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2022 in Review: Best Letterer

By | December 7th, 2022
Posted in Columns | % Comments

Welcome to the Multiversity Year in Review for 2022! We’ve got over 25 categories to get through, so make sure you’re checking out all of the articles by using our 2022 Year in Review tag.

It’s time to pay tribute to the unsung hero of comics, the letterer. In a lot of ways, letterers are like drummers. They need to be a steady presence that keeps the whole team together, but can often times be overlooked. Through their creativity and reliability, these are the letterers who elevated comics in 2022.

3. Sara Alfageeh

Near the end of last year, Nate Piekos released The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering (a book that truly earns the “essential” in its title), and so as 2022 began, lettering was very much on my mind and throughout the year, I was very consciously aware of it in every title I picked up. And Sara Alfageeh’s lettering in “Squire” was the highlight of my year.

In part, it’s because Alfageeh is also the artist on “Squire,” and the lettering matches her artwork so perfectly—the linewidth of the balloons sits perfectly with the frames of the panels. But it is their expressive qualities that stood out to me most. The balloons use lowercase lettering, which allows for more subtlety and nuance in tone—an essential component to properly capture Nadia Shammas’ script. Italics and bold text operate independently, the former used to stress a word and the latter for a firmly stated word, so that when they’re used in concert they have greater impact. A character yelling may yell something in lowercase or in uppercase, which changes the quality of the yelling. Or a word may be spoken in uppercase giving it an intensity. I’m even impressed by the typeface size choices. Alfageeh uses several different sizes for different kinds of yelling, but she also uses two sizes for regular speech to imply a slightly louder and slightly softer or gentler voice. The two are often used on the same page, almost invisibly, but present enough that you feel their effect. “Squire” frequently has dialogue where meaning is expressed beyond the literal words, so these various levels of nuance are incredibly powerful tools to augment a moment.

But the thing I enjoy the most about Alfageeh’s lettering is something that’s obvious immediately—her balloon tails. They can be short and straight and angular, they can be long and thin and languid and loopy. The loopiness is used in various ways, capturing a voice that isn’t in a hurry to speak and has a certain amount of presentation to it. It could be used to say a character’s name in a way that expresses concern, or to express the circular, wishy-washy nature of the dialogue, or a commander saying something passive-aggressively that accentuates his upperclass birth.

These loopy tails are used most frequently for Husni, a natural tale teller and a bit of a romantic. They suit him perfectly and tell the reader exactly who he is immediately. Rather pointedly, the character Basem does not use the loopy tails in his speech at all for the first half of the book. He is trying to be someone his father approves of and he won’t allow himself this level of self-expression… until the middle of the book, when he lets his guard down and sings for his friends. Suddenly his speech balloons have loops. Even more than that, the balloons develop little flourishes on them. You can feel the real Basem coming alive here. And for me, this moment was the best bit of lettering I saw all year. It is simply and honestly beautiful.

2. Clayton Cowles

Clayton Cowles is everywhere. From series across “X-Men” line to “Batman” to “Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow” to “Adventureman” to essentially every major Marvel Comics event book, Cowles has his fingerprints all over the industry. And it’s for good reason. See, the thing about lettering is if you’re doing it well, people don’t quite notice it. So much of the job is about readability; it’s about making sure that every bolding or italicization, every change in font size, every shift in the font itself, is natural. What should the differences be in the ways that normal humans, gods, monsters, robots, and people wearing mech suits speak? What’s the right font to fit the tone of a given series? How do you control the way that dialogue sounds to readers through little flourishes like coloring? These are questions that Clayton Cowles knows how to answer better than just about anyone in comics.

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Cowles’ work is subtle but vital to every comic he works on. Take a look at “Adventureman,” a bright, fun comic with a simple throwback vibe; the lettering reflects that with its own simple, sans serif fonts. Then there’s something like “Strange Academy,” a series featuring humans, demons, and beings from different worlds. Cowles does strong work at distinguishing characters’ species and points of origin by creatively changing the types of lettering used. Or there’s something like “Love Everlasting,” which has a sort of pulp style and lettering to match. With his lettering, Cowles is as vital to the storytelling in his comics as any writer, artist, or colorist.

Clayton Cowles has got immense talent, communicating important information about tone, character, and pacing with thoughtful decisions that fit a wide variety of series. This is his seventh year straight on our end of year list and given that he shows no signs of slowing down, we’re not likely to see him leave it anytime soon. – Quinn Tassin

1. Joe Caramagna

Well, this is a nice surprise, we have been putting out this list since 2016, and this is the first time in these seven times that Joe Caramagna, not only appears, but gets the crown as the best Letterer, of the year and, if I’m being honest, it was about time.

Joe Caramagna is a veteran of this era, working since 2005 in lettering (almost) exclusively in Marvel Comics, he has helped define the modern look of the House of Ideas but, what is the reason that he is now celebrated here? What is different this year?

Well, I think that nothing is particularly different, he has always been excellent, but the titles of this year make a great formula. For starters, he worked on over 30 different titles on every corner of the publisher, he worked with the X books, mainly on “Excalibur” and “X-Force,” he contributed to the Star Wars library with “Darth Vader,” “Obi Wan Kenobi” and “The Mandalorian.”

He also gave his touch on the spider books like “Ben Reilly” and “Edge of Spider-Verse.” Team books? You got it, both volumes of “Fantastic Four;” individual characters? There’s “Iron Man,” both “Captain America” titles and “Namor: Conquered Shores.” You name it.

But I think there’s three books where his talents shone, first, “She-Hulk,” a book where there’s a carefully crafted sensibility to its characters, plus, I’m a sucker for lowercase lettering. Then we have what probably got him the biggest number of votes, “The Amazing Spider Man;” in two volumes, the Beyond era, where Caramagna helped deliver a contrast between “Ben Reilly” and “Peter Parker,” and in the new volume spearheaded by Wells and Romita Jr. where he shows us a sober look to the dialogue that evolves into dynamic screams and onomatopoeias when needed, that complements beautifully with the new volume’s art.

But my pick for his best work of the year is a weird little book that didn’t get much attention. In “Defenders” and “Defenders: Beyond,” Al Ewing wrote two bizarre (in the good sense) stories that could only be translated into images by the gorgeous art of Javier Rodríguez; and dense, fantastic dialogue that only Joe Caramagna could put in the paper, the characters introduced in this book are interpretation of ideas and concepts, and Joe gave them their particular voice. If you ask me, nothing short of a great feat.

By the way, if you follow Joe, you know he’s a great supporter of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, where they give shelter to families of children in hospitals, if you want, you can help him in his GoFundMe. – Ramon Piña

//TAGS | 2022 Year in Review

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