Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Aardvark Comment: More lettering fun with Todd Klein and Dave!

Hi, Everybody!

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

Cerebus in Hell: 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. Signed copies of Vark Wars: Walt's Empire Strikes Back (plenty of copies left.)

And here's the next round of 
Mail there, or just Fax: 519 576 0955. Or email me at momentofcerebus@gmail.com and I'll take care of it. 

Last time, we opened it up to you guys for your "picks". I'll run those after the latest from Dave and Mr. Klein:

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".

Mr. Klein responds:
Hi Matt,

Before I reply to Dave’s second fax, I’ve been looking through Guys and think these two pages are pretty amazing examples of his lettering:
Page 338 of Guys.
Guys page 304
 I’m not sure which pages these are in the collection, as I was looking through individual issues online. (I used to have all the collections but sold them a few years ago.)

I still like Latter Days page 106 also, but now I’m thinking I might go with these two, since they relate to each other. You might see what the fans say.

Okay, on to Dave’s second fax:

I’m sure we’ll all look forward to the full story behind some of these guys like Frank Engli. So Engli was a studio-mate not an employee?

Engli and Caniff and Bil Dwyer and Noel Sickles were artists who all worked for Columbus, Ohio newspapers in the late 1920s and became friends. When the Great Depression hit, they were all laid off and moved to New York looking for work. Engli was often doing lettering for the other three. Sickles was hired to draw Scorchy Smith and Caniff beganTerry and the Pirates in 1934, but Engli had taken a job with the Fleisher animation studio and didn’t have time to letter them. In 1936, Sickles and Caniff opened their own studio and hired Engli to letter for them full-time. Sickles got out of comic strips later that year, but of course Caniff stayed in for the rest of his life, and kept Engli as his letterer until Engli died in 1977. So, Caniff was both a friend and an employer.

It’s interesting getting glimpses of that — guys who ran their own flourishing businesses as retouchers and commercial artists and intersected tangentially with the comics field. I’m sorry Will isn’t alive to hear how the Abe Kanegson story came out.

Me too. Another close friend of Kanegson was Jules Feiffer, who was assisting on The Spirit when Kanegson was lettering it. He and Will both looked for Kanegson for a few years after he quit The Spirit but couldn’t find him. Kanegson had begun a new career as a musician and dancer. Feiffer ran into Kanegson in the late 1950s in Greenwich Village and he told me, “I was sorry that Abe, who I had learned so much from, discouraged contact. I think he was more comfortable with me as the Eisner office’s pip squeak and loudmouth.” Sadly, Kanegson was diagnosed with leukemia in 1960 and died in 1965.

There were people who liked my lettering. Gene Day did and got me to letter jobs for him. And then he turned in a job to Mike Friedrich at Star*Reach with my lettering on it and Mike had it re-lettered. Crushed again. What a precarious business! You think you’re in, you work to get in and then you’re out again.

I don’t know if I would have ever gotten into comics at all without landing a staff job in the DC Comics production department in 1977. I don’t think I would have stuck with it like you did. Salaries at DC were low, and almost everyone supplemented their income with some kind of freelance work. It allowed me to learn on the job, and being on the inside rather than the outside, DC editors were more willing to put up with my earliest and worst work until I got better.

I always envied the facility you professional guys had to make a comic-book page look like a comic-book page. Do you remember there being a magic moment when you “got it”? That’s what I always thought about seeing Tom’s word balloon in Media Five. He had a magic moment and he was “in.” Before long, his lettering was all over the place.

It’s funny you thought that about Tom’s early fanzine work. I thought it too when I saw his early work in Star*Reach, but Tom himself doesn’t like any of that early lettering and would put the beginning of when he “got it” a few years later, I think, when he was on X-Men. We all have different perceptions of our own work from what others see. My feeling of “getting it” was when I lettered Starstruck for Michael Kaluta and Elaine Lee starting in 1980. I’d been lettering for DC for about three years then, but Mike and Elaine really challenged me to step up and do all kinds of lettering I’d never tried. It was the precursor of my work for Sandman.

We discussed on the phone Walt Kelly’s P.T. Bridgeport character in Pogo. I mentioned Bill Payne who was my lettering mentor — a Viet Nam War draft dodger U.S. ex-pat — saying he thought P.T. Bridgeport was a “bridge too far” in lettering. Lettering shouldn’t call that much attention to itself. That seemed to me to be easy to say when you had that Professional Look which Bill had and you have. Us idiosyncratic lettering guys needed every trick we could come up with to distract the astute comic-art student from recognizing that we were “below the salt.”

It’s often been said to me and in general that lettering should not draw attention to itself, it should stay in the background. I don’t agree with that, and I bet you don’t either. My feeling is that lettering’s job is to help tell the story, and sometimes that means getting right up front and center and strutting. Other times, of course, it should sit back and let the art and writing take the lead. I did notice it was usually artists who wanted lettering to keep quiet!

