COMIC BOOK YETI: Rob, thank you so much for joining me in the Yeti Cave. If you have any other jobs other than lettering, what is it you do?
ROB JONES: Up to March/April this year, I worked in social care here in the UK, supporting adults with learning disabilities and mental health problems, but I went fully freelance in lettering this year. It was a big step, but I am really pleased I did it. I miss the work I used to do, but working through the pandemic, and with social care here in the U.K in serious decline, I was getting very burnt out. So, I thought it would be best to switch up careers and I have not looked back.
CBY: What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
RJ: I was a late bloomer to comics. I was always aware of them and their adjacent media, but fully took the plunge to read them aged 27. I used to write about getting into comics and asked people to vote on what I should read, so I was lucky to have many classics recommended to me at the very start. Transmetropolitan was a massive influence, but recent findings and the actions of Warren Ellis have soured that for me. I loved Y: The Last Man, Fear Agent, The Walking Dead and Spider-Man and so they have been massive influences to me. The first comic I remember owning though was a Warhammer 40k comic back when I was 13, with interiors by Andy Lanning and Ant Williams, and the most amazing thing is now they are frequent collaborators with me, so that influence has come full circle.
CBY: That’s pretty cool! What do you enjoy most about lettering?
RJ: For me it’s the process. Matching the dialogue and balloons to the art, figuring out the flow and making sure everything complements the pages. I love that moment you finish a page, look it over and see the flow, see the sum of the whole. That and when you get positive responses from the other creatives involved who have waited to get that grain of an idea onto the paper and finalised.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
RJ: That I simply plonk text on the page, etch-a-sketch shake my screen and everything goes into place. Or that I simply just download a font and everything magically appears correct on the page. That is simply not true. Richard Starkings revolutionised comic book lettering with Comicraft and his digital foundry, but it isn’t simply a case of putting everything into Adobe Illustrator and the page is magically done. It’s a massive learning curve, which requires intuition and understanding of how the page flows and works.
CBY: Hand-lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
RJ: I am a purely digital letterer, though one of my goals for next year is to try and learn a hand-lettering style using digital tools. I use many different font foundries, such as Blambot, Comicraft, etc, Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and then have reference books which I dip into as well.
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?
RJ: Everything depends on the art style. Something with abstract art or abrasive lines would not match up well with a traditional lettering style, whereas clean-lined artwork doesn’t suit a more abstract lettering style, at least not throughout the entire book – maybe for flourishes. I try to match line weights, stroke stylings, fonts to the artwork so the lettering and art become seamless, or as seamless as I can feasibly make it.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
RJ: Trust is a major part. Them having the trust in me to be able to do the work, use my expertise and knowledge, me having trust in them to deliver pages to me on time and on schedule. Honesty is another major quality. Saying when they really don’t like something, being forthright with me. Good communication is also key.
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?
RJ: So far (*touch wood*) I haven’t been plagued with this (although I recently had Covid and unfortunately my hands are now ALWAYS cold!) but it is something I am planning for. Wrist supports are on my “To Buy” list, as is a more ergonomically designed keyboard and mousepad. I’ve already broken every single finger on both hands in a myriad of different ways, so it would probably be best I start planning for the eventuality of wrist strain...or train my kids to letter comics and we start a family business...
CBY: I’m sorry to hear your hands are always cold now! 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?
RJ: Art Simek lettered some of the BEST Marvel comics of the ‘Silver Age’ and had such a great and consistent style to his stuff. I think a lot of the Silver and Golden Age letterers really don’t get the recognition they deserve for setting the trends, the styles, blazing the trails so to speak, for what is modern-day comic book lettering.
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?
RJ: This is a tough one. There are so many amazing letterers out there, people like Nate Piekos, Richard Starkings, Joe Caramanga, Jim Campbell, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Clem Robins, Todd Klein and so many others...however, I will say, Matt Krotzer deserves a fair nod and you guys should definitely check out his work. His work on Strayed from Dark Horse was fantastic and I highly recommend CBY readers checking it out. In fact, here’s a link!
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
RJ: That’s like asking a parent to pick their favourite child. I’d like to think I’ve put the same amount of effort and care into every comic. Something that was supremely challenging to do and I felt really accomplished to finish was the translation of Planet Divoc-91. I lettered it in isiXhosa and Hindi, and it’s available to read here on Webtoon. Lettering in languages you have no comprehension of is daunting. I was really lucky to have an amazing editor in Kirsten Murray and producer/writer Sara Kenney, and we were able to sort out issues we were having with using predominantly eastern text in the predominantly western Adobe Illustrator. They saved my ass on more than one occasion as we were doing the work, and the translation team were also super helpful as well.
CBY: That’s fascinating, Rob. Wow. 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?
RJ: I cringe when I see the projects I first lettered. I have learnt everything I know on the job, by reading up on the medium, practice and persistence. I think my growth has been exponential. I’ve been lettering for 6-7 years now, and had the chance to go freelance this year, and I can only thank the people who have taken a chance on me, guided me and supported me throughout. It has all been one long learning curve and I am STILL learning now.
To answer the second question, I do think letterers get a LOT more recognition, and that’s down to the fact that writers, artists and other creators are using their position to lift letterers up in the public eye. People like Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and his Strip Panel Naked series on YouTube and his Eisner award-winning PanelXPanel book have really shone a light on lettering, and obviously, the MASSIVELY successful Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering book by Blambot/Nate Piekos have really raised letterers’ profiles and changed the perception of them. However, you still see people saying it’s just a case of us throwing fonts and ellipses on the page, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
RJ: This is a tough one. Because what would warrant their inclusion? Is it down to advancing the medium? Being the building block for what came after? For shining a light on those whose voices have been ignored/downtrodden? So, for this, it’s entirely personal and comes down to my own personal choice and what I’ve read.
So, my three picks would be:
The Amazing Spider-Man: This, for me, is my absolute favourite comic, because Peter Parker is so relatable. We’ve ALL had the problems Peter has. Lost love, the stress of work/school, family ties, etc. Spider-Man is probably the most recognisable comic book character on the planet, has entered popular culture in such a big way that it shows that when you do something right, it can be a lightning rod that crosses the globe.
Saga: This book shows just how diverse, inclusive and absolutely far out a story about family can be. It is heart-warming, gut-wrenching, exciting, comforting and gripping all at the same time. I cannot wait for it to resume.
Sexcastle: Gun-Chucks. That alone sells it as to why it should be included. For sheer inventiveness, this book deserved to be included.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
RJ: This is difficult due to timings, etc, but one project I’m really excited for people to see is Deadliner, coming from frequent collaborator, Dave Cook and artist, Donna Black. It’s an existential horror comic based around the deadlines that we as comic creators place upon ourselves. It deals with feelings of failure, imposter syndrome, mental health issues and more, and the book itself looks incredible. Then there’s Thunder Child, a comic I also co-write, which is based upon War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, but told from the point of view of the crew of the Ironclad Warship of the title. I am co-writing it with Matt Hardy (who I co-wrote the WW2 horror comic, Hell in Stalingrad with in 2020) with art by Kevin Castaneiro and colours by Simon Gough. There’s also several series which are in development which I am not allowed to talk about, but if you keep an eye on my social media, you’ll get to see them as I am pretty active and vocal on Twitter.
CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?
RJ: Bread. It’s so versatile. It can be sandwiches. It can be pizza. It can be a burger. You can coat things in the crumbs of it. You can make a pudding out of it. You can just ball it up and shove it in your mouth. Bread is the ULTIMATE comfort food.