Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Aardvark Comment: Todd Klein (yes, THAT Todd Klein...)

Hi Everybody!

Dave's calling on Thursday, but we're NOT doing Please Hold. Since the only question anybody is gonna send in is "What the hell happened on The Strange Death of Alex Raymond?" we're doing a little something I like to call The Bizarre Autopsy of The Strange Death of Alex Raymond: What Went Wrong, AND HOW!

Heritage has the cover for issue #30, and some glamourpuss art too, NEW ADDITION: Strange Death of Alex Raymond preliminary sketches by Dave.

And the buttons go bye-bye: The Red State Button and The Blue State Button

Here's some fun for Everybody:
Mail there, or just Fax: 519 576 0955. Or email me at momentofcerebus@gmail.com and I'll take care of it. 

So, got a Fax from Dave:

Dave Sim is the creator of Cerebus the Aardvark, which ran for three hundred issues from December 1977 to March 2004 (and is available digitally here.) His latest project is the ongoing Cerebus in Hell? (Daily strips are posted here, and the next #1 is Attractive Cousins (available at the end of July),  Batvark PENIS! or the "Censored for Grandma" variant: Batvark XXXXX! are currently available for order from your local Comic Book Store. And if you want a copy of Vark Wars: Walt's Empire Strikes Back signed by Dave & Me, details at the link.) And every Friday he posts a video "update".

Dave also sent the original fax from Mr. Klein:

Did ya catch that bit at the end of Dave's fax to me?

Yeah, I had to forward the fax to Mr. Klein. I said:
Hello Mr. Klein, sir,

I'm Matt Dow, the Interim Editor at A Moment of Cerebus, http://momentofcerebus.blogspot.com/ .

Dave Sim has asked me to relay a fax to you (attached.)

As you can see, he's hoping to run a dialogue between the two of you on AMOC. If you're amicable, I would need a short biographical description of you, and a photo you would want me to run.

Thank you,
Matt Dow
And Mr. Klein wrote back:
Hi Matt,

I thought I would type out Dave’s faxed comments and insert comments of my own, I hope that will work for you.

Hi Todd! Thanks for including me in your book. I don’t get included a lot of places anymore. I realize your time is at a premium, so we’ll try and keep our back-and-forth “short and sweet.”

Thanks, Dave. I’m a long-time admirer of your lettering on Cerebus. My book is titled “The Art and History of Lettering Comics,” from Abrams Comicarts, and is expected to be released in the fall of 2021. I can’t imagine a book on this subject without a few examples of your fine lettering, but it’s a large topic and my space is limited. I’m very interested to see examples from your fans that they feel are your best lettered pages, let’s say two or three per person. Hopefully we can come to a consensus from those examples over the next few weeks.

There are many interesting idiosyncrasies for different letterers and cartoonist letterers. One of the most interesting for me is Winsor McCay, who was probably the most meticulous cartoonist in terms of compositional consistency and detail. But when it came to his lettering, he had this weird habit of underestimating how much space he needed for the words in a caption or word balloon and would end up just lettering the end of the caption or spoken text up the side of the caption or balloon. His OCD detail just seemed to stop where the illustration stopped and switched to “close enough for government work" on his lettering.

Dave, I have long thought much the same. My theory is that, like some artists I’ve worked with, he wanted the lettering and the enclosing balloon and caption shapes to take as little space as possible to leave as much of the page for art as possible. Not only is his lettering very small proportionally to the art, it’s usually very narrow and condensed. The balloon shapes seem to be drawn as close to the letters as he could get them. Of course, you have to remember that McCay’s original art was very large, much larger than comics art today, so as he saw the lettering it may have looked fine. While McCay often seemed to begrudge space for lettering, there were a few among his many comic strips where it instead became the focus of the story. I’ve featured those in my book.

Something I noticed in the latest issue of COMICS REVUE (nice logo you did for them, by the way) is that Milt Caniff, if he had three connected word balloons for a character would still have a balloon tail on all three balloons. I think he was the only guy to do this. All the rest of us are thinking, well, if the three balloons are connected, it’s implied that only one balloon tail is needed. Basic visual grammar. But not Milt Caniff.

