Category Archives: Creating Comics

GASPAR SALADINO and X-MEN #137

This and all images © Marvel

Recently letterer Tom Orzechowski sent me this image, writing:

This just came to me via a Facebook friend: an alternative treatment for the cover of UNCANNY X-MEN #137. He asked if it was my lettering. Of course, it’s Gaspar’s work. I imagine they scrapped his blurbs in order to allow for a larger use of the Byrne/Austin artwork. Anyway, 40 or so years later…something new. To me, anyway. And, maybe to you.

I think I might have seen this on Facebook also, but I can’t find the source.

ADDED: The source is Ron Zalme, a Marvel production artist at the time, and the image is from his files. He wrote about it on Facebook:

The cover art for X-MEN #137 had been commissioned and done without any preliminary design work… which was frequently the case… but Marvel had decided to run a contest that month… and that issue was supposed to be a special “double-sized” comic… and the X-Men logo was one of Marvel’s largest title logos to begin with. I did my best to cobble it all together… but Jim Shooter and the editors were appalled by the tiny bit of room left for the art! (Rightly so! … But I kind of intentionally pasted it up that way to… ummm… make the point…). Needless to say, changes were made. LOL They got rid of a bunch of cover copy to fit the art in a more traditional manner.

That version was replaced with the printed one:

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ABOUT MY BOOK

Image © Todd Klein 2024

If you’ve known me for a few years, you may have heard about a book I was writing for Abrams on lettering. I signed a contract for it in 2019. Don’t bother looking on Amazon, it’s not out. Here’s what happened.

In early 2018, I contacted Charles Kochman, editorial director of Abrams ComicArts, about a book I contributed to that a friend was trying to sell. I’d known Charlie for a many years, we worked together on projects at DC Comics, and then at Abrams. Kochman was not interested in my friend’s book, but on March 29, 2018 he wrote:

I do think there is a book that you could write that I could certainly sell — an Art of Lettering book, where you, Todd Klein — award-winning letterer and valued historian — takes the reader on a guided tour of lettering and the history of all of the great letterers and what they did and how they are different. There is no one more qualified to write that book, and because it was a general overview instead of a specific deep dive into one creator, I can easily sell that in the market.

We talked about that several times at conventions, and in the fall of 2019, when I was cutting back on my lettering workload while easing toward semi-retirement, I decided to take Kochman’s offer. I had already been writing about comics history and lettering on my blog for over ten years, and thought what I’d written there would be a good starting point. I put together an outline for “The Art and History of Lettering Comics,” and emailed it to him.

On November 14, 2019, Charlie wrote: 

I loved your proposal and added it to the agenda for our Editorial Meeting on Tuesday. I am confident everyone will agree with me that this is the perfect ComicArts book, and it would be an honor to work with you on it.

On November 19 he wrote:

Great reaction today at the editorial meeting today and the book got 100% support.  I could not be more grateful to you for the opportunity to work with you on this book.

Emails back and forth clarified a few things, and I started writing. In late February I received a contract for the book dated March 10, 2020. The book, as described in the contract, would run about 240 pages, have text of about 30,000 words, captions of about 5,000 words, and include about 200 images, which I would supply. I was also responsible for obtaining rights and permissions for the images. I would be paid $10,000 on signing of the contract, $10,000 on receipt of the first draft, and $10,000 on receipt of final files and manuscript. There was also a budget of $10,000 for rights and permissions, so $40,000 in all. I was quite happy with this deal. I asked Neil Gaiman if he would write an introduction, and he agreed. Suggested deadline for final material was August 1, 2020, but that was flexible. I received the $10K signing advance and $5K toward rights in May, another $10K in August for my first draft. I sent $5K to Alex Jay, who had been helping me with research on my blog for years, and was doing the same for the book, as well as being first reader. His notes and information were invaluable. 

In the real world, Covid was happening, and that seemed likely to postpone publication, but I moved ahead, finishing the first draft in May and sent it to Kochman, but he wasn’t able to read it right away. I knew it was a lot longer than the contract suggested, but Charlie had said not to worry about that. Even so, I went through the manuscript and pared it down as much as I could, taking the word count from about 79,000 words to about 56,000 words including captions and reducing the number of images from 350 to 262, resending it to Kochman on June 10, 2020. He promised to read it and get me notes soon, but suggested I work on rights and permissions in the meantime, which I did. 

