Comicon’s 8 Best Letterers Of 2017

by Hannah Means Shannon

Welcome to’s inaugural Best of the Year Awards, gathering the best comics and comics talent of 2017. This year we will be awarding in the following categories: Best Original Graphic Novels, Best Comic Series, Best Single Comic Issues, Best Writers, Best Artists, Best Cover Artists, Best Colorists, Best Letterers, Best Webcomics, Most Progressive Comics, and lastly, Comicon’s People of The Year: 2017.
Contributors to Comicon’s Best of the Year Awards this year include: Alan Stewart, Alex Schumacher, Brendan Allen, Gary Catig, James Ferguson, Kieran Fisher, Oliver MacNamee, Noah Sharma, Rachel Bellwoar, Tito James, Angel Carreras, and Hannah Means-Shannon.
The following are Comicon’s 8 Best Letterers of 2017.

8. Kyle Starks for Rock Candy Mountain (Image Comics)
It’s no secret that Kyle Starks’ Rock Candy Mountain has been a fan-favorite. So much action. So many hobo fights. So much quipping. Lots of ironic punch-ups. Written, illustrated, and lettered by Starks and colored by Chris Schweizer, the comic has a deeply organic feel as a story, as if it’s being passed down as a story around a campfire. When you look at the comic closely, you come to realize that a major component of that feel is Starks’ lettering on the series. He chooses an interesting, angular font that is really in keeping with the angular tendency of his own artwork, and the font also suggests a certain antiquated feel–like a story happening in post WWII America among country people should have. Lastly, his SFX are highly original and hilarious. One shining example is preceded by “Pang, Pang” with umlauts, because the fight is taking place in Germany, which on its own is funny. But the star element is “WREKT”, which sounds German, but isn’t, and is, utterly side-splitting.

7. Rich Tommaso for Spy Seal (Image Comics)
Rich Tommaso is another creator whose work is so self-contained that it might not occur to readers to consider his work as a letterer. In his previous series at Image, She Wolf, the lettering was larger and looked more hand-written, so attracted more attention, but in his latest series Spy Seal, in keeping with a Herge style of storytelling meant to infuse the comic, Tommaso has reduced the size of his font, and limited it to regular, rectangular spaces for the most part. That alone gives the text an amusing, understated quality as his animal characters exchange dialog. But Tommaso also branches out into SFX that read like period elements and colors them in the same cartoony colors we’d expect from the world of the comic. Add to that his secondary and highly entertaining choice to represent reactions, thoughts, and feelings as little vertical rectangular boxes containing symbols rather than words, and you get an extra zany feel for the comic. Below you’ll see upset, murder, and frustration as symbols, as well as some of the deadpan dialog carefully rendered.

6. Aditya Bidikar for Kid Lobotomy (Black Crown/IDW)

This debut series from the Black Crown imprint at IDW is of a fairly literary character, which may not been the most overt element you notice when you pick up the first issue of the series. It’s a story about someone struggling with madness, the place where he lives, and his family, but the allusions and layers of interpretation in the comic draw from literature and other aspects of pop culture. I mention that because Aditya Bidikar often has a fair amount of text to handle in the comic, as well as contending with some unusual and experimental page layouts, all while keeping the movement of the comic brisk and piquant in its mysterious qualities. You can see one of the unusual layouts below, and note how Bidikar presents the speech elements almost casually, making sure the reader does not feel that there’s anything out of the ordinary in the page’s presentation, in order to keep guiding them through the narrative effectively. And this is a relatively calm example from the comic, which uses “voice” in an almost sing-songy way via writer Peter Milligan. This makes the use of language and its presentation in the comic even more of a key factor in the hands of Bidikar.

5. Rick Parker for American Gods (Dark Horse)
Working with the adaptation into comics of Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods also poses distinct challenges for the adapter and the letterer. Even paring down narrative to a minimal level is going to leave plenty of text remaining that’s absolutely essential to the story, and at times in the comic, there is a great deal of text, and at times the story is less text-heavy and more symbolic, allowing for unique avenues in lettering. Rick Parker, who also lettered the two volume adaptation of Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, handles lettering duties on American Gods, which is set to be a long-running series. He was chosen on Graveyard Book for his painstaking, hand-lettered style, and that’s in full effect in American Gods, giving the sense of personality to every speech and thought element, and in particular lending a sense of narrative drive in the role of Shadow Moon, our protagonist. In the examples below you’ll see, firstly, Parker working with a great deal of text necessary to the narrative, and making sure it doesn’t interfere with interpretation of the artwork, as well as preserving the flow of the page. In the second example, you’ll see some remarkable innovation in his presentation of mythological speeches and elements in panels where less compressed storytelling means the letterer can really give the text wings.

