Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Way the heck back in 1999, when I was working on Obergeist with Tony Harris and Ray Snyder and J.D. Mettler, we ran into a situation. Obergeist, published by Top Cow, was slated to run for six issues, which it did -- but we realized, when we were right around issue 5, that the story we'd mapped out for six issues wasn't quite as complete as we wanted it to be. There was a certain amount of backstory we wanted readers to see concerning the protagonist, and we just plain didn't have the room to show it.

So we went back to Top Cow and asked them if we could have one more issue. We knew exactly what we wanted to do: one 22-page story, entitled The Empty Locket, that would fill in the gaps and tie everything up in a nice big bow. "That's fine," Top Cow said, because Top Cow spoke in a huge, booming, collective voice, apparently. "But we didn't plan for this, and we won't be able to give you guys the same budget you had for the regular mini-series."

We said that would be fine, that we'd make do, and agreed to the terms. What that resulted in, however, is that the budget for lettering disappeared. I don't remember exactly how we arrived at the decision, but the decision was nonetheless made that I would take over that task for the one-issue special.

I had NO idea how to do comic book lettering.

That's where the brilliant Ken Lopez, letterer extraordinaire, came in. Tony had Ken's number, and Ken graciously agreed to walk me through the basics using Adobe Illustrator. So I did the lettering for The Empty Locket, and several years later, when the Jolly Roger Studios crew did a four-issue arc in G.I. Joe Frontline, I lettered a couple of those issues as well.

This is not to say that I'm an expert letterer. I don't know that I'd even call myself a decent letterer; I've got the word balloons and captions down pretty well, but my sound effects are still pitiful. My respect for letterers during that learning curve skyrocketed, and truly I think every comic book writer should learn at least the basics of the craft. It really affected how I look at scripting dialogue.

So! Fast-forward about ten years, and now I'm working on a Young Adult comics project with Shawn deLoache and Marlin Shoop. The budget on this project is in the shoestring category, and once again, I'm stepping into the letterer's shoes, firing up the latest version of Adobe Illustrator, and...

...realizing the program looks completely different from the way it did in 2003, at least to my untrained eyes. It took about half an hour this afternoon just to find the button to click that will combine balloons and tails. Bit by bit, though, things are starting to look more familiar, and I'm pretty sure it won't take that long for me to get back into the groove of it. It's actually kind of fun, seeing words Shawn and I have written take shape on the page, plus if there's any last-minute editing to do, I can just do it right there.

If you don't know an actual letterer, such as the aforementioned Ken Lopez or the supremely talented Rob Leigh, the brilliant tutorials found at balloontales.com are an excellent starting place.

And, in completely unrelated news, Tracy and I found what we're pretty sure are raccoon tracks on our back deck. I knew we had chipmunks, squirrels, about a billion birds, some snakes, and four or five neighborhood cats roaming around, but I didn't think we had raccoons. We'll see if more evidence surfaces.

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