to break into comics. Slowly came back into it over time, especially when I was settled at DC, which was great with DC Collectibles on hand. When I went freelance, my collecting amped up, and I decided it’d be great to put that to use, plus I like to yap and have strong opinions on all things pop culture, so it kind of made sense. I just felt like I could contribute here with my experiences as an artist, in retail (extensive, too), what I learned from osmosis at DC about the biz, etc.. I get free toys every once in awhile, I’m still small potatoes, but I’m consistent and professional, and folks can see that, I think. Like in comics, or anything, it’s 1. about getting yourself out there and meeting people in the the industry, and then 2. putting in the damn work.

Perhaps the most important question I can ask you: What is your favorite Godzilla movie?

Terror of Mechagodzilla.


I know you have a varied background, and some obvious other interests (toys, pop culture)—you write as well, so what is it about lettering that keeps you coming back for month after month of insanity? 


This is a tough one. I’ve always loved writing, and will probably write some comics again at some point, but lettering has been there for me, y’know? It’s the thing folks WANTED to hire me for. That meant a lot to me, and I have so much respect for the craft. I mean, we say this all time, but you can’t read a comic without lettering. We’re supposed to be invisible, but we’re oh so important. That last thing probably resonates the most to me, as I can come in and out of projects stealthily and then go and do other things. It’s more freeing than other aspects of comics, that appeals to me. 


You mention strong opinions, and the internet seems to be overwhelmingly full of them all the time. Has being outspoken on anything affected you professionally? Has something a publisher has said or done caused you to avoid them?  


Honestly, another aspect of doing Ultrazilla is so I can just shut off when whatever lettering project I’m working on is done. There’s always something happening out there, but I just try to concentrate on the work. It’s tough enough to survive doing lettering as it is, but sure you have to pay attention, make sure the folks you work with are on the up and up, pay, etc.. As for being outspoken, well, I just stick to keeping that about toys…for now…because trust me, if I reviewed comics, with my experience, y’all be in trouble. ;)


I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      


Just said it above, PUT IN THE DAMN WORK. Stop being afraid to expose yourself, you can always improve, but only if you do the work. I expect nothing from anyone, and want the volume of work to speak for itself. People know the deal, trust me. 

Interview with Ray Fawkes


This month we are pleased to share an interview with Ray Fawkes, the critically-acclaimed author of Underwinter, Intersect, One Soul, The People Inside, The Spectral Engine, Possessions, and Junction True, as well as Batman: Eternal, Constantine, Justice League Dark, and Gotham by Midnight (DC), Wolverines (Marvel), Black Hammer '45 (Dark Horse), Jackpot! (AfterShock) and more. He is an Eisner award nominee and a YALSA and Shuster award winner.

Ray, you’re an author, artist, poet,—a storyteller—and you seem to have chosen comics as your medium of choice. How did you get her and when did it all begin? 

I’ve always had a love for comics as a unique medium - there are so many things you can do with comics that are difficult or impossible in any other media, and the fact that it’s something you can do on your own, put together and bring out to the public all by yourself for relatively little cost - are both factors that drew me to it initially. 

It began for me with that impulse - to just make my stories and put them out there. I used to make little photocopied comics and take them to ‘zine fairs here in Toronto, selling them for one or two dollars a pop. They were pretty awful, but they brought me into this world that I loved - of creativity and storytelling - and I was hooked! Now I pretty much do the same thing, left to my own devices, but I’m lucky enough that there is an audience out there that enjoys and supports my work, and publishers who are willing to carry it further than I can on my own.

You’ve done some work for DC Comics but much of your work is creator-owned. Do you prefer to create your own characters and worlds?

I do, absolutely. In fact, I don’t really understand someone who wouldn’t . However, I should say that working with established characters really runs a close second place for me - it’s not like I don’t like doing it. I love it almost as much… it’s just that given the choice, I will always lean towards creating my own work out of whole cloth. There’s just more of a blank slate there, so my voice stands on its own, for better or worse. 

While not all of your work is horror, there is an inherently dark quality to it—and often a contrast of beauty/horror. From your paintings to the mainstream characters like Batman and Constantine you write. Why are you drawn to the shadows?

That’s a deep question - something that I’m not sure I fully know the answer to. I’m simply drawn to darker, more difficult characters and themes - maybe it’s because I think of them as part of our world of life and beauty, not separate from it - and that’s something I don’t see a lot of people doing. For me, beauty and horror intertwine on a daily basis, when I think of the world around me.

What does a typical day in the life of Ray Fawkes look like? Where and when do you do your best work?

I work to a pretty regimented schedule - every week I break down three tasks in order of priority - an A, B, and C - and I have set hours that I’ll work on each. My schedule lists when I answer emails, when I stop to update my online store or do self-promotion work, and when I assemble pitches or do concept work. From week to week I may shuffle the priority of three projects, or pull in new ones and push current ones down or out of the schedule. It all sounds pretty complicated, but what it amounts to is a method to keep myself on track all the time, despite distractions. Deadlines can mess with everything, of course, but that happens less often than you’d think.

So typically I head down to the studio first thing in the morning, turn on some music, set down my coffee, and hit project A, B, or C as the schedule dictates. I continue, hour-by-hour on the scheduled tasks, until it’s time to pick the kids up from school or otherwise close out the day. 

In the evening, if I need to, I’ll do more work on one of the tasks at hand. It’s… not a very relaxed life.

On some of your creator-owned titles, Intersect comes to mind, you’ve lettered your own books. Was this born of necessity, or was it a part of the comic process you actively wanted to do?

At first it was born of necessity, though I have come to enjoy lettering. I’m aware that I’m barely competent at it, though, and I feel that my lettering carries a story but doesn’t improve it. I prefer a professional letterer - like yourself - with greater skill when I can afford it.

Your latest book, Underwinter: Queen of Spirits, hit stores this month. (Full disclosure, I lettered it.) It’s the third volume, but each volume is it’s own unique story, are you thinking about a fourth installment? 

The fourth volume is already plotted! I’m writing it now, and will likely be illustrating it later this year. I have a lot of plans for the world of Underwinter, and I hope readers are enjoying it.


I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?    

I think the only piece of advice I ever give anyone that does any good - for any kind of art - is to do the work and don’t wait for someone to tell you it’s good enough. If you want to be a storyteller, a letterer, an artist, anything - do the work, finish the work, and then do another piece and another and another. Present your work to people - they’ll be drawn to your craft and your dedication as you keep going, and you will constantly improve as you finish one piece after another. Don’t worry about how much money you are or aren’t making. Don’t worry about praise or criticism. Just worry about how good the work is and how faithful it is to your own voice. Do the work.

Interview with Paige Pumphrey


This month we’ll be talking with the Baltimore bred, Brooklyn based cartoonist Paige Pumphrey. She’s an illustrator specializing in pin-up style artwork, heavily influenced by American comic books and animation, tattoos and mid-century ephemera.

Paige, you’re mostly known for providing artwork for roller derby bouts, gig posters, burlesque shows and comic book pinups. What some folks might not know is that you also letter manga and design ads. You do a lot of different things and you do them all well. How do you juggle it all?

Aw thank you for the kind words! 
I definitely consider myself to be all over the place as far as projects go. Usually I schedule myself week by week and plan a day for this and a day for that. The paid gigs like manga lettering and commissions are always a priority. I usually focus exclusively on them until they’re done, especially when money and deadlines are involved. Freelance is all about time management and finding the initiative to start working, even when someone isn’t telling you to. If I have stuff that needs to get done and I’m taking time to work on personal projects I get an immediate pang of guilt that I could be spending this time on “work-work” instead of “fun-work”, as is the tendency when your hobbies and personal interests become your vocation. However when my schedule is free I tend to come up with fun side projects of my own, like fan art or crafting merch or creating concept art for my fabled magnum opus comic I’ve been working on for 20 years. 

Out of the varied work you do, do favor one discipline over another? 

Character design has always been my foremost passion. I didn’t have a ton of friends growing up, but early on I was introduced to RPG manuals, comic books and video games by my older brother. I love drawing people. Drawing unique characters and figuring out the puzzle to giving them that spark of life gives me so much joy and purpose. 

Does it require a change of mindset when you go from working on say a Manga then over to a gig poster? Any mental palette cleanser?

Oh absolutely! Like I said, some jobs have priority over others and I’ll devote my time and creative energy to them almost exclusively. When I need to finally take a break I try to get as far away from my computer desk as possible and focus on real life things in front of me. I’ve been taking Pilates classes the past couple of  years which has really helped me with my posture and undoing the years of damage that hunching over a sketchbook or computer desk has caused me. I also live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn which in and of itself is this crazy cultural zeitgeist and I’m very lucky to be here, so when weather allows I’ll take walks around the neighborhood to appreciate the city and all its inspiration. Being freelance at home and working crazy hours can be very isolating, so I’m glad to be able to even just open my shutters and be reminded that for good and bad, humanity exists. Which now in these days of constant screens in our faces, can get very divisive and make you forget that people are people and everybody’s got shit going on. 

What does a typical work day look like for you? Your workspace?

I work from home as a freelancer alongside my husband and fellow Kubert School alum Phil Balsman. With our powers combined, we form the design house Odin Star Industries. We usually have a staggered schedule (he’s a night owl, I’m a day walker) so I’ll get up before him and get my shit together. Coffee, NY1, moisturizers. Once Phil’s been roused I’ll head over into our office and get down to business. We have a two bedroom apartment (that I’m currently redecorating which is very exciting) and our second bedroom is our office space. Both Phil and I’s desks sit perpendicular to each other, so yes technically we’re ALWAYS at work. Work time is all the time. Which is great and terrible, all at once. Especially working in a field that directly correlates with your personal interests, because you’re so invested. That being said, my workspace is basically my entire apartment- I have one desk in the office alongside Phil’s where my computer and Cintiq tablet reside. That’s the “serious business” area, where I do all my digital work including manga lettering, ad design, typography/logos, and drawing/inking/coloring on the Cintiq. I also have a second desk out in the living room that’s reserved for physical media, mainly my sketchbooks, crafting and makeup. A lot of my creativity spills out into the world through how I express myself as a person. I’m very much into pinup and fashion and I will often get myself all dolled up when going out, a lot of the ideas I get for pinup art start with me being my own model. One of the tag lines on a con-exclusive art book I put together a few years ago was “is it life imitating art or art imitating life?” Which is very much my brand. And now with social media I can share the goofy adventures I dress up to go on with my friends and followers, which in turn inspires my art, which in turn affords me the ability to go out, ad infinitum.

In regard to Odin Star Industries, how do you guys divvy up the workload for a project you're working on as a team? 

Phil definitely takes on the majority of the Odin Star workload with designing logos and covers for manga and businesses. Most of the work I do under the banner of Odin Star is separate from Phil, including manga lettering, interior house ad design, and  reformatting digital comics files for print. Phil does enlist me for help with cover design on occasion. A major example of us collaborating was on the zombie manga series Sankarea, where the covers were completely redesigned from the Japanese version to something more palatable to the US market. The original manga series had a somewhat generic cover design that didn’t really tell the potential reader what the story was about. We ended up taking interior art from the book and I digitally colored it to match the spookier/horror feel we wanted to give and then Phil used those new art assets to design a new cover. It turned out really cool, I was very happy with it. Other duties I’ve had as a part of Odin Star Industries directly working along with Phil includes art assistance such as cleaning up image files, flatting colors, and standing over his shoulder at 1am and telling him which of the 3 f’s (or whatever letter it is) he built for this logo looks best.

