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CSBG Archive

365 Reasons to Love Comics #233

Before we begin: I got a nice e-mail from a fellow by the name of Richard Marcej (of comics like Action Figure, reviewed here by Greg Burgas), so I thought I’d link to his neat blog. It features, among other things, daily comic recollections via the “iCover;” a Dick Tracy sketchbook; and reviews of WKRP in Cincinatti. Simply put, all those things are awesome. Visit it. And buy stuff from Baboon Books.

Onwards! There are a plethora of fantastic letterers in comics. Today’s featured star is no exception. He’s one of my absolute favorites, always thinking outside the bubble. Sort of. (Archive.)


233. John Workman (Jr.)

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John Workman’s lettering work is anything but workmanlike. He’s probably my favorite letterer in the business, thanks to his unique style. Honestly, the entirety of this post could easily be “he’s great! The end!”

His style is easy to spot; there’s no one else out there who letters a comic like John Workman. The wide, bold letters; the open, airy balloons; the calculated disappearance of panel borders; and the way the words threaten to float out of the panels. Workman’s speech balloons traverse great distances and seem to give everything that’s said an added importance. I also dig the fact that he’s one of the few letterers in the business who will still work by hand, though he also uses a computer when he feels like it. The hand-lettering, however, gives everything a more artistic look, in my opinion.

Mr. Workman’s lettered a ton of comics, but his best work comes when he’s paired with the great writer/artist that is Walt Simonson. John’s letters always manage to enhance the raw fury and power of the epic, godly things Simonson draws. Their efforts together on Thor are amazing, with Workman’s letters appearing almost like Nordic runes. Everything he letters seems to have some kind of majesty unparalleled by other comics.

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On Orion, he brought the magic again, giving his mythologically-inclined lettering a slight sci-fi sheen. Combined with Simonson’s art once more, he turned up the Kirby intensity. It’s great stuff. As Elvis once said, “Simonson and Workman’s styles go together like peanut butter and bananas. Mmm.” The two have worked together on quite a few other projects, including the Fantastic Four, Elric, and more.

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Recently, he’s been paired with the mind-shatteringly genius artist Tommy Lee Edwards on books like The Question and Bullet Points. Workman’s letters really mesh with the art, here. Note how he opens things up even more by not putting points on the balloon tails, letting them end in unbounded white. His balloons are also more inflated than ever, yet it works. The bigger and bolder an artist’s work is, the better Workman’s lettering becomes.

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John’s also an artist and writer. I quite like his smooth, fine-lined art style. Most of the comics he’s drawn have been in the “good girl/bad girl/adults only” camp, for things like Heavy Metal, and in books like “Sindy” and “XXX Women.” He’s drawn some stuff for Dark Horse Presents, as well.

This Sindy cover is suitably zany:

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Nowadays, I think John’s mostly working on comics like Sonic the Hedgehog, though I see that he will reunite with Walt Simonson on tomorrow’s Superman #666. Can’t wait for that one!

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Why, John Workman? He’s great! The end.


Sorry. I’m just not seeing it. I’ve seen much better lettering for both Thor and the New Gods. The examples here just look like regular letters. I’ve always been partial to the ones that REALLY change the font style for the above examples. Not just slight variations that are imperceptable to the untrained eye.

Well unless Simonson were to letter his own work, workman would work.

I mostly associate him with his work on the Fantastic Four in the 80’s.

…I am stunned at the phillistinism on display in the first two comments. John Workman is easily the best letterer in comics, ever.

Perhaps the problem is that his style has been so influential that the incredibly ground-breaking things about his work now look common-place?

There’s always something wonderful about the Simonson/Workman team in the way comics are presented. Lettering goes from the so-called invisible art to an integral part of the comic itself and just as noticeable and important as the art itself.

I personally always think of him in connection with Byrne’s FF, but when you show panels of Simonson’s Thor, I do say to myself, “Oh, yeah! How could I have forgotten that?”

He does have a lovely style of calligraphy–anyone know if there are actual adjectives to apply to different lettering styles, or if we should make some up?

Just happened to come across this blog, and couldn’t resist adding my 2 cents on how fantastic John’s lettering is. I was a fan of his work as a kid, and am an even bigger one as an adult comics creator.

He’s lettered virtually everything I’ve drawn in comics for the past 15 years, and it’s become impossible to separate the two of us. Some editors aren’t too crazy about the “airy” balloons we give to certain stories. They say it “covers too much of the artwork”. What artwork? The lettering IS the artwork- Or at least part of it.

John and I insist that the lettering be done by hand on the board, as the pages I draw are obviously laid-out in a fashion that is driven by balloon placement. That’s one of the reasons I have to work from a full script.

We are in an era where many comics are written by bare-bone plot, and the lettering is slapped on later (as an almost afterthought) via a computer. I am proud to say that John and I try not to hide the lettering and make it invisible to the art. We instead embrace the comics form and try to enhance it with the use of lettering.

