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: http://www.andworlddesign.com