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365 Reasons to Love Comics #232

The most thankless job in comics is probably that of the letterer. Do your job right, and no one will notice you. I, however, have an eye for lettering– it’s a hidden art. So for the next two or three days, we’ll look at some of comics’ best letterers. Up first: the man himself. (A-r-c-h-i-v-e.)

8/20/07

232. Todd Klein

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Todd Klein is the world’s foremost comic book letterer. I’m pretty sure he’s won every single Eisner Award for Lettering except one. They should just change it to the “Eisner Award for Todd Klein” and mail it to him every year, that’s how great he is. In terms of other comics awards for lettering, he’s won a good 90 to 95 percent of them. Ever.

Mr. Klein became entrenched in the comics industry thirty years ago, working in DC’s production department, and eventually landed a job as a letterer, honing his craft along the way. He’s been involved with everything from Firestorm to Detective Comics to Sandman to Kingdom Come to Promethea to, well, just about everything ever. He’s worked with all the best writers and artists, folks like Alan Moore, Don Rosa, J.H. Williams, Neil Gaiman, and Alex Ross.

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The scope of his work is hard to describe, considering he’s lettered everything. What I find most interesting about Todd Klein’s work is his sense of aesthetics, and his mastery of fonts. He’ll utilize a variety of typesets, usually within the same page, when each characters has their own distinctive font. When computer lettering became the name of the game, Klein leapt into it with everything he had and came out with almost godlike abilities.

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My absolute favorite lettering job he ever did was fairly recently, on Desolation Jones. The lettering was done in the style of old ’50s hand drawn word bubbles, only painstakingly structured on the computer. Yes, I said word “bubbles,” not “balloons,” because these babies burble up with multiple swoops and protrusions. The effect is gorgeous.

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I love how Todd seemingly invents a new way to letter a comic with every new project. His “default font” is great enough, but he never limits himself. From his font choice and creation to the way he creates page flow with balloon placement– everything he does adds to the magic of the page. He’s a wizard at an invisible art. He revolutionized and revitalized the lettering craft.

He’s also worked on roughly a million title logos, designing the “spikey” Spider-Man logo, the famed New Teen Titans headline, and many, many more. He designed the trade dress for the ABC line, and lettered all the books, as well.

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Todd Klein’s written the book on lettering– literally. He’s a true master of the art. For more, visit his website, which goes into massive detail about his history in comics, the craft of lettering, and all his other projects. It includes endless examples of his work. Check ‘em out!

Also, according to his blog, he just recently celebrated his wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, Mr. Klein!

Thoughts on Todd Klein’s work? And for the record, who are your favorite letterers?

22 Comments

Todd Klein is undoubtedly terrific & deserves all the kudos he gets, but my personal favorite letterer has always been John Costanza. Damn good artist, too.

Klein’s very good, but the best letter in modern comics (or more accurately, comics up until three years ago) is Dave Sim. Admittedly, Sim’s has the advantage of being to do the lettering as part of his art, but the difference that makes is at times astouding.

Janice Chiang, who worked on Impulse. I’d never seen her work before or since, but it still sticks with me.

Todd Klein?

TODD KLEIN?!

I kid. Todd Klein rocks, (although it would be great if the letterers couple of days brought as much controversy as strips did.)

Richard Starkings is a prety obvious choice. His work on Conan alone is a reason to love comics. And Tom Orzechowski(sp?) was the first letterer I ever knew by name, so I’d vote for him too.

The late great Tom Frame who lettered Judge Dredd’s weekly adventures for about seventeen years (as well as numerous other tales for 2000ad and other UK titles) his was the first lettering I could recognise at a glance. When I started reading US comics it was John Workman. Richard Starkings was another whose work is always pleasing to the eye.

Andy

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 21, 2007 at 3:46 am

What about Tom Or-something-ski?

He did over 200 issues of the Uncanny X-men, and Spawn.

I don’t know all his credits, but he’s pretty damn good.

I must have come across Klein’s work before but I never put a name with the style. Going by the samples alone I’m thinking this award is well worth it.

I never much followed letterers. I know Starkings but probably more for his ads and Hip Flask more than anything else. It really is a thankless job and the few that actually do something with it to make it special (instead of just putting words in boxes) can make a book 100 times better.

This leads me to one of MY favorite comic things. When diferent characters have their own baloon fonts or colors. Like Vision’s green and yellow robot font (a progression from his old very computerized letters). I like when the baloon alone gives you an idea about what the character is like. Thats when comics are working on more than one level.

