COMIC BOOK YETI: Welcome to the Yeti Cave, Nathan. Thank you for joining me. If you have any other jobs other than lettering, what is it you do?
NATHAN KEMPF: I just work wherever people are ready to hire me, haha. I majored in English linguistics in college but could never find a job in that field, so I’ve worked as a bartender, sold cheese and wine (as any good French person should do), flipped burgers… I tried going full-time as a letterer back in August, but it didn’t go as expected and only lasted for three months. For now, I work in a pet store, hoping I can try going full-time again soon.
CBY: What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
NK: I didn’t really read any comics when I was a child, I was all about novellas and science magazines. But living in France, the few ones I did read were series such as Lucky Luke, Tintin, and the Smurfs. US comic books were not really popular in France when I was a kid, I barely knew they even existed.
I started getting into comics around 7 years ago after reading DC’s Flashpoint, following a friend’s advice. I fell in love with the medium and became eager to learn everything I could about the creative side of it, and I just found all aspects of it fascinating. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be part of that community as a creator.
So, to answer your question, it’s not really specific books that made me want to work in comics, but really the medium as a whole, what it represents, and all the possibilities it offers.
CBY: What do you enjoy most about lettering?
NK: Being able to visually “play” with words and dialogues is amazing to me. When lettering, you are not just placing the lines where they should be, you are also visually giving the words tone. I also love having to adapt my lettering style to the art and the story as a whole. In the end, lettering is just one piece of a puzzle, but that’s also what makes the craft so interesting.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
NK: I don’t really expect the average reader to understand the art of lettering. What I mean is, many readers don’t really understand much about the craft of writing and illustrating comics, and lettering is a way more obscure art form than those two (most letterers wouldn’t be able to tell you how many times they had to explain what lettering is, haha).
But when it comes to readers who are aware that lettering is a thing, I would just wish for them to realize that it does take skills and creativity to letter comics.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
NK: That it’s not a job. As I said just before, I would not be able to tell you the amount of times I had to tell friends and family that you can make a living by lettering comics.
CBY: Hand-lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
NK: I only letter digitally. Besides the usual software (Illustrator, Photoshop, and inDesign), I also have an XP-Pen graphic tablet to draw SFX and some balloons when needed. If I ever need to letter by hand in Photoshop, I use the Kyle T. Webster brushes, native to the software.
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?
NK: Most of my decisions are based on what the art looks like, especially the line art. Are the lines clean or jittery? Thick or thin? More “rounded” or “squared”? The more my lettering style matches the line art, the more it will all look seamless, which is what we want. Once I’ve found a few styles that I think would work, I send a sample page of each style to the creative team and leave the choice to them.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
NK: Good communication is a must. If the writer and/or the artist want me to do something very specific, I’d rather be told before the revision rounds.
I also enjoy when the writers and artists I work with are aware that lettering takes space in panels. Sometimes, writers can be very wordy, and artists can forget to leave enough space for the letters. Both of those can lead to situations in which it becomes very tricky to fit all the dialogue in the panels without hiding too much of the art.
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?
NK: I have not personally dealt with hand or wrist injury so far, but I’m certain it’s just a matter of time. I’m actually curious to read the answers from the other letterers you’re interviewing, that could be a great help in preventing future injuries. I do have a lot of back pain when I’m done working though, but that’s mostly due to me having pre-existing lower back issues. Lots of stretching tends to help!
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?
NK: I feel like most letterers that paved the way never got the recognition they truly deserved, but I especially like Gaspar Saladino’s work. He was an amazing letterer, and a truly gifted logo designer.
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?
NK: I don’t have one name in mind, but I do feel like people who letter mangas for US and European markets deserve way, way more recognition than they’re getting. Their work is, most of the time, more demanding than that of a comics letterer, and they’re not being paid enough for what they do. All letterers are not paid much, but it’s even worse for those of us who letter mangas.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
NK: I’m proud of all the comics I lettered, but I’m especially proud of Deadbox and Lunar Room, two series I’m currently lettering for Vault Comics. They’re the first published comics I ever got the chance to letter, so they hold a really special place in my heart.
I also recently lettered issue #2 of Clear by Scott Snyder and Francis Manapul. This is a huge achievement for me, because they’re creators I dreamt of working with one day, I never expected it to happen. Getting the opportunity to do so, even just for one issue, has been a dream come true.
CBY: That's exciting about Deadbox and Lunar Room. I read and enjoyed both first issues. 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?
NK: I drew my very first balloon in early 2018, barely four years ago, so the perception the industry has on lettering hasn’t changed much.
As an artist though, I feel like I improved a whole lot in those few years.
I used to work as a localization agent for comic-book publishers in France. My job was basically to replace the original text inside of word balloons with the translated one. I didn’t have any creative input.
One day, the company I worked for needed someone to letter an original 60-issue series for a big publisher in France, and they asked me to take care of it. I basically had no one around me to really teach me how it was done, and didn’t find that many resources online. I was told a few tips here and there, but nothing much. Lettering this series was a huge challenge but it also was an amazing opportunity to learn. I wish I had received more advice along the way though, because I ended up doing many things the wrong way.
So when I decided to try and letter original US comics, I immediately reached out to already established letterers (Ariana Maher, Tom Napolitano, and DC Hopkins) to get tips and feedback in order to improve myself.
That eventually led me to letter a book for Deron Bennett of AndWorld Design in July 2020, which was also a huge learning experience because I had to “unlearn” everything I had been doing wrong for the last two years, I basically had to learn everything all over again.
I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by amazing letterers who never said no to [helping] me get better. I’m incredibly grateful for that.
I’ve had to learn a whole lot in not much time, but it [led] me to where I am now, working with publishers and amazing creators.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
NK: Lunar Room and Deadbox are two series currently being released through Vault Comics, and they both deserve to be picked up. I also lettered Blood on Sunset, the first issue of this series will be out at the end of December through Source Point Press.
CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?
NK: Burgers! On top of it being my favorite comfort food, I am a huge fan of burgers. I’m always looking for new joints and recipes to try, and I also enjoy learning about the history of this dish.
CBY: Can't go wrong with a good burger. Thank you very much, Nathan!
NK: No, thank you!