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Unsung Heroes: The Comic Book Letterer

By Shawn DePasquale

Unsung Heroes: The Comic Book Letterer

The art of lettering is an often overlooked aspect of comic book production. Great lettering is invisible yet crucial to the storytelling process, and letterers are often working under the gun to get a book completed on time. They’re probably the lowest-paid part of the production team (writers, artists, inkers and colorists are all paid more per page,) but without them comics would be totally silent. Letterers contribute so much to the process and yet they don't share cover credit with the rest of the team (colorists are often left off the cover as well -- although more companies are starting to add them on occasion) which is why it's important to recognize the good work that they do whenever possible.

Night Driver - Lettered by Micah Myers

“I think letterers do the work and should get cover credit,” Micah Myers, a professional letterer since 2012, says. “We are just as responsible for the look of the book as other members of the team. Good letterers can set a mood and they can control the pace of the book.”

One crucial aspect of lettering, especially in the digital age, is font choice. Back in the old hand lettering days a letter was expected to have perfect penmanship, but thanks to the digital revolution many letterers use pre-existing fonts created by other professionals. Currently, and for the better part of the last decade, there are two places most letterers count on for new and innovative font designs: Blambot and Comicraft. Both places are the ultimate destination for buying comic book fonts to use for dialogue or special effects.

Nate Piekos, who runs Blambot, was working at a corporate design day job back in 2002 when he filled in as the letterer on X-Force #129. Shortly thereafter he got a call from Marvel editor Axel Alonso asking him to take over on the title full-time. Piekos is also a writer and illustrator but admits that graphic design is where he feels most at home. “I graduated with a BA in design from Rhode island College - my first love is graphic design,” Piekos said. “So I put those skills to use within the comics industry.”

I Hate Fairyland - Lettering by Nate Piekos
Yet, like Myers, Piekos wonders why his skills aren’t credited in the same way as the rest of the team. “[It is] As if we aren't part of the creative team,” Piekos laments. “A great letterer is a great graphic designer, and a good one can make your comic shine. A bad one can ruin the experience of the reader.”

He continues, “If you look at some of the legendary letterers like Klein, Workman, Orzechowski, etc. what sets them apart is their amazing, unique graphic design skills. Whether they went to school specifically for design or not, that's what it comes down to.”

Asked if he believes letterers should have their names on the cover of books alongside the rest of the creative team Piekos agreed with Myers. “I think so. Letterers have an influence over more than just the lettering,” he said. “We're designing logos, cover treatments, backup materials, etc. It's a whole package that impacts the reading experience immensely. We're part of the creative team.”

Images: Flickr - Marco/Zak, Image Comics, Like A Virus Productions