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 AMERICA, but 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 In my spare time I was drawing illustrations for fanzines, and in 1977 I put together a portfolio which included unpublished comics work and took it to Marvel and DC that summer to try to get into comics.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!
Logo design in comics had always been a haphazard thing. A few publishers hired art directors who designed logos, but it was more common to have them created by artists or letterers or production staffers. In the 1980s, for the first time, larger comics publishers like Marvel and DC were willing to pay enough for a logo to make it possible for a freelance designer to make a living mainly doing logos as their contribution to comics, and a few did. My friend and fellow comics historian Alex Jay is a perfect example. We met some time in the 1980s when he and I were competing for logo work, and he was stiff competition, as his designs were powerful, creative, and original, like the memorable one above. Alex has put in countless hours of research assistance on this blog and on his own blog, Tenth Letter of the Alphabet, where more about the design process for his logos can be found, including a complete logo gallery.
I’ve long admired the lettering and logo design work of Jim Novak. When I started working at DC Comics in 1977, he was doing some of the best lettering at Marvel. We met once, briefly, at a convention, and I spoke to him briefly once on the phone, but I didn’t know him. I regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to do so. Jim passed in 2018, so there’s no longer any chance to change that. For this article I’m relying on several sources: Alex Jay’s blog, Jim’s interview in Comics Interview #1 (Feb 1983, Fictioneer Books), some photos from the files of David Anthony Kraft, a recent conversation with his wife Lidia, and a remembrance by Pat Brosseau, as well as insights I can draw from his work. The lettering on the page above is typical of that work: strong, wide letters made with a Hunt 107 wedge-tipped pen and I think the 107 was just pressed harder for bold emphasis. The style is similar to that of Gaspar Saladino, but somehow cleaner and more regular than that of the man Jim called “The Master.” It’s fairly large for the time, and takes up a lot of the page, but never interferes with the storytelling. Beautiful work.
When the first issue of Howard Chaykin’s AMERICAN FLAGG! was published in 1983, readers were startled and impressed by the amount and variety of lettering from newcomer Ken Bruzenak. Lettering professionals like myself were even more impressed! Ken was a newcomer to comics lettering, but not a newcomer to the world of comics.
A unique letterer in comics from the 1970s to the present is John Workman, whose distinctive letter shapes and style make his work stand out from the crowd. He’s perhaps best known for his many collaborations with writer/artist Walt Simonson, as on THOR, above, where large letters for Odin add to the drama, and John’s balloons, open at the panel borders, make a style statement, and leave more room for the art. John has also had a long but sporadic career as a writer/artist, as well as being the art director of Heavy Metal for a few years. We met in the DC Comics production department when I was hired in 1977, and have been friends since.