COMIC BOOK YETI: Aditya, thank you so much for joining me here in the Yeti Cave. If you have any other jobs other than lettering, what is it you do?
ADITYA BIDIKAR: I’ve been lettering full-time for around eight years now, but I used to be an editor and, before that, a translator – both of which used to finance my obsession with lettering before it started paying decently. As of now, I don’t have another job, but I do write for pleasure. I maintain a newsletter (quite badly), and I write prose short stories, and I’m currently working on a long-form comic as well.
CBY: What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
AB: I came to comics as an adult, so it was books like Watchmen, Sin City, City of Glass, and so on that made me excited about the medium. I first started working in comics as a writer, but then I branched out as I saw the things Todd Klein did on Sandman, or that Gaspar did on Swamp Thing, Tom Orzechowski on the X-Men, and John Workman on Thor and Doom Patrol.
CBY: Those are 4 powerhouse letterers! What do you enjoy most about lettering?
AB: I like coming up with styles that work for different kinds of artwork. There’s nothing like executing a page of lettering and feeling like it looks “just right” with the artist’s work. In terms of execution, the most fun thing to do is, of course, sound effects, since I draw most of those rather than using fonts. But I’ve recently been working with DC who use a lot of title cards in their books, and I’ve started really enjoying designing those. But the real fun of lettering is in the collaboration – I get to chat with a lot of incredibly talented people as a part of my work, something I’d be way too shy to do otherwise.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
AB: I’m not sure that the average reader needs to care much about what goes on behind the curtain. They should care about the work that’s in front of them – the story, the atmosphere, the emotions – but caring about precisely what goes into making the thing you enjoy is more for geeky readers/other creators. I just want the average reader to have a good experience of what we’ve created.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
AB: That I actually write the words – probably the weirdest thing that has been assumed about lettering by a surprising number of people is that the writer writes the “story,” but the letterer writes the “words”. Or that most comics are still hand-lettered. Much as I would love that, it’s not the case. There are, sadly, some publishers who see lettering on the same rung as prose typesetting, and I’d love for that to change. (PS: Don’t shove the colourist and letterer into the copyright page, please. We at least deserve a proper credit.)
CBY: Hand-lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
AB: Digitally, I mostly use the same basic tool that all professional letterers do – Adobe Illustrator. I do hope that apps by other companies do become professional-grade someday, as Illustrator is both buggy as hell and incredibly expensive for newcomers, but we’re stuck with it for now. I also use InDesign to compile books for specific companies. And I draw most of my sound effects in Photoshop or Clip Studio and paste them into Illustrator. I use a Wacom Intuos Pro to letter, and I have a 2K-resolution photography grade monitor that’s attached to my MacBook Pro. I will occasionally use my iPad along with an app called Astropad Studio to draw directly into Photoshop when I feel the Wacom’s not giving me the right degree of control.
For hand-lettering, I have lettered using pen on paper, after printing out a “blueline” (i.e. faded blue version) of the artwork, and I used Photoshop to digitally paste it onto the artwork. More recently, I’ve shifted to hand-lettering digitally on the iPad, using Adobe Photoshop Sketch, and then drawing the balloons in Photoshop on the MacBook. Even more recently, I’ve been experimenting with the aforementioned Astropad Studio to hand-lettering directly into Photoshop, and it’s honestly not too shabby. I’ve been experimenting with sanding down drawing nibs to create wedge lettering nibs, and so far the results have been, let’s say, uneven, though I did letter part of our podcast logo with one of those (that’s Letters & Lines with Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, coming back soon, hopefully).
CBY: Can you take me through the process of how you go about choosing a font/lettering style once you become involved in a project?
