It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since I got to interview Tom Orzechowski. He is not only one of the most prolific letterers out there, due in no small part to Chris Claremont’s scripts, but he’s something of a comic historian and a generally great commentator, as I’m sure you’ll agree.
Bryan Stroud for Comics Bulletin: The earliest credit I could find for you was in 1973. Was that about when you began?
Tom Orzechowski: Exactly. It was January 2nd. It’s easy to remember. If Marvel had been open January 1st it would have been January 1st. Tony Isabella is a dear old friend and he got an editorial job there toward Halloween of ’72 and I think Klaus Janson was already there and he immediately started pulling his fan friends into different positions. The same thing was happening at DC. Starlin and Milgrom had already started.
Buckler had already been in New York for a couple of years. I was the next one tapped. He almost literally picked me up off the street. I didn’t know where I was going to stay that night, but it didn’t matter. I was on staff at Marvel in the day time. The rest of the year could just take care of itself. I was immediately doing touch-ups on the British editions of the earliest Marvel stories for “Spider-Man” Comics Weekly/Mighty World of Marvel. They were being published somewhat wider than the American books so they had to have the artwork extended to the sides a little bit and I had to take out topical references to different things and to re-spell a few things like “cheque,” and “elevator” becomes “lift.”
There was quite a list, actually. You’d be surprised how many minor differences there are. Things like re-spelling “color.” All that “o-u” business instead of just “o.” Re-spelling jail; which was actually good training, because I started with Chris Claremont that same year. A couple of years before “X-Men.” And his parents were British. In a way, I guess they still are. And he spent his first few months living in “Olde (something)” and got the accent and the spellings down in that time, so early on I was changing his Britishisms into Americanisms. So having worked on these American to Brit comics alerted me to a lot of the things that Chris would do in the other direction.
CB: So that worked out very well.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah. Kind of a nice little synchronicity falling into place for me. It was a very wide-open time. I’m sure Marvel is quite regimented now. I haven’t been up to the office in 25 years so I don’t know what things are like.
CB: Tom, what sort of training did you have?
ORZECHOWSKI: I had no training. There was a comics club in Detroit. I stumbled onto these guys during a convention in ’68 and they had gatherings across town to talk about the current books and bring out the old ones as well. I thought, “Oh, this is perfect. I’ve been waiting my entire 15-year old life for this.” And sure enough they had copies of “Black Magic” and “Boys Ranch” and all kinds of different stuff, and pretty soon there was this ‘zine which was a news gathering ‘zine which was in kind of a friendly competition with the Thompson’s.
Then one day in the summer I was over there and we needed some stuff, so they said “Why don’t you just call DC and poke around?” I said, “Call DC?!” And I did and who did I get on the phone but Carmine [Infantino]? The publisher. And here’s this pimply faced 17-year old trying to pump him for stuff that to him is just as boring as anything. And he’s an interesting artist. He said, “Well, Wrightson is doing some stuff on “House of Secrets”, I think…” Just completely not helpful. But I was making notes and trying to get the hang of talking to these guys. They realized they had to talk to the fans occasionally.
Carmine answered his own phone when I just called the switchboard at DC! Incredible! I thought I’d be dealing with at least 3 or 4 layers of intermediaries before reaching the guy if you can reach him at all. Particularly not someone like me. So that kind of helped to demystify the thing a bit, because here’s the guy that publishes the stuff and he couldn’t think of anything noteworthy to tell the press.
CB: (Mutual laughter.)
ORZECHOWSKI: I think they had just hired [Dick] Giordano around that time so they had Jim Aparo then and Steve Skeates and “Aquaman” had been revamped and maybe that’s when they were doing “Phantom Stranger”. There was all sorts of stuff happening. [Mike] Kaluta was there doing “The Shadow”. I think “Shazam!”, you know, all sorts of things going on and he was just hemming and hawing and dealing with production sheets and trying to make sure the cost of paper didn’t go up too much this month and so on. The content of the books was the last thing on his mind.