I’ve been paying quite a bit more attention to this as I work on the monumental task of indexing every writer, artist, inker, letterer, colorist and editor for every comic ever involved in a crossover (now you see why the book’s not out yet…)

John Costanza is an excellent letterer that others have mentioned already, and I always think of ‘Swamp Thing’ whenever I see his lettering (he was the letterer during Alan Moore’s classic run.) Bob Lappan and Gaspar Saladino both deserve mad props for giving themselves that distinctive single moniker, elegantly lettered–“Gaspar” and “Lappan” both are brands among letterers. Bob Pinaha always has a distinctively “fun” style of lettering, which is probably just association with his Heckler run to me. Tom Orzechowski’s run on X-Men deserves respect, as does John Workman’s FF run–to this day, his lettering is intertwined with Byrne’s art in my mind. Richard Starkings, as I understand it, deserves a lot of respect as a pioneer in computer lettering…

But you have to give props to today’s pick, because Todd Klein’s run on Sandman is absolutely magnificent. His use of different fonts to represent different characters really gives a sense of “hearing” people speak in the series, and he put a lot of effort into designing the font for each character and putting their personality right into the letters. (And there are a lot of them, too. ISTR hearing something like 78 different fonts over the 75 issues of the series, including a font for each member of the Endless.)

Yep, Tom Orzechowski. I admit that I was first exposed to his work because I was a young X-Men fan, but I didn’t realize just important the letterer was to a comic until I ran into an issue that he didn’t letter. His style is clean, clear, and above all, readable, and isn’t that the goal?

Just wondering, though…how far gone do you have to be, as a comics fan, to have a favorite letterer? Note that I implicate myself here as well.

I don’t think it’s “being far gone”, I think it’s just being serious about the craft of comics. It’s like the way that a serious movie fan will notice lighting–you’re never going to be a celebrity for the way you light a set, but lighting seriously affects the film you see on-screen. Letterers and colorists both make major contributions, even though they’re not celebrities.

Todd Klein’s a terrific choice, of course. Heck, he’d qualify if only for the font he created for Delirium.

Bob Lappan is my favorite letterer. I can’t think of anyone else whose work is as pleasing to my eye.

Long time fan of Klein. I even had a letter published in Promethea praising his work. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

I dunno, I’m inclined to look down on the Starkings stuff ever since that period in the late ’90s when his company had overextended itself lettering every single Marvel book and every issue was riddled with typos. Conan’s been great, sure (despite an occasional fan letter bitching about the typewriter font), but for sheer consistency and dedication you can’t beat Todd Klein.

Ditto, ditto, ditto. Sandman would have been one of the greats of the genre anyway, but Klein really elevated it to a still-higher level.

Thanks for all the kind words, gang, you made my day. My favorite letterer has always been Gaspar Saladino, but you’ve named a lot of other good ones here, as well. And let’s not forget the late, great Bill Oakley.

Klein is great – how appropriate that your first image was from Sandman, where his lettering really did elevate an already great book.

Many of the other letterers listed here are pretty good, but I’m surprised that Artie Simek hasn’t been mentioned in the comments yet. He was great – I’ve been reading through the Essential Spider-man collections recently, and you can really see a difference on the issues he lettered. Definitely a reason to love comics.

I don’t wish to make it look like I’m hung up on Comic Strip Week, here, but Walt Kelly’s freewheeling creativity in Pogo‘s word balloons definitely deserves a mention in any discussion of lettering. From Wikipedia:

Another interesting facet of the comic strip were the unique speech balloons that several characters were drawn with. One character, Deacon Mushrat, an educated muskrat, spoke in speech balloons with decorated Gothic style lettering. The village mortician, Sarcophagas Macabre, a vulture, had square, black-framed speech balloons with fine script lettering, resembling funeral announcements. P.T. Bridgeport, a bear and showman/promoter of questionable repute, spoke with speech balloons in highly decorated type, resembling 19th century circus posters.

Yeah I don’t think people realize how much Klein added to The Sandman. I mean, Ramadan? Wow.

Hey Todd Klein!
Gaspar Saladino did great stuff on Arkham Asylum

Coincidentally, we are having a discussion about lettering over at Typophile, a typography forum, and Todd Klein and Gaspar Saladino names have come up as legends in the area of lettering.

I’m happy to say that Tom Orzechowski has become a friend of mine since he moved here to Portland. He also credits Gaspar Saladino as the best ever. Very interesting that Tom and Todd agree on this.

Klein is great, undeniably.

I’m also a huge fan of Orzechowski, who seemed to letter every X-book with flair and creativity.

But I really liked the letterer on Simonson’s Thor run. I want to say it was Workman (maybe Vince Workman?), but I don’t have any issues at hand to say for sure. It was really great lettering, though, especially the sound effects. BARAKAKATHOOM!

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