BY CHRIS ELIOPOLOUS
Most people don't pay much attention to letterers and we're okay with that. We have each other. The community of letterers is a strange one, but in part, because of Bill I always felt like an important part of it.
When I started working on staff at Marvel as a letterer, I was introduced to Bill's work and the simply elegant, no-nonsense approach to it. They say some people's work looks so easy that there appears to be no effort to it. But most of us learn that there's a lot of skill in making things look effortless. Bill was one of those guys. His work was so clean and perfect that I, and many other letterers were jealous of his skill.
One year, Jim Novak, another letterer and mentor to many of us decided we should all go to the San Diego con as letterers and enjoy each other's company. I met Jim on the flight to San Diego for the first time and was intimidated, then I got to meet pat Brosseau and Bill for the first time, all of us, Ken Lopez included, in a room together and I totally felt unworthy to consider myself their peer. But it was Bill who started asking me all kinds of questions and treated me as an equal. i really liked this guy!
So, there we were, Jim Novak, Bill Oakley, Pat Brosseau, Ken Lopez, Mike Heisler and me. We scared the hell out of all the editors there. They thought we were organizing. We went everywhere together. The beach, the bars, the baseball game, and, oh yeah, the con. We had a ball! Jim started calling us The Magnificent 107s! Named after the pen point we all used.
I came to discover that Bill was as nice a guy as he was a great letterer. I would talk to him on and off over the years, keeping in touch. Then we learned he had cancer. Went through the usual treatments and thought he was better, but a couple years later discovered it had spread. He had no medical coverage because he had a previous medical condition and the insurance companies refused to cover him. So all the time he was getting treatment for his cancer, Bill would letter comics to help pay the costs-- many comics you have in your collection were lettered in a hospital room. But Bill was proud and never asked for anything from anyone.
Ken Lopez and I had talked and I discovered that Bill couldn't work as fast as he liked. I told him I would make a font based on his lettering. Bill and I talked and I did create a font for him, but work was drying up. He did, however, continue to hand letter a few books.
Bill Oakley was one of the best damn letterers ever, but to me, he was a great person who treated me with respect and who I consider a friend.
I and the comic book community will miss you, Bill.
-- Chris Eliopolous