CB: Bogged down in the weeds.
ORZECHOWSKI: I guess so, because I’d wondered when I was a lot younger how it was the guys I was working for, like Sol Brodsky and Frank Giacoia up there, how they could give up…especially Sol, who’d been a tremendous inker on all of Jack’s covers in the 60’s and Orlando with DC; how they’d give up pushing the pencils, pushing the brushes and take a desk job. How do you get tired of drawing this stuff to the point where you’d just want to work out production schedules and make assignments and never really consciously look at the finished work?
But that’s what I think Carmine did as publisher. He was simply the top administrator. As the art director he’d lay out the covers. Additionally it demystified the fact for me that this is a business. Stan [Lee] created this myth of the jolly Marvel bullpen, and we just assumed that Marvel owned a building and everyone came to work every day and you had a good time. No. Everyone worked at home and no one ever came into the office. There were five people in the office; Stan and Roy [Thomas], Marie Severin, Sol Brodsky and maybe one or two other people like the guy that shoots the Photostats and that was it. That was the Marvel bullpen. “Okay.” (Chuckle.) Imagine my disappointment when I found this out.
CB: Oh, yeah. So much for all the hype.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, but the hype worked, thanks to Stan Lee. And I don’t know if he looked at the finished books once he gave up scripting them. That’s the stuff I never took and was very pleased I was never offered them. Because for the sake of benefits and job security it might have been kind of tough to be a production manager.
CB: That was one thing Carmine told me that was news to me at the time was that the editors and the production people were the only ones on staff. I don’t know what I thought it was configured like, but it was quite a revelation.
ORZECHOWSKI: Well, picture the Eisner/Iger thing that we kind of keep in loving memory. There’s Bob Powell and Chuck Cuidera and all these guys in the same room at the same time doing the Spirit supplements and the Quality Comics and all.
CB: Yeah, I guess that’s what I had envisioned. An assembly line process with people nine to fiving it.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, comparing pages and making jokes. When I got there, I first saw Marvel when I was 16. I lived in Detroit, as I mentioned and I took a portfolio back there. I went to a convention and afterward I went to DC and I went to Marvel and maybe to Warren and at Marvel I couldn’t even get in the door. I got a glimpse and it was maybe the size of your living room. Cardboard partitions up and a few people. Maybe [Frank] Giacoia was there and maybe [Mike] Esposito doing art corrections and probably a lettering correction guy. There was almost no one there. No one to actually greet a person like myself and talk them through the process.
When I got hired there it was a somewhat larger office which they shared with an outfit called Magazine Management and they were the same company. Management Magazine produced what they called men’s sweat magazines. They’d have covers painted by Earl Norem and people that later painted covers for the “Savage Sword of Conan”; guys wrestling bears with scantily clad women and guys with rifles shooting eagles or something. All these manly, testosterone situations and they were on the same floor and they carried the same house ads as the Marvel comics, which explains why Marvel had all these muscle builder ads and sneezing powder ads and all this weird stuff that didn’t seem like it would appeal to comics folks.
ORZECHOWSKI: And they were in those magazines, which I guess appealed to them and they just sold scads of ads with guaranteed distribution which kept both the comics and the magazines, they were the same corporate entity, going. So I’d run into those editors almost as frequently as I did the Marvel editors. It was kind of an impressive shop. A lot of people in small rooms and a lot of drawing tables everywhere and all the heroes like Giacoia, Esposito, Brodsky. John Romita was there as the art director. I guess he’d always been the art director.
Wow! Legends. Just everywhere you’d look. You couldn’t walk around for three seconds with your eyes closed without seeing somebody famous. And they were just these guys. “I’m just trying to make a living here.” Now, of course it’s quite corporate looking. There’s a lot more money involved with the movies and what not. In ’73 it was still very much seat of the pants. It was only 12 years into Marvel in 1973. It was all brand new. Like “Spidey” #120 came out that year; “Conan” #25 was out the day I came in the door.
