COMIC BOOK YETI: Toben, 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?
TOBEN RACICOT: I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo studying role-playing games, game mechanics, and character creation systems primarily in single-player RPGs. I’ve taught Game Studies, Harry Potter, The Superhero and many other courses. I also work as a Graduate Educational Developer helping other graduate students improve their teaching skills. And I’m collaborating on a research project designing a board game and writing a D&D module.
CBY: What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
TR: The first comic, as in monthly floppy, I remember buying was Venom #1 by Rick Remender and Tony Moore. But manga is definitely more formative. I bought an issue of Shonen Jump because there was a free Yu-Gi-Oh! card in it. I traded cards at the time and it helped me get better cards and also find a storytelling medium that I really enjoyed. That was when I was a teenager, but as a young adult with money to spend, I dug into Remender’s and Hickman’s era at Marvel. I followed them to Image, so books like East of West, Seven To Eternity, Black Science, and Black Monday Murders just leave me in awe.
So now, I would say, the top three comics that I rank as the best Image has produced are: East of West, Seven to Eternity, and DIE. I’m very happy to have conversation with dissenting votes because I’m always open for more comic suggestions. Tweet me your top three comic series @TobenRacicot!
CBY: I, for one, am mostly in agreement with you. I’m a big fan of East of West and Black Science. I’ve collected and read all of DIE (that Stephanie Hans artwork!), but I really need someone to make an annotated DIE.
What do you enjoy most about lettering?
TR: I view lettering as digital LEGOs. Using the blocks available to me, I design shapes, an eye-path, and flow that heightens the story and strengthens immersion. It’s a fun puzzle to figure out.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
TR: I feel like a lot of other letterers would answer this question about how lettering is an art, an invisible art to harken back to Scott McCloud, and that’s true, but I would say that lettering should always be complementary. I like to say that you don’t need four drummers in a band, just one. So if everyone on the team is doing their part and complementing and collaborating with each other, then you end up with a stellar comic. But if everyone wants to be the drummer, it’s gonna end up resulting in a very lopsided product.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
TR: I think that is a general idea that most of it is done by hand. When I tell people I letter they immediately think I’m using a quill or something to write in the dialogue. (I’m sure some of that comes from the Sunday Funnies pages of the newspaper where it has that aesthetic.) Because when I tell them I use fonts, they immediately lose some interest. I had an art prof who did hand-lettering when he was a teen, painting signs on store windows and stuff, and I was always in a battle to validate my style. Thankfully, the final project consisted of making a video, so I recorded myself lettering a page and it impressed him enough that his opinion changed.
CBY: Hand lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
TR: Digital. I’m all for streamlined work pipelines, so I very much draw on the efforts of those that came before me. Digital fonts, illustrator, and inDesign are my tools. I have a lot of actions set up in Illustrator to cut down menuing and selecting tools. And I have templates and master templates to keep all my assets organized.
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?
TR: Of course. I like to give collaborators choices. Typically I do 3-4 pages with different fonts, balloon styles, and sound effect styles. When choosing a font, I look at what the art style is. Is it realistic? Is it cartooned? Is it rendered? That will inform what fonts I look at that match the aesthetic.
I choose 3-4, along with balloon shape and then send the pages to the collaborator. With that, I explicitly state which I prefer and I never include any that I don’t actually want to use. So I may letter 4 but only include 3 because I don’t want to use one. Once a style is selected I make a template and we’re off to the races.
Sometimes, very rarely, do I see a font or art style and know exactly what to match it with. Crown & Anchor took a lot of versions to get right. Emulator, I think I did 2 examples, but with Pilgrim’s Dirge, the moment I saw the font, I knew that is what I wanted to use for the story, even before I had art done. It’s really a fun process of trial and error and waiting for that moment of synergy or resonance when it just works.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
TR: First and foremost, a well-edited script is key for lettering. I do really like creators saying, “I trust you to make it look good.” And I also appreciate when creators have a clear vision and are able to express it well with examples. I’m totally fine to do my own thing with a series. Grant [Stoye] gave me free [rein] to do what I want on Sidequest and I am super proud of how that book looks. But I do enjoy working within some constrictions and problem-solving that way too.
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?
TR: I’m sure there are. I imagine carpal tunnel is something many contend with. I imagine there are also neck and back injuries. My knees get bad because I sit so much, not just in lettering but everything these days.
I have to force myself to stand up and take breaks because I’ve had situations where I will letter 15-20 pages without standing up. I’m back at the gym now. I run, I lift, I wanted to get into swimming, but the pool is packed.
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?
TR: RUS WOOTON (although he’s still working), but Rus Wooton is, again, in my opinion, the most masterful letterer today. If you’ve heard of him and know about his backstory, he deserves all the credit and recognition and praise and flowers in the world. He is an amazing person, a truly talented artist, and a font of inspiration for what I try to be as a letterer. He lettered at Marvel and then went to Image and has worked on so many of the best comics there.
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?
TR: RUS WOOTON. See the above answer. And go read Seven to Eternity, Outcast, East of West.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
TR: I’ll give you a top three:
Sidequest #1 - I am still wowed when I go back and read this issue. I don’t typically read scripts all the way through before starting, so when I got to the last three pages, my mouth hung open and I was amazed at what Grant [Stoye] pulled off. The style works so well to match the D&D aesthetic. I get to have fun with SFX. What more could I want?
Beastlands - I am forever grateful to collaborate with Curtis on so many of his projects. Beastlands stands out because it was the first time I tried a new process of lettering where the tails have a special stroke and I layer the balloons differently. I was scared to do it for a long time, but I took a chance and it reads really well in the series.
Emulator #1 - Emulator came together really well. I packed in so much dialogue because I wanted to give readers a solid #1 to dig into. Emiliana’s page layouts are so much fun. It reads a little bit like a manga, so I got to do some cool stuff to match that with the lettering.
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?
TR: Oof, that’s a question! It was definitely slow growth. The moment of change came from receiving a portfolio review from a DC editor. I don’t know his name, but his advice completely changed how I lettered and my style. As for the perception of lettering changing--I’d say it has. There’s been a push for more recognition. Though, I’ll be the black sheep and say that I don’t think letterers should be on the cover. I know that may make some folks angry, but that’s my philosophy. If it wasn’t already a convention, I don’t think I’d put credits on the cover...isn’t that why we have a credits page? You can write your angry letters to firstname.lastname@example.org.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
TR: East of West, Seven to Eternity, and DIE. Masterful works of comic storytelling.
Honorable mentions (since I already mentioned the above): Birthright, Fullmetal Alchemist, and Extremity.
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
TR: So many! Crown & Anchor Book Two is coming in 2022. Pilgrim’s Dirge #2 is coming in 2022. There will soon be more Sidequest, Beastlands, Slightly Exaggerated, Discordia, Sidekick For Hire, and others. Then I’m lettering In the Land of The Dragon #1, I Only Have Eyes For You, and Journey to the Top of the Food Pyramid #1, with many others that haven’t been shown or announced.
CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?
TR: I’m trying to get off sugar. So lately it’s chips. Also love a good bowl of bran flakes. But the ultimate is pizza. With pineapple. Pepperoni, mushroom, onions, and pineapple. I don’t eat enough pizza. And that makes me sad.
CBY: Thank you very much, Toben! Be sure to follow Toben on Twitter at @TobenRacicot.
Check out Crown & Anchor HERE.