Tuesday, 27 October 2009

TODD KLEIN interview

Interview by smoky man and Antonio Solinas. Conducted in March 2009.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto magazine (N. 68, June 2009, Coniglio Editore).
Presented here in English for the first time.
Todd Klein blog: kleinletters.com/Blog

1. How did you start your career and why did you choose lettering?
After discovering in high school that I had no particular interest in other careers, I spent two years in art school at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and the Kansas City Art Institute (1969-71), before running out of tuition money. I then worked at several boring jobs, including putting together instruction manuals for air conditioners. In my spare time, I began submitting art, and occasionally writing, to science fiction, fantasy and comics fanzines, with some success. I was a fan and long-time reader of all three. In 1977, after putting together a portfolio, I applied for work at several New York comic book publishers.
At DC Comics I was offered a two-week trial in the Production Department, doing art and lettering corrections and paste-ups, to fill in for a vacationing employee. At the end of the two weeks, that employee decided not to come back, and a glorious career in comics began. While on staff I learned the basics of hand-lettering from John Workman, also on staff then. While I tried other things, like writing, inking and coloring comics, lettering seemed the best fit for me, and the direction I've mostly followed.

2. Your early influences include people like Gaspar Saladino, John Workman, Tom Orzechowski and Joe Rosen. What do you think you learned from them? Furthermore, are there any lettering people whose work you follow today?
Well, what I learned from them was how to make lettering that looked good, I guess. Once I mastered the basics, studying the details of style in those who influenced me, and copying it in my own way when I could, allowed me to develop my own style. I can't say there are any current letterers who I follow closely, though I try to keep an eye on what's being done.

3. You started in an era when computer lettering did not exist. How do those times compare to today and is there anything you miss about those pre-internet days?
When I began in the comics business in 1977, all the elements on a page of comics were done by hand. Today it's possible for all of them to be done on a computer, though much of the artwork is still done by hand first, then scanned onto a computer. The evolution of desktop publishing powered by inexpensive but powerful desktop and laptop computers, especially those made by Apple, began in the 1980s, and started having an impact on comics lettering soon after, though the effects were gradual.
For lettering comics pages, the computer has some distinct advantages and some disadvantages. Lettering SANDMAN on the computer, for instance, would have been a nightmare, because every time Neil Gaiman wanted a new lettering style for a character, I'd have to create a new font, a very time-consuming process. For a book like, say, CAPTAIN AMERICA, where the need for lots of styles is absent, the computer can be quite a timesaver. Over the years I've tried to develop a library of fonts that will serve in most situations without becoming stale, and now that nearly all the work I'm doing is on the computer, I've gotten comfortable with that, though I still enjoy the challenge of hand-lettering on those rare occasions when I'm asked to. While there are now many advantages for computer lettering for the comics companies, there are still comics artists who would prefer to have the lettering on their pages. First, it would save them some drawing time (not having to draw where you KNOW a big caption will be), same for the inkers and colorists. Second, comics tell a story, and a page of comics art without the lettering is only half the story. Selling a page of comics art with lettering is usually easier for that reason. So, there are still some hand-lettering holdouts, but they're dwindling fast against the rising tide of digital convenience.

4. How has computer lettering changed your way of approaching your job?
The main change is sitting down in front of a computer instead of at the drawing board. Otherwise, I think my approach is similar: try to do the best job I can with the tools at hand.

5. Lettering is a very important part of comics, but as Richard Starkings says, a letterer’s job is successful when you do not notice it, basically. Do you agree with that? In your opinion, which is the main feature a good lettering has to have?
Well, the lettering is part of the package, and when done well it helps tell the story without being distracting. So, bad lettering will stand out and interfere with that. Good lettering will be part of the entire reading experience, enhancing it, but there are times when good lettering can also stand out and be noticed. Not enough to distract from the story, just enough for the reader to see and appreciate it. So, I don't agree. Just as in a film, where very good music or sets or costumes can be noticed and appreciated while still enjoying the story, so it is with very good lettering. Or inking, or pencilling or writing or coloring.

6. You are known for the versatility of your lettering and for the elegant letter design. Can you describe the process of creating custom made fonts for your lettering? When you designed “the voices” of characters in Sandman, did you get to talk to the writer before using the lettering styles you had created for them?
It depends on the writer and the project. Some writers have many suggestions, some leave it to me. Neil Gaiman usually had a lot of input in the lettering choices I made, Alan Moore, for instance, usually made a few suggestions and then left it to me. As for the process, all I can say is, I look for the style that seems right for the character or situation, drawing on my knowledge of comics and non-comics art and design.

7. How did the collaboration with Alan Moore and JH Williams work on Promethea? Can you describe the process in detail? How did the experimental solutions came about and what was your input?
Nearly everything you see in Promethea was described first by Alan in his scripts. J.H. added details and styles to that. I worked more closely with J.H. on the look of the lettering than with Alan, who, as I said, tends to just make a few suggestions and then leave it to me. J.H. likes to have a lot of input, and we often discussed styles and lettering ideas as the series went along.