Being that it’s still early into the new year, do you have any professional goals, art goals you’ve set for yourself?

Haha, ohhh there’s always ongoing stuff that I’m supposed to be working on. To the point that I get overwhelmed and have to take a nap. 
The guiding star of my entire career has always been that I want to draw actual comics. I’ve done a few shorts here and there but nothing of notable value. I’ve been carrying around my own magnum opus universe of characters in my head for over 20 years and every year I fine tune those ideas a little more and more and inch closer and closer to actually doing something with it. Like when I want to indulge in drawing purely for myself, I draw characters and scenes and ideas for that. So doing more of that is always on the to-do list. 
Also I’m tentatively planning a return to vending my wares at conventions. I took what was supposed to be a year long hiatus after 2015, but I was so very, very tired and here it is 2019 and I’ve still yet to muster the energy to be back working a show. Tables are expensive and require an exorbitant amount of time/work/money before, during and after the convention. I’ve been keeping my eye on shows and have been concocting new ideas for merch, so perhaps I’ll be back in the saddle in the near future. 
In the meantime, a more immediate goal I'm working on is more commissions and paid illustration work. One of the ways I'm doing this is running a special I just started this year of tattoo flash styled portraits with name banners and flowers. Couples, singles, I'm even doing pets. They've been taking off pretty well so far, and make great presents. I also have really enjoyed focusing on likenesses and the botanical illustration aspect It's been super rewarding making people happy with my art on an individual level. 

With an added interest in more illustration work, have you considered an agent, or representative? Ever used one in the past?

I’ve never used an agent or representative before! The whole process of acquiring one and then navigating the work that an agent would get me always sounded so daunting and complicated. Granted I have zero experience on the matter. I definitely could see how an agent would be helpful in matters of project management and rate negotiation. Shoot I know from experience that uncomfortable feeling of directly talking to a client about getting them to pay what I’m worth. Especially me being someone who’s known for always being so nice and pleasant and eager to please. There have been times that clients took advantage of that. So I get the appeal of someone going to bat for me and taking care of all the technical business stuff so I can focus on art. 

I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      

Being a creative person who works in a visual field, I'm always looking for inspiration. A great way to find that elusive spark is to go read up on your favorite artist, and find out who inspired them. Or better yet go online or to a show and ask them yourself. I read about that in a book called "How to Steal Like an Artist". It's basically like going through your artistic family tree. Once you see who inspires your favorite artists you can almost see what bits and pieces they borrowed from to get the style that they're using, that's inspiring you. It's like being a DJ and crate digging for records. Yeah you can grab a sample everyone knows from a pop hit made in the last 30 years, but to me the best DJs are the ones who really dig in the crates and find some ancient gems no one knows about and folds that into their repertoire.

Thanks to Paige for talking shop with us this month. Be sure to check out her work and follow her on Twitter:


Don’t forget to breathe. In life, it’s automatic. It’s not something we have to think about. If you’re having trouble breathing stop reading this and dial 911. 


Still here? Good. In your professional life you need to breathe, too. If you care about your career chances are you get stressed out from time to time. You might hit a wall. You might stumble. You might lose a gig, get two too many, make a mistake, hit a home run, hell, you might even fail remarkably at something. That’s okay. Breathe.


If things are going insanely well? Stop. Take a deep breath. Enjoy it.


If things are going to hell. Step away. Inhale. Hold it. Exhale. Identify the problem. Breathe. Seek the solution. Breathe. You got this.


All creators, the young gun just starting out, the Stephen Kings of the world, and you, need some distance from what you’re creating. You need some time to breathe. Whether you’re writing a novel, or you’ve lettered the 37th page today and your editors just keep sending you more. Take a walk. Breathe. The work will be there when you get back.

Interview with Taylor Esposito


Taylor Esposito is a graphic designer and letterer. He started working in comics in 2007. He’s worked for Marvel, Random House, Bottled Lightning, Valiant, and DC Comics. He’s currently working on Reanimator/Vampirella, Red Sonja, and Army of Darkness/Bubba Ho-Tep.

Taylor, you started working in comics in 2007 at the Marvel bullpen. Can you tell us what led up to that, and what was it like to work there.

Honestly, it was a bit of happenstance. I was out of college about 8 months, and had just left my seasonal job at the end of the year, when a good friend from college who was working in the bullpen called me to tell me about a temp job with Marvel for a few days/a week. The job was digitizing the comics for what ultimately became Marvel Digital Unlimited. I was there for a few months, learning bullpen responsibilities during that time. I eventually transferred to the bullpen proper and worked my way up to assistant to the production manager. It was a great experience, as I ended up learning how comics are put together from the end of the line. That job started my interest in lettering, which I picked up after I was laid off in 2011.

You’ve worked for most publishers already and have a massive amount of credits to your name. What’s the secret sauce to you being so prolific?

Hard work. I come from a very blue collar family, and the old world work ethic was instilled in me at a very young age. I just applied that work ethic to my career in comics. I also try to be as good to my collaborators as possible, as well as being as fast as I can. I never thought of myself as one of the best letterers, but I always try to make up for that with my professionalism and speed. The rest is that folks seem to want to work with me, for some reason I’ll never understand. Haha.

Being the horror hound I am, I’m a little jealous of some of the titles you’re working on. Do you look for horror projects in specific, or did your current line up converge on it’s own?

Haha, likewise, bud, some of the stuff you work on I’d kill to work on. I don’t look for them in particular, it kind of just falls into place that way. A lot of my friends and collaborators are horror folks as well, so when they request me, it just happens to be horror books. I guess my love of Halloween and the spooky doesn’t hurt my cause either.

Do you approach lettering a horror comic differently than say a superhero comic?

I try to approach every book as it’s own thing. Obviously, there are staples of super books that we use on those that we don’t use on horror, for example, but I start every book by looking at the art and reading the script to get a feel for the story, mood, etc., and then building a style guide from there. I try to give every project as individual attention as I can. Sometimes, we are given a basis from editorial to start with, but even with those, I try to put my spin on the projects as much as possible. The way I see it, I’m on this project for my skills, viewpoint, and taste, and as much as I can, I will put that into the book.

Have you ever had any conflict with what you wanted to bring to a book and what an editor/creator had in mind?

Fortunately, this hasn’t happened often. I’ve been very lucky to work with wonderful editors who also want the best for the projects, so their suggestions have usually been for the better. As we all know, sometimes we are too close to a project, and need a set of fresh eyes to see things properly. Even the few times it hasn’t worked out that way, it usually opens up a dialogue and a compromise is found. The wonderful thing about comics is that it is a team coming together to achieve a unified vision. I thrive on the collaborative process, and love to help bring a teams vision to life/completion.

Can you tell us about Ghost Glyph Studios?

Ghost Glyph Studios is my lettering/design studio. I started it in 2015 when I left the DC staff (due to the move to California) to keep working on comics and expand to other fields. I’m a graphic designer by trade/education, so I want to keep doing that as much as I can. It’s be an incredible ride watching the studio grow and the kind of projects I’ve gotten to work on as a result of it. Since starting the studio, I’ve begun training interns and even bringing Dezi (Sienty) to work with me on occasion. It was named for my love of Halloween/horror and spookiness, and incorporates a reference to lettering, as glyphs are what each letter/number/symbol are called.

(Dezi is awesome. Great call there!) What are the benefits of creating a studio and what goes on in the background to maintain it?

The benefits to a studio, at least as far as I’ve found, is a bit of insane baseball. With a studio, you definitely have business and tax help that keeps work and personal life separate, which as many freelancers know, can be a logistical nightmare at times. The behind the scenes is a lot of rigid work scheduling. Emails and bookkeeping are first thing in the morning, make sure the machine is running smoothly, followed by assigning work to those that need it. Once all the business side is done, the fun begins. I keep things separated like this to make sure there are few interruptions to the creative process. Another useful aspect to the studio is when you are looking to start business with companies, or hire interns, etc., is that the studio adds a bit of legitimacy to your business. When I freelanced the first time around, it was just under my name, and it always felt a bit like a college student just looking for a random project. It also allows for branding, which many of my clients seem to be attracted to. Having the studio has allowed me to branch into merchandise like t-shirts and enamel pins. I’ve been lucky that I had an example to learn from from my father’s business. I’ve just switched out automotive for comics/design.

Being that Halloween is tomorrow, it’s time for some serious questions…

Favorite horror movie, novel, and comic?

Hmm, Evil Dead 2, The Shining, (cheating) Babyteeth.

You have the chance to pin Ash against any opponent, who, and why?

Myers. Of all the 80s horror monsters, Myers is probably the scariest, as he just doesn’t stop, and isn’t really fueled by any magic, like Freddy or Jason. If Ash can’t taunt him, how can he possibly beat him. If not, Ash teams with the Monster Squad as adults versus the all the Universal Monsters.

I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      

Specifically for lettering, but it does apply to life: It’s hard work with a long road ahead, and lots of amazing, well-trained, and respected colleagues working on 15-20 books each and every month. If you really want to be a letterer, you’ve gotta be as good and indispensable as possible. Lettering isn’t an easy way into comics. In fact, it might be one of the hardest.

Thanks to Taylor for talking shop with us this month. Be sure to check out his Ghost Glyph Studios:

Interview with Warren Montgomery


Warren Montgomery has been making comics for thirty years with a laundry list of publishers he’s worked for.  He’s lettered Adventure Time, Over The Garden Wall, ‘Namwolf, Galaktikon, Hillbilly, Regular Show, RuinWorld, and many many more. His self-published titles include; Monty’s World, John Kirby: Firefox, and Fun Adventure Comics!.
Warren, you’ve been doing this for thirty years, can you take us back to the beginning? When did your love of comics begin and how did you get your first start?
For as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved comics and cartoons. As a kid I use to copy comic strips like Beatle Bailey and Charlie Brown on card board boxes. Later, as I got into comics, I began drawing panels from comics like Spider-Man and the Hulk. But, instead of drawing their characters, I would make up my own characters. My favorite artist were Jack Kirby, John and Sal Buscema, John Byrne, Jim Aparo and George Perez, and letterers were Sam and Joe Rosen, Ben Oda, John Workman, Tom Orzechowski, Ken Lopez and my number one favorite was John Costanza.
After art school in the early 80s I, like most, began drawing pages and submitting them to Marvel and DC. I even submitted pages from the Marvel Try-Out Book. But nothing happened from the inks and lettering I sent in, just a lot of rejection letters. My first published work was a Green Lantern Guy Gardner pinup in Amazing Heroes #127, 1987 in the letter column. The first official gig was in 1988 for an indie publisher who gave me a 4 part, 10 page sci-fi series called The Exiles (unrelated to the Marvel series) to draw. Unfortunately the story was never published (until I started self-publishing in 2012) and only 3 parts (30 pages) were done.
My first published work was in 1991, a book called Dartman. I penciled and did lettering for that.  Not the greatest thing on earth. After that, I spent a lot of time lettering for indies like Boneyard Press (known for their Jeffrey Dahmer books) and London Night Studios where I lettered most of the early Razor stories and designed the original logo. There were many more, I didn’t make a list of what I worked on back then. My hand lettering wasn’t the best, but I got by.
Current books include: RuinWorld, The Great Wiz and the Ruckus OGN, Ben 10 OGN for Boom! Studios, Hillbilly: Red-Eyed Witchery From Beyond, Spook House 2 from Albatross Funnybooks, Stan Lee’s Lucky Man for T Pub Comics. Plus, stuff of my own.
Was lettering something you picked up along the way from your love of comics, or was it something you learned in art school?
Although I did go to a local Portland art school (now defunct) in 1980 after high school, it had nothing to do with comics. Hand lettering was something I picked up by studying comic book letterers like John Costanza, John Workman and others. I just was never as good as them, but it all worked out okay in the end for small press. Submitting work as a letterer was easy to get gigs compared to penciling or inking samples which I did a lot of. As time went by I started using the comic book Whiz Bang (yes, the floppy disk Whiz Bang font) to help speed things along. Sometimes I would even mix that with hand lettering on a book.
How do you juggle lettering, coloring, and Will Lill Comics? Do you love one more than the other?
I love doing both! When I got back into comics after a short break in 2010 I had very few real gigs and a regular job. What I did have took precedence over my own stuff which was very few. Now, that I work full time at home things are much different. Mornings are usually for other companies, while evenings are mine or vice versa depending on my deadlines. I might start lettering a book, then move over to coloring when I have something or practicing. I don’t normally get to bed until 1 or 2am in the morning. Up about 7 or 8am, Monday – Friday, weekends only when needed. I know how many pages I can letter and color per day, so I’ve learned to pace myself. Besides that, I’m preparing books for print, drawing art for comic cons and writing stories. I try to keep busy.
How do you approach a page of lettering versus a page of coloring? Any major difference from how you would have approached it in the past, by hand? Also, what was your hand lettering process like?
My hand lettering approach was easy. Just an Ames guide and a good nib. I can’t remember what size nibs but I would use a variety. I would pencil in most of the text and balloons then letter over for most panels. Nowadays I usually spend a few minutes formatting the script and setting up my Illustrator template. I don’t use fonts for SFX that much nowadays, basically I’ll do them by hand (in the computer) because I think it looks more organic and different from everyone else. If I do oddly shaped balloons, I sometimes will do those by hand for each panel rather than creating presets. I can usually, without interruptions, get a book done in a day.
Coloring is a different beast. Depending on what I’m working on, for me or for others, I’ll do flats myself and take shortcuts. I never flat every object, just the important items. Other times I’ll send pages to my flatter. But I do prefer to do them myself (I’m probably the only colorist that enjoys it. Haha). On average I can do 3 to 5 pages per day. If I’m lettering pages I color, once I finish those pages for the day, I letter them. That way I can send out color and lettered proof files all at once. Saves me time from coloring first then lettering them.
Speaking of hand lettering. Do you ever get clients who want something done by hand?
Nope. Pretty much everyone I work with is younger than I and never had to deal with getting hand lettered pages. Haha.
I have John Kirby: Firefox on my Kindle Fire. It’s a fun book that reminds me of the comics I grew up reading. How did you come to publish it? How do you pick what titles to publish and when?
Thanks for the support. Firefox, like most of my original characters, began in the late 80s and 90s. Around 1998 I had written a 3 part series then just called Firefox in hopes of finding a publisher for him. The only thing I drew was the logo (no computer needed). I put the story aside and continued to work a regular job. 
When I started self-publishing, Firefox was my top choice. I rewrote it and added the name John Kirby (from legend Jack Kirby). The stories I wanted to tell are good, fun superhero adventures the way I remember reading them. I loved stories by Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo and the great fun stories they wrote back in the day. I liked characters that changed into another person to become a hero. I’m not trying to reinvent superheroes, just want to have fun creating all-ages superheroes stories. 
I would love to have more stories of JKFF, but doing an anthology like Fun Adventure Comics! takes up lots of time. I have enough stories for FAC! (which I’m glad to say is becoming popular at ComiXology and at comic cons), I’m committed to releasing them monthly until February 2019. Afterwards, back to the happy world of superheroes. 
Do your self-published titles ever conflict with your lettering/coloring work for other publishers?
Nope. I’ve learned to manage. Some months are better than others.
I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, coloring, or life, what would it be?     
Love what you do and do what you love. To survive in any industry you must be dedicated to your craft. Practice, practice, practice, practice and be patient. Hard work does pay off, but only if you want it.

Thanks to Warren for sharing his insights. Check out his self-publishing imprint Will Lill Comics:

Interview with Phil Balsman


Phil Balsman is a graphic designer whose primary client is Penguin Random House Publisher Services / Kodansha Comics. He handles all of the cover design and logo design for the print division of the company, as well as many ads and promotional materials, handling roughly 300 covers a year. He recently took home an Eisner Award in Publication Design for his stunning work on the Akira 35th Anniversary Edition Boxed Set.

Phil, we’re both Kubert School Graduates who landed jobs at DC Comics when they were headquartered in NYC, and while I recall some of this due to our time in-house together, can you walk us through your journey from graduate to working professional, and was lettering always something you wanted to pursue?

I think my post graduation story is pretty common; I graduated in 2002, and spent the next year trying to figure out how to make a living while doing the odd part time job and graphic freelance gig. Around the middle of 2003, former classmate Jeremy Regan, who was interning in production at DC at the time, told me that DC was forming an in-house lettering department. I was obviously interested and he put me in touch with Kenny Lopez, who was going to be one of the people overseeing the new department.

I’d always noticed good lettering and typography; I just saw it as another component of good design. I had hand lettered a bunch of my own indie comics and projects, but had no real experience in digital lettering. I schooled myself on it as best I could over the course of the next few weeks and went in for the interview, which had an on-site lettering “test” as well. I thought I did ok given the circumstances, but Kenny had forgotten to give me the lettering placements when I did the test; I did’t even know I was supposed to have them, I figured part of the job was deciding placement and flow of the conversations.

So I guess for being as inexperienced as I was, and not having all the resources I should have had, what I did was pretty good, because I started a couple months later.


How many years did you letter for and what are some of your personal highlights from that time? Any favorite runs you lettered?

I was in the lettering department for about 4 years or so, until the end of 2007. When I look back on the first year, it’s rough—a lot of things I would never do later, a lot of misplaced effort. I had the bad habit of just going overboard on title design and sound effects, spending way too long on certain things, trying to do crazy stuff. But eventually I got a balance and did some books I can still look at today and be happy with. Particularly All-Star Superman, Scalped, Blue Beetle, Seven Soldiers Frankenstein, Swamp Thing and Green Lantern Corps, which were all actually some of my favorite comics we were making at the time, so I don’t know if that correlates directly or not; enjoying the book you’re working on means you end up doing better work sometimes—it definitely makes it go smoother I think.

As an in-house letterer you also designed components for the books that lasted long after you left. Your Green Lantern captions immediately come to mind. Many letterers (myself included) adopted them and would riff on them for years. In most instances when designing something for a company it becomes their property. And if you design something for a single book it can then be given to other letterers for an entire line of books. Was this ever something that bothered you? What are your thoughts on this practice?

It never really bothered me; we all know the situation going into it and we’re all basically “shepherds” in that regard—we care for the sheep, we guide them, but they’re not ours, we don’t own them. In many situations I think individual contributions should be credited and recognized, but when it comes to lettering style guides and such, I take it as a compliment that they’re used beyond me—makes me feel like I designed them well enough that they could be used for so long and by people other than myself.

At Random House, have you always been a cover designer? I recall you were in-house, then freelance, then you had your own office, and it’s totally possible my mind has made some of that up. So, what job titles have you had there, and what exactly does a production designer do?

So moving across the street to (then) Random House was totally unexpected. I was happy lettering at DC, for the most part. Sure it’s frustrating and stressful being a perfectionist and wanting to do all this extra stuff when it’s such a deadline-oriented environment, and admittedly, it was tough to get by financially in New York City on what we were making at the time. But the place was my life; I loved the people I worked with, they were my best friends, all my social activities revolved around the place and the people who worked there. It was my only “ family" in the area, being from the midwest originally. My plan was to stay there, or as much of a “plan” as you have in your 20’s, anyway.

In 2007, a friend of a friend had given my name to Dave Stevenson, who was overseeing the cover art direction for Del Rey Manga at the time. They had been licensing manga from Kodansha, the largest publisher in Japan, and the imprint had been going for a while at that point. Dave was looking for someone to do cover design for manga, but really wanted to get some more interesting logo designs for the titles; something that would help “get manga seen by all kinds of readers”, I think was what he said. So I got the call and figured I’d go do the interview over my lunch break, if for no other reason than to be courteous for the invitation, and see what the job was about. I had no illusions about actually getting the job; I didn’t feel i had enough experience in the layout and pre-press areas to be hired for that kind of design position.

But the interview went really well, Dave and I hit it off, he really liked my portfolio—which was almost exclusively title treatments and cover blurb lettering for DC comics. He offered me the job right there, which I was taken aback by. I had to be honest and say I needed to think about it, and also to be upfront and tell him that I knew very little about pre-press, InDesign or (ugh) Quark, which were all things cover designers used there on a daily basis. And it’s cheesy as hell, but I’ll always remember him telling me “Anyone can learn the technical stuff, I want to hire you for the skills that can’t be taught.” But the offer boiled down to simple math—three times what I was currently making, and half as much stress. The opportunity to make new things and have them be seen, as well as learn new skills. It was a hard decision because I didn’t want to leave DC, but it was the kind of choice that’s so difficult that it must be right, if that makes any sense.

I was basically “perm-lance” at Random House. I worked in the office every day, for 8 or so hours, I had a giant cubicle that was basically an office without a ceiling, the walls were like 6 feet high had a door, (thankfully this was in the days before open office plans became a thing). I was technically “full-time freelance”, which meant I was paid hourly, I got overtime, I got health insurance, I could do other jobs for other companies, I could do freelance illustration work (but not design work) for other art directors at Random House, and I was generally less scrutinized than a regular employee. I could keep weird hours and no one seemed to mind. In some ways it was a step below a regular employee, but at the time it worked for me. Eventually the license from Kodansha came up for renewal, and Kodansha wanted to start publishing in the US themselves, so it wasn’t renewed. Without the Kodansha license (and many other factors), Del Rey Manga decided to cease operations. I was basically given the option of staying at Random House and moving over to the Publisher Services division, which was going to handle all the production, editing, etc. for the newly formed Kodansha Comics, or I could take all I had learned and done and go freelance with an agreement that I would handle all the cover design for the print line of Kodansha Comics. Going freelance was terrifying for me at the time, but I realized I’d never have an easier time of it than being guaranteed a full load of work from the start. So I started my own design operation, Odin Star Industries, and struck out on my own in 2010.


Now that you’re an Eisner Award Winning Designer, do you feel any added pressure? Has it changed your mindset in anyway?