So working on the British books as I was I ended up retouching “The Hulk” #1 through #6 and it was fairly recent issues. I got to work with Lee and Kirby and Lee and Ditko and Lee and Heck and Lee and Ayers and all those things. It was a real thrill. It was almost like being back in time a little bit to the earliest groundswell of Marvel. But again it was just fairly recent. I’d bought those books, and now I’m working on them. A weird déjà vu.
CB: Heady stuff.
ORZECHOWSKI: Now those are like granddad’s comics. They’re still available on CD Rom and what not. Marvel seems to be repackaging everything at all times.
CB: Yeah, as you mentioned earlier with the popularity of the movies it’s the next natural step to cash in on the catalog.
ORZECHOWSKI: I recently saw a hardcover of what was first “Amazing Adventures” and then “Amazing Adult Fantasy” and finally “Amazing Fantasy” #1 through #15 for like a hundred bucks. A big, oversized book like the EC reprints that Cochran put out and there’s the whole “Amazing Fantasy” run. Gee. I’ve got them all, but here it is. What a thing, though. Almost anything I bought from say 1960 through 1985…I just saw “DNAgents”, almost all that stuff has been reprinted somewhere, somehow. Only Sugar and Spike haven’t been reprinted. There’s a “Blackhawk Showcase” volume now.
CB: I think Shelly Mayer had some sort of exclusive ownership on Sugar and Spike, but I don’t know.
ORZECHOWSKI: Could be. I know the Sugar and Spike plush toys came out awhile back.
CB: I’ve heard of them, but not seen them. I do have a pair of the Bat-Mite and Mxyzyptlk plush toys.
ORZECHOWSKI: I think they came out around the same time.
CB: Speaking of them, do you remember doing the “World’s Funnest” book?
ORZECHOWSKI: Yes, I do.
CB: Good night! I went through that thing and I thought, “How many years did it take him to letter this beast?”
ORZECHOWSKI: Fewer than you’d think, but more than I’d wish. I’ve got a good collection. I’ve got a lot of Quality Comics. “Blackhawk” was my passion for a lot of years around 1970 to 1973. So I’ve got almost every issue of “Blackhawk” back to #9, the first one and a couple of dozen of Military Comics. Sam Rosen was the letterer for a lot of the Quality Comics early on.
He also did the “Spirit” for the first several years. So I just enlarged those for the work and I traced them feverishly and I traced [Gaspar] Saladino’s stuff, traced Costanza’s stuff, traced C.C. Beck and Ben Oda and everybody. I spent hours, which was really good discipline. It was really good just to get the feel of somebody else’s proportions that way. That sounds obscene, doesn’t it?
ORZECHOWSKI: As a calligrapher, I studied many different hands and got passably okay at italic, roundhead, uncil and other different things and copied, as well as possible, the Saladino stuff, the C.C. Beck stuff. It gave me a whole different set of just how the different letter shapes could look. That was among the final books I lettered by hand. It was right around 2000 or 2001. Now that I’m doing “Savage Dragon” by hand I’m trying to have a rather different approach to the letters there. I’m still using the same pen I was using since the middle 80’s.
CB: Which is?
ORZECHOWSKI: An Osmiroid India Ink Sketch Pen. You can’t find them anymore. I don’t think Osmiroid has even existed in 10 years. This is a piston-driven cartridge pen. So I can go page after page without re-filling it, without dipping it. And the nib is a gold alloy. I don’t know how much percentage of gold, but it gives it some flexibility. The nib is probably worth more than my life at this moment. I pulled it out of mothballs to work on Dragon. I honed it down a little bit. Saved all the shavings and sold them. It’s giving me such a nice line. It’s so wonderful to work with ink, with pen and ink again.
CB: I was going to ask. Has that been pretty enjoyable?
ORZECHOWSKI: It’s just joy.