That proved to be a bigger and more complicated job than I expected. I spent about five months on it between paid lettering jobs. Some rights holders were easy to work with, and in the case of artist friends, often gave me permission at no cost except a copy of the finished book, but dealings with relatives of deceased artists was sometimes more difficult and costly. A few rights holders could not be located or contacted. Some publishers wanted substantial payments for use of their property, while others were willing to give permission for copies of the finished book. Newspaper syndicates and agents asked for the highest fees, their job being to make as much money for their clients as possible. By September, 2020, I had spent about $7,700, and that was without images from DC Comics and Marvel Comics, which would make up more than half the images in the book as I had planned it. It was clear that rights to all the images I wanted to use would run well over my $10,000 budget. I stopped there, thinking I would get help negotiating the rest after the first draft was returned with notes. I had 55 signed license agreements.

Meanwhile, I was concerned that I hadn’t heard much from Kochman about my first draft. Charlie is a very busy man, not only as editorial director of Abrams Comicarts, but as hands-on editor for things like the popular “Wimpy Kid” book series by Jeff Kinney. In answer to an email from me, he wrote on August 5, 2020:

Apologies on the manuscript edits — I am almost done but I have been working toward my Wimpy Kid deadline which is this Friday and until then I have intermittent bandwidth. It’s in great shape and I am really loving it, so apologies for the delay.

Charlie also told me he thought I should add more material about the lettering/logos of Will Eisner, and also more of my own work. I got a similar apology on October 5, and another one on January 11, 2021. On October 28, 2021, a year and four months after sending the revised draft, Kochman wrote:

First, mea culpa. The delay has been on me, which in no way means that I am not still excited to do the book or that Abrams has lost interest. It’s strictly a bandwidth issue. Now doing two Wimpy Kid books a year, it’s hard, and a lot of books have suffered. Combined with the challenges of working from home, computer issues, a lack of a printer, etc., it’s been taking a lot longer for us to edit and route materials. The book is now scheduled for March 2023, which means we have until March to get the book done. And more time if needed, but that would be an ideal schedule. 

I had been making corrections and additions to the manuscript reflecting new research from Alex Jay and myself as well as what Kochman had suggested, and I offered to send Charlie a revised copy of the manuscript, which he agreed to. I sent it, marked “second draft” on November 3, 2021. A designer had been assigned to the book, and I first heard from him directly on November 18, 2021. He asked that I send him images for the first two chapters so he could do sample layouts, which I did. For some images I had cropped out just a few panels, or combined several comic strips into one image, and he asked for all the original full-size uncropped images. I never saw any design samples or heard from him after that.

On March 18, 2022, after more pleas for feedback, Charlie sent me his copy of the manuscript with notes, saying it was unfinished. There were extensive notes and copy edits for the first three chapters, almost none for the remaining twelve chapters. At the end, there was this:

Todd: This is AMAZING. Thank you. I learned so much.

Later requests for updates were not replied to. I got no further versions of his notes. I suggested assigning the book to another Abrams editor might get things moving, but that was also not replied to. I didn’t hear anything from Kochman until December, 2022, when he called me to ask if I’d be willing to letter a book he was working on with Mutts creator Patrick McDonnell. I was quite annoyed about not have his full notes yet for my book, but I love McDonnell’s work, and after seeing the script, agreed to letter the project, “The Super Hero’s Journey,” which I did mostly in January, 2023. It was great fun. Once again, Kochman told me he was working on notes for my book, and promised to have them by the end of January. That didn’t happen. I have not heard from Kochman since February 2023.

