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Todd Klein Interview

conducted in August 2003

Dear Mr. Klein

Thank you for taking the time out from what must be a very busy work schedule to answer a few questions about Promethea.
Apart from the recent Comic Book Artist #25 and a couple of webpages
The Underappreciated Art of Lettering
The 10 Greatest Comic Letterers
I haven’t been able to find out much information about you. Do you know of any other webpages about you and have you written anything else about your work or answered interview questions in any other publications?

I've been interviewed several times for magazines, beginning with Comics Interview Magazine #3, in the early 1980s. I've also answered questions similar to yours several times for websites, though the only other ones I know of that may be searchable are on the Sequential Tart site and the Comic Book Resources site. These things are rather ephemeral. There was also a How To Letter article done for Wizard #54.

Could you provide a brief biographical summary. How did you get started in comics? What were some of your influences? How many awards have you actually won? What was the largest number of titles you worked on at one time? Do you still host a lettering chat once a month on AOL?

I was born in Plainfield, NJ in 1951, and have lived in New Jersey for nearly all my life, currently in rural southern Jersey with wife Ellen and a number of animals. I attended the School of Visual Arts in NYC and The Kansas City Art Institute, but did not graduate, having run out of funds for school. I had some non-art jobs after that, gaining some minor experience with graphic production putting together instruction manuals for an air conditioner manufacturer, and at the same time doing illustrations for science fiction, fantasy and comics fanzines, until landing a job in the DC production department in 1977. I worked on staff at DC for 10 years, gradually doing more and more freelance work at the same time, and went freelance full-time in 1987, which continues to the present. While I did some writing and a bit of coloring and inking in the 80s, most of my freelance work has been lettering and logo design, and now cover designs for the ABC books.

My biggest influences in lettering were Gaspar Saladino, my favorite letterer, and John Workman, who helped me get started with hand lettering. I also was influenced by John Costanza, Tom Orzechowski, Jim Novak, and Richard Starkings in comics, as well as Will Eisner and Walt Kelly in comic strips.

As for awards, to date I have won 10 Eisner Awards, 7 Harvey Awards, I think 5 Comic Buyers Guide Fan Awards, the CBG Letterer of the Century Award in 2000, and a number of online comics lettering awards.

It's hard to say how many titles I work on each month, as it varies greatly, and project lengths vary greatly. In an average month I probably letter the equivalent of 6 or 7 monthly books, as well as about 30 covers for DC, a logo design, and cover designs on about 4 covers or collections for ABC.

No, I ended the lettering chat a few years ago after running it monthly for about 5 years.

What books and tools would you recommend for someone trying to break into lettering in the comics industry? What are your own favorite working tools?

I wouldn't recommend trying to break into lettering comics at this point. Hand lettering, the best way to learn, is largely not wanted by the big companies, as they are switching over to all computer lettering, and many new smaller companies have never known anything else. Further, the big companies are moving toward doing as much lettering on staff as possible, making freelance lettering jobs harder to get all the time. Small companies and self-publishers often are looking for computer lettering for little or no money, but many young artists are doing their own now, which makes sense if you can make it work for you. This is largely fueled by the money that can be saved by doing as much of the comic on the computer as possible, speeding workflow and cutting out shipping charges. In today's dwindling market for comics, one can't blame companies for wanting to save money.

Comicraft's book on Lettering the Comicraft Way, out recently, is a good overview of computer lettering techniques, and the only one so far that I know of.

I'm contracted to do a How-to book on lettering for DC (combined with coloring by someone else) to be published by Watson-Guptill, but that project is moving very slowly, and I'm not sure when it will be published, but I think some time next year.

For computer lettering I create my own fonts from hand-lettered samples using Fontographer, or sometimes use commercial fonts, and do most of the lettering work in Adobe Illustrator, also using Photoshop for scanning and Quark for page design. When lettering by hand, I generally use Castell TG1 Technical Drawing Pens (similar to Rapidograph), though for some things I use Speedball lettering pens, commonly a C-6 point.

One review of your work says that your most distinctive work is hand-drawn. Do you do much hand drawing these days or is it all mostly done on computers?

Since 1994 when I started using a computer, the percentage of hand lettering has gradually shifted, and is now down to about 25%. When Promethea and Tom Strong end, the percentage will drop further. They are still being mostly done by hand. Terrific Tales is a mix. Smax is being hand-lettered. Top 10 was all computer, and 49ers will be also. Terra Obscura is hand-lettered. Nearly all the other work I'm doing for DC has switched over to computer in the last few months, and all the work I do for Marvel has been computer for the last few years. I have no problem with lettering on the computer, and feel I can bring my creativity to it in the same way I do to hand lettering, though there are some things that are easier and better-suited to do with each method. I do enjoy working at the drawing board more than at the computer, but I'm getting more resigned to the latter, as it's the way of the future. And as I get older, large amounts of hand lettering isn't quite as easy to do as it once was, so there's that to consider.

Do you think the art of lettering is underappreciated by the comic buying public. I know you’ve won a lot of awards but do you think the average comic book reader pays much attention to the letters they read or is it mostly taken for granted?

