COMIC BOOK YETI: Justin, 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?
JUSTIN BIRCH: I’m beyond lucky enough to say that lettering is my full time job. So I’m going to take this time to say I’m also an avid toy and comic collector. That counts as a full time job, right?
CBY: Oh yeah, that counts. What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
JB: I’m not sure if there’s been one single comic or story that made me say, “That’s it! I want to make comics!” For me, it was an overall love of the medium, the characters, etc. I’m a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s, the Saturday morning cartoons really shaped a lot of what I love in life and were a perfect bridge to comics.
CBY: What do you enjoy most about lettering?
JB: When everything comes together. When I letter, I view it as a puzzle. How do I make things fit, how to make the page flow, how to get everything to mesh together.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
JB: I’ve heard this alot at cons, and the answer is no, I did not write this book.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
JB: I joke around a lot with comic making friends and say that I just copy and paste a lot. But it really is more than that. Sometimes I have to bold things as well.
In all seriousness, lettering is an art in itself. There are so many small nuances that have become second nature that I’m shocked when someone brings it up. Something I just do by instinct now.
CBY: Hand lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
JB: I’m 100% digital. I would love to learn how to hand letter, but I have such little free time, I could just never fit it in. I use an iMac and a Cintiq. Sometimes when I’m feeling crazy, I’ll use a mouse. I know I just made a ton of letterers cringe.
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?
JB: I read the script, then stare at the art for a really long time. If something doesn’t come to me, I’ll take the dog for a walk. I’ll try out a few different balloon styles and fonts and then stare at it some more. And after I’ve stared at it longer I’ll send it off to the writer and artist for their opinion and approval.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
JB: I love working with others who are open to ideas and suggestions. Sometimes you’ll work with someone who has a clear vision and it sometimes feels like a “my way or the highway” situation. Those are never fun.
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?
JB: Besides the standard carpal tunnel, I was having some issues with my elbow. I have my Cintiq angled at a way that’s almost completely straight up and down. I would constantly bang my elbow on my desk. Or it would rub against the desk. There would be days where my entire lower arm felt like it was on fire, like I was constantly hitting my funny bone. It was horrible. I was walking through Walmart, when I came across basketball compression sleeves. It was perfect, a small elbow pad that adds a little bit of cushion.
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?
JB: I’m going to say Vickie Williams. She was a long time letterer at Archie comics and worked on a ton of Sonic Comics. She was local to me and lived about 20 minutes away. Unfortunately, she passed away right before I started.
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?
JB: I’m going to do the shameless plug and give a shout out to all of my fellow AndWorld Design lettering team members - Deron Bennett, Tom Napolitano, D.C. Hopkins, Morgan Martinez, Josh Reed, and Erika Milligan.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
JB: Two books come to mind immediately, Pantomime from Mad Cave Studios was a unique and interesting challenge. All of the main characters are hearing impared, how do you translate that to comics? It was fun to come up with how to make that work and do something that isn’t very common.
The other book was from early on in my career. Back in 2016, I was on my way to NYCC and at the time I thought I had built up some traction and had a decent enough portfolio that I thought I could get a few jobs from some indie creators. I may have even had plans to hang out at the Action Lab booth for a day. I was staying at a friend’s house in Philadelphia and at 4:30 in the morning I got a phone call from my brother that my dad had passed away. The five hour car ride home seemed to take even longer. After all of the funeral stuff, I had a week off from my office job, so I decided to letter. It was a good way to not think about things, just focus on the thing in front of me. For me, it was very therapeutic. Because I added the credits to the page I was able to change the “Lettering by” from my name to my dad’s name.
CBY: Thank you for sharing that, Justin. 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?
JB: I have a better understanding of the art. I’m very interested in learning what I like to call “Lettering Theory”. Understanding why things are placed where they are or another letterer’s thought process. I think the industry’s perception of letterers have changed as well. It seems like we as a group are more appreciated and just a little less unsung.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
JB: This is a hard question, it’s probably more important to pick books that made huge impacts on the comic industry more than my three favorites. This is hard. REALLY hard. I’m just going to name three of my favorite stories - Y: The Last Man, The Scott Pilgrim series, and Bakuman.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
JB: If you haven’t already, pick up Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body. If you have picked it up, then go pick up Sea of Sorrows. It has the scariest, most messed up panel I’ve ever seen in all of comics.
CBY: Sea of Sorrows was great! What’s your favorite comfort food?
JB: Tacos, or maybe popsicles. Donuts? Breakfast foods in general. Is that a thing I can pick? Just one meal overall. I love breakfast foods. I changed my mind, this is the hardest question.
CBY: I love breakfast foods! Thank you very much!
JB: Thanks for letting me be a part of this. It was fun and has left me questioning some of my favorite stories and food.