Comicon’s 7 Best Comic Letterers Of 2018

by Hannah Means Shannon

Welcome to Comicon.com’s Best of the Year Awards, gathering the best comics and comics talent of 2018. 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 Digital/Webcomics, Most Progressive Comics, and lastly, Comicon’s People of The Year: 2018.

Contributors to Comicon’s Best of the Year Awards 2018 include: Brendan Allen, Gary Catig, James Ferguson, Oliver MacNamee, Noah Sharma, Rachel Bellwoar, Tito James, Omar Spahi, Tony Thornley, Josh Davison, Richard Bruton, and Hannah Means-Shannon.

The following are Comicon’s 7 Best Letterers of 2018.

 

7. Taylor Esposito for Babyteeth (AfterShock Comics)

Since comics can’t rely on the same methods as other mediums, such as a tense soundtrack or a sudden movement, they rely on pacing, page turns, and mood. Taylor Esposito controls many of these elements with his lettering, pulling us in close for a moment where a single word can appear like an atom bomb of emotion, or rocking our heads back with big, loud screams of triumph or anger. Esposito guides us through the story, focusing in on key elements of the artwork so we can soak every last detail in. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his work on Babyteeth this year, when dealing both with the role of a small child and the broad sweep of apocalyptic events has Esposito veering between the subtle and the overwhelming on a regular basis.

6. Joe Caramagna for Man-Eaters (Image Comics)

Letterers are in an interesting position as sort of the “ghosts” of comics books. If they do their job well, they blend in. If they do their jobs poorly, they ruin your night. But if they do their jobs REALLY well, they stand out and enhance the reading experience. If you pardon the labored metaphor, Joe Caramagna is in that last category. Just in the last few weeks, his work has stood out playing with fonts, captions and sound effects, all in ways that enhance the script without drawing attention in a negative way. It actually made several jokes in a recent issue of Image’s Man-Eaters even funnier, just because he made a great choice in how to caption a few dogs’ names on the page. And that’s the true mark of a good letterer.

5. Aditya Bidikar for Punks Not Dead (Black Crown – IDW) and Isola (Image Comics)

A one man lettering machine, Bidikar seemed to appear as the letterer on many of the comics I enjoyed throughout this year, showing his expertise and skills in working with an array of artists to create smooth flowing, beautifully balanced lettering in such books as Punks Not Dead for Black Crown, Void Trip  and the amazing Isola from Image, among many others. His versatility shows a commitment to storytelling on a case by case basis, suggesting that he doesn’t impose a particular lettering theory over all his books, but tailors his approach to the needs of the book in an admirable way. The approach of a true professional.

4. Jim Campbell for Alice: From Dream to Dream (Boom! Studios)

Looking back over some of my favorite comics this year, there’s one name that pops up again and again and that’s Jim Campbell. From giving Elena Abbott a sharp entrance in Boom! Studio’s Abbott #1 to making the title of AfterShock’s series, Patience! Conviction! Revenge! a rallying cry each issue, Campbell’s lettering is always impressive, but never more so than in the graphic novel Alice: From Dream to Dream. While the genre conventions of the other two series mentioned allow Campbell to come up with robot speech and newspaper print, it’s his ability to convey relationships through the placement of speech bubbles that’s a lettering marvel in Alice.

Jamie and Alice are best friends and you know this, before reading any of writer Giulio Macaione’s dialogue, just because of how their conversations look on the page. There’s one panel where you’re watching Jamie and Alice from inside Alice’s locker and it’s like a dance, the way their speech bubbles move. Two people have never been more in sync, and Campbell’s lettering gives readers their first taste of that bond which is central to the book and its characters.

3. Jack Morelli for Cosmo (Archie Comics)

Fans of Archie Comics know Jack Morrelli well, but on top of lettering Riverdale’s finest this year, Morrelli expanded his repertoire to Martians with his work on Archie’s revival of the 1950’s comic, Cosmo. The energetic, all-ages series starts with Cosmo and his friends rescuing Max, an astronaut from Earth whose spaceship died on the way to Mars. Max is convinced that Cosmo means to do him harm, but Morelli’s lettering lets us know he’s a bit on the dramatic side.

Where the lettering for the Martians is even-keeled and friendly, Max’s will take sudden turns because of his desire to present himself as a hero. That’s not to say Max isn’t brave but that his perception of a hero is limited (and certainly doesn’t include him yelling “Eek!” like he’s seen a mouse). Prone to bouts of self-absorption (he’s the only character whose interior thoughts are sometimes included), it takes a while for Max to accept that he and the Martians are alike. Morrelli’s lettering makes that plain from the beginning, by showing that their dialogue looks and feels the same.

2. Clayton Cowles for The Wicked + The Divine

Lettering is an aspect of comics where you tend to notice it more when it’s done poorly as opposed to when it’s done well. That’s unfortunate, because there is certainly a vast amount of art and talent that lies behind lettering a comic book well. Clayton Cowles may be among the hardest working letterers in the industry, and he has the talent to match. He’s worked across Marvel, DC, and Image in the past year and has done top-notch work every time. His long-running tenure on The Wicked + The Divine deserves a great deal more attention than it typically receives.

Cowles’ single-handedly responsible for the fresh, youthful, lively feeling of returned gods, even when locked in deadly arguments, and creates an interesting tension between the upbeat and the doomed feel of the recent arc. In the example below, you’ll see Cowles breaking loose teen exuberance and naivete as some Pantheon seekers get ready for a big event. Their mood will soon contrast starkly with the possibility of a terrible fate for them, which the reader knows about but the teens do not.

1. Steve Wands for Sandman Universe: Lucifer

The look and feel of the Sandman Universe books takes a great deal of influence from the long history of the Sandman character and the denizens of his world. Within that long history, there’s plenty to draw on, but creators also faced the task of trying to update and make this return to a beloved mythology feel as fresh and breezy as possible, even while handling heavier themes. Sandman Universe: Lucifer is a book that deals in particularly heavy themes and also jumps around in time.

Steve Wands took up this project while also working on Gideon Falls, among other books, and the needs of those two books couldn’t be further apart. Lucifer is a story about bridging multiple narrative locations in time immediately. Gideon Falls asks a letter to keep stretching the reader’s attention between different narratives while continuing to keep storylines apart. In Lucifer, particularly, Wands brings a warmth to his work, even when thoroughly creeping out the reader, that encourages us to follow along and “stay with” the story, no matter where it may take us. He varies fonts, balloon styles, and even size of fonts to keep things popping, and even shocking, from time to time with his sound effects. He is clearly the person perfect for such a difficult, at times literary, and always ambitious series. Wands represents a confidence and vision for lettering that places him at the top of his craft.

 

 

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