CB: I read the most humorous comment at Mark Evanier’s blog one day talking about lettering and how he’d tried his hand at it and I’m paraphrasing, but he didn’t appreciate how much wrist strength is required for the job. He said something to the effect that after a while his letters looked like Katharine Hepburn had done them while riding a bobsled. http://www.povonline.com/cols/COL116.htm
ORZECHOWSKI: It’s true. You’re making motions…letter forms involve five different movements. That’s it. And you’re making them less than 1/8” tall and looking the same every time, within percentages. And real rapidly, and you have to pay attention to the script more than what you’re doing. So it’s like being on stage. If you’re working on Daredevil it’s almost like if you’re performing Henry VIII or Henry III. Olivier did it or Kenneth Branagh. All these incredible people did it before you and it’s a very old work; it’s been seen by millions of people; everyone’s heard of it whether or not they’ve ever seen it and you’re part of a tradition. People will be doing it after you.
So you’re just trying to kind of stay invisible while putting some of your own feeling into what it means to be doing cerebral balloons or something. Because other people will do them later, other people did them before you, then someone else will come along like Todd Klein or Comicraft or someone and quantify a newer version that will be the boilerplate for a while and then someone will do a newer version later. But it’s this grand scheme of being part of a large entity, I guess would be the word for it. So it’s kind of awesome in a way. It’s still kind of awesome to me.
This is the “X-Men”. They’ve been on the big screen and animated and you can get them on Slurpee cups. Sometimes that’s MY work on the Slurpee cup. It’s possible that in the opening rapid fire panels in the “X-Men” movies before just Marvel; those are probably some of my panels. If you slow it down on your Tivo on your laser player, you’d see me. I didn’t get a penny for it, but there I am. There’s Costanza and there’s Artie Simek and it’s all in there if you’re self-conscious about things like I am.
CB: That’s beyond cool. And after all weren’t you on the “X-Men” for something like 18 years?
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, 18 years for that first stretch and then…one thing and another. It just felt like it was time to do something else. I was signing books for people that weren’t as old as my stint on the book…
ORZECHOWSKI: That comes as something of a shock. Suddenly that existential moment. “Okay, let’s look at this.” And the editor and I weren’t getting along too well. I don’t even remember why any more. That’s it. Claremont had just been bounced and I stayed for another year anyway just because its work and then I had enough and said, “Now what am I going to do?”
And of course anyone else would have just called one of the six other Marvel editors and said, “Well, I’ve got some time now. Do you have any books lying around?” But no, I didn’t know what to do next and fortunately McFarlane called me that same week as Image was being launched. I guess that was ’92. So, yeah, 18 years doing 100 pages a month sometimes or more, between “New Mutants” and “Wolverine” and the various Annuals and Specials.
CB: Holy cats, and as I recall those Claremont scripts were pretty darn copy heavy.
ORZECHOWSKI: That’s my boy.
CB: There’s a rumor out there that you had to be getting some kind of extra compensation for all that additional work. Any truth to that?
ORZECHOWSKI: Uh, there are rumors, yeah…
ORZECHOWSKI: Chris was writing on 8-1/2 x 14 pages, not 8-1/2 x 11 and sometimes he’d go onto a second one.
CB: Good Lord.
ORZECHOWSKI: Well, its eight characters on a page, 8 characters in a panel. Hearts being broken, universes being destroyed. There was a lot to say. And maybe he was going overboard, but it was kind of a funny relationship, too. I was not living in New York. He and I had been pretty good chums and when I go to New York I stay with him. But I left New York pretty quickly. I just couldn’t deal with it. Manhattan was too big for me; too intense in so many ways.
And I went west and they kept sending me scripts, which was really amazing when you think about it because everything was very office centered. In other words Rick Parker and Jack Morelli and all these people and they were sending things to me. Why they just didn’t keep them in New York I’ll never understand.
CB: Oh, I have a notion.
