The iFanboy Letter Column – 02.17.2012

I’m former United States Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton. You might remember me from such notable events as the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

At iFanboy, Friday means it’s letter column time. For some, Friday means joining a cabinet at the behest of your President, despite long standing political rivalry, and doing your absolute best for a man, agreeing in the belief that the Union will not fall, so help us all. For others Friday means heading up a nationwide manhunt for the cowardice traitor, John Wilkes Booth, and vowing to hector him to the end of his days. For other still, that lackwit Johnson tries to dismiss you, and it leads to his impeachment.

Regardless, these affairs do not concern you, but rather the call of thinkings on these comic books. For that, I turn you over to the capable minds of these gentlemen.

You write. They answer. Very simple.

As always, if you want to have your e-mail read on the any of iFanboy’s shows or answered here, in the letter’s column keep them coming to

Robert Kirkman’s advice on starting corporate and then going your own way seems to be playing out very much in the opposite direction in comics these days, as creators like Cullen Bunn, Rick Remender, Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and Jonathan Hickman started out independent and used that to get work at the Big 2, while other creators like Bendis, Eric Shanower, and Ed Brubaker do both corporate and creator-owned work. So the question is: is Bendis’ contention that creators can and should do both kinds of work more valid in light of the current industry trend?

Brian (BC1)

Neither are right and neither are wrong. The idea that there’s only one way to creative fulfillment or even economic well being a business like comics is silly. It’s a tiny industry with a tiny audience, and there’s no one way to make a career. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. There are all sorts of paths to those goals, and everyone’s goals are different. Confusing enough?

The simple fact is, to make a living doing only creator owned comics is a rare thing indeed. The Walking Dead is an outlier of the highest order. It proves that the theory is possible, but hundreds of other indie series that didn’t make a dime have proved that it’s not likely. It’s a little like winning the comic book lottery. If you happen to have a creator owned series that sells well enough to make a living for the creative team, that’s amazing. But unless the sales are astonishing, or there’s a big media deal in place, that’s only going to last for so long. Making a living in comics is a bit of a miracle in and of itself, but making enough to have financial security is even more rare. So after that series concludes, what do you do then? If you’re in the US, you’ll have to pay for your own medical insurance. You’ll have to pay massive amounts in tax as a self-employed business person, and you’ll have to keep doing every single thing on your own. Big name comics creators can’t always make their Marvel/DC success convert to creator owned comics. Outside of Robert Kirkman and Mark Millar, there are only a handful of guys that get anywhere with that. The reality is that the vast majority of creator owned comics struggle to break even. While there is a massive wealth of content available, and it’s better than ever, it’s not a goldmine by any means.

Now, working at Marvel or DC while also maintaining some creator owned properties seems like the way to go. Sort of. More often these days, the way to get noticed by Marvel and DC is to do something in the creator owned sphere, and do it really well. That’s how you get called up to paying work. There seem to be be fewer slots on the team than ever, and page rates are being forced down from what I hear, but that’s the key. If you can get through the gates where they’re handing out money for pages, you can make a living. If you happen to be lucky enough to get an exclusive for a time, you’ll get insurance and guaranteed work. If you get really popular, you can even make a lot of money. And once you do that, you’ll probably go do creator owned work as soon as you can, so you can own what you make. It’s a vicious circle if ever there was one. It’s also about the most uncertain career this side of Alaskan crab fishing.

So who’s right? They both are, but either track is going to require a hell of a lot of luck, talent, and hustle.

If you want to hear more on this conversation, make sure to watch Kirkman and Bendis debating this very subject.

Josh Flanagan

I am quite new to comics and the idea of titles crossing over scares me. Does this mean that I have to be reading both titles to pick up on parts 1 and 2 etc. Or does this just mean that if I was reading both titles, it would increase my enjoyment with these crossover stories?


Welcome to comics, Lawrence!

Comic book crossover are a touchy subject these days. (It seems like everything is a touchy subject these days, but that’s a discussion for another day.) Many readers tend to freak out at the mere mention of one book crossing over with another. And it’s understandable, some people don’t want the books they are reading to be intruded only other characters and books. Me? I don’t really care. I’ve been reading comics for a long time and crossovers have always been a part of the fabric of comics. For me the only time a crossover is a problem is when the execution is bad. Because when it comes down to it execution, not image, is everything.

It’s hard to answer your specific question because crossovers are not standard. Sometimes you have to read both parts of a crossover to get the full story and sometimes you don’t. In the two most recent crossovers that come to mind — Daredevil/The Amazing Spider-Man and O.M.A.C./Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. — you didn’t have to read both parts to get the full story. The Daredevil/Spider-Man crossover worked better because Mark Waid wrote it in such a way that if you were strictly a Daredevil reader and didn’t read the issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, you got all the information you needed to follow along. (Then again, if you were strictly a The Amazing Spider-Man reader, you never got the end of the story.) The O.M.A.C./Frankenstein crossover wasn’t successful because they pretty much just retold the same events in both issues, just from different points of view. It made one feel as if they just paid twice for the same story.

At its most base and craven level a crossover is intended to get you the reader to buy more comics. That’s why they exist. But that doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad because good stories can, and often do, come out of them. But if you really don’t want to get dragged into another book (or more) then the solution is simple: don’t buy the issues. Skip it and come back next month.

Conor Kilpatrick

What’s the point of “letterers” in the modern age of word processing with its thousands of varying fonts? It made sense before, when you needed someone with good handwriting and a keen eye for spacing, but with computers and such, can’t the artist just toss the words in on Photoshop as a last step instead of outsourcing it to a whole ‘nother collaborator?

