Comics Alliance Best of 2015: Outstanding Letterer of 2015
Our judges have adjudicated; our readers have voted. We’re proud to present to you the outstanding letterer of 2015 — and four great runners up.
I suppose it’s a cliché at this point to even mention that lettering is one of those things you often don’t notice if it’s done well, but it’s true. On the hand, the work letterer Aubrey Aiese does on Lumberjanes has always stood out to me as particularly exceptional. Her letters have become more consistent, more confident, since the series began, but they still have the most personality of any lettering in comics today, without ever distracting from the artwork that surrounds them.
Aiese mixes capitals and lowercase (lowercase letters are still a pretty new development in North American comics, it’s worth remembering) and varies the size and spacing of her lettering to reflect tone. When the speaker gets louder and more frantic, the letters get bigger and thicker. When things get really out of hand, they might turn from black to red. And often what she’s doing is even more subtle than that. Her every word balloon is crafted to reflect the current mental state of its speaker, thus displaying the full potential of what hand lettering can do. [Elle Collins]
Letterers are responsible for maintaining the flow of the story in the fissures where the artist’s work meets the writer’s words, and making it all seamless is often a thankless job. Joe Caramagna’s lettering is a perfect example of great lettering: consistently subtle and quietly innovative, and even capable of gracefully fitting some of Marvel’s most verbose writers’ dialogue balloons comfortably within even the smallest panels.
More noticeably, Caramagna is able to get across the tone of voice of characters through varying font size and color in his dialogue balloons, emphasizing dialogue and the story itself, which has been a boon in Daredevil, where sounds and tones of speech are nigh-constant plot points. [Ziah Grace]
When I think about Stan Sakai, the one word that comes to mind more than any other is "craftsmanship." He's a master of comic book storytelling, and a big part of that, one that's often overshadowed by his cartooning, is just how good he is at lettering.
It's true that lettering is often one of the invisible arts, but with Sakai, that's not the case. He hand-letters each issue of Usagi Yojimbo with a level of attention to detail that readers have come to expect from that book's overall quality, giving the words and balloons their own characteristics to help tell the story. It's one small part of what makes him the all-time great that he is, and it's hard to think of many who can do it better. [Chris Sims]
Fonografiks, aka Steven Finch, is a designer as well as a letterer; he's helped define the look of several of the most visually distinct comics on the stands, including They're Not Like Us, We Stand On Guard, Injection, and Trees, so as a letterer his percipient sense of visual arrangement is apparent in literally every word you read.
In Saga alone, he's probably had to invent five or six new alphabets, and each one is elegant and fascinating; fictional languages that look real enough to inspire phonemes in your head. Fonografiks is so good at what he does, I predict he'll come to ever greater attention in 2016. Nowhere Men is coming back in January, and that's where he really gets to go nuts. [John Parker]
A huge part of The Wicked & The Divine’s appeal has been seeing different artists taking on the stories, as Kieron Gillen attempts a different approach for each issue. But that experimental style wouldn’t be anything unless the letterer were Clayton Cowles, who knows how to tell a page as well as anyone else. Cowles has been able to handle anything that’s been thrown at him with grace, continuing to make the story consistent and coherent with each issue, and his style and choices have ensured that even with a rotating artist, the comic still retains the magic and style of the early issues.
Cowles hasn’t settled there though. Many of the best comics of 2015 — The Vision, Squirrel Girl, The Surface, Pretty Deadly — have benefited from exceptional lettering. The one common factor for all of them? Clayton Cowles. [Steve Morris]