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 In my spare time I was drawing illustrations for fanzines, and in 1977 I put together a portfolio which included unpublished comics work and took it to Marvel and DC that summer to try to get into comics.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! 

From DC SPECIAL SERIES #10, April 1978, image © DC Comics

I learned the basics of lettering from fellow production staffer John Workman, whose lettering I already admired, and I studied the work of Gaspar Saladino, John Costanza, Ben Oda and others on whose lettering I was making corrections. In a few months I was doing freelance lettering at home in the evenings and on weekends. My tools of choice were the Faber-Castell TG-1 technical drawing pens that Workman recommended, though I did also use Speedball dip pens for some things.

From STARSTRUCK first published in HEAVY METAL 1982-83, © Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta

It took a few years for me to get comfortable with the craft of lettering. Starting in 1980, I began working on STARSTRUCK for Elaine Lee and Michael Kaluta, where my skills were pushed well beyond what I had done thus far, as the story called for lots of special lettering styles and effects. It was good training for my later work on THE SANDMAN for DC.

From THE SANDMAN #42, Oct 1992, image © DC Comics, original art courtesy of Heritage Auctions

I lettered a wide variety of projects and titles, and also did some writing for DC. In 1987, after ten years on staff, the second half as assistant production manager, I went freelance full time, and my lettering workload increased. My favorite of many projects was THE SANDMAN by Neil Gaiman and various artists. I loved Neil’s work, and he offered many challenges that I enjoyed taking on, including dozens of specific character voices and lettering styles. I think it’s fair to say that it’s my best-known work and made my reputation. I started winning awards for lettering it in 1992.

Amethyst, Princess of the Gem World logo ™ and © DC Comics, 1993
The Amazing Spider-Man logo ™ and © Marvel, 1994

While on staff at DC, I did freelance logos, house ads and cover lettering, following in the footsteps of my favorite letterer and role model Gaspar Saladino (and Ira Schnapp before him), and after becoming a full-time freelancer in 1987, I did all kinds of lettering work for Marvel, and soon other publishers like Dark Horse, Gladstone, Disney, Tundra, Image, Tekno, Malibu and more, though my main and most important client remained DC Comics.

From PROMETHEA #12, Feb 2001, America’s Best Comics, image © DC Comics

In 1998 I took on a new challenge, working with writer Alan Moore and a group of wonderful artists, lettering the America’s Best Comics line, including TOM STRONG, PROMETHEA, TOP 10 and TOMORROW STORIES, and designing the covers and collected editions. This again stretched my abilities and knowledge to new levels, and was a gratifying experience. The line lasted about eight years. I also lettered other comics for DC, Marvel and other clients, and that continues to the present day. Perhaps my next favorite project for DC was lettering FABLES and its many spin-offs from 2002 to 2024, and my favorite project elsewhere was lettering and design work for Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, which I worked on from 2002 to 2019 for ABC/DC, then Top Shelf.

It’s been a great life and a rewarding career. I wouldn’t trade it for any other. I’m proud to be a part of the comics community. While I’ve written about many letterers, there are always more that deserve attention. If you have a favorite letterer, let them know, and spread the word. They will appreciate it.

More about my work and career can be found on my website and blog.

Back to The Art and History of Lettering Comics.

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