Brian from Los Angeles, California

Hang on, Brian. I have to clutch my chest in my best Red Foxx on Sandford & Son manner as I recover from the shock and horror of your question. Now, I understand that much of the process by which comic books are created remains a bit of a mystery to many readers. Writers and artists get the majority of the credit, but without letterers and colorists, you wouldn’t get the comics you enjoy. As an avid fan of the lettering craft, I can assure you that much more goes into lettering a comic book other than good handwriting, picking fonts and tossing words into Photoshop.

Now, I could sit here and explain how and why letterers are so important and what they do, but I thought, why not go direct to the source? I asked one of the best letterers in the biz, Chris Eliopoulos your question and here was his response:

Believe it or not, letterers, while no longer needed to have the skills to dip a pen in ink, still need to have good design skills. While most people look at lettering as slapping down type in a box, surround it in a balloon and ship it off, it actually is much more complicated. When done right, it looks effortless and easy, but there is the thought of pacing, readability, flow of story, providing the reader to “hear” a scream or sound effect or “hear” a murmur. If you go out and really look at some slapped together lettering, you can see a big difference (Hello, Twilight comic.) in designed and well-crafted lettering and just slapping it together. I remember years ago, John Byrne created a font and started lettering his own work. Seemed smart — he’s an artist and has the ability to design, but, in my opinion, the results weren’t stellar. It sounds like I’m justifying my job, but if you were to talk to artist or writer, 9 out of 10 would ask for a really talented letterer who can help them look better.

In addition to controlling the pacing, readability and flow of the story, letterers are crucial to the process of sound effects and other design elements that you probably take for granted. The placement of the word balloons, the placement of the words in the word balloons, the placement of the tail of the word balloon, all of these elements come into play. Some of the best letterers, like Eliopoulos and Todd Klein and Richard Starkings are some of the most talented designers I’ve ever seen. Bad lettering is kind of like porn, you know it when you see it, and yet good lettering often goes unnoticed.

If you want to learn more about the lettering process, watch the episode of the iFanboy video show we did with Chris Eliopoulos and he’ll show you exactly what goes into being a letterer. Now that I’ve recovered from the shock of your question Brian, I hope you (and everyone else) have learned something.

Ron Richards


  1. Pick up any issue of Sandman, and you’ll see what good lettering is almost immediately. Todd Klein’s run that series is, in my opinion, the absolute pinnacle of good design in lettering.

    • I agree with you on The Sandman lettering. It adds a depth to the characteres and gives its unique voice. Just check out Dream, Delirium or Despair’s words and word balloons for instance.

    • That was hand-lettered though. Most letterers don’t do that anymore as the question states.

    • I have always been partial to John Workman’s work. He made me take notice as a young reader of the letters.

    • A professionally made, digital font doesn’t mean that the spacing between the letters and between the words will be correct. A letterer has to nudge the letters into place. It’s all in the details, including italics, when to use BOLD and what kind of bold and the choice of fonts for sound effects.

    • a lot of letterers especially on indie books do all the final production work on the issue before its sent to the printer. So really there is a lot of value in that job, which of course you will only notice if they screw up.

  2. Why stop with that Twilight book? I flipped through some manga that a friend dropped off for me to put on Amazon, and the lettering was ALL atrocious. It really stood out, and made me appreciate something I took for granted before. I couldn’t even figure out who was saying what, and that’s after getting past the whole reading it backwards thing.

    So all you letterers out there, I love you dearly. Don’t leave me.

  3. Hickman is now doing more creator-owned that corporate work, and Cullen Bunn’s flagship title remains THE SIXTH GUN, which Brian Hurtt (who is as good as anyone in comics) continues to draw full time.

    And I don’t think you’ll ever see Kindt abandon creator-owned work. It’s not like DC is going to be hiring him to draw HAWK AND DOVE.

    Creator-owned is on everyone’s minds lately.


  4. interesting take on lettering…its funny how when you do your job well, everyone thinks its easy to do themselves. At my design firm we have a large healthcare client who wanted templates of some of the smaller projects to do “in house”. Within a week they told us it was a disaster and asked us to keep doing them. Its never as easy as it looks!

    now a real conversation is lettering vs typography cause those are two different animals that i would geek out over.

    Also love the old videos, watching the Eliopoulous one right now. good times.

  5. crossovers between books can be fun and give people reasons to check out books they might not have otherwise.

    • Exactly what I was gonna say or words to that effect, crossovers are definitely good for giving someone the chance to experience a title they don’t currently or never have read but do read one of the books in the x/over. Great way to get ppl into other titles they might enjoy or at least get a taste of it if its just an issue or ten.

  6. Thanks for answering my crossover question Conor! I just picked up Amazing Spider-Man 677 and Daredevil 8 to experience a crossover done well! I’m holding out that OMAC versus the JLI will be fun, well as much fun as it can be when you also add Firestorm…

  7. This is my favorite “guest” introduction of the letter column yet!

    And what was that “lackwit Johnson” thinking? You can’t keep a beard like that down.

  8. “At its most base and craven level”, I appreciate the almost Anchorman-esque random vocab, I’m not hectoring here.

    Also just pointing out that image is nothing, thirst is everything. Also, I’ve never heard of Edwin M. Stanton but I respect the man almost as much as Harry Dean now.

  9. I love when a colorist or letterer gets recognition, so thank you Brian from LA for asking a question like this and thank you Josh for answering the call with all the right detail and points to make why a letterer is important to the trade.

  10. Letterers are the unsung heroes of comics. Even more than a colorist. The problem is, if a letterer is great at his job, you don’t really notice it. it’s only a bad letterer that draws attention to himself/herself. Lettering is NOT easy to do, even with computers.

  11. “Bad letterering is kind of like porn, you know it when you see it…”


    Yes, I know porn when I see it.