I was going to ask how much of your book are you going to be dedicating to your work on SANDMAN? Because that was something new — as far as I know — that Neil brought to the graphic novel table from the writing side: designing lettering styles, balloon contours and rendering for different characters. Delight evolving/devolving into Delirium. How much of the “fonts” were his designs and how much were they “I want something like this” and you were left to figure out how to translate his “asks” into a viable, readable, replicative hand-lettered “font” with all the “baked-in” problems that entails? Were there times when you said, “I don’t think this is going to work”? or, at least, “What have I gotten myself into?”

I haven’t seen the original Sandman scripts since I lettered them, so I have to rely on vague memories. As I recall, Neil had suggestions for many of the characters, but nothing as concrete as “Destiny should speak in italic.” It was more a description of how he heard the character which I then interpreted. As we went along, we would sometimes talk things out on the phone before I did a new style. I may have sent him samples once or twice, but usually there wasn’t time for that. Sometimes I would ask him to let me know if a character was a one-shot or would be a regular to give me an idea of how time-consuming I could go with it. That backfired a few times when one-shots became regulars. Delirium took extra time, but not all that much when I did it by hand. Later, when I needed to create digital fonts for the characters for Sandman: Endless Nights, she was the only one I couldn’t do digitally. I had to hand-draw it, scan it, and work it into my digital lettering that way.

As far as my new book, there are some how-to sections, but not a lot of my own work at this point, unless my editor wants more. There are so many worthy letterers to discuss I hate taking up space with my stuff, which has been covered on my website and in other books already.

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.

And as I get ready to post this, Dave strikes back:

Here are people's picks: (click for bigger)

Okay, If Mr. Klein can't find two pages in all that, I don't know what to do...

Next Time: Hobbs. Cause it's Wednesday...


Todd Klein said...

Here's my reply to Dave's third fax, which I sent to Matt but probably not in time for his post.

Dave, let’s stick to the subjects at hand, which are your Cerebus lettering and my book. I’ve written about working on Starstruck on my website here:


and several times on my blog such as here:


and here:


If I wanted to write in detail about Starstruck, which I really don’t at present, I would do it on my blog, but it would be difficult because after forty years the memories are fading. I think the work speaks for itself. Almost everything that is not standard comics lettering was new for me at the time, though I did have experience with callligraphy that I used where I could. If there were any disagreements between Michael and Elaine, they didn’t happen when I was around. They were a good team, they knew what they wanted, and I gave it to them as best I was able. As I recall, I met with both of them at Michael’s place, we talked about what they wanted on the first batch of pages at hand, I was given the pencilled art and the typed script together, as was the usual practice at the time, and took it home and did my part, then brought it back to Michael. Pages were done in batches. Sometimes I saw both of them, sometimes just Michael. I don’t remember any major problems with what I did, though when I look at it today there are things I would improve here and there. Generally it was a great project that I loved working on. I’ve continued to letter new Starstruck pages over the years from time to time, including a lot for the recent series Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die, which was about two-thirds older material and one third new.

There’s plenty about me and my work on my blog and website. have a look at these topics, for instance:




Anonymous said...

I'm definitely interested in what makes the final cut, Todd. Myself, I think the "NO!No drinking vs. Dringing? Di' Sumbudy say dringing?" and "Will you be cast down and devoured within the BLACK PIT" pages best show the range of awesome lettering in Cerebus. I like the BLACK PIT page especially for containing the images within the lettering, shaping the words to show the action "CAST DOWN" and also by showing the intonation by font size e.g., "CAST DOWN and DEVOURED within the BLACK PIT"

That POUNDPOUND page is pretty awesome too though, with the broken balloons near Cerebus' head. The "thunt" in the window/floor page is also impressive. Well, I guess I can't go back on my picks now lol.


Todd Klein said...

All the choices offered in these posts are amazing. I'm leaning toward my two choices because of these reasons. 1. They feature Cerebus himself. 2. They show a lot of variety and versatility in the lettering, and there's lots of lettering. 4. They work together as similar subject matter. 3. The content is appropriate for all ages, which my book requires, and some of the other great examples are not.

Anonymous said...

They're all winning pages, and I'm grateful for the exercise of looking through - as a non-artist, I gain appreciation for all these details with more examination - I've read the entire Cerebus 3 times, and each time I find new things (lately, more in the artwork which I never really examined).


Jeff said...

I think that, with his choices of Dave's lettering, Todd is choosing "large and in charge" over subtly funny.

It's a choice that probably can't go wrong, but, I prefer the subtle, nearly hidden ones.

Tony Dunlop said...

God, those "Drunken Scott" pages from "Going Home." The more I see of them, the more I think that might be my favorite sequence in all of comics. I don't know if it's a good example of lettering, in the sense of Mr. Klein's book, but the melding of word and image is just unsurpassed.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

Can you give an example of your favorite "subtle, nearly hidden ones"? I'm curious.