One thing readers will learn from my book is that from 1936 to 1977 all the lettering on Milt Caniff’s strips TERRY AND THE PIRATES and STEVE CANYON was done by Milt’s friend and studio-mate Frank Engli. Some of the styles that became standard in the 1940s and later, including the use of a wedge-tipped pen to create a thick and thin variation in the letters, and the styles of word balloon and thought balloon shapes, came from Engli. He is practically unknown and under-appreciated, something I hope to address. Engli was also a good artist and produced a few short-lived strips on his own like ROCKY THE STONE-AGE KID in the early 1940s that are worth seeking out. As to having multiple tails in connected balloons, I hadn’t noticed that one! As you say, most letterers don’t follow that idea, usually, including me.

I used to argue with Will Eisner who maintained that you can’t break up a sentence over multiple word balloons. To me, that was method-acting. If someone pauses in the middle of a sentence or has a half-beat between words, that implies uncertainty, hesitancy that’s barely perceptible. And you have to decide how far apart the balloons are, implying the length of the pause.

I agree with you on all this, though like many things it can be overdone. One convention of comics lettering some writers don’t understand is the difference between a double-dash and an ellipsis (three dots), which I feel represent two different kinds of pauses in speech. The double-dash (which came from old typewritten scripts as the only way to show a long or em-dash) suggests an interruption in speech caused by shock and surprise, something that happens to the speaker, or a sudden change of thought. An ellipsis is a longer pause created by the speaker talking slowly, stopping to think or choose his words carefully. It’s the difference between:
“What? No--I didn’t kill him!” and “I never drink…wine.”

Any eccentricities come to you top of mind having studied everyone so closely for your book?

Every letterer starts out trying his best to conform to a standard style he admires or has been told to emulate, and every letterer worth his salt eventually develops a personal style that differs from that model. It’s part of the process. It’s hard to give examples without showing visuals, but you’ll find them throughout my book. Today’s digital lettering side-steps a lot of that, as many letterers are using the same exact fonts, and their work is less distinctive, but among hand-letterers, every one has unique style points.

Matt, attached are a recent photo and brief bio which you can cut as needed. Please send me a link when this goes online. Thanks.

THE Todd Klein
Todd Klein’s comics career began in 1977 when he was hired to work in the DC Comics production department. During ten years on staff there, Todd tried many kinds of freelance work including writing (TALES OF THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS, THE OMEGA MEN), inking and coloring, but found lettering suited him best, and developed a freelance career as a letterer and logo designer. Todd learned from and was inspired by the work of Gaspar Saladino, John Workman, John Costanza, Tom Orzechowski, and other letterers then working in comics. After leaving staff in 1987, Todd continued to work mainly for DC, but also for Marvel, Dark Horse, Disney, Gladstone, Image and many other companies, doing lettering and logo designs. Through the years he’s lettered over 65,000 comics pages and covers and designed over 800 logos. Todd has been presented with 16 Eisner Awards for Best Lettering, as well as 8 Harvey Awards and other honors. Recent projects include SANDMAN OVERTURE with Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III, STARSTRUCK with Elaine Lee and Michael Wm. Kaluta, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN with Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, and many other projects for Vertigo/DC Comics. You can learn more at his website: kleinletters.com.
Now, before EVERYBODY starts shouting their "picks" of the TWO or (possibly, if necessary,) three "best" pages of Dave's lettering. As the Head Honcho Man I get to put my two cents out there first:

If it were ME, and ONLY ME picking, and I only had TWO (or if absolutely necessary, but try to reign it in a bit) three pages to work with, I'd choose as my #1 pick:
Page 106 of Latter Days.

I mean, that was the first page that popped into my head when I read Dave's fax.

(It's a hard choice. We're talking about 6000+ pages of art. If you were to lay out all 300 issues, and turn on a fan and let it blow them open randomly, then threw a dart, the odds are pretty good you'd hit a panel with some amazing lettering.)

And then a montage of balloons from various pages that show off Dave's lettering abilities. Stuff like:

But, those are pages where the lettering is just a PART of the overall page design. The lettering SERVES the story (as it should). How about three pages that are ALL lettering, and the lettering TELLS the story?

Like these three pages from Latter Days:
Page 153
Page 154
Page 155

This is from an eighteen page sequence that's (mostly) just black panels with lettering. And the lettering does ALL the heavy lifting...

OR or: I'd just run these two images:
A Contract With God and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner
Will Eisner's A Contract With God

Dave and Ger's tribute to Will.
I recently re-read A Contract With God, and when I got to Will's page, I thought, "Gee, I remember this being more melodramatic..." Turns out I was mentally picturing Dave and Ger's version. I mean, it's full blown "William Shatner as Captain Kirk playing-to-the-cheap-seats" melodrama (I saw a documentary where Shatner talked about his theatrical training, and his Kirk makes a lot more sense if you picture him performing on stage at a crowded theater.), but still really effective.

