We’re in a golden age of comics right now and in an age of geek none of us could have ever imagined, but with the good comes the bad. As our geek news sites become more corporate they tend to focus less on comics and in some cases less on independent creators. My goal is to never shy away from giving a soapbox to those starting out, the independent, the unsung and the creators trying to carve a niche for themselves.
For today’s edition of Lettering with Style I am interviewing the awesome, the amazing (and I maybe bias because he’s lettered for me) DC Hopkins. In case you wanted to know a bit about DC before reading the interview here’s a little something on him.
DC Hopkins is a professional letterer for publishers such as IDW, Lion Forge, BlackMask, Disney, Tor, Red 5, and a staff letterer at AndWorld Design. He is also the Co-host of two fantastic podcasts, Hideous Energy and Eerie, International.
Austin Wilson & Seth T. Hahne
Now let’s get on with that interview.
Marco: So, to start us off I’m going to ask you a question designed to let the reader get to know you a little. What made you fall in love with comics and how did you get your start in this business?
DC: When I was a kid, my mom taught me to read at a very early age. Around the age of two, I was starting to put together small, three-letter words on our refrigerator using these multicolored letter magnets that she bought for me to learn from. This lead to reading those simple “See Spot Run” style books, and my parents struck a deal with me: for every one of those books I would read on my own, they would buy me a comic book issue.
This turned out to be a great motivator and my love of comics began at this point – the bright colors, the dynamic characters, and the genre elements all captured my imagination. The Darkwing Duck cartoon combined with the 1989 Batman film reinforced it even further, and I’ve been a comic reader ever since.
In terms of my start in the business, it’s much like everyone else’s story about breaking in: a ton of false starts, rejections, and grinding away at work until opportunity knocked. I did a lot of work for Bluewater and if the whole Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing holds any truth, I got a TON of practice and bad pages out of my system while working there. It was a big learning experience.
Eventually, I started getting bigger and better gigs (and ones that paid too!), and my first big publication was the graphic novel Johnny Hiro: The Skills To Pay The Bills by Fred Chao, published by Tor. A year or two after that, Deron Bennett asked me if I was interested in doing work for his studio, AndWorld Design, and my career really took off from there. Deron offered to teach and mentor me to help me take my work to the next level, and I immediately accepted.
Marco: I recently asked Micah Myers this question and I also asked Marshall Dillon the same question (for two upcoming interviews). Now I don’t plan to ask any other letterers I interview in the future but I will ask you because we’ve worked together and I’m curious as to your answer.
What are some of the misconceptions you’ve run across as a letterer in this business and if you could what’s something you would like to see changed or improved upon when it comes to letterers in this business?
DC: Perhaps the biggest misconception is that the lettering just “happens” or that the writer does it. I’ve yet to meet a letterer who hasn’t experienced the challenge of trying to get the average person to understand exactly what it is that we do. My usual elevator pitch is that I essentially do graphic design for comic books. It’s a little broad and not 100% accurate, but it gets the job done and people start to understand I’m not the writer or illustrator. Beyond that, I think some other common misconceptions are that we write all of the sound effects (we don’t, usually), that balloons are called “bubbles,” and that lettering is just an afterthought tacked on at the end.
Comic book lettering is an art, and something that letterers and editors take very seriously. It’s the backbone of a comic in many ways, and we aim to make the relationship between the visual components and the reader work as seamlessly as possible.
In terms of wanting to see something changed, I think the biggest thing that’s weighed on my mind lately is this idea that “lettering should be invisible.” Deron has written about this for the AndWorld social media pages, and we’ve discussed it a lot. With comic book lettering, there’s been a common comparison to film editing in that if a film is edited properly, you don’t notice it, and that comic lettering should be the same.
While I understand where this thought is coming from since bad lettering can jolt a reader right out of the book, I disagree that lettering shouldn’t be noticed. Good lettering should be noticed, and the reader should enjoy seeing well-balanced placements, and visually striking sound effects, and creative title designs. It’s a vital part of the presentation of the comic, and I love seeing letterers like Deron, Rus Wooton, and Aditya Bidikar put their stamp on a book and take it to another level. Those are just a few of the letterers working right now who are trying to push the boundaries of what lettering can be, and I try to do the same in my work whenever possible.
Jehanzeb Hasan & Mauricio Caballero
Marco: Let’s talk about AndWorld Design and your start there. What’s it like working for and with a lettering and design studio? Also tell us a bit about how you approach a book when you’re brought on board.
DC: Oh man, AndWorld is the best. Deron is everything you could hope for in a boss in that he’s super nice and laid back, but extremely driven and ambitious. He’s constantly pushing for us to put out our best possible work, and is very hands-on when it comes to suggesting tweaks and adjustments so that our pages go out in top form. With Deron at the helm, working for the studio is a breeze. There are roughly 7 or 8 of us, and we run the gamut across different styles and skills. Some of us work exclusively on design work, some do primarily manga, while others do a combination of everything.
