Revisiting DEATH

This weekend I’m working on relettering the DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING mini-series for it’s inclusion in the ABSOLUTE DEATH oversized hardcover, which I think has already been solicited in Previews. Normally not something DC or I would do, but Neil and the DC staffers involved felt the lettering on these issues reproduced so badly when enlarged it was worth having me redo it. Once DC agreed to the rate I wanted for that, I was happy to comply.

So, DC sends me art images in which the lettering has been removed, and I letter over them on the computer. The lettering won’t be exactly the same as the original, but I think will read much better. As my primary source, I’m using Neil’s original scripts. It’s not that simple, though. Editorial changes were made when I originally lettered them, such as changing British spellings to American ones, and decisions will have to be made about things like that: do we follow the printed book or the script? Other things have come to light as I work; small changes either the editor or I made to the script, mainly punctuation, to help reading flow, and also a few mistakes I made when lettering the first time that were never caught. And, I get to correct some of the wonkiest bits in the original lettering. Here are some examples.

This and all images © DC Comics.

Here’s a section of issue 2 page 7 as printed in the trade paperback. The two balloons in the upper panel were originally meant to be in the panel below, but they were covering so much of Death herself that DC Production moved them up to their present place. The balloon shape of the second balloon became distorted in the process, though, so I fixed it:


I also reworked some of the line breaks to make them fit the shape better, something I’ve been doing as I go where needed.


This section as printed from issue 2 page 6 shows some of the most problematic lettering, for a character called The Eremite. In his script, Neil directed: “The Eremite’s lettering style should be just a little smaller and skinnier than normal: try and give the impression that he always talks very, very quietly.” To get that, I made the letterforms very narrow, with thin strokes. Unfortunately, some of them were just beyond the limits of the printing process, and not helped by poor pencil clean-ups before being photostatted by DC.

Now, the rest of the issues used standard Klein lettering, for which I’ve long had computer fonts, but this style is one I’ve never needed to do on the computer until now. So, yesterday I spent about eight hours making new fonts: TKondensed in Roman, Italic and Bold Italic faces. I cut corners by only making characters I knew I needed: one alphabet instead of the two I usually do (so I can alternate for double letters, for instance), and just the punctuation Neil used. No numbers, no additional characters or punctuation. About 30 characters or glyphs for each of the three fonts. It still took me that long because I needed to kern all the combinations, a tedious process of comparing each glyph pair and adjusting the spacing between them. Each character added to a font increases the kerning time. For a full font, I probably spend about 12 hours on just that, so these three would have taken 36 hours. Makes 8 hours sound better, doesn’t it? I doubt I’ll ever use this font again, but if I do, I only need to add additional glyphs. The ones there now are correctly done.


Here’s a relettered section. Compare the first Eremite balloon, for instance, to the printed version. And, in the book itself, the lettering will all be much crisper than in these scans, where I have to downsample for the web.

Oh, and compare the boy’s speech in the last balloon. When lettering originally, I missed the first word, “Sure,” and it was never caught. Now it’ll be right. And, hopefully, Neil and the DC staff will proofread carefully to make sure any new errors I might have introduced will get fixed before I send in the final lettering files.

Back to work. (I was considering titling this post “Death warmed over.”)

17 thoughts on “Revisiting DEATH

  1. literatewench

    Hm. It may not be a fair comparison, but I really do agree with Tom Muller. I’m reminded of the comparison of records to tapes: the hiss of static was considered a warm, smoothing effect on the music by people who’d been listening to records; the lack of static caused a lot of people to consider tape audio quality too sharp and hard-edged. I think I’m feeling the same thing here, so some degree. The soft shading and visual static of the originals gives the comics an atmosphere that’s to some degree lost in the cleaned-up version.

    I had the same problems watching “Neverwhere” on some badly-done tapes from a friend versus years later when I actually got to see it studio quality: the awful quality of the first tapes meant the story came through better than when the tapes were clean. It’s a finny thing, but true.

  2. Bill Reinhold

    Nice you get to make these adjustments Todd. Looking at reprints of my work I often wish changes could have been made first.
    The comment about color does remind me of how often books are reprinted on better, or slicker paper than their original edition which then makes the colors look garish.
    I saw that Barry Windsor Smith posted on his website how bad Weapon X looked when reprinted on glossy paper-
    Hopefully DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING won’t have the same problem.

  3. Todd Post author

    Thanks, Bill. All the Absolute editions I’ve seen have looked good, color-wise, so I hope this one will, too.

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  6. Walterhisownself

    Hi Todd,

    Thanks for sharing this and providing a examples of the old and new. I’m looking forward to the Absolute Death edition. It’s been too long since I read the original collections.



  7. Adrian

    I’m sorry if this question has been asked before. I’ve googled it but can’t seem to find an answer. Why are some words in bold lettering in comic balloons? Is there meant to be an emphasis on that particular word? Is it for reasons of clarity? Or is it for some other reason?

  8. Martin Gray

    Indeed, designing a new font shows typical professionalism.

    It’s been so long since I read this book that I thought that was Zee in the car . . .

    I prefer the more muted colours too.

  9. charles yoakum

    I wonder where DC is getting the original files from that they’re recoloring. Especially since chris’ stuff has all that dry brush background and splatter texture that he used with Shade that scanned in differently than was on the originals. I’ve noticed, with my sandman absolutes, how crappy the original black plates are that DC is recoloring for the absolutes. i pulled out some of my Dringenberg originals to check the line work and realized that their scans just aren’t that great after only 15 years! I wish that they would put the word out on the fan press for those of us who have the art to send in new scans. I would have been happy to have busted out some new 600dpi scans of Sandman and Death pages for them…

  10. Todd Post author

    I don’t know for sure, but I think they used the original film. I don’t think anything is being recolored, except perhaps to fix mistakes. But I’m not in the loop on that. All new coloring would add a lot to the cost, though, and the original coloring by Steve Oliff was fine, in my book.

  11. Francesco

    Hello Todd,
    I just finished reading the Absolute Death, and I found it really wonderful. I’d never read Death before – I know, shame on me!

    I compared the new lettering to the old one and I have to say the new one easily wins. It’s been a wise decision to remake it and I’m really glad you did!

    I was wondering, since in this blog post you wrote about corrections… In the first page of issue #2, there’s what seems to be a mistake: in the caption Sexton says it’s the middle of June, while in the first issue it had been stated (twice) that it was July. Since it’s totally impossible that I’ve been the first to notice it in 16 years, I was wondering why it’s still there in the Absolute… or would a correction like this be up to Neil, to decide about? Or maybe, for “historical” reasons, it’s better to keep this kind of mistakes and just correct typos and spellings?

  12. Todd Post author

    That sort of change would have been up to Neil and the editor of the Absolute Edition. They may have felt it was grandfathered in and too late now to change it, I don’t know. Some changes I suggested (to restore Neil’s Britishisms in the original script) weren’t used for probably the same reason.

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