This is a tough one to answer without sounding like a complete jackass, but I have to be honest—no, not at all. I’ve worked on many books that have won awards, and Akira taking two Eisners this year, with one being attributed to me specifically—yes, it’s nice, I appreciate the recognition for my work, and I’ll always do my best to be courteous and accept congratulations graciously, as uncomfortable as I am with it, just being somewhat socially awkward as many of us are. But I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself, probably too much, to outdo myself and do more and be better than I was yesterday. That’s just caring about your craft and having a desire to grow. If you look at your career like a marathon, like a long-distance race that you run, some people like to think of a winning an award as crossing the finish line first, getting a trophy. They might look at as a goal. I see winning an award as a sign or a flag a cheering spectator waves at you as you run past; it’s thoughtful, it’s encouraging, I’m thankful for the acknowledgement, but it’s not my goal, and it’s not why I’m here. The race itself is the goal, and I’d be running it just as hard with no one watching as I would with packed stands.

As you're running this marathon, have you ever questioned it? Did you ever ask yourself if you were on the right personal path for the long haul?

I think a certain amount of self-doubt is a healthy thing. I think there are few things as destructive as absolute certainty—some second-guessing is required to maintain a good balance. Sure, some days are bad and you feel like a fraud or an imposter—most successful people, regardless of their profession, have those days. I think that’s totally normal. If you have nothing but those days—that’s not good, and if you never have those days—that’s not good, either. A little bit of doubt keeps you sharp, keeps your eyes open to all the possibilities, keeps you open to the idea that everything you do might not be the best way to do it all the time. As far as being on the right personal path? I don’t know—I’m sure there was more than one way to get where I am right now, there had to be, and I’m sure there were things I could’ve done, or could still do, to be more popular or marketable. But honestly, one of the things I’m most proud of, if I’m looking at my career in the overall scheme of things—I didn’t have to hurt anyone to get where I am, I didn’t have to take anything away from anyone, I didn’t have to do anything I’m ashamed of or deal with people I wouldn’t want to be associated with (for the most part), and I don’t think too many people can say that.


You’ve been a letterer, a designer, created many a logo. Do you see these as appendages to the same beast, or as separate smaller beasts? Are there any notable differences in the way you approach them?


I think so, they’re all parts of a whole in that sense. The approach can be different depending on the particulars of the project; some books leave a lot of options open for doing interesting work—with more freedom to explore and try new angles of approaching a design problem, you can usually make an effort to achieve harmony between the logo and the rest of the trade design, making the whole thing more cohesive. But sometimes you can end up doing some really cool stuff because of how limited your options are—sometimes the problem helps you make a better solution than you could’ve done without being “held back” by restrictions. But overall I feel it’s important for everything to complement everything else, to surround good art and good ideas with good design.

Presentation matters, how you say it is as important as what you say. Go online any time and you can see a nice bit of cover art surrounded by lackluster design and pirated fonts being used as “logos”. The message that sends to the viewer is louder than anything they’re actually trying to say; it says “I don’t care, and neither should you.” Don’t serve steak on a paper plate. 


You’re work is always in demand. Your workload is hefty. How often do you have to turn clients/projects away, and is it difficult to say “no”? 

As far as just having to turn clients or projects away, I’d guess and say maybe on average of maybe 3 or 4 a month, maybe? I’m not super-high profile, I don’t spend a lot of time hyping my work or advertising or having a social media presence; I’m literally too busy doing the work to talk about it on a regular basis. Some of the things I have to turn down are smaller projects, small press comics and small companies wanting logos. I try to give smaller clients lower rates and do try to work with them if the project seems fun or interesting. 

Sometimes a project sounds cool and you just want to do it, no matter how impractical it may be, you just try to find the time. I can’t do that too much, Kodansha is my main concern and I have to take care of them first. I’m always open to doing work for other companies, it’s just that I don’t go looking for it or asking about it, and the ones I have contacts at tend to assume my plate is too full to do more. And sometimes that is true, most of the time it is, but it’s nice to be asked, and I try to make time for new and different projects when I can; I feel it helps all your work as a whole when you have to stretch a bit.


I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?      


I’m gonna cheat and do two; only because they’re short and I find I’ve relayed them both pretty often to people over the years—

Person first, Artist second. Being a good person will make you better at your job. Being good at your job has no effect on your person.

Take pride IN your work; don’t take your pride TO work. 

What that means, (to me anyway) is that it’s important to do work you’re proud of, it’s important to do your best, but your ideas will not always be the best ideas all the time. Listen to others, and when their ideas are better, make sure you acknowledge them as such. Being right is never as important as producing the best end product you can.

Thanks to Phil for sharing his insights. Head over to his website and check out all of his projects. You can follow Phil on Twitter, too.

Interview with Ariana Maher


Ariana is a comic book letterer currently working on Flavor, Prism Stalker, Outpost Zero, Circadia, Nancy Drew, and Sfeer Theory.

Ariana, let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into lettering? At what point, did fandom become career motivation?
Back in 2010, I read Scott McCloud’s “Making Comics”, where he explained how important it is to find the balance between words and pictures. From there, I started seeing comics in a whole new light. 
In my free time, I began goofing off with Adobe Illustrator CS3 – getting a grasp of vector shapes and reading any tutorials and tips I could find online about lettering and design. Some of the best articles were from Balloon Tales, Blambot, and Jim Campbell’s incredible blog. I needed material to letter and my friend, colorist Donna Gregory, was drawing a webcomic, so we goofed off together as I slowly taught myself the process.
For a while, I simply considered it an odd hobby… but then I read Thor: The Mighty Avenger #4. There was something magical about it – how the entire creative team worked at their best together to create such a memorable story. Rus Wooton’s work on that book deeply inspired me – instead of simply for fun, I wanted to start cultivating my hobby into a new skill. I wanted to be a part of the creative teams and help make comics that I’d enjoy.
Building up my skills, I started working with Jayd Aït-Kaci on Sfeer Theory and it has been one of my most enjoyable ongoing book over the years. Eventually, other creators started to get in contact with me. In time, I started working with several creative teams for different publishers. At this point, I feel that the time and effort I’ve put into lettering is now rewarding me with fulfilling work and a full schedule. 
Anyone who comes across your work, or portfolio, will notice your books tend to have a unique look all their own. I love when I see lettering that is tailored to a book’s needs (I especially love the tails on Firebug). How do you develop a lettering style for a new book?
When I start a new project, I take the elements I’ve used for previous lettering templates as my skeleton and then I put some fresh meat on those bones. I test out different ideas until I find a style that feels natural for that particular book and meets the creators’ expressed needs. I don’t know if I succeed often, but it has grown easier for me to make a judgment call and feel good about the result.
Sometimes the creative team already has ideas of how they would like the lettering to be and that gives me direction. For Firebug, Johnnie Christmas liked the style of my lettering in From Under Mountains, so I started building the style from that template until I formed a more unique look. On Prism Stalker, Sloane Leong wanted to draw from her manga inspiration with fuzzy free-floating thought balloons and multi-color captions, so I developed a completely new style based on the manga she shared with me and we went back and forth on different techniques until she was happy with the result.
Without suggestions from the creative team, it’s all on me. Usually, I build the style up based on the book’s theme and the artwork, such as the line weight used in the art. Thicker lines could mean heavier fonts and strokes. Thinner lines may mean a lighter feel to it overall. 
Flavor was a fun template to build because I started on the first issue when Tamra Bonvillain’s colors were already completed. I love the way she gives the background a paper texture and the foreground a cell-shaded look. When I first saw that, it gave me the impression of watching an animated feature or reading a comic in the Sunday paper. The latter idea stuck with me, so I made the balloon stroke heavy to go with Wook Jin Clark’s lines and then cascaded the balloons without uniting them, a bit like drawing out dialogue in newspaper strips.
There are occasions when the font carries the lettering style best and I build around that. Blambot’s Spinner Rack font is beautifully constructed –the clear, legible appearance turned out to be a lovely fit for Outpost Zero, a YA Sci-Fi story from the perspective of scientists.
What are some of the things you consider when taking on a new title, and being part of a new creative team?
My considerations have a lot to do with personal interest, collaborative relationships, and – most importantly - time. 
I hold down two jobs: a day job that automatically absorbs 40 hours per week and my freelance lettering work that takes up a good chunk of the rest of my free time. Healthcare and rent is expensive, so my day job keeps me safe and sane – but lettering is my passion, so I dedicate myself equally to both. 
Since I have less time available than I would if lettering were my sole career, I have to be careful about how many books I can work on without overworking myself or overlooking the quality. In my experience, about half a dozen books per month (my current amount) is as perfect a work balance as I can hope for.
So time is a major factor for me. If the general timeline works for me, I’ll consider a book. From there, if the creative team features people I’ve worked with or have dreamed of working with, that’s a big deal for me. In addition, if the concept for the series is something I would put on my pull list if I saw it in Previews, then I’m already onboard, eager to get started. Every book I’m working on right now are comics that I feel terribly passionate about.
When I have to turn a project down, it’s usually something I would want to work on but I can’t – and that’s due to timing. I have to be careful not to overextend myself. Fortunately, I have a growing list of letterers that I recommend to the creative team for them to consider instead of me. I don’t want a client to restart their search for a letterer empty–handed - I want to make sure they know that great talent is accessible to them, so it helps to point them in the right direction. 
I usually have a good idea of which person to recommend to a team based on the style of a project, but it helps to know if that letterer is available to take on more work. So I appreciate it when fellow letterers mention when they are looking for new projects on platforms like twitter, since I can help spread the word.
Many of your current titles are out via Image Comics, do you prefer to work with creators directly? Has DC or Marvel come knocking yet?
Working with creators directly helped me establish my little corner in the comics industry thanks to word of mouth. Going forward, I hope to keep working with creators directly, though I’ve found that working through editors and assistant editors has been pretty fun and rewarding too. I enjoy the rapport I get to build within creator-driven teams and I also appreciate how editor-driven books keep the process focused, so I don’t have a particular preference to one or the other. Both are enjoyable. 
So far, I’ve worked with Image Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, Hiveworks, Skybound, and Boom Studios. Those have all been positive experiences, but I don’t know what it is like to work for DC or Marvel. Perhaps it is much the same, but it could be wildly different. If they ever do come knocking, I’d definitely give it my best shot because I am curious to learn from such an experience. 
However, getting hired by one of the Big Two isn’t my particular career goal, so I’m not waiting for any knock at the door. The projects I’m working on right now are what make me happy, so my current goal is to do more of whatever this weird, wonderful thing is that I’m doing right now.
Having a day job presents some obvious hurdles in being available for publishers, and creators as a letterer. How have you gone about setting boundaries between the two, and have you had any struggles in keeping those boundaries?
Communication is very important. My creative teams are aware that I have a day job and also other books that I work on. They know my time is limited and they also know that I value the time that I work on their books. Likewise, my co-workers know that I have a freelance job in a different field. In fact, when I get comp copies in the mail, I often share them at the office. They’re big fans of Flavor!
It’s not a weakness to admit I hold down two jobs. In fact, by being clear about it, collaborators do not expect me to produce finished work at the snap of their fingers. They set a deadline, I confirm that time frame with my schedule, and I turn in the pages on the agreed time. If something unexpected comes up, I’d speak with them as quickly as possible. If they suddenly demand results well before the agreed deadline – I can either refuse due to scheduling conflicts, or I charge extra per page for the shortened deadline. Communication and contract agreements are some of the most important tools a letterer has to set up clear boundaries and trustworthy relationships.
Don’t be afraid to push back when necessary. It’s good to form relationships in the industry to build your career, but if someone makes unreasonable demands and you fold to them without protest, then what is to stop them from doing it again and again? If editors and creative teams know where you stand and respect the value of what you contribute to a book, they will hear you out.
On the flip side, thanks to finding a balance between the two, I’ve discovered some benefits to the situation (aside from retirement savings, I mean). There are times when my day job is frustrating, so coming home and getting into the zone to letter a series I enjoy is the best way to relieve stress! I did get into lettering from what was originally a hobby, after all. 
Conversely, when I get really stuck on the design for a page or if I’m not quite sure how to develop the lettering style for a new book, taking 8 hours out of my day to force myself to be somewhere else and do something completely different lets me put those thoughts on the backburner. When I start a day unsure of how to tackle a lettering conundrum, I often end up having new ideas percolating by the time I get home in the evening, ready to start lettering.
A few weeks ago I noticed some tweets you had posted.  More or less they were about being the right fit for a book. What goes into your decision making to determine if a book is the right fit for you?
I think each letterer – especially those who have grown experienced and relatively confident in the profession – bring something unique to the table. And that unique quality can be the sum of one’s skill and limitations. I think it’s important to identify my strengths and understand how to negotiate with my current weaknesses. Having a clear idea of what those are helps me decide whether to join a project. 
I can be a good fit for a book for one or many reasons. The book could appeal to me as a comic book reader. It could be a challenge I’d be excited to tackle. It could be a project where the creator wants to dig in and help guide my lettering style right down to the minute details – that approach seems to work fine for me, since I’m pliable and always willing to give experimental lettering ideas a shot. I find that I’m a good fit when I’ve built friendships with the rest of the team. If we’ve previously worked together and it was a good experience, I’m quick to join any new project with that creator, if time allows. 
Have you ever had to leave a project after realizing you were on the wrong book, with the wrong people?
I don’t believe I’ve actively decided to leave during a project. Nothing quite so dramatic. Early in my career, I’ve had a few difficult projects where things weren’t clicking and I’ve had to power through to the end, but I learned from those experiences. 
Through that, I learned that if I’m not passionate about a book, then it’s more difficult to motivate myself to put in the time I have available. It’s poor business to limit myself like that, but it’s also something I have to be honest with myself about. I find it difficult to leave a book after getting started so, for me, it is best to identify any issues as early as possible and make a decision before I find myself in the thick of it. Seeing past my ego to acknowledge my limitations is both fairer to me and to potential clients.
Also, I’ve learned that if something is not legit about the client, I end up regretting that I didn’t listen to my gut. So I try to keep on my toes. For one thing, I’m wary of anyone who implies that “exposure” is as important a reward as payment. The one client I had (early in my career) who insisted I would get “exposure” as a letterer was quite quick to short-change me on my work. I was so naïve.
Don’t feel bad about that, most of us have come across clients offering exposure or some other form of non-payment.

