COMIC BOOK YETI: If you have any other jobs other than lettering, what is it you do?
DERON BENNETT: Lettering is probably what I’m best known for, but I suppose I wear quite a few different hats. I’m a writer, designer, editor, production artist, sometime illustrator, sometime colorist, and I also own and operate my lettering studio, AndWorld Design.
CBY: Well, that is more than a few hats. What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
DB: The books that absolutely changed the trajectory of my career were Milestone Comics. Before releasing that line, I was really only interested in becoming an animator. However, when I discovered books like Static, Icon, Blood Syndicate, and Hardware, I realized the power of telling stories through comics.
These were books featuring characters that looked like me in an accessible format. Accessible in terms of monetary cost; accessible in terms of translating complex plots into pictures and words; accessible in terms of availability. It did for me artistically what hip hop did for me musically. Comics instantly became something I could identify with and use to express myself to the world. Flash forward to today, and I’m working in the very same medium on the very same titles that inspired me.
CBY: That’s fantastic! What do you enjoy most about lettering?
DB: The thing I enjoy most about lettering is the thing I love most about comics – the collaborative nature. We’re all pieces of this gigantic puzzle, and when you put it all together, it forms a wonderfully brilliant picture. I always take pride in my part of the puzzle, helping to tell the story through balloons, sound effects, and type. It’s such a simple thing, but the lettering can really push the storytelling to a higher realm when composed well. And vice versa. Working with other artists forces you to rethink your own approach each time and do your very best to complement the work. It’s a whole different ballgame when you are working on a solo project instead of combining your efforts as part of a team.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
DB: I wished more people understood the storytelling aspect of it. It can seem so mechanical, especially in the age of digital lettering, but it’s a massive part of the narrative. You can convey so much with visual cues through the lettering that helps reinforce what’s in the comic. It’s what makes comics such a unique art form. I can use all types of tools to help the reader connect the dots on the page. Burst balloons, wobbly balloons, of course, thought balloons are familiar to people because of the practices of lettering. As artists and writers are getting more creative in telling stories, so are we. I’ve had to develop clever ways to illustrate ventriloquism, foreign languages, and mirrored speech. I’ve seen incredible interpretations of ASL. Even the styles we use for each project are part of helping the story come alive through art, whether it be cartoonish or serious in tone.
CBY: Hand-lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
DB: I am armed with a Macbook Pro, Wacom Cintiq, and Adobe Creative Suite. My work is digital, even the “hand-drawn” stuff. I use a stylus to draw anything that needs an analog look. For traditional lettering, I work in Adobe Illustrator. For manga, I’m in Adobe InDesign. If it requires drawing, it’s Photoshop to the rescue, and maaaaaybe Clip Studio if I need a few cool brushes.
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?
DB: The first step is research. That can be as simple as looking at art pages and examining line work and shapes. On occasion, I’ll also check out some other pieces from the artist to see what else has been done out there. Sometimes, I may look at similar styles of art or genre for inspiration.
Then I’ll start to build my template based on what I’ve researched. For the most part, I’m focused on the line of the artist. I use that to help determine which font to use. If the artist uses thin, ragged lines, I’ll match the balloon and font to that. If the linework is pretty uniform and bold, the style will fit that mold. It should appear as if the artist lettered the book themselves. I’ll probably pick out 3 or 4 samples and narrow it down to the best one either with the help of the editor, the creator, or I’ll judge for myself.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
DB: Communication. In any relationship, I think good communication is the most fundamental need to succeed. If you are clear on your needs, I can execute whatever you need. And it goes both ways. I also need the other team members to be receptive to my needs as a letterer and understand what I’m trying to communicate as well.
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?
DB: Carpal tunnel and back pain are two biggies. Frequent breaks can help offset this. Letterers, and anyone at the computer for long periods, should learn to work ergonomically. Many products help with this, such as wrist braces, special keyboards, and standing desks for support. I discovered that we have to counter the idea that being a good letterer means doing an excessive amount and wearing that as a badge of honor. Do what’s reasonable for you to meet your client’s needs, of course, but work should always be done with your health in mind.
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?
DB: I’m going to cheat a little here. I know most responses to this question usually involve some deep time travel to land on an answer, but one artist who I thought didn’t get the attention he deserved when he was lettering is Ed Brisson. Of course, people know him for writing now, but he did some really inspired lettering not too long ago. I would always see pages from Ed and get jealous of some of the cool things he would do. So google “Ed Brisson lettering” and see what comes up.
CBY: I’m not familiar with his lettering work so I will definitely check that out. 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?
DB: I will shout out my own team, who do phenomenal work but don’t always get the limelight. Justin Birch, D.C. Hopkins, Morgan Martinez, Tom Napolitano, Josh Reed, and Erika Terriquez are fantastic letterers doing wonderful work day in and day out.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
DB: Tale of Sand is probably top of the line here. There were so many great things that came out of that. I commissioned my first font to The Henson Company. For that matter – it’s incredible that I got to work with the Henson company. I befriended fantastic collaborators in Stephen Christy, Ramon Perez, Chris Robinson, and Rebecca Taylor, which led to even more friendships and collaborations! Incredibly, I was nominated for my first Eisner. It was just magical.
CBY: That’s awesome. 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?
DB: I started lettering in 2003, so it’s been almost 20 years. I’m definitely faster and a bit wiser about the choices I make. Then, I would try to emulate others, and now I’m much more confident in my own decision-making. I figured out that trying to be the next “insert-name-here” was much less important than becoming the next “me,” which changed my approach drastically. I’m much better for it.
As far as industry perception? I think the appreciation for lettering has increased due to social media. We can talk directly (or indirectly) to fans and collaborators in a way that wasn’t present when I started. And the conversations have led to a better understanding of lettering.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
DB: The first issue of Static. Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
DB: DC’s Refrigerator Full of Heads and Aquaman: The Becoming. BOOM’s Dark Blood series. Skybound’s Excellence.
CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?
DB: Chicken and Waffles.