Comic Jobs: The Letterer with Joe Caramagna

Joe CaramagnaI’ve been thinking a lot about the people involved in making a comic book and what sort of jobs go into completing one. I caught up again with Joe Caramagna and asked him a few questions about lettering. Caramagna is a very prolific letterer and storyteller, currently working on several projects for Marvel, he explained that,

What’s served me best as a letterer so far are my storytelling instincts. I’ve been writing all my life and went to school to be a comic book artist where I learned a lot about telling stories through art. You definitely have to have some design sense and a “good eye.” There’s a common misconception that anybody can become a letterer because it’s mostly done digitally with pre-made fonts, but it actually takes a lot of training and practice. And I don’t know any letterers who aren’t artists in their own right – it’s rare to find someone who’s never had formal art and design training working as a professional letterer.


He went on to say that being a letterer means doing your best to present a story through script, while allowing the art to do its very best to grab the reader’s eyes and let the story flow. It comes across as a puzzle, how to make the script fit the art while maintaining balance between the two. For being something that isn’t supposed to grab the reader’s attention, lettering gives the impression of being a very delicate and artful skill.

Here is the whole Q&A:

How did you get into lettering? Was it something taught to you or did you pick it up on your own?

I first learned lettering as a student at The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. Towards the end of my second year, Marvel started an in-house lettering department and were looking for an intern to train. The school put me on the short list of candidates and I was fortunate enough to get the job.

What other media do you look at (or listen to) that helps influence your work?

Not much, actually. Sometimes when I letter story titles I’ll look at movie or concert posters or something for inspiration, but most of the time I keep it simple. Mostly I just read lots of comics to see what other letterers are doing to see what I should be doing better.

Do you use any special tools to assist in lettering?

I letter using Adobe Illustrator, mostly.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

I still enjoy seeing how the sausage is made. I love comic books and I love being a part of the process. And as a writer I still learn a lot from reading scripts by other writers and seeing what gets changed–and how–by the time it goes to print. Every day that I learn something is a good day at work.

Sometimes pictures are worth a thousand words, in what way do you believe lettering helps provide the exception?

I catch some heat from some people when I say that lettering shouldn’t be very noticeable to the reader, but I really believe that. I think that lettering should enhance the story and not stand out from it. I don’t feel that it’s my job to impress the reader, I feel that the reader should be engrossed in the story, and that means that I have to be as clean, clear and consistent as I possibly can. Of course there are some tricks in the bag, but I think the tricks are more powerful when used sparingly and with real intent.

How would you say your approach or style sets you apart from other letterers?

I don’t know if it sets me apart, but I try to be as consistent as possible in every aspect of lettering from balloon shapes to sound effects.

Based on your own experiences, what does it take to be a letterer?

What’s served me best as a letterer so far are my storytelling instincts. I’ve been writing all my life and went to school to be a comic book artist where I learned a lot about telling stories through art. You definitely have to have some design sense and a “good eye.” There’s a common misconception that anybody can become a letterer because it’s mostly done digitally with pre-made fonts, but it actually takes a lot of training and practice. And I don’t know any letterers who aren’t artists in their own right – it’s rare to find someone who’s never had formal art and design training working as a professional letterer.

What sort of experiences do you have during the lettering of a book? Do you find some parts more difficult to work through than others?

When you letter a book, you have to look at the art and figure out how best to arrange the balloons so that they read in the proper order and cover as little of the artwork as possible. Sometimes it’s challenging if the artist doesn’t plan for the balloons and it’s always a challenge when there’s a lot of dialogue and very little room, but aside from that, lettering is pretty uneventful. Luckily there are sound effects to spice things up here and there!

Advertisements

Published by

Alex Añé

I am a geek, writer, web developer and avid comic book fan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s