ORZECHOWSKI: Well, okay, thank you. But there was me and Chris and it was working out well. Nobody else wanted to touch the script because they were too long, and I said, “Send me more.” And so we survived about six editors-in-chief, and I’ve lost all count of how many actual editors we went through. Probably at least six or seven and countless assistant editors. It was always me and Chris. A new editor would come on and normally a new editor likes to put his or her own print on a series like a new logo or a new creative team, but it was always Chris and me.
And when he was ultimately off the book I missed the rhythm of his work. The characters didn’t sound right any more. So I gave that about a year and then it was time to go. It wasn’t my team any more. And as soon as a project of his came on the plate again around the year 2000, Ralph Macchio gave me a call and I was back.
CB: Very nice.
ORZECHOWSKI: And I’m just about to start a series called “X-Men Forever”. I think Tom Grumman is the penciler. And as I understand it, it picks up pretty much where he (Chris Claremont) left off the series at #280 in 1992; the same team, I guess within percentages, the same plotline, the same subplots. I think that’s all been reprinted by now, too. So it won’t have to be backtracked too heavily.
There will have to be some back-story filled in, I’m sure, but that will be so exciting for me, because he’ll get his full team back. Storm and Wolvie and Colossus and Kitty and they won’t have died and been reborn twice or whatever’s going on. I can’t read these things.
CB: You and me both. Modern continuity for the most part just leaves me cold. I find myself gravitating toward familiar names like Len Wein with his recent guest shot on the Justice League.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, it’s kind of an awkward place to be, which I think is why people embraced the “Ultimates” so greatly. Let’s go back to first issues. New concepts, new timetables, characters in addition to different times, different relationships; because who wants to have 40 years of back-story to deal with?
They kept trying to reinvent “Spider-Man” and kind of eliminated the back-story with that Ben Reilly thing that comes to mind. And it just never really worked. I don’t know why Marvel can’t do these things the way DC did. Because for DC it seemed like it was a roaring success when there was John’s “Superman” and George’s “Wonder Woman”. Those characters are 70 years old this year or awfully close to it.
CB: Remarkable, isn’t it?
ORZECHOWSKI: It’s impossible to deal with that kind of back-story. I knew George Ovshesky(?) the indexer when I was in Toronto some years ago, in the middle or late 70’s and he was self-publishing these Marvel indexes. Nice covers and full credits and synopses, and it was his contention then that Peter Parker was in fact about 32 years old and all of the stories actually happened in canon and he was actually aging realistically, and I said, “No, no. The stories become anecdotal over time and Parker’s only about 23 or maybe 22 and time is compressed and this is fiction. You can’t take these things seriously in that kind of historical way, because he couldn’t possibly have had all those adventures and still be only an age where he’d still be in college.” He said, “Well, he’s a grad student. He’s just doing it really long term.” “Well…”
ORZECHOWSKI: Occasionally you’ve got to scrape away the barnacles and understand that a lot of the stuff just never happened. This is fiction. And I guess when a character’s been roaming around for 40 or 60 years and you really love the stuff, you love the costumes and creators and so forth it’s hard not to take it seriously. I mean really, come on.
CB: When I was talking to Joe Rubinstein, who I guess would be a good contemporary of yours, he was talking about how he was being perceived as old-fashioned at 50 years of age and had a dry spell for a while getting any work.
ORZECHOWSKI: There’s a weirdness that’s permeated comics and probably pretty much everything else. By the time you’re 50 you become invisible. That’s when Giacoia found himself outclassed with the Scott Williams guys, the guys who became Image people around 1990. Wayne Boring was out of a job on “Superman” when he was about 50. I don’t think Shelly Moldoff lasted much longer than 50 or 55.
DC managed to keep itself looking pretty static for a very long time. Marvel edited itself a lot more and a lot more frequently. At my age I’m just delighted to have as much work as I can handle and then a bit more. I’m not on the books that have the buzz any more, but the checks clear the bank, and if you’ve got a choice, yeah, I want my bank balance to be steady.