8. You are a well-respected logo designer: in particular, your work for the ABC line was remarkable. What can you tell us about that? Can you talk about the process?
With the ABC books I was essentially the cover designer, and worked with the artists and Alan to come up with the covers from start to finish. Sometimes Alan would have a firm idea, sometimes the artist would, sometimes I would. It varied a lot. The logos and type for each issue of Tom Strong and Promethea were designed with a particular style in mind, each one different. It was a lot of work, but also lots of fun, most of the time. It would begin with Alan's concept for the issue's contents, and from there we'd settle on a style. Then I'd research it, get examples, and work with the artist, sometimes giving them a layout first, sometimes working from their layout. When the art was done I would do final logo and type designs, making everything fit and work together.

9. Has any of the artistic teams you worked with ever complained about issues related to lettering?
Oh, I can think of a few, but I won't name any names. Most of the people I've worked with have seemed to like what I do.

10. What do you think of companies like Comicraft selling commercial lettering fonts? Does this bother you in any way?
I have no problem with it. Commercial fonts from vendors like Comicraft and Blambot have allowed more artists to do their own lettering, which I think is a good thing, if they want to. And when they do, they're letterers. Well-made fonts will allow anyone to reach a certain level of competence, but to excell with them takes practice and skill.

11. Your ToddKlone fonts are a sort of “holy grail” of lettering fonts, as you keep them for yourself. Are they ever going to be commercially released (maybe when you will retire)?
I may, when that time comes. I have no plans for it as of now.

12. Can you talk about the various prints you created with your collaborators, with Moore, Gaiman and Ross? I find them a really great idea…
While the production of these signed prints might seem like a savvy business plan, in fact I kind of happened on it. After thinking about it for years, in January 2007 I started working on a website for myself. Looking at other websites I liked, I noted that all of them had an “items for sale” section of some kind, and I thought I should do that, too. I put together a short list of things to sell, including two 11 by 17 inch prints I had made in the 1990s, and when the website launched in July 2007, they were on my Buy Stuff page.
For the first few weeks I made sales, but that dropped off to almost nothing by the end of July, and I pondered what new things I could do to add to the list. New prints of my own lettering was an option, but I couldn’t think of anything really novel in that line. Then it occurred to me to try collaborating with some of the popular and well-liked creators I’d been working with for years. The first two that came to mind were Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman. Those were names that could get some attention and generate sales. Of the two, I was in touch more regularly with Alan, so I started with him, and we produced “Alphabets of Desire,” which to my shock was a runaway hit, with the first printing selling out in less than three days.
Okay, then, success! And, why not more? Within days of putting Alan’s print on sale in early December I emailed Neil about the possibility of him writing one for me. The answer came back, “Sure.” It took some months, but he finally delivered a poem to me that I thought would make a fine print. I worked up a design, lettered and drew it, and "Before You Read This" became the second print.
Next I began to think about doing a third print, this time collaborating with an artist rather than a writer. I’d had an idea: a boy sits happily reading a comic, while around and above him are a cloud of phantom word balloons and captions, representing some of the comics he’s reading, or has read. Above that is an obscure image of a flying super-hero, perhaps one the boy is reading about or imagining himself as, and at the top a large title, “Comic Book Dreams.” The title would feature a large letter C at the beginning, continuing the alphabetical theme of the first two prints (something I hadn’t planned, it just happened.)
My ideal choice for artist was Alex Ross, but I didn’t know if he’d have time or would be interested in doing it.
I gave Alex a call and nervously made my proposal. Happily, he agreed right away, and from my description said he already had a visual in mind. Again, it took some months, but finally Alex delivered the art, and I put the print together with the lettering. Detailed descriptions of the creation of each print are on my blog, if you want to know more.

13. Which are the works you are most proud of? Any works which you were not happy about?
If I had to pick one project I'm most proud of it would be the entire run of Sandman. There are many others I like a great deal, too, including most of my collaborations with Alan Moore. In a long career there are always going to be some projects that didn't come out the way one would like, but I'm not going to name any.

14. In your career you won several Eisner Awards and it is not a surprise that you are considered one of the best letterers in the field. Have you got any dreams left to chase? In the past you wrote a couple of comics: is there more writing in the near future, for you? I know you also play music, any news about this?
I'm so busy with the work in hand I don't have time for either new writing or music these days, I'm afraid. If lettering and design work slows down for me, or when I decide to cut back on it in later years, there might be time for more of those. Meanwhile, some of the Green Lantern Corps stories I wrote have recently been reprinted by DC Comics in trade paperback form (with stories by others), so that's nice. And the music I've recorded is available on my website.

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