THE LETTERER OF THE DAY IS…TODD KLEIN
COMIC BOOK YETI: If you have any other jobs other than lettering, what is it you do?
TODD KLEIN: In the past I’ve written comics (like Tales of the Green Lantern Corps and The Omega Men) and early on tried inking and coloring before settling on lettering as my main thing. Currently, I am mostly retired from lettering and I spend a lot of time researching and writing articles about comics and lettering for my blog. I’ve also co-authored a how-to book about lettering, now out of print, and am working on another book about lettering.
CBY: What are the comics that influenced you and made you want to work in comics?
TK: In the 1950s, I first discovered Batman and Superman comics and loved them. The Justice League of America was even better. In the early 1960s, I began reading Marvel comics like The Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man, and that turned me toward Marvel for a while, until I returned to reading DC with titles like Jack Kirby’s New Gods. I loved lots of comics, and tried to draw my own, but wasn’t very good at it, though I did enjoy tracing the logos. I didn’t even think of comics as a possible job until later.
CBY: What do you enjoy most about lettering?
TK: When I was lettering by hand, as I did exclusively from 1977 to 1994, I enjoyed working on actual comics art and being part of that process. I liked the problem-solving aspect, making the actual letters and titles was satisfying, and I also enjoyed reading the stories when they were good ones.
CBY: What is something you wish the average comics reader (however you want to define that) understood about the art of lettering?
TK: I don’t think most readers care about lettering, coloring, design, editing, or other aspects of the comics process, they just take them in as part of the reading experience, and that’s okay. The small percentage of readers who want to know more can find out a lot these days online, things that were unknown to readers like myself in prehistoric times. That’s good, too. There is always more to learn for those who want to know more, and my blog is one place for that. I can’t think of one thing most readers miss now that the entire creative team is usually credited, though plenty of fans I meet at conventions are still a bit surprised an actual human is doing the lettering.
CBY: What do you think is the biggest misconception about what you do as a letterer?
TK: Well, the conversation with those who don’t know much about comics begins, “So, do you write the stories?” When I tell them I don’t, that I just put in the words of the writer, the next question is, “Do you do the drawings?” I say no, but I do add to the drawings in a way that makes them comics and not just pictures.
CBY: Hand-lettering or digital, what tools do you use to letter comics?
TK: As said earlier, when I began, doing everything by hand was the only option. Digital lettering began appearing in comics in the late 1980s. I saw it was the way of the future, and in 1994 purchased my first Apple computer and began learning to do it myself. My first few fonts were created from my hand-lettering by Comicraft. From that, I learned to design my own fonts, and over the next ten years developed over a hundred of them. I use them exclusively, they’re not for sale. From 1994 to 2004 my workload gradually shifted from all hand-lettering to nearly all digital lettering, and I haven’t lettered a commercial comic by hand in quite a few years now. There’s no call for it, and I’m happy doing it digitally.
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?
TK: I read the story first, think about the overall style and any specific styles that might be needed for particular characters or narrative elements. For a series or long-form work, I generally do some samples to show to the rest of the creative team for feedback, making changes as requested if something doesn’t work for them. I have a few standard styles that I tend to stick with, and only add special styles when they are really needed and called for. Simple is better, and easier to read.
CBY: From a letterer’s perspective, which qualities do you most want to see in your collaborators to lead to a successful collaboration?
TK: Communication is key, especially between the writer, artists, editor, and letterer to be sure everyone is on the same page, literally, and in agreement. Understanding how comics work and letting the art and writing do just their part of the job is helpful, leaving space for lettering is important, and turning in work on deadline makes everyone’s life easier.
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?
TK: I never had much of an issue with that kind of injury, fortunately. I think holding my wrist as straight as possible helped. I’m left-handed, and in later years developed some mild arthritis in the left hand that made lettering harder, but then I was transitioning to digital, so that worked out okay for me. When I learned to letter digitally, I always used the mouse with my right hand to balance that.
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?
TK: The number one letterer on that list is Ira Schnapp. He designed logos, house ads and cover lettering for DC from the early 1940s to the late 1960s, and received only two story lettering credits at the end of his career. My blog is full of articles about his work, which I’ve catalogued extensively. I’m currently doing the same thing for my favorite letterer, Gaspar Saladino. He, at least, was known and credited in the second half of his career. Many other fine letterers remain unknown or nearly so, as they were never credited. I hope to correct some of that in my next book.
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?
TK: My problem with this question is that I don’t see or read many new comics now. Almost none. Letterers I admire who I believe are still working include Tom Orzechowski, Clem Robins, John Workman, Janice Chiang and Ken Bruzenak, all from my generation. Plenty of good ones after that too, but those have been around the longest.
CBY: Which of the comics that you lettered are you most proud of or means the most to you and why?
TK: My run on The Sandman is a favorite. Working with Neil Gaiman was perhaps the best experience in my career. We liked many of the same themes and I think he brought out the best in me. We did fine things on stories I still like revisiting. Other projects with Neil were fun too. I also greatly enjoyed working with Alan Moore on America’s Best Comics and other series, and my run on Fables with Bill Willingham for DC is perhaps the longest and best of the continuing series after that. Early on, working on Starstruck with Michael Wm. Kaluta and Elaine Lee was a fine experience that pushed me to do my best work. There have been many comics jobs I liked and am happy with, as well as some I didn’t like so much, but in 45 years that’s bound to be the case.
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?
TK: I don’t think I’m a good judge of my own growth, that’s best decided by others. I know that I don’t like looking at my earliest work now, but that’s true of many creators. One prevailing theme I’ve often heard since I started was that good lettering should go unnoticed, and be invisible to the reader. I’ve always disagreed with that. I feel lettering can enhance the comics reading experience, and at times can take the spotlight and be appreciated without detracting from the story, just as fine writing and art can.
CBY: If you were the curator for a comics museum, which 3 books do you want to make absolutely sure are included?
TK: Only three? An impossible choice!
CBY: What current projects are you working on that CBY readers should pick up?
TK: Echolands by J. H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, with colors by Dave Stewart, is the only one coming out at present.
CBY: What’s your favorite comfort food?
TK: Only one? An impossible choice!
CBY: Thank you very much! Be sure to check out Todd's website HERE.
TK: You’re welcome.