Category Archives: Creating Comics

John Workman Visits

WorkmanKleinYesterday we enjoyed a visit from John Workman, long-time letterer, artist and writer, and a friend since we first worked together in the DC Comics Production Department in 1977, where John helped me get started with lettering comics myself. John was brought down from his home in central New Jersey by another old friend, Ron Jordan, who took the picture above. We spent several hours reminiscing, talking about our careers, the people we worked with, and our lives inside and outside comics. A great time was had by all, including a pizza dinner on our screened porch with Ron, Ellen and the cats. Thanks to Ron for arranging this visit!

WorkmanArtHere’s John with a page of comics art he wrote, pencilled and inked for the story “Key Club” that appeared in STAR*REACH #2 dated 1975. I had already seen and enjoyed the story before I was hired by DC Comics, and I bought this page from John soon after we began working together in 1977. One of the many memories John shared yesterday, and one I’d never heard, is how the story came to be in that issue. John met a talented young artist at a convention in 1974, while he was still living in the state of Washington, and they were looking at each other’s work and comparing notes on ways to get into comics. The other artist mentioned he was working on a story for Mike Friedrich’s new independent comic STAR*REACH, the first issue of which had just come out, and suggested John submit a story to Friedrich too. John went home and produced “Key Club,” sent it off, and it was accepted, but John was quite surprised when it was published in the second issue of the book, alongside work by artists John admired like Neal Adams, Dick Giordano and Jim Starlin. Later, John learned the reason it was used so quickly: the story slated for that spot by the talented artist John met wasn’t finished in time. That artist was Dave Stevens, who never did finish the story intended for STAR*REACH.

John also recounted how his being hired by DC Comics in 1975 was due to his mumbling, a funny tale. John and his friend and fellow artist Bob Smith came to New York in 1975 looking to get work in comics. Larry Hama got them in the door at Marvel, and they managed to get an appointment with Gerry Conway, then an editor at DC. They had already met a few folks who worked at DC, and while they were in the reception area waiting, Bob Rozakis, one of those people, came by and asked who they were there to see. John mumbled “Conway,” and Bob replied, “Oh, he’s not busy, I’ll take you in.” As Workman and Smith followed Rozakis down the hall, John realized they were going PAST Conway’s office and a few minutes later, they were being introduced to Carmine Infantino, then the DC publisher, and an artistic hero of both visitors. John’s mumble had been heard as “Carmine,” and John said his knees were knocking, and he expected them to be quickly dismissed, but Carmine looked over their work, talked to them graciously, and told them John and Bob reminded him of himself and Frank Giacoia when those two friends were trying to get work in comics at the beginning of their careers in the late 1940s. Soon, Carmine was calling in other staffers, and before the visit ended, Bob Smith had inking work, and John had accepted a staff position as a Production Artist. “If it wasn’t for my mumbling,” John laughed, “who knows where I’d be today.”

It’s always great to see old friends like John, hope we can get together again soon.


THE ILLEGALISTS and why you should support it!

Illegalists1_01_colorImages © Stefan Vogel.

On November 16, 2013, I received an email from Stefan Vogel asking if I would be available to letter his self-funded comic, “The Illegalists.” He wrote,

Set in Paris 1911, against a backdrop of thieves, bohemians and anarchists; a struggling mechanic is forced into crime, and seeks vengeance on the Chief of Police, becoming France’s most dangerous and wanted man.

Stefan had co-written the script with Laura Pierce, was having the art done by Attila Futaki, and colored by Greg Guilhaumond, sample above.

Generally I don’t have time for over-the-transom jobs like this, but I liked the art samples Stefan sent, and asked him to send me the rest of the art he had ready, and the script. When I’d received them, and read everything, I was impressed. The writing and art were both excellent, the story was exciting, passionate and dramatic. It was a crime story, but one where the criminals have been so badly treated one can’t help sympathize with them when they decide to break the law. I told Stefan if he would meet my rate, I would letter the book.

