Every year in our ‘Year in Review’ series, we try to spotlight how overlooked lettering is in the overall comics game. It is the way that we receive a ton of information in our comics, but rarely notice it. That is something we are trying to change, and noticing the work of our three spotlighted letterers is a great place to start.
3. Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou has had a great 2019. His digital comics magazine, Panel x Panel, won a coveted Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Periodical, his YouTube series Strip Panel Naked continues to go from strength to strength, and his lettering work has risen to new heights, thanks to his attention to detail and subtle, unique flourishes that serve the narrative.
“Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt” was a trippy subversion of familiar superhero tropes and writer Kieron Gillen’s response to one of the most influential books of all time, Watchmen. Keeping up with that level of creativity is no small feat, but Otsmane-Elhaou drew us into the world and tipped a nod at the reader with his stylised lettering that played in Gillen’s space perfectly.
Similarly, in “Killer Groove,” a book as much about violence than music, his lettering not only captures the resonance of the notes being played but elicits the visceral shock of weapon fire, smashing bottles and crunching kicks to the groin. If you want lettering done right, you turn to the best, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou proved in 2019 that he’s got what it takes. – Matt Lune
2. Aditya Bidikar
Even as someone who reads dozens of floppies per month, I’d be hard pressed to name more than handful of letterers. Even more to the point, perhaps, I’m not sure I could list the objective qualifications that denote a great comic book letterer. Even so, one thing remains crystal clear: exceptional creators consistently work on great books and great books allow exceptional creators to do what they do best.
Last year, Bidikar made the cut thanks to masterful work that pushed the envelope in service to the stories he helped to tell. This year, with stellar contributions to other edgy titles like “Coffin Bound,” “White Trees,” “Little Bird,” and “Isola,” he’s back again, arguably making the case that 2019 was his best year yet.
In “Coffin Bound,” Bidikar helps guide the reader seamlessly through some pretty intense dialogue. With intuitive flow, exceptional placement and great proportionality, Bidikar’s balloons help dictate the tempo, as well as the rise and fall of character emotions. The same is true for “White Trees,” though here Bidikar employs borderless balloons while also interjecting some wonderfully expressive, artfully designed sound effects that punch up the story without calling too much attention to themselves.
In “Little Bird,” Bidikar fully embraces his role as concert conductor, deftly interweaving multiple layers of dialogue with interior monologue. Subtle flourishes – like stiff, angular protrusions and various background colors – help to signify additional information, like dialogue that’s being electronically transmitted or computer generated. A brilliant contrast to the child protagonist’s disembodied narration, carefully handwritten in upper and lower case letters on torn, jagged scraps of birch bark.
In “Isola,” everything comes together. Bidikar deploys an array of impeccably designed, irregularly shaped, borderless balloons that subtly connote rhythm, tempo and tone, in addition to who’s speaking. Beautifully integrated, well-timed sound effects add a layer of intensity and drama that keeps us immersed in the story. And wonderfully imaginative, custom symbols and letters evoke mystifying languages that feel truly otherworldly.
Throughout 2019, Bidikar’s work didn’t merely integrate with and reflect the art of the books he lettered, it was a vital part of taking each book’s aesthetic to greater heights. –John Schaidler
1. Clayton Cowles
Do you want prestige for your book? Hire Clayton Cowles. There’s a reason he is, for the fourth year in a row, Multiversity’s top letterer in the game. Holy Cowles, I did a list of books I read, and 75 were lettered by him, for reference, the second place in my list did just half of what he did. The man is a beast of his art and he is synonymous with quality.Continued below
The list of book is gigantic, you’ve got the transition from the failed experiment of “Age of X-Man” to the mind-blowing Dawn of X-Men relaunch with “House of X,” “Power X” and subsequent titles. He also did “Batman,” “Die,” “Heroes in Crisis, and “Silver Surfer: Black” and he lettered the closing arcs of “The Wicked + The Divine” and “Star Wars”, but I want to praise my favorite work of his this year: “Daredevil,” “Venom,” & “Absolute Carnage.”
You know, I’m a sucker for lowercase lettering in comics, it’s really hard to make it look great and work with the story, Cowles not only doesn’t fear to letter in lowercase, but he uses it amazingly. I’ve just read “Daredevil” #13, it opens with narration from Kingping that tells us that he is dissociated from his reality and his crime, he doesn’t know what to do and it is clear in the way it’s shown. He did something similar in “Venom” and its event, “Absolute Carnage,” where the Maker talks in lowercase, like the Ultimate Universe, showing us that he is not from this world.
If this was an awesome year, I can’t wait to know what he’s going to do on 2020, long live our king of lettering, Clayton Cowles. –Ramon Piña#MC2019YiR