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LETTERING, CONTINUED: THE 1980s

Things looked grim in the comics market in the early 80s, but the birth of the Direct Market, a loose association of new fan-owned distributors like Phil Seuling, and a growing number of Comics Specialty Shops that sold mainly to fans of comics and related interests, helped turn things around. DC, Marvel, and most comics publishers of the time began gearing their product to this new market, which purchased comics outright, unlike the newsstands, which bought them on a "returnable" basis, meaning unsold copies could be returned for credit, cutting deeply into comics company profits.

Paul Levitz, Dick Giordano and others now in power positions at DC began spearheading new projects for the long-time comics fan, and the Direct Market, in two ways: higher quality in art and writing, and higher quality in printing and reproduction. One of the first Direct Market hits was CAMELOT 3000 by writer Mike W. Barr and British artist Brian Bolland, shown below. It paved the way for both more such high-quality product, and more openings for talent from Britain and other countries in the American market.

Camelot 3000 cover

Copyright ©DC Comics, Inc.

As this trend grew, DC Comics began to emerge from the slump, and new opportunities opened up for freelancers. I was getting more work as a letterer, and also a fair amount as a writer, keeping me very busy. On staff I was fortunate to handle the production work on many issues of the above book, as well as Alan Moore's SWAMP THING, Moore and Dave Gibbons' WATCHMEN, Frank Miller's RONIN and his THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. As a freelancer, I got to letter many interesting projects including an eye-opening issue of Moore's SWAMP THING…

Swamp Thing 22 page

Swamp Thing #22 ©DC Comics, Inc.

…and other fine books like Frank Miller's BATMAN: YEAR ONE, as well as my own scripts on THE OMEGA MEN. Comics were garnering lots of media attention and critical acclaim, and it was a great time to be in the thick of it! Freelance work for letterers had returned to earlier levels and exceeded it as DC began increasing their line.

In 1987, after ten years on staff in DC's Production Department, the last five or so as Assistant Production Manager, I finally decided to make the leap to full-time freelancing. I was tired of the staff job, and felt it was time to make the move. At home, I'd begun seeing my future wife, Ellen, and having her support gave me added impetus to go for it. As my freelance workload grew, I took on many new projects, including one in 1988 that was to lead to one of the most rewarding working relationships of my career.

More about lettering, comics and me: LETTERING CONTINUED.

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All text and images ©Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.

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