ORZECHOWSKI: Todd Klein and Nate Peikos and a few other guys get the books that have all the notoriety, all the attention and well, I can’t knock a thing that they do. They do fabulous work, and maybe one of these days if Todd’s too busy and Nate’s too busy, maybe I’ll get the next “Secret Invasion” type of series.
CB: Well, your name is certainly one of the more prominent ones among your contemporaries, there’s no question of that.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, it’s probably the most famous Polish name in the lettering world. No one can pronounce it, but they recognize it on sight.
CB: (Laughter.) It seems like I read somewhere that you were one of the pioneers as far as computerized lettering. Is that true?
ORZECHOWSKI: I guess so. It was in ’89 that I started doing Manga. Vin’s comics had three titles that Eclipse was distributing and a friend of mine named Toren Smith was packaging under the house called Studio Proteus and some of those were published by Eclipse and Dark Horse ended up absorbing this company under their own outfit and those were very copy heavy and very sound effects intensive.
That was really the time consuming part, because we had to put English language sound effects on top of the kanji’s and kana’s and make them look as if they belonged there without having to do an awful lot of redrawing. That ended up taking all the time. And then lettering and cutting and pasting the stuff, it was several layers of production. Several layers of time being consumed.
And Toren said, “Tell you what. Why don’t you go and get yourself a PC and get a font design program and just take care of the lettering digitally and maybe even have someone else generate that while you do the work that’s more of the complicated stuff.” Other people said, “You should get a Mac. A PC has such clunky technology. You should get a Mac if you’re doing graphics.” But Toren said, “Ah, they can do the same things on PC’s that you can do on a Mac.”
But it took a year, because the font salesman lied to us about the capability of what he was actually selling us. I actually had a font where I could type “A, B, C,” and realized I had something there. By the middle 80’s I had a small staff called Task Force X. There were five or six of us, sometimes all together in the same time. Generally I’d have two or three people helping on an “X-Men” deadline or a Manga deadline and I’d do the copy placements on the “X-Men” books, you know position the balloon concepts and somebody else would letter the text and I’d balloon them, which gave it a certain continuity of appearance and I would do the sound effects generally. It came across as a fairly uniform look.
I insisted the people I worked with learn calligraphy up to a point just so they knew what the letter forms looked like as ideal concepts. It would more or less match my approach. And it looked pretty good and a lot of them got their own careers. And that kind of obviated the need to get a whole lot of typography done for quite a long time and meanwhile, and again this is in San Francisco, and Richard Starkings was running full speed ahead with Comicraft and taking over Marvel, because they could produce essentially identical results employing, say, a dozen people, I have no idea, but a lot of people that could just break a book up into segments and so if it was really a deadline hell, a whole book could be lettered before lunch.
You just give 22 pages to 10 different people and everyone does 2 or 3 pages and it’s done. And that changed everything and suddenly made the digital thing impossible to ignore. I was the last holdout. I was lettering Spawn by hand until about 2001 or 2002 and when I started working for Marvel again in 2000 it was all digital. When I left them and I left DC which was about ’99 I guess it was all still by hand.
I had the capacity to do digital work, but I resisted because the look is not as fun, not as organic, but now it’s 2009 and that’s old thinking. It doesn’t matter anymore. There are now countless body copy fonts; fifteen, twenty, thirty body copy fonts. Nate Peikos has fifteen or twenty himself. So there are a lot of varieties possible. Clem Robins is the absolute master of developing fonts. There are things known as contextual ligatures where the (something) letters like “ly” and “lw” are created like an individual letter concept, the two letters together, so every time you type a thing with “ly” at the end it defaults to the contextual ligature.
So they’ll be nicely spaced next to each other just automatically. And he’s created such a series of different letters for the contextual ligatures that on “Hellboy” you can read a page and sometimes not see the same letter “e” twice. If it’s against the letter “o” he’ll make it somewhat recessive to the center, it it’s against the letter “w” he’ll make it somewhat longer at the bottom. So it all has that organic look as if it were made by someone who was considering each letter however rapidly as he was making it. Just ingenious. The volume size of these fonts must be into just megabytes.