From speaking to people at conventions, I'd estimate that of the general comics reading public, about 10% pay attention to the details of who does what, and think about the separate components such as pencilling, inking, coloring and lettering. This doesn't seem out of line to me. How many readers of books think about the typeface or the cover design? How many movie-goers consider the soundtrack, set design or lighting? I think most of us absorb these contributions unconsciously, but few of us think about them consciously. I don't think there's much chance of that changing, and I appreciate those who do notice what I do. There must be a goodly number who vote for me on awards ballots, so I can't complain. Reviewers who point out elements that make up a good comic can add to the appreciation of these areas, and some reviewers do that, which is a good thing. One group of people who do notice what I do are other professionals, especially those I work with, and their comments, pro and con, are an important to my work. I'm happy to be well known and appreciated in the comics community and only slightly known to comics readers in general.

Finally some Promethea questions. First of all a silly one.
Q: Are you fond of Pizzas? Is the slightly blurred Klein Pizza sign in Issue #3 an in-joke?

That was drawn there by JH along with all the other creator credits in early issues, so you'd have to ask him why he chose that one. I suspect it's what came to mind first, for no particular reason. I do like pizza, but doesn't everyone?

When I first read a comic I tend to rush through reading all the dialogue and captions first then go back to look at the art in greater detail and finally go back and re-read it all again leisurely taking in how the art and the wording complement one another.
Q: How do you look at the finished work as you are producing it?

Since it takes me a lot longer to letter a page than it takes a reader to read it, I spend a lot more time looking at each page, and thinking about and (hopefully!) enjoying the art and the writing. This is certainly always true with Promethea, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to letter per page, usually, depending on how much lettering is involved, and how complicated it is. Because of this, I occasionally spot some minor detail that could be improved, and I will usually contact Alan or JH about that, if there's time. Most of the time, though, I just sit back and enjoy the wonderful writing and art.

Q: Have any of the Promethea covers published so far referenced specific previous covers form earlier historical eras as was done with Tom Strong?

All the Promethea cover reference something, either specific or general, as you've noted in your issue descriptions. Issue 1's logo, titles and frame refer to art-nouveau poster artist Alphonse Mucha, though the rest of the art doesn't really follow through with that, so it's kind of a mixed bag. We did it better on issue 23. Issue 2 refers generally to 1930s gangster film posters, and the logo was suggested by one for 1931's The Public Enemy starring James Cagney. Issue 3's logo, titles and design were suggested by Windsor McCay's Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip. From issue 4 on we've usually given an artist reference. Some of the covers do reference specific works, others are more general. I could go on, but you have to do some of the work yourself on these things, Eroom. There's no fun in being given all the answers, is there?

I really enjoy the subtle touches you produce such as the lettering starting off smaller than normal as the 5 swell guys platform descends from a great height getting gradually bigger with the dialogue between Bob & Roger so that by the bottom of the page it’s up to normal size on Issue #7 pg. 1.
Q: Do you prefer using subtle touches like this or is it sometimes better to produce lettering and design that calls attention to itself

Most of the subtle effects of voice like size difference, emphasis and balloon shapes are suggested by Alan in the script, though I may add some if I think it works. In general the lettering is meant to enhance the story and add to the overall reading experience, just as a soundtrack does in a film. There are times when a really good soundtrack is noticed and appreciated, though, and I think the same applies to lettering, as long as you don't distract from the story.

Q: What was the most interesting and or hardest lettering work you’ve done on Promethea so far?

That would definitely be the all-lettering spread in issue 23. Contrary to what I said above, those two pages took about two weeks to do. I began by laying it all out to see how many different circles I could fit on the pages to fill with lettering, about 130. Alan had supplied 36 short sentences or phrases with the instructions to get them translated into as many languages as possible, and mix the languages throughout. It took me about a week to get that done, with help from some foreign friends, people at Wildstorm, and online translators and dictionaries. In the end I was able to find at least one useable example of 60 different languages (counting music as a language). Then it took me another week, off and on, to letter them all. A challenge, but I enjoy a challenge.

Q: What are some of your favorite styles and fonts (logos) used on the front covers for the first 26 issues so far?

It's hard to pick favorites, as I like most of them. I guess the one I enjoy looking at the most is issue 11, the monster movie poster.

I really like the way that all works, and Stacia's _expression always makes me laugh. Issue 12 is another favorite, especially since it's all me except for the figure of Promethea and her staff.

I designed, lettered, colored, and created the final files here in my studio, and had a great time doing it.

Q: Do you also sometimes letter the signs (eg. Moore’s House of Magic) or just the captions and dialogue?

Yes, I do all the signs, that's usually part of the letterer's job. If it's made of letters, I do it, except in the case of letters which are part of the architecture, like large three-dimensional signs and things like that. Those I leave for Mick, so that his inking style will make it consistent with the rest of the page.

Q: Did you try and differentiate between the various Prometheas via lettering or the actual bubble borders? For example when Promethea(6) [Sophie] speaks all her bubbles have 4 indentations on them like a picture frame and when some of the others speak (especially when they are emotional) the color or border of their bubbles is slightly individualistic.

