Last week I had the pleasure of talking shop with Karma Police collaborators Tony Gregori and Jasen Smith, and now I’m excited to bring you some more tasty tidbits relating to what went into this karmic sausage we all love. Today’s topic – lettering – something that always fascinates me, even though it’s unfortunately left out of many discussions regarding this whole comics thing. So here goes my second attempt at an interview – this time with Karma Police letterer extraordinaire Nic J. Shaw!
Chris Lewis: What was the most complicated page to letter, and how did you solve it?
Nic Shaw: Page 17 from Issue 3 was a challenging page. While there’s isn’t a tonne of dialogue, there’s a lot of important character placement that leads into the next page. So the reader needs to know where characters are in the scene, which means I couldn’t cover ‘em up. Which doesn’t leave me too much room for balloons. And then on top of that, the first speaker in panel 2 is on the right, which instantly makes a panel harder. This lead to a bit of back and forth with the team, and I think we ended up with 4 or 5 different versions of the first 2 panels. Thankfully we’re a collaborative team, and we found what I think is pretty great solution.
CL: I love the letters on page 3 of issue #2. The placement just flows down the center of the page like a waterfall, gently leading the eye from one panel to the next. What was your favorite page to letter?
NS: Pages like Pg03 of Is02 are always complicated. Looking at the page, you’re drawn to the empty space, and that’s where you’re naturally inclined to place a balloon. But as a letterer, first and foremost, your job is to lead the reader’s eye. And while I’ve done that well here, I have broken panel borders in a few odd ways to get that flow correct. But it works here.
As for my favourite page, it’s hard to pick just one. My favourite pages are the ones where I need to fit a tonne of dialogue into a small space. It’s a challenging puzzle that only a letterer could work out, and I love that. Page 9 of Issue 1, panel 2 and 3 were stand-outs. Masking Jack’s balloon as she and Dorje walk away from a happy client came out nicely.
CL: Issue #2, page 7, panel 4 got some really nice compliments on social media. What went into the creation of the “El Superlativo” balloon?
NS: Originally I just had a regular balloon in there, but it didn’t sell that panel as well as it could’ve. So I built on Toni’s love hearts. I traced the love hearts in Illustrator, and then layered together a fun, bouncy balloon. Then I eye-dropped Jasen’s colours onto the hearts, letters, and balloon stroke; and voila! It’s a nice little throwback to Jack Morelli’s lettering in Archie. Actually not even a throwback, he’s still killing it with Waid and Staples.
CL: You created some beautiful caption boxes that really fit the tone of the book. They resemble torn pages from some kind of ancient religious tome. For somebody who doesn’t have a clue how this is done (not naming names here), can you go into the process of how to make something like this?
NS: Originally I wanted to use scrolls for the lettering, but they were a little too ‘busy’ for Toni’s art, so I cut them down to a torn page look. There’s a few ways to create that look or similar. I created a box in illustrator, then using the pen tool took ‘tears’ out of it, then I used a custom stroke to give the lines some varying weight.
CL: One of my favorite things about having you on board is the design sense you bring to the additional material, such as the inner front covers, back matter, bonus material, etc. Let’s start with the “Design Covers” you created to tease the release dates on Comixology – what was your inspiration here?
NS: I find minimalist design really challenging; so to counter-balance Toni’s wonderful and busy art I wanted to see if I could create some minimalist “b” covers for the series. I felt the light and calm design would also go hand in hand with some of the Buddhist teachings that Karma Police touches on.
The “X” on the cover was something that struck late at night. I wanted to use a really simple Buddhist symbol, but they’re all quite detailed, and they just didn’t fall well on the centre of the page. So I broke down each symbol into its simplest form. The Svastika, Buddha with his arms in prayer position and his legs crossed, the intertwined fish, the Dharma Wheel, the Lotus, and the Eternal Knot, broken down have some similar points that create an “X” — It’s one of those things that no one else will ever see except those in the know…
CL: As we’ve discussed in a few other interviews, we decided to change the coloring approach halfway through issue #1. Did that make you reconsider your how you wanted to letter the book?
NS: Colouring will usually only affect captions and SFX. Toni handles most of the SFX in KP and my captions fit with both color styles. So it didn’t make a difference to my work.
CL: Tony would sometimes draw the sound effects that I included in the scripts. In my experience, this has usually been something the letterer would take on. How do you feel sharing SFX duties with the artist? Would you prefer a different method?
NS: I’m either all or nothing on this point. If the artist is going to handle the SFX, handle ALL the SFX. If I have to try match an artist’s work, my job just get’s harder. Not that I mind it, creating brushes in Manga Studio and Photoshop is fun. But it can get tiresome.
On the other hand, I love building SFX, so let me do ‘em if you got ‘em.
Of course, there are exceptions to this. If you’ve got an explosion, and the writer wants a giant “BOOM!” Across the page, and the artist wants to use a lot of exploding debris, they’re better off doing the SFX I feel. They know the perspective and composition of the page better than I will. And it saves me half an hour of masking little bricks and mortar.
CL: I know I can sometimes be wordy in my scripts, even if I always try to shorten any dialogue to make it fit with the final artwork. What is the number one piece of advice you like to give to writers and artists in order to make your life easier?
NS: “Sometimes” good one.
There’s 2, and used in combination it’s hard to go wrong.
Writers: Maximum 25 words per balloon, Maximum 3 balloons per full page width panel on a 5 panel page. Artists: Leave the top 20 – 25 % of the panel for lettering.
Thanks so much to Nic for being such a good guy, even if he called me wordy. And please pick up the brand new Image title The Fix, lettered by Nic, written by Nick Spencer, with art by Steve Lieber. It’s out in two days (April 6), and you should own this.
For all of you attending ECCC in Seattle, Tony and I will be at table T-05 in Artists Alley with copies of Karma Police. Come by, say hi, and don’t be surprised if I’m not entirely wordy in person!
If you can’t attend the show, or if you prefer your comics to be of the digital variety, Karma Police is available right here via Comixology.