Recently, the letterer who helped me tell the story of The Customer Is Always Right, Haas Kage (FairPlayLettering.net), really did me a solid; one that allowed me to go international and bilingual. How you ask? I’ll save that for later. But in backing me up, he reminded me of the collaborative nature of comics and about one the key roles that often goes unheralded: the comics letterer.
I recently had the priveledge of spending a little time learning the art (and it is an art!) from master letterer Dave Sharpe via the auspices of Comics Experience and the Introduction to Lettering and Production Class. A Kubert school alum and a former Marvel Comics full-timer now freelancer, Dave started his career at Marvel lettering comic books just before the digital age. Today, he now works on dozens of books from a variety of publishers. Recently, he's lettered everything from Iron Man: Legacy to Batman: The Return.
Dave is a true craftsman. He was a great teacher. Funny, patient, and passionate about comics, he opened up a whole new world of comics understanding for me. He taught me all about layered essence of comic book production. Literally.
You see, using Adobe Illustrator to letter your comics, you work with an art layer, a balloon layer, a tails layer, etc. I learned about balloon shape and page composition and the thickness of stroke for emotion--and how do do special effects.
I don't know that I'm ready to step out there and do lettering and production all on my own. That's my goal, but I took the class to get a better understanding of the comics-making process. I learned a great deal, but in some ways the intangible aspects of the class were the most rewarding.
Taking the class was a lot like visting the soundstages on the Warner Bros. lot during filming (which is a much more intimate and real experience, as compared to Universal Studios). You get to see how the magic really happens. Dave showed my class how much work is involved in just lettering a comic. There are all kinds of decisions a letterer makes--making him or her a true artisan. Their work has a huge impact on the final product. In fact, many letterers also act as the production department for a publisher. So the letterer may also be merging the colored final pages with their balloon work and performing the pre-press functions for the publisher.
Anyway, the next time you enjoy reading a comic. Stop and turn to the credits. Look up who the letterer was. They literally made reading the book possible.
So how did Haas do me a solid? Well, my collaborator, Tomás, recently contacted me about doing a Spanish version of our story for a book he and some pals are putitng together. I thought this was a great idea--and it's going to happen--but here's where I got stuck. To save time and money, Tomás needed the art from our story with the balloon layer. You see, they could then just put Spanish words in maintaining the same balloons as the English version. Instant story. Except . . .
Prior to taking the lettering class, I had no idea about this kind of thing. I was so green, I only asked Haas for the final art files needed for printing. And he obliged. But now, months later, I contacted him again and he had the files we needed. What a pro! Then, bim, baam, boom, they cross the Atlantic via the Internet and my story is international.
So the lesson here--besides getting your files in a variety of formats from your collaborators--is that your collaborators are important. They can save your butt. Besides, of course, making your story possible in the first place.
Haas, when my copies come in, I'll be sending you a few.