4. Taylor Esposito for Centipede (Dynamite Entertainment)
Taylor Esposito has worked on so many books in 2017 that it’s hard to settle on just one that distinguishes his work, so we chose one that sums up his professionalism and ability to work with both traditional and wacky comic elements, Centipede. In a comic based on the classic Atari game, aliens attack our protagonist, Dale’s, planet, and as earth’s only survivor, he sets out for revenge against his insectoid foes. There are elements of the story that are tragic, elements that are comedic, and most of all, there are massive imaginative leaps. In the example below, we see Esposito working with traditional monolog, showing a mental process for the character. Then we see quite ridiculous howling from the character, getting more extreme due to his anxiety, and the diminishing stress intersected by an extreme SFX element. Such prolonged sound elements, with multiple repeating letters, over many panels, would usually be a little too overwhelming for a comics page to work well. Esposito, however, has chosen a composition that works and isn’t visually dominating to the extent of taking the reader out of the story. When things get really “loud” in the last panel, we’ve hit the end of a page, and the page turn is going to act as a break in the “noise” of the page we’ve just encountered. This page only works because of Esposito’s choices in font size, SFX colors, and more, and shows his versatility in handling an action-adventure-sci-fi-gaming comic with a lot of storytelling elements.

3. Jack Morelli for Jughead: The Hunger

Jack Morelli letters a large number of books for Archie Comics, but what you might ordinarily overlook about his talents really pops when you see him take to working on one of Archie’s horror titles. Only then do you realize that his lettering is a big part of what makes the lighter, brighter Archie titles feel light, bright, and homey, and the humor and comedy accessible. When you see Morelli’s work on the new Jughead: The Hunger  a story which posits that Jughead is a werewolf running away from his true nature, and that Betty descends from a line of werewolf hunters, you see the interesting play between the upbeat, homegrown Archie tone and the more brooding, dangerous horror tone through Morelli’s lettering. In the example below, you’ll see more traditional feeling Archie lettering setting up the new series, with a tense hospital environment where Reggie Mantle, having been attacked, is now being treated. Through the gradual rise of SFX on the second page, presented in the yellow, repetitive “beep”, and then through the long “beeeeep” also presented in yellow, Morelli ushers us into a different kind of expectation from the comic. That of a different genre. The color yellow is typical of horror film posters, and the rise in ominous SFX builds tension beyond drama into something else. Wait till you see what he can do with a werewolf howl!

2. John Workman for Ragnarok (IDW)
John Workman’s lettering on Ragnarok, written and illustrated by Walter Simonson is downright fascinating. In this mystical world based on Norse Mythology, we have an evocation of the end of the world where the monsters have meted out their destruction but have not, themselves, been destroyed. An un-dead Thor is back for revenge upon them. In a battle between Thor and the ruler of the dead, John Workman handles ancient mythical ways of speaking, and more traditional sword and sorcery tones through a style that has a kind of rune-like sharpness to it. His lettering is also feels modulated in its alignment, rising and falling slightly, and this gives the text a more spoken, antique quality. This is also a story that’s going to carry a fair amount of text, in a high fantasy style, but Workman has managed to corral it into tight corner and edges, making use of white space for text to flow away from the art into the white borders, as seen below. You’ll also notice he likes to use a lot of white space around his text and firmly center it. This all works with the tone of the comic to make speech feel more like pronouncements, significant to the storytelling of each page, and more final.

1. VC’s Clayton Cowles for Daredevil (Marvel Comics)

The current run of Daredevil has a particular focus on the different worlds that Matt Murdock moves in, and the mind that links them. While these have always been an element of any Daredevil series, the juxtaposition is particularly prominent in recent issues, and Clayton Cowles finds himself working with Murdock’s own work-life dualism in lettering presentation. In the first example below, you’ll see Murdock in Washington, in the bright light of day, on his “big day” confessing to something that throws his legal ethics into a quandary. In the final panel, Cowles breaks down the significance of what Murdock is saying into three caption boxes that overlay the inscriptions on the top of the Supreme Court building nearby. The text spells out the deep significance of the place for the reader while the architecture suggests the age-old principals upon which law is based. We see Murdock’s dilemma literally carved in stone.
In the second example below, we encounter Murdock as Daredevil in a more traditional internal monologue. Cowles has a significant amount of text to present to give us a window into Daredevil’s mind and explore his connection to the city, but he delivers it in airy segments distributed as weightlessly as Daredevil’s own acrobatics. Though this is narrative, it’s delivered as lightly as thought in small units, and in each panel, Cowles has preserved a strong visual focus that the text highlights. The last panel, particularly, is a TKO, with speech scattered around the page like a starfield and Daredevil’s flip in focus, all while maintaining a left-to-right reading order. None of this is “flashy” lettering that calls attention to itself, but it is deeply effective in telling the story, and shows how well Cowles knows his craft.

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