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
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.
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
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
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.