Okay, NOW you guys can go nuts in the comments... (And REMEMBER: TWO or (possibly, if you ABSOLUTELY can't keep it that limited,) three pages.)

Next Time: Hobbs. Cerebus. Hell?


Delwyn Klassen said...

I agree on the 'WHOA' page; one of the ones that made me laugh out loud and 'showed while telling', which is unusual for most (almost all?) comicbooks. For variety of styles or speaking, any Thatcher/Harrison/Richard page for intonations or barkeep-Cerebus arguing with himself (especially in Rick's Story). The opening pages of Pluto and Squinteye I like, but more for mimicry recognition, as are many of the other possible choices in Guys. The sermon pages from Minds (Jupiter) ... so many possibilities. OH! And the Thud Thud Thud rain page from The Last Day. Depends on how Mr. Klein wants to fit it to the text: stylistic tendencies vs innovations.

Michael Grabowski said...

Dave's comment and Todd's agreement about the Nemo lettering makes me laugh. I once posted a comment, either on the really old Comics Journal messageboard or to a TCJ.com article with a similar dim view of McKay's seemingly careless approach to lettering. For me, it makes reading that strip at anything less than Maresca-size very difficult. It's still annoying in supersize mode. The replies, including one from Jeet Heer IIRC, basically disagreed with me completely, claiming that the lettering made perfect artistic sense and wasn't a problem at all. It's not a suprise to see Dave take the view that he takes; it's refreshing to see Klein agree.

Steve Peters said...

Pages 8 and 9 of Book 11 (Guys).

Anonymous said...

I vote Guys page 328 and Latter Days page 106.


Eddie said...

Not sure if Mr. Klein wishes to include this excerpt anywhere from Dave's GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING:

"One of the most common mistakes I see in the samples that are sent to me, or which artists show me at signings and conventions, involves layout and lettering. Put very simply, nothing looks more amateurish than lettering which butts up against the border of a word balloon or a caption. Usually this is a result of putting the word balloons in after the pencilling stage and the lettering after the word balloons. The lettering can’t “breathe” that way, and the result is storytelling that is very hard on the eyes.

It is for this reason that I recommend that everything be put on the page at the outset; you have to do very light pencil roughs of the drawings, you have to letter the dialogue and captions approximately the size that they are going to be in the finished work, and you have to put in the balloons and the caption boxes making sure to leave space between the lettering and the balloons or caption boxes — the more space the better....

This became such a recurrent problem and the cartoonists who were sending me their work usually ignored what I was saying so what I did, starting very recently, was to shoot a photocopy of one of the pages from their book, whiting out the lettering, then shooting an 80% photocopy of the same page and cutting out the lettering and pasting it into place to show them the difference that a halo of white space between the lettering and the word balloon could make."

Anonymous said...

---This is the most excited I've been about a post on AMOC in a long time! I'm going to have to pull out my copy of Rick's Story (or maybe Guys) to find the image I'm thinking of. In the meantime, when I think of letterers, besides Dave Sim and Todd Klein, Tom Orzechowski comes to mind, same with John Workman and that could be it aside from Ben Oda. And the him not because I can think of his lettering off hand but just because I saw his credits on so many comics over the years though no insult is intended, I'm sure some would say lettering should be nondescript.

---Dave Sim's genius shone in his lettering, particularly in the 2nd half of Cerebus. It was great before, but became classic in Guys/Ricks Story and of course, the all black stairway scene above.

---While examples above are good, I'd not do Dave's take on Eisner. That book has its own reputation, this should be some work from Dave's magnum opus. On top of that, while a powerful recreation; it's just that, Cerebus is original and Dave's work on it stunning and visionary.


A Fake Name

Anonymous said...

Wuffa wuffa wuffa, from issue 44.

Anonymous said...

Also, "she had an -eyebrow- and a --Mustache--" and "She's a (|)SLUT" somewhere at the end of Guys. It's hard to pick a page, genius is sprinkled everywhere. Like someone mentioned, all the mimic lettering in Guys is also pretty awesome - except for Rick Veitch's which he did himself!


Todd Klein said...

Thanks for the suggestions, all, keep them coming. Page 106 of Latter Days is my favorite so far. The all black lettering-only pages are great, but I would prefer examples that include art. And I agree that the Eisner homage pages are impressive, but I'm looking for a variety of styles and for something that's more essentially Dave.

