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: http://www.wlcomics.com/