Thursday, June 16, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Who is your favorite comic book letterer? The process is a bit of a lost art these days and I can understand if you brush off the question like a mosquito off your nose. But not so very long ago the field of lettering was vibrant and thriving and at that time I might have chided you if you couldn't name a beloved practitioner.

Admittedly, I was ignorant of the artistry of lettering when I was younger. My awakening occurred during the late 1970s at the confluence of (1) DC Comics beginning to regularly name a story's letterer in the same credit box that identified the writer and artist and (2) the publication of the first editions of the oversized hardcover EC Comics Library. I've proclaimed any number of times that Ben Oda is my favorite comics letterer of them all. My two-pronged past-and-present fascination with his craftsmanship developed as I pored over his then-current work for DC and as I simultaneously admired his impeccable title lettering for many of the EC stories. (EC editor-in-chief Al Feldstein for some reason preferred the robotic-looking Leroy lettering for everything except the story titles, but Mr. Oda lettered entire stories for editor Harvey Kurtzman in, for example, Mad.)

Yes, Ben Oda is my favorite, but I appreciate the work of a bevy of other letterers also. John Costanza worked on the early issues of Jack Kirby's Fourth World comics. Mike Royer took over in the later Fourth World releases (and, as I now reflect on it, I probably knew Mike Royer by name before I knew Ben Oda by name since those early-1970s Kirby comics had an "Inked and Lettered by Mike Royer" credit line). Let's not forget about the excellent letterer of the early issues of Jimmy Olsen that I have lauded every time I listed a J.O. comic over on ebay (but whose identity I will not reveal until a later day). Another top flier is John Workman, whose work has adorned Marshall Rogers' Batman stories and Walt Simonson's Manhunter and Metal Men and Thor stories. In fact, I'm ready to announce to the world that John Workman is my second-favorite letterer of all time!

But I'm sorry to say that I'm here today bearing bad news about John Workman. He was one of the stalwart holdouts but now he too has thrown in the towel. It wasn't that many months ago that I can recall enjoying a comic with the beautifully jaunty rising and falling of Mr. Workman's hand-drawn letters. But it's a different situation altogether in the "Super 8" story insert in the midsection of many of this month's DC Comics releases.

The credit box of the Super 8 comic-within-a-comic says that the lettering is by John Workman, but where's the life? Where's the lilt? The lettering shows some resemblance to the style of Mr. Workman but the rigid uniformity of the heights of the rows of letters makes it woefully apparent that Mr. W has crossed over to the dark side and has computer-lettered rather than hand-lettered this story. The John Workman Wikipedia page makes mention that Mr. W is one of the last to still letter by hand. Somebody's going to have to go alter that line to read "Mr. W was one of the last to still letter by hand."

The glory days were great while they lasted. I feel a sadness as I watch the artform of comic book hand-lettering hobble toward extinction.

Computers are the worst thing that ever happened to comic book lettering.


Post a Comment

<< Home