By March 2023, more than four years since I had begun, I had lost confidence my book would ever come out from Abrams, and I decided to publish it myself on my blog. Over the next ten months I converted my manuscript to a series of blog articles. At the same time, with no restrictions on length or number of images (rights and permissions were not an issue since I make no income from my blog), I expanded most of the material, added new images and research (with help from Alex Jay), and wrote quite a few completely new articles to fill out areas I had previously skimmed over to save space. In the end, I had 75 blog articles that would make up the bulk of my online book. I haven’t done a new word and image count, but it’s a lot higher than the version I sent to Abrams, maybe double the size. I gradually published those articles through 2023, two or three a week. Meanwhile, I set up a new page on my blog for the book, and went through everything again to proofread and make corrections. I contacted Neil Gaiman, who said he would still do the introduction, which he delivered this week.

I didn’t know if there would be any adverse reaction from Abrams or Charlie to this decision, but there were no comments from them to my blog articles as I published them. I’m not sure if they saw them. I felt if I was asked to return the $25K I’d received of my advance, I would. If Abrams still wanted to publish the book at some point, I’d be fine with that, but I was tired of waiting.

So, if you’ve read this long story, I’m happy to announce that my book is, as of today, published on my blog, link below. If you’ve already read the articles, at least now you can see how they’re intended to fit together into a complete book, and most have been updated at least a little since I published them. I welcome any comments or corrections, and I hope you’ll spread the word about my project. Those of you who supplied information, thanks for your patience! Friends and colleagues, thank you for your friendship and assistance! To everyone else, thanks for supporting me and my work. I hope you enjoy the book.

The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

Todd Klein – Letterer

Todd Klein at DC Comics, 1978, photo by Jack Adler

Todd George Klein was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on January 28, 1951. He feels silly writing about himself in the third person, and will stop here. I enjoyed drawing and writing as a child, and was encouraged by my parents and maternal grandfather, Rex Derr, who was an artist, sign painter and jewelry engraver in his spare time. He first showed me how to letter with Speedball pens and India ink. My earliest comics were BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS issues sent to me by a relative when I was about seven. Once I knew they existed, I badgered my parents to buy comics for me whenever I saw them, but it was my sorrow that I never lived within walking distance of a place that sold comics when I was growing up. I was a DC fan, with my favorite title being THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICAbut in 1963 I was given a few early issues of THE FANTASTIC FOUR by that same helpful relative, which changed my course to being a Marvel fan almost exclusively for about eight years. I remember enjoying tracing the logos and cover characters, thereby ruining many comics.

I decided to pursue an art career in high school after realizing it was my favorite subject, and attended the School of Visual Arts in New York for a year and a half, where my art history teacher was Burne Hogarth of the Tarzan comic strip fame. I was at the Kansas City Art Institute for one semester, then ran out of money and worked at a series of mundane jobs. At one, making installation manuals for air conditioners, I learned many production skills that would come in handy in comics. In my spare time I was drawing illustrations for fanzines, and in 1977 I put together a portfolio which included unpublished comics work and took it to Marvel and DC that summer to try to get into comics. I had no luck at Marvel, but at DC, production manager Jack Adler liked my portfolio enough to offer me a two-week job in his department to fill in for a vacationing staffer. After the two weeks were up, that person quit, and the position was offered to me. It was the luckiest break in my career. I couldn’t believe I was actually working in comics! 

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More 1980s Letterers Part 3

From MOONSHADOW #2, May 1985, Marvel, image © J.M. DeMatteis & Jon J. Muth

Continuing with a third and final batch of letterers who began in the 1980s. Kevin Nowlan is a comics artist revered for his appealing and individual style over the past five decades, and his lettering is equally appealing and individual. It’s based on the work of Gaspar Saladino, but even from the start he carried that style further into his own territory, as seen above. Nowlan didn’t do a lot of lettering, but when he did, it stood out from the crowd. The reproduction and size of this page from MOONSHADOW isn’t great, but Nowlan’s mixed case script captions and wavy balloons are still remarkably stylish.

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More 1980s Letterers Part 2

From JUSTICE #23, Sept 1988, image © Marvel

Continuing with more letterers who began in the 1980s, Michael Heisler first found work at Marvel in 1987, above is one of his earliest stories. The balloon letters are made with a wedge-tipped pen, probably the Marvel letterer favorite Hunt 107, and I like the organic and thick-bordered sound effects.

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