Look at not only John’s previous work with guys like Simonson- But also the use of other great lettering in the work of Howard Chaykin, Alex Toth, and Will Eisner.

Whatta coinky-dink- I posted two pages with Workman lettering and Edwards art last Friday night! (Sneaky way to get traffic, I know)

I can’t say it better than Edwards; Workman’s been one of the best there is for three decades now. I always love to see his lettering. It just has a pleasing look, always easy to read, and he doesn’t have to rely upon gimmicks like odd-shaped balloons and multiple font styles. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as the saying goes…

Dan (other Dan)

August 22, 2007 at 8:06 am

Has it been determined whether Simonson or Workman lettered those sound effects? There was some contention about it earlier.

Bill, how about covering Pat Brosseau of Hellboy fame? He (or she, any help?) does a great job complementing the series’ creepiness.

I have nothing against letterers, but dang.

It seems like you’re starting to scrape for ideas here. A guy’s gotta earn a living however he can, so I guess lettering comic books as an honest living can’t be laughed at, but is it really a reason to love comics?

Since you began covering letterers knew that Workman wouldn’t be too far behind. Too bad they’re a dying breed thanks to the computer.

an adjective for this kind of lettering?

how about Workman-like? ;-)

Lettering a reason to love comics? Absolutely. Workman is one of the finest and most distinct, and thank you for spotlighting him. (I’m surprised at the snark against this entry.)

With Comicraft fonts and computer lettering becoming the standard, I’ve begun to notice a sameness to lettering that is kind of sad (are all sound effects in the same font? They seem to be any more). Lettering is something that often is ignored and also isn’t often used to its full effect.

Workman is one of the great letterers.

However, is he the best ever? I’m not sure. Love him or hate him Dave Sim’s lettering is second to none and oozes personality, emotion, and meaning. It isn’t just using a nice font and cuting and pasting, it is using the shape, size and placement of the words to help tell the story.

That’s the kind of lettering we need more of.

It seems like you’re starting to scrape for ideas here. A guy’s gotta earn a living however he can, so I guess lettering comic books as an honest living can’t be laughed at, but is it really a reason to love comics?

Since day one of this column, I intended to do a few pieces on lettering. It’s an incredibly unappreciated art, and I want to appreciate it.

I also plan to look at colorists and inkers before the year (or perhaps even month) is out.

And it’s great to hear from Tommy Lee Edwards! He’s far more knowledgeable about this stuff than I am, obviously. I agree with everything you said, Tom.

“I also plan to look at colorists and inkers before the year (or perhaps even month) is out.”

Here, here. You don’t notice people like this, juyst take them for granted until it goes really wrong.

I can think of a certain inker who murdered some pages by one of my all time fave artists. I never like Janson inking Byrne or JrJr – but he looks good on Miller. Similarly certain names – Bob Wiacek springs to mind – do a bang up job.

Workman – I’d always associated that lettering with Simonson’s Thor somehow – the art and the lettering are linked in my mind so closely and are just right for each other.

John Workman is awesome. One of my favourites of his work was his lettering on the Englehart/Rogers Batman, where he increased the retro-Golden age feel of it within the caption boxes by putting the first letter of the first word in a circle, just like the Batman comics of the 1940s. It was an innovation that succeeding letterers on that series kept, too.

The first time I really noticed a letterer was with Workman– he lettered an issue of Wonder Woman in the 1970s with the Cheetah where he designed the balloons to have cheetah spots– which totally established the split personality of the Cheetah and her alter ego. (This was a decade before Sandman and Todd Klein perfecting it) It was a genius touch that was way better than the mediocre Jose Delbo artwork.

[…] (Creeper– words by Jason Hall, art by Cliff Chiang, letters by John Workman; Doom Patrol– words by John Arcudi, art by the late, great Seth Fisher, letters by the bodacious Bob Lappan.) […]

I personally love retro anything including retro fashion. Thanks for the post.

[…] …1963! Image’s kooky six-issue pastiche of classic 60s Marvel was the brainchild of the bearded one himself, Alan Moore! Surprising, I know, but true. He teamed up with a bunch of his ridiculously talented friends for this project– friends like Rick Veitch, Dave Gibbons, Steve Bissette, Chester Brown, John Totleben, Jim Valentino, John Workman, Don Simpson, and more! The series served as both a loving look and a biting satire on ’60s comics and culture. […]

I love John Workman too. If forced to choose between the many letterers I love, he’d be my favourite. I love lettering in and of itself and think it’s incredibly important to the art of comics. I’ve made a John Workman font by scanning some comics he lettered and pasting the letters into a font program, but out of respect for the man, I haven’t–and won’t–put it out there on the net. It’s a pale imitation of his lettering at best, but even so, there is only one John Workman.

I request that you do more letterer profiles! More! :-)

Hey…I think your blog automatically converts punctuation into its typographical form, like directed apostrophes and quotes, and em-dashes! Neat!


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