Dave Kopperman said...

I second all those choices (and actually included the sequence from the darkened sanctuary in my most recent comics lecture, specifically about the function of panels in storytelling). I'd also add the prayer sequence from "The Last Day", with the rain falling on the window. Genius.

Jason T said...

Some great suggestions here. Hard to limit them to two! My suggestion: Rick's Story, pg 101 (lettering in through and around a beer glass - a great visual representation of drunkeness). I also second the suggestion for 'rain hitting the window' lettering from The Last Day (pg. 71 especially)

Anonymous said...

Another one I love is Guys page 304, with the thought balloon 'Drung Cerbiss' having his OWN thought balloons and fighting against Cerebus' other thoughts.

But Seriously, as stated above, Last Day page 71. Wow.


Tony Dunlop said...

No input on the lettering, but I'm experiencing quite a coincidence; I'm up to the "Os" in my great comic collection reread. I'm about to finish "Omaha the Cat Dancer," and up next are the two issues I happen to own of DC's "Omega Men" from 1985, written by - wait for it - one Todd Klein!

Comic Art Metaphysics, anyone?

Jeff said...

I would say any page featuring Mrs. Snatcher. The way Dave lettered her speech absolutely *nailed* Thatcher's actual tones and inflections. The absolute height of his genius. The hopping up 100 (or however many) steps in pitch black pages were brilliant.

Also, when Cerebus meets Prince Mick & Prince Keef on the mountainside with all of the carved "demon 'eads an' skuws" and offers to give them all of his gold and Keefer from inside the carriage says,"Oy should like to boy drogs wi' moy 'alf."

My two cents' worth.

Anonymous said...

This was difficult, and these are more than two pages but I think each offer some stunning lettering and page composition to consider:

GUYS page 304. Different parts of Cerebus mind quarreling with drunk "scodge" Cerebus.

GUYS pages 312-313 for more of this.

GUYS page 324, Cerebus ruminates on Bear while shoveling snow.

GUYS page 329, "...no sleeping with ugly women..." that someone mentioned above.

RICK'S STORY pages 148-149 Cerebus contemplating the Black Pit, drunken and crazy thoughts going back and forth.

In each of the above Dave manages to depict a mind breaking down, struggling with itself in very inventive ways, from the shapes and actions of the balloons and the way the words and letters shift within, a tour de force of comics lettering and balloon placement. Stylized lettering not just as different voices from one character but the words/balloons doing the acting as well.

I'd never seen lettering like this before, and haven't seen it since.

A quick skim through some of these pages and the examples listed above and Dave could easily have an entire chapter (perhaps even a small book) dedicated just to his lettering skill!

Any of the above pages are my picks and if Mr. Klein doesn't select any of them, at least he'll see more examples of Dave Sim's talent and skill at work.


A Fake Name

Anonymous said...

How about some of the "Going Home" Maury Noble monologue pages, like pages 253 and 262?

Also, page 345 for the "Aphloo!" "Honk" "Dumbuddy! Gad Derebud Ged adudder bed sheed ub eer SNIFFF Pleeade!"


James Hunsdale-Loh said...

Sadly I'm between homes, resulting in my Cerebus collection currently being in boxes. I think that a page that also featured Dave's characters and Gerhard's backgrounds would be the most beneficial, and perhaps something from later in the series. I imagine Todd's book is going to have significant reach, and it would be nice if the examples of Cerebus included reassured the reader that:

1.) the art is incredible.
2.) you are looking at one of the greatest letterers the medium has ever known.
3.) it's worth reading the book past Church & State, because the whole damn thing is amazing.

For this reason, I'd recommend any two pages (throw a dart, as was suggested in the post) from Guys or The Last Day.

Jeff said...

James H-L: Yes, absolutely. The entire 6,000 and some-odd pages are all well-worth reading because it is (as many people who don't hate Dave, and even some who do, have written):

It is *the* best example of a story well-told by sequential writing and art. By *one* guy.

Oh, yeah, and the other, brilliant, guy. AND, if you pay very close attention, you'll find out how the other, brilliant, guy not only sorta made a name for himself in the comics field as *the* best at what he did and still does, but also was very good at sneaking in stuff in the backgrounds that even Dave didn't catch.

But, I did. Some of them. Most of them.

Although, the sneaky, brilliant, guy might disagree with me on that, to some extent.

