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: http://www.squareheadentertainment.com/