We like to talk to comic professionals in all fields of expertise, and we have finally gotten a letterer on the Pop Culture SquadCast. We were able to catch up recently with Taylor Esposito for our latest episode.
Taylor has been a staff letterer for DC Comics and has worked as a freelance letterer for lots of publishers, including: DC Comics, Dynamite Entertainment, AfterShock Comics, Dark Horse Comics, and more. He is also the owner of Ghost Glyph Studios which offers a wide range of comic book and graphic design services.
In addition to his freelance lettering work, Taylor is part of the faculty at the Kubert School where he imparts his expertise to the next generation of comic professionals.
We had a great talk about his origin story in comics and how he approaches his craft. The topics of discussion were far ranging, and we transcribed a bit of it below. Listen to the SquadCast to here the whole conversation. We hope you enjoy it.
Pop Culture Squad: What do you think is a part of the job of lettering comics that people don’t appreciate the most?
Taylor Esposito: Well, it’s not the most glamorous part. When you’re writing, you’re making up the stories, and when you’re drawing, you’re imagining the worlds. When you’re coloring, you’re kind of bringing them to life. Lettering is, to the untrained person, just dropping letters on the page, or dropping balloons. The thing is, and this is not to put anyone down, sometimes writers and artists are too into their part of the craft where they’re not thinking about the total page.
There is a legibility to these things. You know? If we’re in the American market, we read top down and left right. If we’re in the Japanese market, obviously it’s reversed, but same principle. It has to flow properly. If a reader is getting tripped up or stuck or confused, we failed. So if these things are not being resolved in the layouts before the final pages are drawn and if after the final pages are drawn, it’s not adjusted again for like space issues or, or readability or whatever, it comes down to the letter. It’s just kind of find a way to make it legible. And we do a lot of heavy lifting.
It’s a lot to do. A lot of people don’t realize how much it is sometimes. Ideally you’d like a page to take maybe a half-hour to an hour, depending on how complex it is. If I’m going further than that. Uh, you’re just making me work for free at that point. I mean the good people like, Tom Orzechowski or John Workman, they can figure it out, and they can make it work. And we’ve seen what they’ve done, especially Tom. We’ve seen those Claremont X-Men issues. They’re wordy. <laugh>
PCS: I want to say that No One Left To Fight is some of the best work I think you’ve done that I had read. To me, that book let you really explore your creative side. Tell us what you think.
TE: Well, first of all, Fico [Ossio] is actually one of the better people when it comes to leaving me space. He’s one of those people who while he doesn’t pencil in dialogue, he gives me a rough idea of where it’s going to go. And it’s like, “Great! You’ve thought about this, and you’re making my job that much easier.” When I don’t have crazy deadlines, and I don’t have to figure out how a page is going to work, it gives me time to be more creative. You know? Not to give too many trade secrets away, but you can tell when a book is at the last minute over the finish line and when I’ve had time to really finesse things, because unfortunately the deadlines don’t move for the printers.
Then on top of it, having a writer like Aubrey [Sitterson], who is very visually driven and wants to do creative stuff, we talk about this stuff. It’s never just me doing what I want. It’s like, “Here’s what I’m thinking.” “Oh, that’s cool. But can we try this?” “Yeah, let’s do that.” It’s really collaborative when I’m working with those guys. So yeah. We get to do the really cool stuff that you don’t normally get to do.
PCS: How does work come for you? Do you get the whole colored page to work with?
TE: For the most part, the way it works is the writer writes it, and the artist draws it. If we’re working, especially with a publisher, it gets to a production artist who sizes it, and then there’s a color file and a letter file. They’re the same size. The lettering one is slightly smaller, because it doesn’t need to be huge. I don’t need like a hundred layers and super high resolution, but essentially, they’re the same physical size. While the colorist is coloring, I’m lettering.
More often than not, I’m working on full script with full art. If a book is really late, sometimes it’ll be like, “Hey, we’ve got like half of it now. Can you work over layouts or we’ll do the rest of it when we get the rest of it?” Unfortunately, sometimes I’ve got people who like to write Marvel style. I don’t get the script until they see the art, and I really hate Marvel style. <laugh>
PCS: Is there a community among letters?, With artists, you can see them getting together and talking about things, and writers talking about this and that. What about letterers? Do you guys talk?
TE: Absolutely. There are very few people, I would say, who don’t like each other in the lettering community. Everyone I talk to is very lovely, but we talk online all the time.
The book is out now, so I can talk about it. But when Nate Piekos was writing The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering, he reached out to me and said, “Because of your capacity as a teacher and because I respect you, can you read this?” So, I got to read it early. I got to read like a year before it came out and I had to keep my mouth shut about that. I mean, that thing is thorough. Nate got every last detail, but there was stuff that Nate didn’t know and I explained it to him. And we all do that because we’re not in competition with each other.
If I can’t do a job, I will recommend X, Y, and Z. When I was starting up, the lettering manager at DC was Sal Cipriano. We became friends. He would give me tips and stuff. And then when the opportunity came for the job, and he saw my name on the list, he saw how far I’d come and he was like, “Well, let’s take a gamble on this kid.”
And we still talk. If I can’t do a job, but Sal is free, I will say, “Go to Sal.” Or Steve Wands will say, “Oh, get Taylor. He’s free, or whatever.” None of us will ever like try to snipe someone off a book or anything. It’s a very great community. I actually like it.
I think when I was just about to go freelance, like when DC went to California, I met Nate at New York Comic-Con that year, and, between us, we all started talking. I ran into Tom Orzechowski. We were talking to Tom, and we started just doing this thing at New York where we all meet and have like lunch together. We have our little community. We email each other. If we ever have an issue, we’ll workshop things together, and it’s great.
PCS: I want to talk about what you’re doing at the Kubert School. How did you get involved in teaching there, what is it you do teaching there?
TE: Right. So, three and a half-ish years ago. Anthony Marquez, the current owner of the school, asked me if I wanted to teach. And I didn’t know if I was really qualified and I didn’t really have time. When he told me he was buying the school, I was in. Anthony has been my champion forever. He brought me over to Dynamite. Whenever he can get me on a project, he will. I’m always his first choice, and I turn return a favor. Anything he needs, and I’m there. So, when he said he was taking over, I didn’t even need to think about it.
I do definitely teach lettering. Every so often, depending on what makeup of the school is and who needs to teach what, I’ll do some production classes too. It’s been a couple years now. My first class is graduating this year, which is crazy to me.
PCS: How does that feel?
TE: It’s weird because every time you teach someone, like you feel a sense of like parental pride, I guess. I don’t know. Something like that. And it’s like, they’re about to go out into the world and become artists and maybe draw some books and do some cool stuff. And I almost hadn’t noticed the time.
PCS: All right, Taylor, thank you so much. This has been wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed getting into the craft and getting into storytelling and comics and what makes them great. And hopefully we will be able to do this again sometime.
TE: Yeah. Like I said, I love going on and on. You see, I can’t shut up. So, if you want to do it again, I’m more than happy to do it.
Some of the other things that we talked about but didn’t transcribe here are:
- We discuss some of the legends of lettering including Todd Klein and John Workman.
- Talked about Taylor’s love of comics.
- Debated the attributes of Batman and Superman.
- Discussed the similarities of Superman and Captain America and the nature of heroes in comics.
Take a listen to the SquadCast linked above to hear more of the conversation. Or click below on your favorite podcasting platform.
Pop Culture Squad’s Interview SquadCast:
Podcast Addict: https://podcastaddict.com/podcast/3062710