Something I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, or life, what would it be?    
Center your professionalism in empathy. It helps you understand, forgive, move forward, and be a better person to yourself and also to others – including your creative teams, editors, and fellow letterers.
There’s plenty of pressure put on letterers since we are one of the last steps in the process before going to print. We are aware that shit (i.e. deadlines and associated stress) tends to roll downhill, right to our feet. There’s frustration because we are often not credited well enough (on covers, in reviews, etc) to acknowledge how important we are to making comics look good and read well. There’s a perceived scarcity of work due to how much we have to hustle to reach the notice of editors, get invited onto creative teams, and build up a sustainable amount of ongoing books to be successful. It’s easy to fall into lonely cynicism and it is hard to muster empathy. But if you take the hard path, I believe it rewards you ten-fold. Instead of seeing a bleak rat race, you start to see a warm - and rather geeky – lettering community. After all, I believe we letterers have our hearts in the same place: despite numerous frustrations and difficult deadlines, we love comics.


You can follow Ariana over at Twitter:

And check out her website:

Interview with Greg Lockard


Greg is a freelance editor who just completed work on 3 Floyds: Alpha King for Image Comics with Brian Azzarello, Nick Floyd, Simon Bisley, Ryan Brown, Jared K. Fletcher, and Rob Syers. He’s currently working on a new volume with a new artist and a few other pitches for independent publishing. Before life as a freelancer Greg was part of the editorial staff of DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint.

Greg, can you explain what the role of an editor is?

An editor is a project manager, a proofreader, a brainstormer, an art director, a therapist, and (hopefully) a well-informed and supportive reader.

The daily tasks vary greatly but the main goals are to keep the book on schedule, keep all members of the creative team working and help them all do their best work to create the best comic book possible.

Other than being a freelance editor, you’re also a writer, and in general, a creative type. Do you ever find yourself wanting to add your voice as a writer/creative into the work you are editing?

Wow, this is a great question. I never want to add my voice but the goal is to contribute my viewpoint and allow the creative team to make their own decisions. So, there’s a level of influence, but hopefully done in a way that empowers the creative team and pushes them to do their own best work. I’m sure at times I’ve made mistakes in my opinions but they are always offered in the hope of helping the creative team, the audience, the entire experience. I try to keep my voice completely separate from things I’m not writing. 

Part of your job as an editor at Vertigo was to bring in writers to pitch and produce new series’ for the imprint. Can you explain and de-mystify this process? At what point do you start thinking of the rest of creative team, and MOST importantly, the letterer?

This process might have modified or changed in the years since I left Vertigo but while I was there I was constantly looking for new ideas, new talent, new pitches. The process is itself an entire newsletter!

The lettering (and title design) is one of my favorite parts of the process, so even though it was generally later after the pitch was approved and on the publishing schedule, I would try and ensure a good creative fit between the letterer and the rest of the art team— matching or complementing styles is a high priority. Also, giving the letterer enough space to be inspired and do their best work is the ideal, too.

I could easily ask you all day about how you seek out new ideas, talent, and pitches, but I won’t. However, how do you know when you’ve found something that not only resonates with you and your voice as an editor, but that might work for a publisher, and have the potential to earn a readership?

This is another great question! For me, finding something that resonates with you similar to when you hear your favorite song/finish a great book/the credits roll on your new favorite film. But—this is the tricky part—the times I have felt that greatest connection have been on projects that were ultimately rejected by Vertigo (or DC Comics in general), so it’s important to be able to be objective as well. Like you mention, there is so much that goes into a pitch’s approval or rejection: is it something that will work for the publisher, for the readership, can it sell? You ultimately have to take all that into consideration as part of the pitch process.

Pitches I loved got rejected. Pitches I didn’t completely understand went on to be big hits. When you’re pitching you’re in subjective hands of all involved parties… it’s intense but when it works, there are very few greater excitements for me.

What are some of the things you consider when finding a letterer to round out the creative team?


So much information and emotion are conveyed by the lettering, it’s important to find someone whose style can complement the art but still express the mood and ideas of all the dialogue and narration. Different styles are a match for different situations. The letterers themselves are always bringing new design ideas to each assignment, too. So working with someone open to collaboration is necessary for every member of the team.

I consider portfolios, previous work and the letterer’s interests and preferences, too… do they like a certain genre of storytelling? Do they like a certain writer or artist?

In your opinion/experience, what is the best way a letterer can get on an editor’s radar? And on the flip side, what is the best way to get on an editor’s nerves?

The best way is politely asking to send a portfolio or samples. I prefer via email but direct messages are fine (for me) as well. The worst ways are the passive route— tagging me in a post I’m not involved with or @-ing me on twitter.

Since going freelance, you also started Poison Press. What’s that all about? Any titles on the horizon?


Yes! Tim and I have a short story we’re hoping to release as mini-comics late this summer. The story is titled “Lieberstrasse” and it is a romance that takes place in the end of the Weimar Era in Berlin. It was definitely a challenging story to write but Tim’s art is just gorgeous and I’m very excited to get it out into the world.

Poison Press is actually Tim Fish’s own self-publishing imprint that he has published with for decades! Right?! It’s amazing. After I went freelance, we formed a comic making collective with Monica Gallagher to apply for conventions and festivals (and for me to gain experience self-publishing with Tim and Monica’s expert guidance). We’re constantly evolving the partnership but I just have to give credit to the true owner— I don’t want to take credit for Tim’s hard work, I just want him to collaborate with me until the end of the universe and beyond.


Something I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering, editing, or life, what would it be?


Wear sunscreen.

It’s a dated joke but it relates to my real advice: be present in the moment and do your best (whether its your art or your life) when you are given opportunities.

In my personal experience, this is easier to say than do but it’s the advice I try to follow myself.


You can find out more about Greg at his website.

No. 1 With A Bullet TPB Trailer just dropped!


It's not too often we see a Trailer for a graphic novel, and to see one of this caliber is just straight up exciting. Take a minute and go see for yourself:

Edited By: Andrew Furtado [Twitter: @AndrewFurtaco]
Music By: Wojciech Golczewski [Twitter: @W_Golczewski]
Song: Spectre
Album: The Signal
Website: https://wojciechgolczewski.bandcamp.c...

Release Date: 06/06/18
Pages: 184
Collects: NO. 1 WITH A BULLET issues #1-6
Created By: Jacob Semahn & Jorge Corona
Writer: Jacob Semahn
Artist: Jorge Corona
Colors: Jen Hickman
Letters & Design: Steve Wands
Editor: Erin Levy

NO. 1 WITH A BULLET Trade Paperback Release Trailer and Announcement--

LOS ANGELES, CA, 5/31/2018 – The trade paperback of the critically acclaimed, Eisner Nominated Image Comics series, NO. 1 WITH A BULLET from writer Jacob Semahn (GONERS, Marvel’s Spider-Man) and artist Jorge Corona (GONERS, Feathers, Big Trouble in China: Old Man Jack) will launch on June 6th.

Her social media: strong. Her variety show segments: a hit. Nash Huang is at the top of her game. But when the iRis Shutter contact lens hits the market, Nash's personal life is invaded. The latest leap forward in 'technological progress,' these contacts not only play video or augment reality... they also record footage. Fighting to keep her life together after a sex tape goes viral, a clingy super fan is the last thing on Nash's mind. But then the bodies start to pile up... and the terror begins.

The trade paperback collects issues #1-6 of the lauded series, together for the first time. Part invasion horror, part grounded sci-fi, NO. 1 WITH A BULLET paints a very real picture of our world on a personal level that is “A sublime piece of futurism that is both entertaining in its absurdity and terrifying in its predictions.” — Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Candyman)

Vita Ayala (Submerged, The Wilds) calls it, “A masterful blend of message and sensation.” While Donny Cates (Venom, God Country, Redneck) adds, “Not just good, but important. A haunting shot across the bow of the worst the internet has to offer. A stunning and electric debut.”

NO. 1 WITH A BULLET takes a critical and highly relevant look into today’s social media status quo. A world where technology has integrated itself so completely into everyday life that nothing is safe from online scrutiny and, by effect, the dark depths that our digital lives can bring.