CB: Fabulous. I’ve seen examples of what you’re talking about, too. I got a copy of “Hellboy” awhile back and asked Clem if he was doing it by hand and he was so happy that it looked that way to a reader.
ORZECHOWSKI: He puts a texture into the font, which is something I try to do in my earliest versions also to make it look as if it’s got some of the tooth of the Bristol board still showing and the point size he does on “Hellboy” is so large; it’s larger than most books so you can see that little bit of texture of the Bristol board showing through which adds to the organic appearance of it.
The fonts I’ve done tend to be rather smooth and I’ve promised myself this year that I’m going to go back and produce two new fonts because the ones I’ve got are several years old and I know they’re kind of showing their age.
CB: Innovate or pass the torch.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, that kind of thing. I need to look as good as Blambot.
CB: I heard that your wife does or did some lettering also?
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, she was part of Task Force X. She also lettered a fair amount of stuff on her own. The last stuff that really caught anyone’s eye was when she was lettering for a guy named Jim Silk, who was a good friend of Dave Stevens, and Jim was drawing a series called “Rascals in Paradise” as well as “Bettie Paige” comics and Rascals is the same kind of stuff where these ladies clothing just keeps falling off every few pages, running through the jungle with something and oops!
Rascals was more of a science fiction thing with much the same kind of verve and feeling and pastel quality of Dave Stevens’ work. And she was being hyper-expressive on those things in a way that you really didn’t see since the old days on, say, Pogo, and she was really going to town but then everything went digital and there was no way to retrieve that look again. It would take just ghastly amounts of time to slip that many fonts in. It left her kind of annoyed. Things moved on. There’s no way to resurrect hand lettering on any kind of a mass scale except in the indie comics and even they’re being driven that direction.
CB: Is “Savage Dragon” considered an indie or more of a mainstream title?
ORZECHOWSKI: I don’t know if indie has to do with the number of units sold. Image is certainly a powerhouse publishing empire. I don’t think anyone imagined fifteen years ago that they’d have so many titles and be looked upon as more than just a vanity project and is in fact now another publisher. Another place to take your interesting proposal. I don’t think it’s an indie, because I’m working on issue #148 right now. And except for “Cerebus”, nothing goes beyond a couple of dozen issues. Maybe “Stranger in Paradise”, but for the most part…I’m going to have to try and find a working definition for indie.
It used to be that you had DC, Marvel, Tower, Charlton and those were the major publishers. Then you had the Indies like Eclipse and Pacific and Dark Horse. That’s kind of preposterous by now. Because the whole Eclipse thing was to look as mainstream as possible and then better. I think indie is kind of in the eye of the beholder and maybe whoever’s ordering the comics. I don’t know if Diamond has any particular distinction in the way these things are organized or if it’s just all alphabetical
I think Dragon is as mainstream as it gets. And it’s a fun comic. I think of any of the Image books that have made it all these years, Dragon is the most comic-booky of them. Erik [Larsen] has got just a wicked sense of humor. A real love of the “flip-er” kind of comics, which certainly takes us to the middle-60’s Marvel and a lot of Frank Miller’s work. The thing with the comic book is that as its being put on the page, you kind of revel in the fact that this is preposterous stuff and we know it, but we’re going to treat it like its serious business anyway.
The Dragon book has just stupendous dialogue and the drawing is top notch. Very emotive and the tongue is planted firmly in the cheek. I never read Dragon before I started lettering it, which is issue #136 or #137, so I really don’t know what it’s all about. I’m only just tuned in to the fact that his name is Dragon. He has no other name. He doesn’t know who he is. He’s just here. And everyone treats him like a guy. But he’s got two kids and meanwhile he’s out there fighting crime and his girlfriend is also a crime fighter, so they tell the kids to do their homework and they’ll be home by 10:30 while they go out and battle the forces of evil. Okay.
