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The Letterer of the Day is...JOE SABINO

At the end of last year, Joe Sabino was jammed up lettering all your favorite Marvel Comics, but he managed to find some time to hang out in the Yeti Cave and be Letterer of the Day!


COMIC BOOK YETI: 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?

Joe Sabino

JOE SABINO: Lettering’s my main job. On the side I coach high school ice hockey for my former high school. We’re currently the #1 ranked public school in the state, so that’s exciting.

CBY: That's awesome! What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?

JS: Honestly, it wasn’t even the comics. When I was 5 or so, the Marvel Universe Trading Cards came out and I was obsessed with them and I’d sit and draw the characters over and over. In the ’80s and 90’s, I’d buy whatever had a cool cover at the local comic shop. I didn’t start reading again until Marvel’s Civil War event when I was in college. I was a Spider-Man fan growing up as a kid. As an adult, I’ve loved Deadpool and Thor and I’m just so lucky enough to have landed working on those titles.

CBY: That's fantastic. What do you enjoy most about lettering?

Thor: God of Thunder, Marvel, vol. 1, issue #1, Aaron/Ribic/White/Sabino

JS: It’s an artform in itself. It’s also surprisingly useful in all aspects of design and daily life. As for the lettering itself, sound effects and screams/yells. They’re where I get to be the most creative or have the most fun. I love when I actually have time to flex on those, since our turnarounds are ridiculously tight since we’re at the end of the production process.

CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?

JS: It’s not just putting words in a circle. It’s an artform in itself. We’re what will smoothly guide you around the page. If you don’t notice our work, we’re probably doing a good job.

CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?

JS: That it’s easy. I thought it’d be easy heading into it. I’d have to make corrections for lettering from time to time while working in the Bullpen at Marvel. It took me a year as a full-time letterer before I’d say I was comfortable and confident in what I was doing. Since I work from home, people assume I don’t work hard. But there are crunch weeks where I can end up putting in 20+hour days.

Deadpool, Marvel, vol. 5, issue #7, Posehn/Duggan/Koblish/Staples/Sabino

CBY: Hand lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?

JS: All of my work is digital. Sometimes to match the art, on certain comics or series I’ll hand-letter sound effects or screams with my drawing tablet. I basically spend all day on my 27” iMac in Adobe Illustrator and using my Wacom Intuos Pro drawing tablet.

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?

JS: It mostly depends on the art. If it’s more cartoony, more bubbly or clean fonts. If it’s dark and gritty, rougher fonts. I mostly try to keep things simple and legible. I’ll go wild on styling if it’s requested, but I like to stick to subtle nods or tie-ins to the characters or art with regards to captions, etc.

CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?

War of the Realms, Marvel, vol. 1, issue #2, Aaron/Dauterman/Wilson/Sabino

JS: For the writing, don’t use your letterer as a rough draft. I’ve had a few comics over the years where I spend just as much or more time doing corrections than I had initially lettering the comic. For the art, actual space left for the lettering. We have such tight turnarounds that if we have to butt balloons to the borders or think about the logistics of getting all the dialogue in there without covering the art the artist worked so hard on, it’ll take up A LOT of time. And no reverse speaking order. Sometimes scripts and art don’t mesh well when the character that speaks first is all the way on the right or at the bottom of the panel, and I have to do crazy things with tails to maintain the reading order. And if that’s happening, there probably isn’t much space to get the tail over there.

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?

JS: Thankfully, I haven’t had any. I had one stint where I was working insane hours for a couple of weeks and I went and bought one of those Hypervolt Hyperice percussion massagers because my forearm started to cramp up. Buy a good chair, set your desk and computer up at appropriate heights. Get up and move around once in a while. Stay hydrated.

CBY: "Stay hydrated" is always good advice. 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?

Spider-Man/Deadpool, Marvel, vol. 1, issue #50, Thompson/Towe/Horak/Parsons/Reber/Sabino

JS: Oh man, I’m really not sure on that one. There are so many great letterers from the gold and silver age and I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of the artform back then. Digital makes it much more accessible to people today, but the hand letterers were pure artists.

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?

JS: This is going to sound a little nuts, but I spend so much time working on comics that I barely read them or keep up with them outside of work anymore. There’s a Twitter account I love: @ComicBookFX. It’s fun to see what everyone’s doing to innovate and push the boundaries of the artform.

CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?

JS: Probably my run on Thor. I’m 200+ issues into that as well as the War of the Realms event that spun out of it. I feel I really found my groove over the years working with Jason Aaron and the creative teams involved with it right into the current Donny Cates' run. After that, my run on Deadpool. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Gerry Duggan on that. In the past year, Beta Ray Bill and Juggernaut were probably my two favorites. I loved Mosaic from years ago. It was a short run with a new character that kind of flew under the radar.

CBY: 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?

JS: I guess I’d say I’m more confident and a lot faster than I was. I was trained under Chris Eliopoulos and he’s one of the best. It took a while to get all the tips and tricks down and not feel like I needed to have my work checked. I get a bit more creative with SFX than I used to, as I’ve gotten more comfortable with the tools and new features [that] have been put into Illustrator. As letterers, we’re starting to get cover credits which is cool. I didn’t care about stuff like that when I was younger, but now it’s pretty neat. I’ve seen my name with production and editorial credits instead of with the creative team from time to time. That’s a bit of a bummer. We are part of the creative team. It’s just if we’re doing our job correctly, you shouldn’t be noticing us, haha.

CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?

Deadpool, Marvel, vol. 5, issue #26, Duggan/Posehn/Koblish/Staples/Sabino

JS: For comics that I’ve worked on? Thor: God of Thunder #1, Esad Ribic’s art is jaw-dropping. Spider-Man/Deadpool #50, I’m in it! Deadpool (2012) #26, Duggan, Koblish, Staples, and I had such a blast with that throwback issue.

CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?

JS: Marvel Dark Ages will leave you in shock every issue. Silver Surfer: Rebirth is a ton of fun because they brought back the original creative team from the ‘80s of Ron Marz and Ron Lim. I’m also working on a ton of Infinity Comics for the Marvel Unlimited app. That’s been a lot of fun learning about the scrolling format of it all and just starting to touch the surface of the fun stuff that can be done with it. There’s some other titles in the pipeline that I’m stoked about, but they haven’t been announced so I can’t say anything yet.

CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?

JS: The Italian restaurant around the corner from me has a “Drunken Grandma Pie.” It’s basically a Grandma Pie but instead of tomato sauce on it, they use vodka sauce. I get everyone hooked on that!

CBY: That sounds amazing! Thank you very much for chatting with me, Joe! You can follow Joe on Twitter at @JoeSabino.


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