What Does a Letterer Do? My interview with Red Hood’s Taylor Esposito

I do my best to give credit to the numerous artists contributing their skills to the books I review. To that end, I try to spend some time thinking about less obvious things, because an artist is always better than that one thing that stands out to you up front–whether that one thing is good or bad.

When I reviewed Red Hood and the Outlaws #1, I took to Twitter to share and give some respect to the team. And of course, in spite of my commitment to study the less obvious things, I left someone out: letterer Taylor Esposito, whose work on the book was clean and perfect–so clean and perfect that it flew under my radar. That’s not an attempt at using flattery for an excuse, though, and I apologized to Taylor for the oversight. He was very gracious, and when I suggested an interview, he agreed. Within a week, we had corresponded through email, and I’m excited to share our conversation with you here.

Brian Warshaw: How did you get into comic book lettering?

Taylor Esposito: Worked at Marvel for five years, after the layoffs, and with a previous interest in it, learned it during that time to begin freelancing after the layoffs.

BW: What’s your favorite part of your job?

TE: Filling in the missing piece of lettering. I view my job as a puzzle, figuring out where to put in the missing pieces and make it all work together.

BW: What’s your day-to-day process like? What sort of deadlines are you typically working with? How many books are you lettering in a typical month?

TE: Day to day is tough. On any given day, I am doing lettering, corrections, negotiating contracts for projects, running the books, answering emails—the life of a letterer and small business owner. Typically, deadlines are between week to a day, sometimes have a month, but with the speed of comics, it’s not too common. On a good month, I can do about twelve to fifteen books.

BW: Do you do any hand-lettering? Any home-grown typefaces to your credit?

TE: No hand-lettering for me. It’s not cost effective these days, as you need a quick turn around, and most people don’t have the budget to pay for hand-lettering. That said, I do plan on learning how, if I ever have time.

There are some fonts in the works, but it is very time-consuming and they will probably not be for sale, but for my own projects.

BW: Who’s your favorite letterer in the business? Why?

TE: That’s a tough question. I’m friends with way too many of them to just pick one. There are the old masters who I look up to, like the recently passed Gaspar, Ben Oda, Jim Novak, and then there are those who I call mentors and colleagues like Sal Cipriano, Rob Leigh, Joe Caramagna, Nate Piekos and more.

BW: What’s a book you’ve done that our readers at Batman News would have read?

TE: I’ve done fill-ins on books like Batman, Detective, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Teen Titans, Batman, Inc., Dark Knight and maybe more I’m forgetting. I was also a regular letterer on New Suicide Squad, Constantine, and Vibe.

BW: What’s a book you’ve done that you think we should all check out?

TE: Lately, Six Million Dollar Man for Dynamite, which is going to have an amazing 3rd issue everyone should check out. Also, the web strips Dents and Heroine Chic on Line Webtoon, which are fun new stories, Paybacks and Interceptor over at Heavy Metal, the “School Spirit” story in Fresh Romance at Rosy Press and much more. I’ve pretty much worked in every genre and have had some fun books in each one.

BW: Most people probably figure you just put the words in the balloons. But that’s not all, is it? Take us through Red Hood and the Outlaws #1. What are all of the things you did in this issue?

TE: When you letter, first you check the script to make sure it’s formatted correctly, so there are no surprises when you bring the text in. Title design, sound effects design, lettering placement, to help the flow of the book and lead the reader’s eye. You really need to understand sequential storytelling to properly letter. Otherwise you just have a big blob of mess on the page with tangent lines everywhere.

BW: Tangent lines?


TE: To take an example from and give credit to the great Nate Piekos of Blambot, I’ll use his answer from his site: “When a balloon or sound effect brushes against (but doesn’t overlap) another lettering element or a line in the inks, this is called a tangent, and should be avoided at all costs. They cause visual dissonance and are an often bemoaned nuisance for letterers.”

BW: Did you do the sign letters for Ma Gunn’s?


TE: Yes, though Dexter had mocked some in [first].

BW: How much creative freedom do you have on a book like this? Are there any predefined parameters, like fonts and colors, box/balloon style?

TE: Depends. If the editors want a new direction, then I am able to come up with options I think would work or things I’d like to try. If we are trying to keep consistency with a previous series, then everything is already laid out for you. That said, with new Outlaws, I did get the chance to make new caps for Artemis and Bizzaro, which was fun.

BW: New caps—I’m assuming you’re talking about the stylized pop-out type text for their names?

TE: No, the narration captions, like Jason’s black caption with the helmet in it.

BW: Do you choose how text is split between different balloons? How? Is there a back and forth with the rest of the team to get feedback on how you’ve laid things out?

TE: If the script is laid out properly, those decisions are already made for me. That said, if for some reason something isn’t working, or not fitting, I’ll use my best judgement to split the text up, which the editors will then look at and we’ll try to determine what would be best, like with pacing and emphasis.

BW: What software do you use for your lettering work? Any shortcuts for creating all of those balloons?

TE: [Adobe] Illustrator. I keep a very basic style guide I start with that I then manipulate for my needs from book to book.

BW: It seems like the credits page is the spot where most letterers get the chance to stand out. I love what you did in the Rebirth one-shot. Was the “chalk on the street” look your idea? Did you use a pre-existing font for that?


TE: That one was actually requested in the script. Yeah, I just laid out the text in the font and manipulated it to fit the perspective.

BW: How much control did you have over the credits page in #1?

TE: Issue one was all me. I wanted something that would sit like a banner across the art.

BW: The BA-BOOM on the credits page is neatly tucked behind some of Dexter’s work, but other parts of the picture are falling in front of the letters. How did you do that?


TE: Trade secret—haha. That is achieved with making masks over the art and then knocking out parts of it with the mask.

BW: Is that little “Red Hood V Artemis” badge at the end all you? I love the font for “Next issue:”, as well. How do you decide what to use for something like that?


TE: Yeah, that was me playing with some text. I just try to pick stuff out that suits the tease for the next issue’s events, as far as I know what they are.

BW: What projects do you have coming out soon? How long are you on board for Red Hood?

TE: Hopefully, I’m on Red Hood for the duration, but I don’t like to count my chickens before they’re hatched. Jason is one of my favorites, so I hope to stay on the book for a while.

Other projects I have coming soon are Six Million Dollar Man, Army of Darkness/Xena, The Paybacks, Robyn Hood: I Love NY, Agent 42 and more. You can check out what I have coming out every week on www.facebook.com/ghostglyphstudios or twitter.com/ghostglyph. I update every Wednesday with my books for the week, plus Monday and Friday for the latest chapters of Heroine Chic and Dents, respectively.

BW: Ok, Lightning Round. Feel free to be coy or refuse to answer. These are for fun!

Favorite Batman movie?

TE: Tie: The Dark Knight and Batman v Superman.

BW: Favorite cinematic Batsuit?

TE: Batman v Superman.

BW: Favorite cinematic Batmobile?

TE: Keaton, Tumbler and BvS.

BW: Should Arkham Origins be considered part of the larger Arkham series?

TE: I should get on those games before answering that!

BW: What’s your favorite letter?

TE: X, it makes things sound cool (I love them all–I wouldn’t letter if I didn’t love letter forms and typography).

BW: If you had called in to vote on Jason, would you have voted live or die?

TE: At the time, probably die, but I’m sure glad he’s back!

My thanks once again to Taylor for taking the time to talk with me. I learned a lot, and I hope all of you guys did, too. You can keep up with Taylor’s work by liking Ghost Glyph Studios on Facebook or @ghostglyph on Twitter.