Creating A LETTERING SAMPLER

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All images © Todd Klein.

In June of 1993 I was getting ready for my first trip to the San Diego Comics Convention. I had applied for and somehow received a spot in Artists’ Alley (always hard to come by), and began to think about what I could bring to sell there. This piece, intended as both an entertaining bit of pro-hand-lettering propaganda and an example of what I could do in the way of different styles and types of lettering, was the result. I was already feeling the hot breath of computer lettering on the back of my neck, and in fact, I got my first Apple desktop computer a year and a half later and began learning to letter on it then, under the theory that learning to do it myself was the best way to stay in the lettering business long-term. And so it has proved to be.

I was a busy guy in 1993. My records show that I lettered 2500 pages, 277 covers and 22 logos that year, all by hand. I was well practiced, and on top of my skills, which was a good thing, as this print was lettered at printed size. I had no easy way to work larger than the 11 by 17 inch paper it was intended to fill. I don’t remember spending a lot of time thinking about what to write, only that I knew it should have lots of different styles and fill the page nicely. I’m sure I worked it all out in pencil before beginning to letter in ink, though. I know the whole hand versus computer lettering debate was on my mind, and that sparked the content. I seem to recall I did all the lettering in one afternoon.

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Here’s what the art looks like today. I lettered it on a piece of plate or smooth finish 2-ply Strathmore Bristol Board, possibly cut from a piece of DC art paper. When it was done, I trimmed the paper fairly close and taped it at the corners to another piece of 1-ply Bristol Board, centered, and inked in crop marks for the printer. In those pre-Mac days I had no way to print it myself, so I took it to a local print shop, making this the only one of my prints done with wet ink on an offset press. The rest have all been printed by me on a laser printer. The shop did a fine job, and i don’t recall it being very expensive.

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I’ve taken some close photos to show details. Here you can see one of two pieces of type I pasted onto the page after all the lettering was finished. It was actually created by me on an older computer I had then, a Kaypro, with a daisy-wheel printer for text printouts.

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It’s still sitting up in our storage room, a true dinosaur of the computer age. Haven’t turned it on in years. I bought it in 1984, choosing it instead of the very earliest Apple machines because I really just wanted it to type things like comics scripts, stories, letters, and so forth. The tiny screen was black, with text appearing in green, the memory of a goldfish, and the inconvenience of two floppy disk drives. No graphics capability at all. But, it served the purpose I bought it for, though by the end even my small text files were beginning to strain its capacity, and the closing latch on the upper disk drive had broken off. The only use I could put it to graphically was the production of captions that were meant to look like they were typewritten, such as the one on the print, and some here and there in SANDMAN and other comics.

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The other pasted-on piece was created with rub-down lettering made by Letraset. I think I did that once, then made Xerox copies and put them together on one page, then copied that again so it was all on one piece. Above that you can see some of the Pro-White paint I used to cover up mistakes and make corrections over. There’s a fair amount of it on the piece, not so much because I made a lot of mistakes I think, more that I was trying to finesse every little detail and make things as clean as possible. When newly applied, the paint would have been whiter, it darkens gradually with age, quicker than the paper.

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One of the trickiest bits was this balloon in the white-on-black style of Dream of the Endless. As I’ve written often before, when I hand-lettered those balloons in the comics, I did it the normal way, but using a slightly thicker line. Then the DC Production Department made reverse or negative photostats of the balloons and pasted them over what I had lettered, trimming and retouching around the edges as needed. (If you look at the printed books, especially the earlier ones, you can see that the process worked, but unevenly.) For this print I had no easy way to do that, so instead I pencilled the letters, then carefully traced outlines around them using my smallest Castell TG-1 technical drawing pen, going back to fill in the blacks just as carefully, so I wouldn’t mess up the letters. It worked, there’s no white paint there except for a little on the outer border in one spot.

The minimum order for anything at a print shop in those days was usually 500 copies, so that’s what I got. I didn’t expect to sell that many by any means, and while I did sell some in San Diego, I came home with plenty, too.

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Even some of the 25 I hand-colored to sell at a higher price. I’ve been gradually selling both versions ever since, and still have about 150, I think. Over the years I’ve colored additional batches, probably close to 100 by now. Both are for sale on my BUY STUFF page, if you should care to purchase one, though the colored ones are not always available; depends on when I have time to do them. I made back my initial investment long ago, so any sales are a happy bonus. And, years later, they gave me the idea for more prints, so now I have a growing catalog, always a good thing!

4 thoughts on “Creating A LETTERING SAMPLER

  1. Chris Bissette

    This one has pride of place on my wall – it’s visually stuning to look at and makes for a really interesting read! It’s actually my girlfriend’s favourite of all your prints, too, so it gets to go up in the living room.

    Always interesting to read about the prints. I can’t wait for the next one, especially now you’ve shown us the art.

  2. Jim Sizemore

    A visually compelling and well written post, Todd. You may want to consider sending this to the DRAWN! blog in Canada. Once they published my short “Speedball” essay I started getting an average of 1,000 views a day, which went on for almost a full week. (It’s now to 200 or so a day, beginning to drop back to my usual 25 or 30.)

  3. Pingback: Weekly Roundup: Grant Morrison, IP A-holes, Green Lantern and chopping up your writing. | Optimum Wound

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