CB: Why not?
ORZECHOWSKI: It’s a very simple way of trying to bridge the stupidity I guess you’d say of Marvel comics at their best and a kind of a sitcom life. I am raising kids. I am responsible. But I’ve got to fight the crazy 88’s. I’ve got to go out there and do the job because no one else can do it. And I’ve got kids. So there’s a lot of poignancy in the book. It’s a very well-considered and well written book. I’m very glad to be part of it.
CB: It sounds like a cool concept. I’ve only seen a few panels which Todd had posted on his blog as examples of your work. The sound effects in particular really caught my eye. http://kleinletters.com/Blog/?p=2660
ORZECHOWSKI: You can’t do that digitally. John Workman kind of created a new paradigm, a new status of doing sound effects by taking markers, you know Magic Marker pens and drawing the effects that way and rather than averaging out the strokes and making it more like John Costanza’s effects for example, he had them look like they were drawn with a marker.
Which sounds awfully obvious. It was quite a step forward in kind of admitting what it is you’re doing. Taking the mask away and saying, “Yes, this is drawn with a marker and this is exactly what they look like.” Miller has got that same gestalt with his effects and Erik asked me to do that, too. The book was coming out bi-weekly for about six months, so I lose track sometimes of where we’re at
CB: That’s a brutal pace.
ORZECHOWSKI: Very brutal, very grueling and somehow we kept it lively and fresh and it snapped me back into working effectively very quickly. Because I hadn’t lettered by hand in about 7 years at that point. I had to reacquaint myself with the tools.
CB: I imagine muscle memory and things like that came into play, too.
ORZECHOWSKI: It did, but also the fatigue. You mentioned that comment by Evanier. It’s hard to do that little motion hour after hour if you’re used to just doing keystrokes for a long time; when you can enlarge everything on the screen and get everything down to really tight tolerances. To letter that small, that often, that quickly and then run to FedEx. No service, gotta run to FedEx. Oh, what a burden. (Chuckle.) You have to stop working and take it to a courier? How crazy. How 20th century.
CB: (Laughter.) Yeah, back to the Stone Age.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, normally I can just work until dawn or later and having everything loaded on the server by the time Marvel opens for the day, and then go to bed. But with Dragon I’ve got to stop by 3:00 in the afternoon and run up the street a few blocks to the FedEx drop. Crazy. I’ve got to stop working. What’s that all about? 21st century. Eh…
ORZECHOWSKI: I found that those “New Exiles” came to an end after 18 issues. As the final issues were drawn I was trying to make the sound effects look more hand drawn. Put more balance in there; put more variables, which took far too long. Working with fonts instead of just taking a marker and working these things out organically. But I like that look.
CB: It’s hard to beat
ORZECHOWSKI: It ought to be a requirement somehow, though I can’t imagine how it could be implemented or enforced, that all these new lettering folk have to work by hand for a while. Just to see what it feels like. Just to actually construct sound effects and understand ratios and space by making mistakes. Fonts make no mistakes. You can easily just goose the thing up a little bit. It’s no trouble. But having no safety net; actually putting pen onto the Bristol; that can be really scary. Particularly since there’s no decent correction paint any more. I can correct inside the balloon, inside the sound effect, but not outside because the ink doesn’t really want to sit well on the Pentel on the Bic correction paint.
CB: All this stuff that gets missed
ORZECHOWSKI: The stuff I used to use was an alcohol based thing called Snowpaque, and it’s still manufactured in the U.K. but not here in the states and it used to have kind of a weird alcohol base to it and now I guess you can’t use that any more.
CB: Probably Hazmat.
ORZECHOWSKI: Yeah, so you can’t thin the stuff out, so it clogs up in the bottles and you have to buy a dozen bottles in the first place and I don’t want a dozen bottles, I want to buy one and see if it works. So I guess I’ll just stick with my Pentel correction paint and just hope Erik is merciful and forgives my misjudgment, my little smears here and there.