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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!