NO. 1 WITH A BULLET from Image Comics is available in stores and digital platforms on June 6th.

About Author Jacob Semahn-- Jacob Semahn is a Los Angeles-based writer and producer primarily known for his Image Comics and Marvel Television work. Semahn has produced and written for a diverse pool of talent, production, and publishing. In 2014, he co-created the Image Comics’ series, GONERS, with illustrator Jorge Corona.
For more information or to contact, visit Twitter: @SaxonJacob

About Artist Jorge Corona-- Jorge Corona is a Venezuelan comic book artist primarily known for his work on such titles as DC Comics’ We Are Robin and BOOM Studio’s creator-owned comic, FEATHERS. In 2015, Corona won the Russ Manning “Most Promising Newcomer” Award for his art on the creator-owned Image Comic series, GONERS. Currently, Jorge is nominated for a 2017 Eisner Award for “Best Cover Artist.” Twitter: @JeCorona Instagram: @Jorge_Cor


Interview roundtable with Buddy Beaudoin, Lucas Gattoni, Matt Krotzer, and Josh Southall

We're going to switch things up a bit this time around. Instead of talking to letterers’ who’ve already “made” it, I’ll be doing a roundtable with letterers who are maybe struggling a bit to find regular work; Buddy Beaudoin, Lucas Gattoni, Matt Krotzer, and Josh Southall.

Buddy Beaudoin

Buddy Beaudoin

I'm Buddy Beaudoin. I'm based out of upstate, NY. I've been working in comics one way or another for about the past five years. I started out writing my own books and went through all the pains and joys of self-publishing them. That decision led me to work with a lot of really great artists and I feel incredibly lucky for that. I continue to do that today. I run a small publishing imprint with friend and artist, Brennan Freemantle, called Gentlemen Pickle. I do most of the lettering for our books, but I've also recently lettered a book called Margo:Intergalactic Trash Collector and I'm wrapping up a project right now called The Underachievers.

Portfolio | Twitter | Email

Lucas Gattoni

Lucas Gattoni

Lucas Gattoni is a seasoned graphic designer and typesetter now pursuing his dream job of comic book lettering, bringing over to this medium 15 years of professionalism and a lifetime passion for storytelling. He lives in his home country of Argentina with his husband and their five unnamed goldfish (oops, make that four now).

Portfolio | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Email

Matt Krotzer

Matt Krotzer

Matt Krotzer gives voices to characters and adds sound to action. As a comic book letterer and graphic designer working for powerhouses like Image, Dark Horse, and many fine independent comics around the world, he’s collaborated with some of brightest artists in comics. He is an optimist and frequent champion of lost causes, regularly found cheering for the mighty Bengals of Cincinnati. Matt lives in suburban Pennsylvania with his wife, daughter and faithful feline companion, Teddy.

Portfolio | Facebook  | Twitter | Email

Josh Southall

Josh Southall

I’m Josh Southall and I live in Phoenix AZ with my wife and 2 awesome kids. I’ve been lettering for about 6 years now, mostly for small press and indie titles. I recently wrapped a 100 page OGN called “Soulforge” for BackPocket Comics out of Northern Ireland and am now working on a 22 page one shot for a Kickstarter project that was recently funded.

Portfolio | Twitter | Comixology | Email

Now that you've met these young guns let’s get to it…

So you’ve somehow come to the conclusion that lettering is the right fit for you, why?

BB: I suppose I started lettering out of necessity. When Gentlemen Pickle was formed, it was mostly just myself and Brennan working on the books. We would get our books colored, but budgets for our books were super small. Brennan was already penciling and inking our stuff, as well as having a role in writing, whether it was editing my words or giving me ideas. So, I decided to give it a shot. This was before Adobe came out with Creative Cloud. I had a really old version of Photoshop Elements that came with a laptop and I learned to letter on that. My letters in those days look pretty awful, but I stuck with it. Luckily I have Illustrator today.
 For a short while, I was also a comic reviewer for a site called FanboysInc (currently Earplug Podcast Network). While reviewing, my main objective was to break down a book piece-by-piece and really try to explain why I have such a reverie for comics – or not, some books are bad and I had to cover those as well. I really started noticing lettering as a comic reviewer. I started reading other reviews and it  felt to me that a lot of folks were missing out on how vital lettering is to storytelling in comics.
That's kind of when I decided to take the plunge and figure out what it is about lettering that can make or break a book. I kept studying lettering while I was reviewing comics and it quickly became my favorite part of comic books. I think what most people don't realize is how nuanced lettering is. There are of course big lettering pieces that anyone can look at and recognize how much work went into them, but there's a lot that can go into making good lettering decisions – especially in indie books. Every panel has its own challenges.
LG: Because it was one of the reasons I began studying graphic design back in the late 90s! I’m a huge fan of stories in any media (movies, books, videogames) and I truly revere people who can imagine these new worlds and characters and bring them to life. I specially love comic books for the infinite possibilities they provide, and since I can’t draw much but wanted to be a part of this industry, lettering was my choice. 
I got my graphic design degree and then life got in the way; ten years later I found myself researching the internet for a completely different project and came across a forum that offered a couple of art pages and some lettering exercises. As soon as I got some off time I watched a couple tutorials, read lots of tips and how-tos (Jim Campbell’s blog and Blambot’s articles are a must!) and with over 10 years of daily mastering the software, and a lifetime of reading comic books lettering just came natural to me. 
I lettered those first seven pages, uploaded them to the cloud and got my first job lettering for a very small American publisher just two or three days later.
MK: I actually came upon it completely by accident. I found into a discussion online about GrayHaven Comics' latest "You Are Not Alone" anthology, and the editor of the book, Marc Lombardi, was responding to people, so I messaged him and expressed my interest in contributing my artistic skills. Unfortunately (or so I thought at the time) they didn't need any more artists. However, if I knew how to letter, they could really use some help in that regard. I knew the basics, and figured I could make my way through it, and it was for a great cause, so I'd happily jump in and help. I quickly discovered that I REALLY liked lettering, and that it dovetailed nicely with the skillset I'd developed as a graphic designer of 10+ years.  
JS: I began lettering my own books out of necessity, but after 3 books, I realized I really enjoyed the process and set out to learn more. I was lucky enough to have a very established letterer take a look at one of my books and give me some great feedback. After brushing up my skills I began lettering for OTHER people’s projects and found it just as rewarding to see the finished product. The challenge of getting everything just right and the rewarding feeling of being the first to see a comic complete kept me looking to do more and more. 
What’s your “day job”, and how are you finding time to letter comics, and further pursue your comics aspirations?
BB: I'm a full-time freelancer. Other than lettering, I'm an event and portrait photographer and I'm currently working on a photo book. Day-to-day, most of my freelance work is done for a comic book publisher called Ominous Press. I work on their various projects and also do some work for their sister company Sleeping Giant Collectibles. I'm pretty fortunate that my day job so heavily involves comics. Working with Ominous and Sleeping Giant has opened a lot of doors and I've been lucky enough to meet and befriend a lot of pretty amazing comic creators and it's definitely helped in getting more work as a letterer as well.
LG: I work as a prepress manager for an offset press print-shop, it will be my 15th year this next July.
It’s an 8 to 5 job, so I concentrate my main lettering hours during the weekends; Saturday and Sunday mornings are as productive as I can make them be! As the workload tends to be irregular and my employer is quite understanding, I can also get some lettering done during my working hours. On tight deadlines I’ve also lettered at night, but it hasn’t been the rule yet.
Working at a print-shop means dealing with problematic files every day of the week, and that has given me a lot of exercise and confidence in the quality of work I do and the files I can produce (something my clients are very appreciative of!).
I love lettering, and while my main goal is to someday letter at least a story for some of the big companies, I enjoy being a part of this industry and helping small creators have their voice out in a fashionable and legible way!
MK: I work as an Assistant Art Director for a direct-mail advertising company.
JS: For the last 10 years I’ve been a Customer Support Manager for various technology companies. Being that my day job was a 9-5 gig, I’ve been lucky to have a decent amount of time to letter at night after the kids are in bed. My wife has been super supportive as well to help me find time on the weekends when I have pages to work. I was laid off recently and have been hustling to try and snag more comic work while working odd jobs like part time delivery gigs etc. 
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve found in getting work?
BB: Lettering is a pretty bulk thing. If you're going to make a real living doing it, you need to have a lot of work and you need to be able to do it all day long. As a relatively unknown person who has never produced work for any of the major publishers, it's really difficult to get your name out. Also, there are a lot of people lettering now. When you do manage to get your name out, there are dozens of other portfolios in the mix and you just have to hope that you hear back about a job.
LG: Last year I really got as much work as I could do on my limited time frame, mostly lettering for independent creators (so I’ve usually dealt with writers and artists directly).
The biggest issue for me has been reaching out to established companies, as I’m pretty sure going through the regular submission channels leaves your portfolio floating in a sea of artists (I still send those emails once or twice a year). I haven’t managed yet to contact any known editors, so that’s my main concern now. Not living in the US means not being able to attend cons, which is where the best networking opportunities lie (as I’ve heard).
As a side note, I’ve recently noticed how a few quite seasoned letterers apply for work on the same blogs and Facebook groups where I do, so that sometimes means competing with household names. And most of the times, that means not getting those jobs. 
MK: Meeting and befriending the right people at the right time. I find that once someone's found a letterer they can rely on, they stay pretty loyal to that letterer. Which is awesome, once you're the chosen letterer. But there's a lot of luck involved in finding the right people to work with at the right point in time where they're looking. The downside is, when they're not working, you're not working. So it's a constant game of hide and seek, keeping your ears open, and doing the best work you can, when you have it.
JS: The world of comics is VERY small and the group of “working” letterers is even smaller. Being that lettering is pretty much the last step, I feel a lot of companies are hesitant to go with someone they’ve never worked with for fear of something going wrong. It’s understandable from a business stand point, but it makes breaking in as a letterer more difficult. I try not to take it personally and keep forging ahead.
How are you reaching out to editors, creators, and studios? How are you getting your work in front of them? Websites? Online portfolios?
BB: Anyway I can. There are various groups/message boards/subreddits for finding comic jobs. I reach out to as many of those as I can when I need work. I also post on Twitter and do a lot of pitching in person to folks I meet at conventions or other comic related events. Having an online portfolio definitely helps.
LG: Again, being a foreigner I exclusively use internet to reach out; I’ve found four or five forums where job needs are posted, and a couple of Facebook groups too.
I’d usually see an ad asking for a letterer and if the project suits me, I immediately send my speech stating rates and working dynamics (as a seasoned designer, I tend to be very meticulous with communication, details and deadlines). I also post ads every other month, where I present my portfolio or a couple of the last pages I’ve lettered, and I’ve had many contacts made through those too. I have an online portfolio on an art-oriented site, where I can organize my projects and present them neatly for everyone to see. Again, years as a professional have taught me you have to give a great first impression, and a good portfolio is key. I also try to be as active as I can on social media, updating my profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter with my latest works, helping creators promote their projects and overall interacting with the lettering and comic book community.
MK: I do it in person, or not at all, really. And that might be to my detriment, but I haven't had much luck with cold-calling people and just letting them know I'm available (always with samples, though).
I try to get out to cons when I can, try to speak to editors if they're available at the publisher booths. Talk to writers and artists at their tables. I make sure to have a card and a sample of my work available at all times, even when walking the floor. You never know who you'll bump into.
JS: When companies have open submission forms on their site I’ve submitted to those (to no avail so far). I keep my eye open on Twitter for people working projects and offer my lettering services pretty regularly. Comic Cons are a great place to get in front of editors and studios, and I’ve seen a TINY bit of success in that. Most of the work I’ve gotten has been through old fashion hustling and networking; six degrees of separation and all that.  I have a lettering portfolio on my website so checking out my work is as easy as possible for any potential clients. People that don’t have an easy to find online portfolio confuse me. 
Do you think there’s some specific kernel of information that could make the transition of letterer in search of work to letterer with too much work? (Spoiler alert, there is no in between.)
BB: Realistically, no. There are a lot of people trying to work in comics and a lot of them are pretty talented. Not everyone is going to be lucky enough to make lettering a full-time job. It hasn't stopped me from asking pro letterers for some sage wisdom, but at the end of the day, I still have to do the work and I need to make the decision to learn every day.
LG: Well, the first of course is quality of work; and not just on the final product, but also meaning communication skills, commitment to a project, meeting deadlines, and offering a professional opinion when the creator is open.
Once that’s settled, I think getting published by a big company might do the trick. When you start getting your name attached to other known creators, I think that should change the status from “asking for work” to “being asked for projects”.
Networking and getting to know editors might be key too; I still don’t know if it’s completely OK to approach an editor online just to have your portfolio reviewed or your name added to a talent shortlist (as you’d do personally at a con). But it’s something I’ve considered too as they’re usually the ones who make the hiring decisions.
MK: I've found that even in my situation, as a part-timer who would love to make the transition to full time, it's very feast or famine. Projects, especially when you're working for a bevy of independent creators who are self-publishing, frequently shift their timelines and deadlines, and you can go from a situation where you think you've got some breathing room to a state of frenzy as art starts flooding your inbox along with completely revised scripts, all of which need to be done yesterday.
JS: If I had to pick of piece of INFORMATION, I would say being versatile in your lettering abilities. But to be honest I think the biggest thing to know in order to make that transition is a WHO and not a WHAT. Having the right PERSON recommend you for a more high-profile job could help you snag it and visa vi lead to more work. The trick is getting to know said mystery person and giving them a reason to put themselves out there on your behalf. Being that this would be either taking work out of their queue or putting their OWN name on the line (or BOTH) it’s understandable that this is easier said than done. In my experience however, letterers are a tight knit and amazingly friendly group who look out for each other so it’s definitely a possibility. 
Something I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering or life, what would it be?     
BB: If you're passionate about something, go and do it. If you're passionate about a bunch of things, do all of them. It's a scary jump and you'll probably have a lot more failures than successes, but working on my passions has been the most fulfilling experience I've had. 
LG: If you do postpone your dreams for some reason, it’s never too late to pick them up! 
A couple of months ago I found a ten year old backup folder where I had compiled lots of lettering resources back then. In those days, internet was not as prominent as today, so maybe I came a bit too late to the game, but I’ll surely make the best of it now that I can.
MK: Make time for yourself and your family. Comics won't look after you when you're old.
JS: Don’t be a jerk. Like I mentioned before, the world of comics is very small and word travels fast. If you’re nasty, notoriously late or otherwise difficult to work with, people WILL know. On the flip side, if you’re easy to work with, reliable and generally pleasant to be around, people will talk you up. You’d THINK this would go without saying, but I see up and coming creators of all types blow it all the time. I guess this pertains to life outside of comics as well so there you go, two birds with one stone!

