When most people think of comics, they think of the writers, the artists, the covers and the colors. More often than not, there is still a team vital to a comic that is not remembered. One of these is the Letterer, without whom there would be nothing to read. I decided to have an interview with a Letterer that everyone spoke so kindly of and that is Taylor Esposito.
What exactly is a letterer?
A letterer is the person who puts the dialogue, sfx, captions, titles and credits and other typographical elements onto the comic page. It’s their job to get the writer’s words on the page while preserving as much of the artist’s vision/work as possible. Arguably more important than coloring, in that you don’t necessarily need colors for a comic, but all comics need letters, otherwise it’s just pretty pictures.
What is your current project?
Zenescope Grimm Fairy Tales, Heavy Metal Interceptor and Narcopolis, Gamer Girl and Vixen; more to be announced
What inspired you to become a letterer?
I always had a love for comics, and after randomly ending up at Marvel out of college and seeing them made, I knew it was something I could and wanted to do.
How did you get into lettering as a profession?
After getting laid off from Marvel in 2011, I needed a new job, and I had always talked about lettering comics, so with my wife backing me up, I started freelance lettering comics, which eventually led to a staff lettering job at DC, until the move to Burbank, and now I’m back at the freelance game.
What is a comic you worked on that you are most proud of?
Too many to decide. I got to work on Batman, Detective Comics, Action Comics, and many of the major titles at DC, but some of the standouts are Watson and Holmes (first book), Human Bomb (first DC), Red Hood and the Outlaws (first regular series).
Who is your dream team to work on a comic with?
That’s hard to say, I’ve already worked with so many people I’ve already wanted to work with. Being a DC letterer let me do so much volume that it’s a who’s who of creators to work with.
What is your typical day in the life of working on a comic?
A lot of alone time. I usually spend about 10-12 hours a day doing stuff for work, be it lettering pages, invoicing, dealing with clients, managing projects, etc. If not for getting up in the morning with my wife and cooking/eating with her when she gets back from work, there wouldn’t be much movement from the desk. That said, you make time, walk the dog, and get the mail, run errands.
As a letterer, how long does it take to complete a single issue?
On a good day, with no interruptions and an average book, about 8 hours.
What is the process?
Get files, make sure they are correctly formatted, drop the art into the template, and just go through. It’s fairly simple as far as personal process. The actual process of lettering is actually way more involved than most people realize. If you have an interest in it, or just want to understand what the heck your letterer is doing, you can read Lettering the Comicraft Way and the DC Guide to Colouring and Lettering. You need more than the books to become a letterer, but it’s a good start.
Who are your inspirations?
A lot of them are my colleagues, the guys who came before me in the lettering department, like Sal Cipriano, Carlos Mangual, Jared Fletcher, Rob Leigh and those guys, and then there is my friend Joe Caramagna who helped me out in my early days getting started. Nate Piekos is another friend who amazes me and drives me to work harder. Of course, there are also the legends like Todd Klein and Tom Orzechowski, who still bring it, 30 years later.
What is your dream project?
Probably the main assignment on a book like Batman, or another top-tier title. Definitely the Phantom, and maybe some licensed stuff like Ghostbusters or something like that.
If you could pick anyone to act as your mentor, who would it be?
Sal and Joe are folks I’d actually call mentors.
What is your biggest cringing moment as a letterer?
“It’s easy, I’ll do it myself,” from anyone’s mouth. Comic Sans, not following the rules of lettering, and breaking those rules without understanding them. Basically, anyone who is starting out and thinks it’s easier than it is. Those who actually make comics know it’s one of the harder things to get and value a good letterer. Also, the word “letterist” ::shudder::
What advice would you give to others who may be considering lettering as a profession?
Don’t. (ha-ha) Be serious about it, but understand that there are many of us out there, and only so much work to go around. Lettering is actually one of the hardest things to break into in comics, contrary to what most believe. There are too many good guys, all competing for work, and some companies only use a select group of people, so it’s hard to find work. And especially with lettering rates being on the low end, most letterers take on about 15 books a month, so the work becomes scarce quickly.
What is something you have always wanted to say to a writer but couldn’t before?
Can you not end your balloons with a long word? (ha-ha)
What was it like working for the big one, DC Comics?
Wonderful, easily the best job I ever had in my life. Loved working there and the people were a pleasure to work with. If they hadn’t moved across the country I definitely would have delayed my decision to go back to freelance by a few years.
How can a writer and artist make your job easier?
Honestly, just be aware of the dialogue being put down and the space you are leaving for it. Also, don’t be afraid to edit the dialogue down or change a layout. I mean I usually just go with it because I don’t want to dictate the vision of either one, but sometimes it is a challenge to make it all work. That said, I’m here to work for them and like the challenge, so it’s really a non-issue. Ha-ha
Have you done anything at a convention, as in had a table in artist alley or a booth or been a guest?
I usually do the local shows, but just walk around and visit with friends, or meet folks I’ve worked with, but never spoken to in the real world. Tables aren’t usually a good idea for letterers, as they are costly and I can’t draw/do commissions (ha-ha).
What was the most memorable fan moment you have had?
I did get to do my first con signing at NYCC though this year for Rosy Press’ Fresh Romance story I did (School Spirit).
How has the industry changed since you first started?
Not much, really. I got in about 10 years ago, and the only real change was digital comics, but it’s been so gradual, I barely noticed the change.
How do you feel about the change to mainstream thanks to shows like The Big Bang Theory and the movies now in the cinema like Spider-man and Batman vs Superman?
I don’t mind, like any media it needs to evolve. As long as good stories are being told, and the art is great, it’s all good to me. I just like to create, so it’s not a big deal to me.
Who is your favorite comic book character?
Batman, Joker, Red Hood, Flash, Snake Eyes (probably more)
Who is your favorite author (books)?
Hmm, maybe Orwell, never give it much thought
What is your favorite movie?
On any given day: The Dark Knight, Shawshank Redemption, Godfather, Star Wars OT, Mean Girls, and probably more
What is your favorite band/music artist?
Changes with the day, but I’m mostly good with any 70–90s rock.
What is a quirk you have (like dipping fries into a chocolate Sunday)?
I wipe up all the leftover sauce from the pot with bread, even in front of company (it’s the Italian in me).
Day or night?
Depends on my mood.
Star trek or Star Wars?
Coffee or Tea?
Depends on my mood
Summer or Winter?
Cats or Dogs?
Batman or Superman?
Movies or a Book?
Pizza or Burgers?
Coke or Pepsi?
Probably this Wednesday, lettering is so much volume, we always have something out.