I’ve jumped at every opportunity to learn from Deron on working with each of these skills, and because of that I’ve learned how to letter manga which is a completely different animal altogether. Since we’re not a brick-and-mortar studio, we communicate mostly using Slack and email and stay connected easily. It’s a lot of fun being a part of a larger team.
In terms of my approach on an AndWorld book, it’s mostly the same as a freelance book I’d work on my own, with the biggest difference being that Deron is there as a facilitator. He’s already worked with the clients and gathered all the necessary materials we need to work on the project. If the client has very specific ideas and directions in terms of style, he’ll send that over to us, otherwise the first step is landing on what style we’ll be using for the project. I’ll letter a few panels with what I’m thinking would mesh well with the book stylistically and send it over to Deron. He’ll then make suggestions or alterations if needed and then we’ll communicate it to the client and run from there.
Marco: What are you working on presently? If you’re able to tell us and what do you have coming down the pipeline? Also do you have any other comic book pursuits outside of lettering?
DC: Right now I’m doing a lot of work through AndWorld on some fun Lion Forge projects, primarily ACCELL for their “Catalyst Prime” universe. The universe that Joe Illidge and co. are building over there is super (no pun intended) interesting, and I love that diversity and representation is a HUGE part of it, not just when it comes to race, but also sexual orientation and characters with intellectual disabilities in the case of SUPERB. I’m also working on THE CASTOFFS for their Roar imprint which is a blast. And VOLTRON is coming back soon so we’re working on volume 2 of that.
Beyond AndWorld stuff, I’m working on a bunch of other freelance projects at the moment, but most of it is under wraps in terms of announcements until a later date. I’m doing a larger graphic novel for Dynamite which should be out later this year, and I’m also the letterer on the ongoing series HELM which was just nominated in the Best Digital Comic category at this year’s Eisner Awards.
I have many other goals and pursuits in comics, but they’re all pretty much connected to lettering and design in some way. The biggest one is the desire to learn how to hand letter and translate that into creating and customizing my own fonts. It’s time consuming though, and a big part of the modern lettering industry in 2017 is that you have to push completed pages out as quickly as possible, leaving little room for extracurricular stuff, even as it relates to lettering. But in terms of writing or illustrating or editing comics…nah. I’m a letterer, and I love being a letterer.
Don Handfield, Richard Rayner, & Leno Carvalho
Marco: All good things must end and as sad as I am to have to wrap this up I’m going to give you a moment to PIMP YOUR WORK! This is your time to shine and to tell the readers why they should check out the books you’re working on, what you have coming up and anything else you have whether in comics or outside. So, have at it!
DC: Besides the stuff I mentioned above, people should also check out the DARKWING DUCK comic book that we did over at Joe Books/Disney. As I mentioned in the question about how I got into comics at an early age, Darkwing was a big part of that, so it was a surreal dream come true to work with Aaron Sparrow and James Silvani on that one. There are two trades out now that collect the entire run.
Beyond that, I lettered most of the recently collected THE RIFT series for Red 5 and had a lot of fun on that one too. Over at Alterna Comics, they’ve been getting a lot of buzz on their newsprint line, and one of the big hits has been TRESPASSER which I lettered and did the logo for. Justin M. Ryan wrote that one and he has been one of my favorite creators to work with so far in my career. Not only is he a fantastic writer, but he understands and respects the lettering process in a huge way. Publishers should take note of him and snag him now while they still can!
I’m also the letterer on the ongoing TART series written by Kevin Joseph. Kevin is another amazing guy who is insanely passionate about making comics, and the work he does over at Kechal Comics showcases that. And last but not least, I’d be remiss to not mention the digital comics I’ve lettered for you, Marco, over at Atomic Rex! We’ve worked on some truly outstanding stories there with some incredibly talented artists and it’s one of the first places I point people toward when it comes to checking out great free comics content online.
And finally, one last thing. I co-host/produce two podcasts hosted at over at FanOff, one called HIDEOUS ENERGY about comic books and another called EERIE, INTERNATIONAL about the horror genre.
I’ve been recording podcasts for about 8 years now and it’s become such an important part of my week, creatively speaking. Through HIDEOUS ENERGY, my co-host (Austin Wilson, writer of Magnetic Press’ RE•PRO•DUCT: SELF APPLIED) and I have also been able to make some free digital comics people can check out via our Patreon
And that’s the end of that. I want to thank DC Hopkins for letting me interview him and I hope you all enjoyed this edition of Lettering with Style. Check out his website and don’t forget to follow DC via twitter.
Kevin Joseph & Ludovic Sallé