Comic book world is an overwhelmingly collaborative space, on any given book there can be myriad people involved with it’s production and publishing. Today we’re looking at the role many believe to be under represented, but crucial to the medium. Think of it as the Kinks in relation to The Beatles – important in the landscape of the comics art form but not spoken about as nearly as it should. Of course we are talking about the comic book letterer!
Today we’ve interviewed Dave Evans, also known under the moniker of ‘Bolt-01’
Could you give us your own description of the role of the letterer in the comic book industry?
Forgive me if I get a bit ‘out there’ but I see lettering as being the glue that pulls everything together in a comic. The lettering should be clear, unobtrusive and act as a guide to the eyes of the reader. The best lettering is ‘heard’, rather than read.
What would you describe as the most important key rules to producing high quality lettering for a project?
The main rules to follow are that the most important thing in a comic is the storytelling. Clarity is paramount. If the reader has to stop and work out who is speaking next, then something is wrong. That being said, sometimes, even for the most experienced letterer, there will be occasions where the combination of script and art will render the lettering job almost impossible to achieve a clear reading experience. That is more common at the start of a creator’s career.
As a letterer, can you explain the working dynamic with others as part of a project team?
I’m in the position of being able to answer this with more than one hat.
As editor/letterer I get to actually have an opinion on the scripts – so if I see something that needs addressing in a script – I’m at liberty to sort it. However, when I’m lettering for projects not my own – I take a step back and only use the script as provided – unless there is something that really needs looking at. One thing I like to offer is the opportunity to update the script once the art is in. Many is the time that a script has gone to an artist – and the pages received show that the artist has been rather free with interpreting the writers directions. In those circumstances it is good to be able to offer the writer the opportunity to refresh the script. It ‘can’ lead to a remarkable change in quality.
When working as part of a team where I am primarily the letterer, then I will defer to whoever commissions the work – be it the writer or the artist. In this circumstance there have been occasions where I’ve been given specific instructions that have contradicted my instincts.
How did you get your start in lettering?
Necessity. I hand lettered all my old strips back in the late 80’s back when I was doing my own thing, and when I was getting back into making strips in the early 2000’s I took advantage of typed text but still drew the balloons by hand. It wasn’t till I was gifted a copy of Illustrator that I was able to even think about a fully digital workflow. I was still pasting balloons onto photocopies of artwork back then. However, once I ‘was’ working digitally (with text) it found myself helping out other folk who were in the same position. I owe a huge debt to Mr Jim Campbell for the basic fundamentals of digital lettering, his blog posts on the actual setting up of a page and the workflow he uses were invaluable to me when learning and I still learn new things constantly.
What are your opinions between digital lettering and hand lettered comics?
Horses for courses. Personally I love the flexibility that digital lettering provides and have not hand lettered anything more than an envelope for years. Looking back at old comics I’m amazed at the quality of some hand lettering, but I am also horrified in equal measure.
What are your aspirations for the lettering artform in the future?
Now, there’s a question. Personally I think that the best lettering is invisible. It doesn’t draw attention to itself and exists purely to help the comic be read and understood. Anything loftier is getting ideas above the station. That being said it is nice when letterers get credits on the cover of books.
What advice would you give to someone learning how to letter comics today?
Don’t be afraid to give it a go. I believe it was the late, great Moebius who said that all artists should letter their own work – as it is an essential part of the craft of comics. Now, while I agree that he is right about lettering being an essential craft, I’m not sure that many of the artists working today want to devote as much time as it might require to learn how to letter comics’ ‘well’.
I’ve been lettering digitally for approx. 15 years and have to say that even looking back at my own lettering from as recent as three or four years ago, I am still working at the craft and discovering new ways to enhance to pages.
Do you ever see the letterer getting billing to that of the writer, artist or colourist?
It would be nice. There are some real talents out there, working tirelessly to make comics read better, and recognition is always nice.
How has the current situation concerning COVID-19 affected your work as a letterer?
So far there are a handful of jobs that are directly affected – but as the pandemic rolls on I can see that growing. It may well be that many folk are spending more time at home, so they could well be reading or making comics, but also if folk are not working, and therefore not earning – the stresses of life may well stop many creatives in their tracks as they struggle to put food on the table.
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