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HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Comic book lettering involves putting in all the words on a comics page, as well as the balloons or borders around them, any signs, titles or sound effects, and sometimes panel borders. In the early days of newspaper comics, the writing, art and lettering were generally done by the same person, but as they became increasingly popular, appearing more frequently, comic strip creators began parceling out portions of their work to different people, perhaps hiring a writer to help with the story, and one or more art assistants to help with the art. Often an assistant was given the task of adding the lettering. By the time comic books came of age in the 1940s, the huge volume of work demanded by publishers had encouraged an assembly-line process, dividing the creation even further into: writer, penciller, letterer, inker, colorist, with any number of people assisting on these jobs. By the late 1940s (perhaps earlier) it became possible to make a living just lettering comic strips and comic books for artists, studios or companies that didn't have the time or desire to do it in-house. The career of freelance letterer was born, and by the 1950s, letterers such as Gaspar Saladino, Sam Rosen, and Ben Oda were as busy as could be lettering comics strips and pages for publishers like DC Comics, Marvel Comics and King Features. Note that I'll focus on DC in this account, as it's the company I'm most familiar with.

Gaspar sample

Gaspar Saladino lettering, early 1950s, ©DC Comics, Inc.

HOW I BEGAN

I entered the business in the summer of 1977, hired as a staff production worker by DC Comics. This entailed pasting together text pages (such as letter columns), putting logos, display lettering and type on covers, and doing art and lettering corrections on comics pages. Many production staffers added to their modest income with freelance work at home as a second job for the company. Staffers included colorists Bob LeRose and Anthony Tollin, writer Bob Rozakis, inker Steve Mitchell and letterer John Workman. (Pencillers generally made more freelancing full-time than they would have in the production department.) Over the next months and years I tried all those things, but found lettering suited me best. John Workman helped me get started with the basic tools and techniques, and I studied the work of Gaspar, Workman, Ben Oda, John Costanza, and other letterers whose pages crossed my desk. I also took note of fine lettering work at Marvel Comics by Tom Orzechowski, Jim Novak and Joe Rosen. I landed my first freelance lettering job in the fall of '77, and by late 1977 was entrusted with an entire issue: Firestorm #1. Looking at my early work now, I don't think I would have hired me, but DC gave me the chance to learn on the job, and gradually I got better.

Klein sample

Sample of my early lettering, 1978, ©DC Comics, Inc.

More on lettering, comics and me: LETTERING CONTINUED.

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

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