AB: First, I read the script and look at the art to get a sense of the tone I need to go for. Then I look at the quality of the artist’s linework, and try to come up with balloon styles that would suit that. And then I try and choose a primary typeface that suits both the tone of the comic and the artwork. I usually do 3-4 style options – one “safe,” 2-3 more playful ones, and one that’s really “out there.” Based on this, sometimes the team will throw in ideas, and I mix and match stuff and we settle on a style. After that, it’s pretty much all about the execution.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
AB: I love collaborators that throw in ideas without making a strict separation between disciplines – some of the coolest suggestions in my career have come from colourists and designers just because they were involved in the conversation. That generosity also needs to be paired with the humility to be okay with being vetoed.
CBY: Are there any typical hand/wrist injuries letterers are prone to and do you have methods to combat injuries due to repetitive tasks/overuse?
AB: Letterers are particularly prone to repetitive strain injuries as well as shoulder issues from the most common movements we have to make. I take care of this by using a gaming chair that lets me maintain a good posture and lets me rest my elbow (which, conversely, helps the shoulder not stretch awkwardly). I’ve also placed my Wacom tablet at an angle that requires minimal stretching, or wrist-turning (also, artists will tell you to move from your shoulder rather than twisting your wrist too much). Finally, I have an ergonomic grip on my Wacom pen which makes sure I don’t press on it too hard with my fingers. I’ve been told by other letterers that tattoo grips are a good substitute for this. I try to do desk stretches every hour or so, though I’m quite irregular with those.
CBY: Is there a letterer, no longer working today, that you think never got the credit/recognition they deserved and which of their comics should CBY readers check out?
AB: Probably the best letterer who was pretty much slept on (probably because of the company he mostly did work for) was Bill Yoshida, who lettered a staggering amount of Archie Comics’ output. Incredibly consistent throughout, he’d still sprinkle some innovative tricks when required. But I think because people think old Archie comics are a bit bland, he doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
CBY: Is there a letterer that is still lettering today that you think doesn’t get enough credit/recognition and which of their comics should CBY readers check out?
AB: I feel like Jack Morelli (another Archie letterer!) doesn’t get enough credit for his seamless shift from hand-lettering to digital. His work remains fresh, and just excellent. Someone among my generation that I feel is underrated is Frank Cvetkovic – I’ve admired his work for years now, and I think people should pay more attention to what he’s doing.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
AB: I’m very proud of most of the books I’ve worked on, and prouder still as I get a bit more selective about the books I work on. But Little Bird and Grafity’s Wall (the first book I hand-lettered) were books on which I feel like I levelled up – like I was a different, and more skilled, craftsman after I’d worked on these books from what I was before. So I have a specific fondness for those books.
CBY: Both of those are excellent works all-around from every member of the creative team! From when you first started lettering comics to today, how would you describe your growth as an artist and, in that time, has the comic industry’s perception of lettering changed?
AB: I think – or at least hope – that I keep getting better. I have a better idea of the other disciplines of comics than when I started, which has fed back into how I use colour, design and composition in my lettering. I’ve become more confident, but also more aware of my limitations and where I need to focus my study. I’m currently learning more about typeface creation and calligraphy, which I think will help.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
AB: Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell’s From Hell, Paul Auster/David Mazzuchelli/Paul Karasik’s City of Glass, Eleanor Davis’s The Hard Tomorrow.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
AB: The Department of Truth continues to go from strength to strength. Ram, Anand and my third collaboration, Radio Apocalypse, is serialising right now. I’m working with Mark Waid and Dan Mora on Batman & Superman: World’s Finest. Arkham City: The Order of the World is serialising right now, with my Coffin Bound cohorts Dan Watters and DaNi. The All-Nighter is serialising on ComiXology Originals, as is .Self. The Swamp Thing has been given a six-issue extension so we’re going on till issue 16. Home Sick Pilots is about to come back for a new arc. That’s just the stuff being published right now. There’s a lot more cool stuff coming!
CBY: All of that and more cool stuff?!?! Can’t wait. What’s your favorite comfort food?
AB: A good bowl of well-made ramen, but since that’s difficult to find in India, I have to substitute it with really good chicken wings.
CBY: You can’t go wrong with ramen or chicken wings. Thank you very much!