Illegalists 1_01_ltrsOver two years later, the first half of the story is complete, the equivalent of three US comics, or one European album, all funded by Stefan out of his own pocket. He has decided to try to raise funds to finish the story and self-publish it through a Kickstarter. I sincerely recommend you have a look, watch the video, and consider joining the campaign. I think it’s an excellent book and deserves to be published. Here’s the Kickstarter and the video:

And if you decide to kick something in, please mention you heard about it here. Thanks!

Ray Alma and the DC Production Dept., 1986

DCReleases8-86Images © DC Comics, Inc.

Recently on Facebook this group caricature surfaced. It’s from DC RELEASES, a promotional flyer put out by the company, the August 1986 issue, and the caricature is by Ray Alma. I’m in there at the far right, though I had completely forgotten about the image. Artist Ray Alma was contacted, and he kindly gave me more information about this picture and others he did for the flyer. Ray wrote,

“Joe Orlando was my teacher at the School of Visual Arts and initially set me up with this (my very first professional gig). I was still in SVA, only in my third year, and it went a long way toward infusing me with confidence to keep at it and pursue my dream. I did illustrations for maybe ten or so of these DC RELEASES.

“In regard to getting the gig, Joe had set up a meeting to show Dick Giordano and Linda Robak my portfolio so they could make the final call on using me or not. So Joe tells me to bring my portfolio (to the DC offices) at 666 5th Avenue and we’ll all have lunch and discuss it. I was still a student, had never had an interview before, so I assumed that I was supposed to buy lunch for everyone. My plan was to take us to a nearby diner. It was all I could afford

“I get there, and Joe says he’s made reservations for us at the “Top of the Sixes,” (the posh restaurant at the building’s top floor). I almost fainted! I was a mess all through lunch. I had the cheapest thing on the menu. It wasn’t until Joe took out his corporate credit card at the end of the meal that I could relax. And then I was like, ‘Damn — I could’a had a GREAT meal if I’d known!’ I loved Joe, he was such a great teacher.

“For my caricature reference, I remember everyone being really nice as I came in to take polaroids. I tried looking for my polaroid reference shots from that time, but I don’t think I have them anymore.”

Thanks for the insight and great stories, Ray! Ray Alma has gone on to a long and successful career as an artist. You can read about him and see lots of his work on his website. Continue reading

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 7

LettSampKleinA Lettering Sampler © Todd Klein, 1993.

I arrived at my first San Diego Comic-Con in July of 1993 with this print to sell. It’s something of a diatribe in favor of hand lettering over type, but despite what the print says, I had been using computers for some time, just not for lettering. I’d worked with very primitive computers in a non-comics job in the early 1970s, and in 1984 bought a KayPro II primarily for writing. It had no graphics capability at all, but when I needed lettering that looked just like typing, I could print out and paste down type from it. I considered getting the first Apple Mac computer instead, but at the time didn’t think I would use it for graphics, and the KayPro was cheaper. Like other letterers, in the early 90s I’d been watching the development of comics fonts by David Cody Weiss, John Byrne and Richard Starkings with interest, and came to believe it was the wave of the future, and one I should be surfing myself. I met JG and Rich of Comicraft at that 1993 San DIego con, as well as other letterers like Bill Oakley, and discussions of computer fonts for lettering were rampant and sometimes heated. More on that later. Continue reading

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 6

ChrisEliopoulosMikeHeislerJonBabcockChris Eliopoulos, Michael Heisler and Jon Babcock, recent photos found online.

The gradually increasing presence of digital fonts on comics from many publishers was catching the attention of those who made their living hand lettering for the medium, and some responded by making fonts of their own. Image comics, particularly their WildStorm studio led by Jim Lee, were encouraging letterers to use fonts for their all-digital workflow by 1994. Marvel Comics, at first resistant to that idea, began following suit a few years later. In recent correspondence, Chris Eliopolous remembered:

My first font was made by someone else. My father knew this guy and he used Fontographer and made up a font based on my hand lettering. This was around 1991. I wasn’t totally happy with it, so I bought Fontographer and started playing with it myself. I eventually tweaked the font to something I could work with. Looking back now, it was absolutely horrible, but it worked well-enough. I think the first work I did on the computer was with WildStorm. Continue reading