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. YouTube.com/UltrazillaToys
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.