Interview with Deron Bennett


Deron Bennett is an Eisner and Harvey nominated letterer of comic books. He writes Quixote and has worked for BOOM! Studios, DC Comics, Vertigo, Lion Forge, too many others, and runs Andworld Design. Right now he’s lettering one of the coolest books on the shelves, Death Bed, for Vertigo.

Obviously if you’re lettering comics, you love the medium, what was your journey from lover of comics to letterer? 

When I was little, I was heavily into comic strips, but not so much into mainstream comics. I’d read the Sunday funnies and borrow a bunch of collections from the school library; stuff like Mother Goose and Grimm, Garfield, and Calvin and Hobbes. So those were really my introduction to comics. Of course, I had been into Batman, Spider-Man, and Superman from the TV shows and movies, but they never really compelled me to read the comics. I just wasn’t aware of any comic shops around or anything other than the newsstands to buy them. It also didn’t help that I didn’t have a dollar to my name, so there was that as well. 

It wasn’t until the ‘90s that I started collecting. The X-Men animated series finally got me into a comic shop. I became a frequent buyer and, soon enough, Milestone Media came out with Icon, Hardware, Static, and Blood Syndicate. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. The Dakota Universe presented comics in a way to me that I thought, “this is how I want to tell stories.” I was always an artist. I planned on becoming an animator, but when I saw how these particular heroes developed, I started making my own comics. I decided to become a penciller and I followed that path all the way through college.

I went to SCAD and majored in Sequential Art. After I got my degree, I wasn’t sure how to go about landing a job in comics. In retrospect, I didn’t know the business like I do now. I didn’t know about going to conventions and submissions policies. Every job, I had gotten up to that point had been through classified ads, resumes, and interviews. So that’s what I did. I kept looking for entry level openings and internships. I eventually migrated out west because a relative of mine had connections at Warner Bros. While I waited for that to pan out, I continued to put out my resume and one eventually found it’s way to TOKYOPOP’s CCO. They called me in for an interview and I got a job as a freelance letterer on manga. 

From there, everything kind of snowballed. I really enjoyed what I was doing. I got hired full time after a few months and got deep into production and typography. It was a new puzzle for me. Eventually, I headed back east to my hometown, but continued with TOKYOPOP as a freelance letterer again. I’d get recommended to do more jobs in manga and through some of those business connections that I made, I found my way into lettering traditional comics. Been at it ever since.

What’s going on with Quixote? I read the first issue when it first hit Comixology and I’ve yet to see any more. Please tell me that you’re still working on it…? Are you writing anything else?

Quixote! I’m glad you asked. Yes, I am still working on it. My writing takes a back seat to everything else since that’s not what pays the bills. But I’ve made a commitment to return to the story this year. One of the biggest challenges with Quixote was losing my artist—the incredible Dan Mora. After the first issue debuted, he was immediately picked up by BOOM! and wasn’t able to return to the series. It really took me out of stride, so after unsuccessfully searching for a new artist I decided to put it on hold until I could figure out my next move. Which bring us to the present day. I’m currently planning some short stories to publish online. I’ll have different artists working on them so that I won’t be hampered down with finding a permanent creative team and it’ll also provide the opportunity to showcase some fresh takes on the characters and world. These stories will be sort of like side quests, so readers can get their Quixote fix while I work on the main adventure. I’m hoping to start rolling out those mini adventures this summer, so stay tuned for that. 

Aside from that, I’ve contributed a story to an anthology against bigotry and hate called The Good Fight. It’s still in development, but as soon as we have news to share, I’ll be sure to let people know. I’ve also been toying with the idea of a novel. It’s a little ambitious, I know, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time and I’m ready for it.

Glad to hear we can expect more Quixote adventures! Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on, and a lot of ideas for the future. How do you prioritize? 

I’m a deadline-oriented worker. Fixed deadlines are very helpful for me in determining how to schedule my workload. If I don’t have a deadline set in stone, I usually factor in the who, what, and when of the project to help me sort it out. 

Who’s it for? Is it a personal project, a favor, or is it for a new client? A lot of times, that relationship can help determine how to plan your time. In terms of personal projects, I look at its value to myself to help shift things higher or lower on priority scale.

What is the project? Is it book layout? A font commission? A novel? Those questions lead me to figure out how long it will take me to complete a project. Longer term projects can get spaced out accordingly. If it’s something that can take me hours instead of days, I can schedule that as needed.

The When is the simplest. If it’s due sooner, I’ll tackle it sooner. If we have a good lead time, I can structure milestones. If I know a client expects turnarounds at a faster pace, that also gets factored in. So I take all of these things into consideration and map it out in my task management program and take it from there.

What’s your typical day like? You’ve got a wife, 2 kids, you’re running Andworld, lettering high profile gigs, how do you pull it off?

With clients across multiple time zones, I usually work a 9 to 9. The day always starts off with coffee. It’s vital. I’ll spend the first half hour or so of my morning responding to emails and setting up tasks for the morning/afternoon shift. After that, I dig into whatever’s on the agenda. That can vary between lettering, corrections, production, or sending final files. Typically, I’ll knock out any corrections and production items and then I’ll go full steam on lettering a book. Once I’ve sent off a lettering proof, I switch back to project management. I make sure the AndWorld team has their assignments and follow up on any current progress. By that time, new tasks will have rolled in from clients so I’ll spend the day delivering on whatever needs have arrived. 

I think being part of a studio has really helped to mitigate some of the everyday demands. I have around 50 titles to manage each month and without a full squad of letterers and designers, I’d never be able to succeed. The studio really provides flexibility to do more. When it was just me, I’d work around the clock to keep up with everything. Now I don’t have to. I can spend time with the family, cook, and all of the other normal things (like sleep) because I have others to pick up where I need them to.

Managing a workflow, handling the business side of things, communicating on that many projects is a boatload of work on its own. Do you ever find the management duties of running a studio to be a drain on you creatively? 

It can be an obstacle at times, yeah. Sometimes, I want to get my hands in the mud, so to speak, but then I’ve got to take time to review projects, give feedback, or handle paperwork and finances. Managing a studio is definitely not something everyone is built for. You’re responsible for the livelihood of others as well as yourself. You also have an added responsibility of quality control so there are things that can make the job feel a little corporate at times. But there’s some overlap too. I really enjoy training sessions. I get to interact with my team and teach them some of the things I’ve learned in this business. Communication is very informal, too. We can joke and banter with each other while we’re discussing projects. So though running the studio isn’t necessarily a creative outlet, it mixes up the work so my day is never stale. 

When you get a new book, like Death Bed, for instance, what’s the first thing you do? How do you develop the lettering style?

On a new book, the first thing I do is get a sense of the art style because I believe that should dictate the lettering style. Is the style serious or cartoony? Does it have even line weights or varied? Line weights have a lot of impact on what I do since I prefer the balloon strokes to mimic the subtleties of the line. Time permitting, I’ll check out other work to draw some inspiration from. Not just other work from the same artist, but books that I feel possess a similar art style. If there are lettering styles that worked, I’ll reference them for some of my decisions. But, it shouldn’t be a direct copy. I try to choose unique styles so that everything doesn’t look the same. I determine what works, what doesn’t work, and try to improve where I can.  

For Death Bed, I felt like Riley’s style needed something loose with a hand-drawn feel. I didn’t want the line weights to be uniform. I also needed a font that complemented the weight of the balloon. At the same time, I was inspired by what Clem Robins was doing on Batman and The Shadow, so I looked for a font that resembled that. I selected a few different choices, but ultimately settled on a relatively new font that I’d picked up, Blambot’s Collect ‘Em All. I usually advise against using newly released fonts just for the sake of using the font, but this one seemed to fit perfectly. I spent some time ironing out some of the ideas with Josh and Riley and we settled on the final look that you see now.