Promethea (Sophie) always has those little scoops cut from her balloons, usually in four opposite corners when there's room. I don't know why, I just felt she needed something to set her speech apart, but I don't know what they signify. When we started seeing the other Prometheas, I considered doing a different but similar thing for each of them, but it would have become too distracting to do it all the time, I thought, so it only comes out occasionally, especially when they're emotional. My plan was to have all the double-border effects be filled with a light blue, but in some cases the colorist didn't know that, or decided not to follow my idea.

Q: Do you enjoy coming up with interesting typescripts for Asmodeus and the other demons. I especially like the O’s with an an x inside them in Issue #18.

That one is a computer font. Some characters fonts are done on the computer, printed out, and pasted on the original art. The first character I did that for was the Smee. His style is a font I created, but I wanted it reversed, white on black, and that was easier to do on the computer. The TEXTure™ balloons are also done that way. I do enjoy coming up with new styles when they're appropriate and help the story. Sometimes Alan or JH will have suggestions, sometimes it's up to me. A few times the art has called for the lettering to be produced completely on the computer, such as the photo art section by Villarrubia in issue 7, and the see-through lettering in issue 22.

Also the greek lettering and borders for Hermes in #15 and the white writing against a black background when the Smee talks and the typewritten text when Marto Neptura talks. See above, these were all done on the computer.

Q: Did you do the handwritten lettering for the Charles Vess pages in Issue 4 or was that Mr. Vess?

That was me, I lettered those pages on his pencils.

Q: Do the numbers between
90.0%%EndProlog… and…PageTrailergannotatepagegrestore
in Issue 11 pg 19 mean anything in computerese or is it all just goobledegook?

That is a small part of the computer code for the word "Promethea" in Adobe Illustrator.

Q: What is your favorite issue so far in terms of the lettering used? For example you must have had fun with the gothic fonts for John Dee, Babalon and Marie in Issue #21. Or the Islamic, arabic fonts on the cover of #24?

I'd have to say issue 12, the most ambitious issue in terms of combining different styles on the same page, and a real treat to be a part of. Lettering rhymed verse is particularly hard, because I usually have to break lines where they aren't meant to break in order to fit them in, but they still have to give a feeling of the rhyme. I think it works pretty well in most places. I also helped Alan come up with a few of the anagrams, and lettered all the Scrabble letters and their Hebrew subscripts.

Q: Did you find out if you lettered all the bubbles right in Issue #22 pgs 10-11 (ie. Did anyone complain?)

I think you mean issue 23, yes? So far no one has reported any mistakes to me, though there are bound to be some.

What font did you use for the "I" on pg. 18?

That's done on the computer, but using a calligraphic font created from my hand lettering.

Q: Is the dialogue "Jesus. And this’s is the only place…" with the unnecessary "‘s" an error from rushing to put the Issue out on time in #25 pg 6?
NOTE: This was fixed for the collected hardcover version in Promethea Book 4

That sounds like a mistake. I do make them, and that one must not have been caught by anyone.

Q: Issue #26 pg. 23. Is the janitor "singin’ Ai-ai-yippee" taken from Ghost Riders in the Sky. People keep telling me it’s from "She’ll be comin’ round the mountain" but it’s not part of the lyrics I know.

You'd have to ask Alan about that one, it was in his script, but I don't recall any explanation of where it's from.

Q: Are there many changes done to individual issues once they are gathered together and republished in book format? Eg the last page of Issue #12 has "Next: The Fields We Know" in the original comic but this is taken out in the Book 2 version.

I'm usually not involved in that, unless they need a lettering patch. I know JH works with Scott Dunbier and Jeromy Cox to make corrections, and Wildstorm takes out some things, such as the price and UPC code box on the covers. Alan is also consulted, to see if there's anything he wants to fix. I handle the new design pages, such as the chapter breaks, title pages, galleries, but not the rest of the already-printed material.

Q: Once Promethea and the rest of the ABC line winds up what are the main titles you will be working on in future?

Well, I still have about a year of work to do on the ABC titles, I think, depending on how long they all take to wrap up. I think Wildstorm hopes to do more things with the characters after Alan, but I don't think anything's been decided yet. I'll continue to do many other projects for DC, and a few for other companies like Marvel and Dark Horse. I expect to continue to work on Fables for Vertigo (DC), which is doing well, and am currently lettering Wonder Woman for DC, 1602 for Marvel, and lots of other graphic novels and other projects.

Sorry there are so many questions but I was hoping to do one big interview with you and not have to bother you again until Issue #32 is finally pulished. Would it be OK if I asked you a few more questions about the last 7 issues once I see them?

Oh and could you send examples of your lettering work to accompany the interview and illustrate some of the point you make.

Sorry, Eroom, but I really don't have time to do that. You seem to be doing a good job of scanning the issues on your website.

I hope the questions were interesting to you.

Yes, they were.

Thanks for doing this interview and I hope you had a great time at the San Diego Con No problem!