Jeff Seiler said...

And, oh btw, b/c this cannot be repeated often enough (and I will say it or write it OUT LOUD), that other, brilliant, guy who worked diligently on "Cerebus" (in multiple capacities) for 20+ years, is, ALWAYS (no matter where you are or what the occasion is), THE nicest guy in the room. Bar none. Even in bar rooms.

He is nice, to a fault, as his equally nice significant other, Shelley, occasionally reminds him.

Even when you piss off Ger, by doing something stupid, which I have done on a coupla occasions, he's at the least, polite. "Aw' jeez, Jeff!" is the worst I have received.

On non-such occasions, a big smile and hearty and heart-felt handshake and "hey, how ya doin'?" is the usual greeting. Plus, remarkable generosity.

If you are an outspoken "Cerebus" fan or a fan of truly remarkable line art and you have not yet met Ger in person, put it, at the very least, on your bucket list. You will walk away two feet off of the ground.

He TRULY is *that* great of a guy. Not a Bear kinda Guy, or a Marty kinda Guy, or a Mick or Keef kinda Guy, or a roll-playing kinda Guy, or a Beatles spoof kinda Guy, or any of the others.

No, Ger is a stand-up, nice, friendly, ya wanna be best friends with him from day one, forever, kinda guy. When you meet him, if you're lucky, once or twice in a lifetime, you will know that you have been blessed to meet a very special person.

His personality buoys you up; his intelligence is wicked smart, but he keeps it in check (unless you engage him enough to entice him to roll it out [or, gently, roll his eyes], and, then, boy, oh boy). His generosity is, in my (admittedly) limited experience with comics pros, nearly unexcelled (although Sim has been remarkably generous to both Ger and me, over the years).

And, if you're smart, you'll try to befriend Ger, and, then, you'll try not to piss him off too often as you try to retain him as a friend.

Because, kind, polite, nice, gentle, funny, cool (way cool), talented, forgiving friends only come about once or twice in your lifetime. I am blessed to know four such, and there is no ranking of them. Well, sorta, kinda:

Ger remains at #3 on my list behind #1, Dave Sim, and #2, Paul Chara. But, they're neck-and-neck.

If you ever have a chance to meet Ger at a convention, or wherever, Dan't pass it up. You get to meet and greet for free, you get nice conversation, and you always get an autograph (and maybe a sketch) for free.

Okay, this is me (not shilling for Ger, because I don't get even a ha'penny, let alone a shilling), signing off.

Jeff said...

I should have added above, the best sequential comic book writing was by Dave. Dickens was pretty good at sequential storytelling, but without his own art. I'm told by Dave that Dostoevsky was not exactly an amateur at it, either.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Jesus fuck, Jeff.

Jeff Seiler said...

And, that means exactly what, Damian? If you're once again going after me, then you might want to explain what your comment means.

I mean, Hay-Zeus F-word, Damian.

Perhaps you don't like Ger. I think that there is a handful of haters who like to hate on genuinely nice guys. I get that. I don't like it, but I understand it.

But, Gerhard is quite literally one of the most difficult persons in the world to dislike or hate.

So, congratulations, D. You've joined a VERY exclusive club of Gerhard haters. I hope that, when you bring in the booze at your monthly meeting, you don't drink it all by yourself, since no one else showed up.

Anonymous said...

Could we move the "Gerhard Praise/Hate Debate" somewhere *else* please? THIS comments section was for great examples of Dave Sim lettering.

Case in point, Pages 98-99 and 102-103 of Minds, the Magus Doran terrifying speech about Tarim and the BLACK PIT.

Anonymous said...

If Todd is still checking the responses here:

Once again from GUYS pages: 58 & 59 and 62 & 63.

I know he is looking more for lettering and art but these pages are quite clever; you've got some snooty artiste types discussing their work atop a crowd of bar partrons' dialogue and then you've got parody versions of Popeye and Bluto entering the scene for their signing.

It's funny and inventive and once again Dave nails the parody versions voices perfectly along with some word balloon acting as well.


A Fake Name

Jeff said...

A Fake: Yeah, "Guys" was brilliant, in so many ways. Squinteye and Pluto arguing "offscreen" was so, so funny.

I need to do a reread of "Guys". For a while, a long while, it was unappreciated. But, I think it's the second funniest volume, after "High Society". Lately, thankfully, "Guys" has gained traction. I still need to proofread it, but the remastering has slowed down.

And the lettering in "Guys" was non pareil.