Something I ask everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering or life, what would it be?      

I took this a long time ago from the intro to Jay-Z’s My First Song (and I’m paraphrasing), the key to success is to treat everything like it’s your first project. And I think you can apply that to outside of business as well. Don’t forget how it was when you first started; the desire and passion that was there. Keep that fire and run with it daily.

Deron's Site:

Interview with Joe Caramagna


Joe Caramagna is a writer and letterer of comic books. He writes DuckTales and Frozen and has worked for Disney, Marvel, and IDW. He’s lettered some of the finest comic books around; Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Universe: Ultimate Spider-Man, Iron Man & The Armor Wars, and many more.
You’ve lettered all the coolest Marvel titles for the last decade or so, what’s been your favorite? Why?
That’s so hard to answer because I’ve been lucky to have lettered so many great ones. As an Amazing Spider-Man fan - in fact, my first non-Archie comic was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that a friend gave me when I was in 5th grade - it blows my mind every time I realize that my name has been in the credits of Amazing Spidey about a hundred and fifty or so times out of 800. That’s about 1in every 5 ever made. That’s crazy. And because of that, I’ve been able to continue reading Amazing Spidey for the past ten years for free, which is nice. And of course every book I’ve ever done with Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, and Matt Wilson has always been the highlight of that particular month-slash-year. They always brought out the best in me and made me want to do right by them. 
You’re also writing comics now. My son and I checked out DuckTales from IDW and loved it! Are you done lettering? Leaving behind the balloons and tails for that fancy writer credit on the cover?
I’m so glad you’re enjoying DuckTales - thanks so much! I’m definitely not done lettering, I’m still working on a bunch of titles every month. Lettering gives me the opportunity to read scripts from all different writers - and I’ve worked with some of the best like Waid, Dan Slott, Ed Brubaker - and I think that makes me a better writer. And it’s a nice break to be able to switch off between the two disciplines. When I get burned out on one thing for the day, I get to do something else and still spend my day making comics which is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
How long are you going to be writing DuckTales for? Any new projects we should be keeping an eye out for?
I plan on writing DuckTales for as long as they’ll let me! I am also writing a Frozen series for Disney Comics and Dark Horse that starts in August, and a not-yet announced graphic novel that should be out in the fall, but they’ll have to pry DuckTales from my cold, dead hands.
You’re a real human. You have a wife, three kids, all that comic book work and them pesky deadlines. How do you juggle it all and stay sane?
It’s much easier now than it used to be, that’s for sure. My two youngest are barely a year apart, and when they were babies, that was a real test. The house was so chaotic all day in those days that I ended up working late into the night every night. I barely slept and would take a bunch of naps instead. Going from man-on-man defense to a zone with your kids can make you crazy. That’s a sports reference, people! And in those days I was still trying to prove myself, too, so I didn’t allow myself any time off at all because I was afraid of losing my spot. As the kids got older, they needed less direct attention, and I was able to normalize my schedule. Also, those years went by so fast that I felt I needed to make some changes and slow down and appreciate things more. I became obsessed with efficiency - making to-do lists, updating my workflow, lettering actions, etc. and, most importantly, getting rest. I’m much more productive when I’m well-rested than when I’m not. That means no more all-nighters. I go to bed when the rest of the family goes to bed, I wake up nice and early for work, and I have scheduled breaks to keep me fresh. Work smarter, not harder. Now that my wife is working full-time again, I get to drive my kids to and from school and hear about their day and what they’re doing, what they’re reading... last year I even had enough time to be an assistant coach for my daughter’s basketball team. 
With your schedule being the way it is. Do you find yourself having to say “no”, or having to turn down a project/projects? Has saying “no” ever caused you friction?
I don’t usually say no to writing projects, but I have had to turn away lettering work. The best part about writing is that I can do it from anywhere – from bed, from the kitchen, from the beach (and I have done it from all of those places) – but lettering can only be done at my lettering station in my home office. I can’t letter books on a laptop anymore - the screen is so small and I have to keep scrolling to see what I’m doing. And there are also only so many hours per day I want to be stuck in the office. I want to see my kids, I want to go outside…
But you know how this business is. If you want to make a living, you have to stay very busy because stuff falls through, some jobs don’t pay right away, etc. Plus, when I’m busy, I’m focused. When I have plenty of time to do something, I spend most of that time playing hockey on X-Box. But I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid of not being asked again if I say no to something.
As an Eisner & Harvey Award nominated letter, when you’re writing a project and not lettering it, do you find yourself directing the letterer? Do you offer any suggestions?
No, no way. Never. I know from having to deal with editors, writers, and sometimes artists who have specific requests that what they want doesn’t always work and it’s not always the best choice for the panel layout or the style of the book. I have plenty of opportunities to letter books my way, I don’t need to direct others to do it the way I’d do it.
Do you think you write differently as a result of being a letterer too?
For sure. For one thing, I make sure my scripts are super tight before I turn them in. I don’t rewrite panels and pages after they’re lettered. A letterer needs volume of work to make a decent living, and I’m not going to be the one to make them do extra work for free when they could be doing paid work with that time. I’m also a good judge of how much text can fit in any given panel because of my lettering experience.
Since you mentioned re-writing, have you noticed an uptick in writers that re-write their work? Have you had to discuss with a writer, or editor, how re-writing effects what you do as a letterer?
I guess “discussion” is a nice way to put it, haha. I’ve downright been a jerk about it quite a few times because some editor just happened to be the second or third editor who gave me rewrites to letter in a short period of time, and it was the final straw. And it’s not only because letterers typically don’t get paid for “corrections” even though they aren’t really lettering corrections, they’re SCRIPT corrections, but also because that’s time away from doing PAID work, or spending time with my kids, or sleeping, or whatever. I think as Marvel has hired new writers from outside of comics, there has been an uptick in rewrites, and it’s not that they aren’t good writers because in some case they’re amazing writers, but they’re inexperienced at writing comics. Writing comics is unlike writing anything else, and I think sometimes executives and editors take for granted that it’s a skill that the comic book writers have been studying and perfecting their entire lives and sometimes they make it look easy. Some of the powers-that-be are under the impression that as long as you are a good storyteller, or a great writer in another medium, then you can write a great comic book and that’s certainly not necessarily true. 
Something I will be asking everyone I interview…If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering or life, what would it be?     
Give yourself permission to fail. No one thing is your be-all, end-all, and just about everyone in this business failed many times before they succeeded. If you’re afraid to fail, you won’t take any chances, you’ll be paralyzed by fear. But if you give yourself permission to fail, you’ll go for what you want, and if you fail, it’ll sting a little, but you’ll learn that life goes on and you’ll get another chance. The only REAL failure is when you stop trying.

Go check out Joe's Site:

Interview with Todd Klein

Working at DC Comics, 1979. Photo by Jack Adler

Working at DC Comics, 1979. Photo by Jack Adler

Todd, since I began my career in lettering you’ve been not only a source of inspiration, but a source--a veritable fountain--of knowledge on the craft. Your website, blog, and co-authored book The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics (essential reading for the budding letterer) combine to make one hell of a master class. It’s clear you’re passionate about the profession, but I’ve got to ask; have you ever fallen out of love with lettering?

If so, what brought you back?

I’ve always liked and been interested in hand-drawn lettering. My mother’s father worked with hand-drawn or painted letters in several ways: sign painting, calligraphy and engraving. These were all side-line jobs he did in addition to his main full-time job working for Mack Trucks. As a child, he gave me some Speedball pens and ink, with some alphabets he’d drawn for me to copy. Later, when I discovered Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” I became enamored with the Elvish alphabet Tolkien created, and often imitated it. Tolkien’s own signature uses a very similar style, and I stole it for my own professional signature, which was pretty easy, as our names share many letters.

When I began lettering comics, I found the same enjoyment in doing that hand-made work as I had with calligraphy. Later, in the 1990s, when I began doing digital lettering, much of that particular pleasure was lost, except when I was creating my own fonts from letters I drew. However, by that time, I was finding it harder to produce large amounts of lettering by hand due to some arthritis pain, so the gradual transition worked out well for me, and I never really got tired of lettering.

Is there anything you letter by hand today? Or maybe some title/logo work that starts off on paper and gets digitized along the way?

Yes, logo designs often begin with hand-drawn sketches that I scan and trace with Adobe Illustrator. I haven’t lettered a comics page by hand in a few years now.

You began lettering comics in 1977 and watched the industry go from all the lettering being done by hand to almost all of it now being done digitally. What do you think of the current state of lettering and where do you see it going from here?

There are many fine comic-book fonts available from ComiCraft and Blambot. If I did not have my own, I would probably use them. There are many letterers doing good with with those fonts, but also many inexperienced users whose work is not good. The ability to tell the difference comes with practice and experience. Unfortunately, there are now far more people who want lettering work than there is available work, which puts downward pressure on pay rates and encourages letterer abuse. I don’t see that situation improving any time soon, nor do I see any solution for it.

Do you think that digital lettering has led to the increase of letterers, or the downward pressure on pay rates?

Yes, it makes it easier for anyone to get a result that’s at least readable in most cases, a process that took a lot more effort and practice for hand-letterers. Doing digital lettering WELL takes more effort and practice, but the starting point is further along. This encourages more people to take it on, and creates more letterers pursuing each potential lettering job.

Those of us in this profession live and die by deadlines. There are companies and editors and books that can sometimes be very demanding time-wise. Revisions are often expected to be turned around quicker and quicker. How do you handle it? Do you have set working hours? Just say no?

Yes, I generally have set working hours, starting around 7:30 AM, breaking for exercise and dinner around 3PM, and if needed another hour or two in the evening. I will work later in the afternoon to meet a rush deadline if I have to, but try to avoid that. Most editors are doing the best they can with the deadlines they have, and we work things out between us.

Were deadlines any easier before the days of digital lettering?

Not really. In my younger days, I was more willing to work longer hours and even all night on occasion, but that gets old, and now I won’t do that. At almost 67, I am willing to say no to impossible deadlines.

Do you think saying no has ever led to you losing future work? What would you say to someone just getting into lettering that may be uneasy saying no?

This is something you have to learn and decide for yourself. In my case, I have a long track record to back up any decision I make, and the confidence in those I work for. No, in my case, I don’t think it has led to losing future work unless it was work I didn’t want anyway.

You’ve earned a few awards over the years. Were there ever times you doubted yourself? Times maybe between the accolades, or before, when you questioned your abilities? If so, what kept you going?

One thing I believe is that, to continue to improve, you have to be your own harshest critic. When I look at my own work, I see the things I wish I had done better. That doesn’t mean I hate what I’ve done, just that I will never stop trying to do better, and keep looking for ways to make that happen. Awards are great, but never something I aspired to, and I’m always surprised when I win one.

If you could only give one piece of advice, be it for lettering or life, what would it be?      

Find work you enjoy doing, and learn to do it well. Always strive to do it better. That’s the best entry into a successful work life.

If you’re new to lettering you should go to Todd's Site: