An iinteresting interview with a legendary Asian-American comic-book letterer with over thirty years of experience in the industry.
September 15, 2020
Janice Chiang is a legendary Asian-American comic-book letterer with over thirty years of experience in the industry. She had her breakthrough into comics freelancing for Marvel Comics in the mid-1970s. Janice is best known to the Bronze Age generation for her lettering in the 1980s to early 2000s on such books as Transformers, Visionaries, Rom: Spaceknight, Conan the Barbarian, Alpha Flight, Iron Man, Ghost Rider vol. 2, What If?, and Impulse. Currently, Janice is highly active and prolific working on different projects with Stan Lee's POW! Entertainment, Storm King Comics John Carpenter's ASYLUM, John Carpenter's Tales For A HalloweeNight V1 and V2, and John Carpenter's Tales of Science Fiction VAULT series, DC Entertainment in the comic branch lettering DC SUPER HERO GIRLS graphic novels and digital stories, Pete Ford of Resolution Independent, and various independent projects. Comics Alliance honored Chiang as Outstanding Letterer of 2016 and ComicBook.com gave her the 2017 Golden Issue Award for Lettering. In May 2017, Chiang was featured as one of 13 women who have been making comics since before the internet on the blog Women Write About Comics. Janice has also developed her own signature style and computer font.
Ramon: So anyway, I think more people are coming but let's get started. So welcome to the Comic Arts Workshop. This is the meetup part of the workshop wherein once a month we invite a guest to come in talk and we ask questions and they tell us a little bit about the industry and about themselves. We've been doing it since June 2017 and I think Greg has been with us since the very beginning.
Greg: I've missed the very first meeting, but I was in the second one and have been here since.
Ramon: And I‟m not sure how long Josh has been going to this thing.
Ramon: Oh, 2018. So, our very first guess I think was Fabrice Sapolskiy and then Heather Antos and since then we've had like Gina Gagliano, Neal Adams, Ivan Cohen, a whole bunch of people, Chris Sotomayor, you know, so. This is a small community I'm sure Janice knows most, all of them not most of them. What's interesting about Janice is I've known Janice for over 20 years because she was a student of mine at my very first Advanced Illustrator class at Parsons. So, she and her husband came in as students and at that time I had retired from Comics. So, I was totally fascinated about the fact that Janice worked in comics and she was in the process of switching from traditional to digital and she was taking my class sort of help with that. And she was great at it, so I got to meet her. And it was strange because you and Danny were both in the class.
Janice: Yeah. I mean you know it's like we had a community from upstate so it‟s like two hours drive one way and two hours back. And those classes were like three hours, were they not ?
Ramon: Yeah, it was three hours.
Janice: Like intense classes like five in a row or something crazy was that. So, it was like we split the driving, he would get us in the city, and then I would get us back home. We‟ve only worked together that way, you know…
Ramon: I thought Woodstock was two hours.
Janice: Yeah, so it‟s like four hours, so like two hours to the city and then two hours back, you know, so. That‟s why I‟m not in the city that much you know.
Ramon: Was Calvin old enough to be left alone at that time? Because I think he was still young...
Janice: Left alone?
Ramon: He must have been like 10 or something.
Janice: What year was it?
Ramon: This would have been 97-98.
Janice: Oh, so he was like high school, you know. We let him stay at home when he was nine years old.
Ramon: Oh, okay. I researched this one so there‟s really no law that says what age you can leave a child in New York State. So it just depends on how much sure they are you use your best judgment.
Janice: Yes. He‟s pretty mature and I knew he would, he know not to burn the house down, so that was cool, right?
Ramon: So, let me pull up my question so it can get started, by the way, you know the first question is, so, before we start if you could please give Janice a nice round of applause for coming to join us tonight.
Janice: Okay, so how I began my career was by mistake, I just stumbled on lettering. My background is in the fine arts. And basically, I needed a job to get through college and my oldest sister was a really good friend with Larry Hama. So she asked Larry if you could, you know, help me out, teach me something. So, Larry and Ralph Reese who was working in Neal Adams Studio rented office space, they ink together under the name Crusty Bunkers. So both of them showed me the basic skills to hand letter, so that's how I started. You know, it's like sometimes I feel like an impostor because you meet all these people at conventions or you know a gathering where they go. Oh my god, I love comics since I was a kid and I wanted to do it you know it's so cool and it was like I don‟t have [inaudible] to match that but whatever I handle I handle with the same passion and discipline because it's my responsibility.
Ramon: So back then it was hand lettering, right?
Janice: Yeah, it was all hand lettering. So, you know my background‟s fine arts and dad taught me Chinese calligraphy before I started, you know, kindergarten.
So I was acquainted with calligraphy. Because, you know in school you do all the art projects and do posters and things, you know. My sisters and my brother and I were going to kids who ask for extra credit. So, some would say, “Okay. Do the poster for this subject of social studies”, so I would say, “Sure”, you know, why not. So, you know, it‟s a doing that I enjoy and like being part of a team and you know coming through my deadline.
Ramon: Did you read comics before lettering?
Janice: Yeah, you know my cousins were big comic fans so they would send us comics that they read already so it's like the Disney comic like “Little Huey”.
Ramon: “Baby Huey”.
Janice: “Baby Huey”, yeah, stuff like that, you know, and probably Archie books. And then I and my brother got a little older like in sixth grade in the summer, he would get the EC Comics, Sahara comics and we would share that and then you get GI Joe, I read that you know. Because basically, being born here the first generation you read everything anything in English so you know it's like whatever is English, they say. The vacuum cleaner container it‟s like, “you would read it”. So, yeah what else?
Ramon: I'd like to ask you to rattle off the companies that you‟ve worked for but it might be a shorter list for companies you haven't worked for.
Ramon: I think you've worked for all of them I think at some point, right?
Janice: Yeah. Well, IDW, I never officially worked for it. So when I volunteered to letter for some stories for the Pulse collection and the fundraiser for Las Vegas where we live so that way I worked with them, but they didn't pay me.
Ramon: Oh, okay.
Janice: So, we talk about paying and non-paying work you let me know.
Ramon: But you‟ve worked for both Marvel and DC?
Janice: Yeah, well Marvel, I actually began in 1974 in the bullpen and then you know, it's like this is what I tell every time I do a presentation, you know what I showed up in the comic industry, you know, the women's movement was going on for a while so I come in here and it‟s like, “Did they not read the news?”, you know, it was a very male-dominated culture and you know women's roles, you know, they weren't too many women in the industry. So you know the way artists viewed women was like either they were the Muse or like a grant worker for them. So it's like you know I did feel I could grow in there, you know what I was looking for. But actually, it goes more to like my identity as hybrid American, Asian-American, so you know it's like when you come to this country you know my parents came you know the whole drive is assimilation so that you get a foothold in the mainstream culture. So at the time, we reached like high school and college the search for identity intensifies because you have that freedom when you go to college you know, nobody's watching you decide the course of study and such. So, it's actually my older sister, Fay Chiang, who started becoming involved when she went to Hunter with the anti-war movement because you know being anti for move Vietnam and because they were killing people that look like us, you know. So, my sister got involved with organizing third-world studies, syou know, having Asian-American study courses is part of the curriculum. So, from that was a whole movement into the community too, organizing community. So, the issue was our older sister all of us found like [inaudible], but we all had the same questions about identity. So I was really fortunate because I'm trying to bring books in the house written by black panthers, like so and as such an autobiography, Malcolm X, and share the bookshelf that I would just go and pull books and read. So, my political process of politicization began very young because of the exposure. And you know there was a period of time also, I was horrified when they killed Fred Hampton and his wife in their bed, like the way they killed Breonna Taylor they just shot them while they were sleeping. So, you know the real news and you know watching footage from the war every night how could you not have your eyes open unless you want to be a hostage. So when I went into comics, the bigger drive for me was the personal identity, you know, trying to find a community of people that look like me because at that time, you know what my parents, my dad immigrated he came as a papers sun and that meant, I think it was 1882 they passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. So the only way you can come to this country is if a relative came before that exclusion that would sponsor you. So that's how they did it, you know within a village they would sponsor relatives to come in. So that's how my dad came in. But my mother came in as a war bride because of you know, your dad served in the war then he could bring a bride from China. So talk about timing my parents got married and then they went to Hong Kong for the honeymoon then two weeks later the Communists took over China, so my mother could not go back. So they just went forward they came to America. So yeah, it was interesting the time my childhood was during the Cold War also so, you know my parents and say well, you know, she stays low, not make waves because they said look, “you see what they did to the Japanese, “Do you think they‟ll think twice about like throwing Chinese in camp?”, so, it's like yeah, that's true in terms of the racism in the government. So, you know, we were like, model students you know, and we just focus on Art and studies. But once we get into college, you know, all pets are off. You know it's like…
Ramon: I wonder how a lot of Asians in the industry when you started right, Larry and you and there was a Japanese guy can't remember his name.
Janice: It was Mori Kiyomoto…
Ramon: Yeah, Mori, yeah.
Janice: …and Erwin Blakenabe and he was a lecturer in DC [inaudible].
Ramon: Were you already working in the industry when all the Filipino artists start coming in?
Janice: When I came back in the 80s I saw more people.
Janice: Yeah, so but anyway, yeah, there's no Chinese woman there.
Ramon: Did you have a mentor in the industry or at Marvel who looked out for you and sort of like to be under the ring?
Janice: Yeah. Well, you know my original mentors are you know, Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, and then I went to Daniel Ennis, got me an introduction to Marvel and Danny Kreski was the head of the bullpen at that time. So I was basically in unstaffed doing lettering corrections and you know trying to get my skills up in terms being a hand-letterer it's like when I came back to the industry in 1980 the first job was with John Buscema called “The Barbarians”, I looked at the pencil and I was like “oh my god this guy is dressed like a Renaissance artist and they want me to letter over?”. So, I pencil all the letters and then I inked it, so I did that like in two hours a page and I was like, “This is not going to fly”. But anyway so with Danny, you know, I learned production values, how to do the lettering corrections and learn more by watching also. One time I was like ready to go out to lunch and then Danny was talking on the phone and working like guys can do that to he's working on this logo and I was watching him as he was like bringing the pro-white to like clean it up and stuff and in front of me, I saw it transform so I saw him go add until he was satisfied so the lesson I learned there was you know, you just keep hitting it until you feel you reached it, you know, you don't like do it quickly and move along until you're satisfied you‟re not going to…
Ramon: What was the logo for?
Ramon: What was the logo for?
Janice: It was [inaudible] assassin something and actually Todd Klein found it one time when he was posting on Facebook and then I said, "God, I recognized that”, I was on the elbow, Danny's elbow when he was cleaning it. So, you know, it's like being in that work environment you pick up a lot just by being there, you know watching and hearing, you know, that's why I came to your class because I thought I would learn from other people's question, you know about the program. So, you know, I learned that you know, at Danny Kreski. And then you know, everyone was supported [inaudible], Flo Steinberg, you know Mori Kiyomoto Jack Abel, a lot of old-timers you know Stan Lee's original bullpen was there. And Mori was really kind he goes, “It‟ll take you three years to you know, evolve your style your hand lettering style”, actually it took me ten years to get to the point where people can recognize my style which is very calligraphic the way I put my pen down. So like when you use a Chinese brush for calligraphy first you touch a surface to make contact and then you drag. So there was a time when people are trying to do different style fonts and stuff, I was like, “Okay. I don't have to imitate somebody I really admired”. I really admired Joe Rosen‟s you know hand lettering. So that's another thing we tell people when they hand letter, I was told, “Well, you know, look at the different styles that people have and the one you really feel comfortable, try to imitate it”. Only that's true with digital lettering unless you going to create your own font. That‟s not going to happen.
Ramon: Are you still hand lettering?
Janice: I was hand0-lettering the Spider-Man daily strips and the Sunday page for about seven years. So right now I'm not hand lettering a project per se but I can, you know, I have the ability to hand letter.
Ramon: Now did that stop after Joe and Stan passed away or was it the top before then?
Janice: It was Wednesday when he passed away, what happened they moved the strip over to Marvel Manhattan's office and we worked on it until March, I think, a year after Stan passed away. And then Joe is always doing commissions. So he's always been so. But the hand lettering yeah, that was it. Actually, I found the last time, they asked me to write Excelsior, and so I wrote it like three times to see what size we needed but I haven't, I guessed what they found is, oh, look that's when the last Spider-Man strip I have, so anyway.
Ramon: How would you describe is the most important job the letterer has?
Janice: It‟s too, well we create the silent soundtrack and the most important part is to make sure the story is read correctly and not disrupt the visual storytelling. So, you know, it can be a struggle when the script is really-word heavy or if the art is dense. So, you know, it's like when we used to and later write on the board, it wasn't a lot of you know space for mistake because once it's become part of the art, that's pretty much it. When pages were late, the inkers would ink and the letterers would let her on vellum which is like a heavyweight tracing paper. And then we go in production where they put like with snowpack in the back, white it out and then they would cut it and they would paste in place. That's what I like, I guess digital lettering because it's on a layer and you can we can move it, you know when this editing…
Ramon: But you can only do that if you actually had copies of the pencils, right?
Janice: Yeah, I would get a Xerox or the pencils, and then I will put the vellum on top, and then you know. But there was one job, it was no art. It was an older artist, I think he was asked for a job and he just lost heart. He just like canceled panels. And then Louise Simonson said to me, “Just letter the best you can, we‟ll figure the part corrections. And then Allen Kupperberg came in and filled in the art. So that was interesting and then you know the GI Joe design issue I letter that and by lettering you know the story behind that is I received the book, it was really late and he said to everyone it's like, “Well, I have an idea we should do it like our storyboard”, you know minimal lettering but get the art done. So basically, it was like “Stan Lee presents”, we always hand-lettered that “Stan Lee presents” then the title and there was a caption to you know, place the situation and then the credit line and the last page was the end, I think. But I didn't rule the panel borders.
Ramon: You got your usual page rate for that?
Ramon: Even though most of the pages were actually had no lettering in them.
Janice: Yeah. But you know, everyone teases me about that, right? So when IDW was doing a collection with GI. Joe books, the editor coordinating wrote me an email that goes, “ha ha ha, you got paid for not lettering there”. And then I refuse to answer. So, finally, a guy wrote and said, “Can you answer back?”, you know, we had to get this collection ready for San Diego Comic-Con. So I called Larry and said, “Who's this joker”, and he said, “Oh, it sounds so sad, okay. So I wrote back and said, you know I said this is how you should phrase your introduction of my participation in lettering books as, like seasoned professional Janice Chiang, you know letter this. Because we don't we have no control over editorial content, you know, it's like paying dues is getting a late job with 32 balloons handwritten on tracing paper that you have to letter overnight. And you know this one story I had to do it because it was written by the Editor in Chief and it was last time I could have seen my grand aunt and I have never seen her because she passed away and I couldn't go [inaudible] the family there because I was meeting my deadline. So, you know, those are the sacrifices we make and my family sacrificed a lot to let me be in the industry because a lot of the time you like you know I got to stay home, oh yea to stay home with me, well you know if you get a free job so does and we just get just as heavy jobs too. It continues in digital lettering too, I had this one project we went to eight stages of correction, so can't you make up your mind what you want to say you know its like, “Come on”.
Ramon: You know I like to whenever I'm at a Comic Cons and I see dollar bins, I'll always look for those old Charlton Comics, you know.
Ramon: And I'm not sure if it was just Charlton or other comics at that period but you would see a lot of really bad word balloon placements and the way that the lettering is stacked. And I guess it doesn't happen anymore because with digital so much easier to make corrections, right?
Janice: Well, you know, it's like the art is dense, you know it‟s a lot of times I see the poor placement of balloons, you know, it's like I know how difficult and hard working the artists are so every time I letter some things like, you know, I don't want to cover this because this part is telling the story, you know, so yeah there's no guarantees. You know, actually, I was listening to a presentation by [inaudible] so he said, “Well, you know, it's better now versus hand lettering that all the balloons are floating”, and I don't particularly agree with that. He said, “Well if they're floating doesn't disrupt the art”. “Yes, it does. It‟s covering”, somebody said it. Or you know a point it's going the wrong way. You know, what‟s difficult is like when I approach a whatever story I am lettering I read the art directions first and then I look to see if actually, you know, the art is following it, when they flip it that's really tricky because, you know, western lettering goes from left to right. So it's like there's a lot of problem-solving that goes on to make it flow correctly at the first correct person is speaking in the correct sequence need to the story.
Ramon: Do you have to do those? Is that part of your job to flip the panels or to move the art down a little bit to make room for the balloons?
Janice: No, no. I'm saying I don't touch the art at all, you know, my only responsibility is lettering. When the artist decides to change the composition and flip the character's position, it's like “oh, no”, and we going to do this without breaking the flow. So that's like the respect that I feel letterers should have for the visual art, you know, this is to you know, two things going on here. So I try to like the main thing is my views preserve the art and then the lettering flows with that, with storytelling. Yeah.
Ramon: Who are some of the more memorable creators that you've worked with?
Janice: It‟s as I've worked with so many people. Well, Larry number one, you know, I got to work with him on that so many things you know he was my editor in the writer. Actually, we're working together on this graphic novel drawn by Mark Bright and written by Larry. So I'm lettering that.
Ramon: Did you ever get to letter on the pages from like Jack Kirby or…?
Janice: I almost did. So anyway, when I started working with Joe Sinnott, he said to me, “Oh, I have a re-creation of Fantastic Four number 50” or some famous cover and he says as a favor he asked Jack Kirby to draw it for me, you know instead of paying me for something he did for him. So he gives me the page and he asked me the letter was like, you know, the title letter and everything. So it was a little daunting, but I told my Jack Morelli about it, right? So he said, “Don‟t touch it, there are no original pencils from Jack Kirby anywhere”. As you know, in the process, you know of comic-making you have the penciler, you have the inker then you erase all the pencil lines. So Jack said don't do it. So I said to Joe, “I think it‟s more valuable if we don‟t touch it. And then Joe said, he was a little hurt said, “They don't want me to ink this?”. I said, “No, I think it‟s more valuable.” because he's thinking about that‟s true, you know. Every time we get pages from Jack who‟d write me little notes and stuff, but I had to erase it before I handed in for you know publication. So, yeah, thank you Jack Morelli for averting a catastrophe. But I did hold I want it that much. [Inaudible] penciler you think I might have letter it over. Well, John Buscema, was incredible.
Ramon: For sure. Yeah.
Janice: Because on the other side he‟ll be doing his warm-ups and it was like, oh my goodness that was amazing to see that.
Ramon: But you usually got the pages when they were still pencils, right or they go either way?
Janice: Well, the majority I would say 90, 95 % was original art that I got.
Ramon: And after your lettering was in then they would think it, right?
Janice: So, let‟s see what I was on, yeah, I was like, yeah, Mark Bright we worked on, oh, [inaudible] when he started, I lettered in first series “Moon Knight”. Ron Lim, I‟ve worked with him on “Silver Surfer”, you name it I think I've lettered everyone. You know what‟s really cool like when I meet people who say to me, “Oh my God you lettered my first professional job”, and they're so happy to meet me which is nice you know it's like you know a lot you find a lot of people who come the industry really love comics when they were young. Loved it so much that they want to be part of the industry and I think that's really rewarding that our team's work you know influence so many future artists and writers in and to join us so I'm really happy when I meet them at conventions, it's a good thing.
Ramon: Now, when you're lettering back in Marvel, most of the lettering was done in-house correct?
Janice: No. in my house?
Ramon: In-house at Marvel, at the Marvel Bullpen. Most of the lettering back then was done…
Janice: You know when Stan Lee had his bullpen, you know, they would turn out like four or five Comics a day. Just like pretty, pretty incredible.
Ramon: But it also means that you weren't actually working side by side with the artists who are usually just sending or dropping off artwork.
Janice: Yeah, you know it‟s like it was all freelance. Everybody was at home, you know, either dropping the work off or sending it in. In my case, I would go in. While I lived in New Jersey, I was closer to Manhattan so I can come in three times a week, you know pick up or drop off work, you know. People say, [inaudible] it so quickly, you know, that's the way it goes.
Ramon: What are some surprising differences between working in the industry when you first started then working in the industry now?
Janice: There are more women now, for sure. And I think a lot had to do with manga, books becoming popular, and then yeah cosplaying stuff. So that's a big difference.
Ramon: It‟s ironic because I don't think there are a lot of manga women creators, right? Or are there?
Janice: I don't know. I don't follow manga very closely but just in terms of convention attendance you know when they would have the regular Comic-Con and then they would have the Anime Fest and Manga Fest you know side by side, so that's a big difference. I think because of the internet the pool of artists is more international, I mean when we, at Marvel we would get I know when I work with Disney on like “Chip „n‟ Dale” books which I found Len, I've got Len Wein to edit it but his wife reminds me you know of it, oh yeah we worked on “Chip „n‟ Dale”. That studio was in Argentina and then we had a group of Filipino artists working with us. And then was Ernie Chan from Puerto Rico? Somebody…
Ramon: I thought he was Filipino.
Janice: There was an artist, an old-time artist from Puerto Rico, so, you know with the Internet, it's like yeah, it's global in terms of...
Ramon: I remember you telling me years ago that that social media allowed you guys to stay in touch more because back before social media everybody worked in isolation.
Janice: That's true. Unless you know, you want the guys with the telephone receiver in the crook of your neck, chatting while you work. Yeah, it was like pretty much an isolationist, you ran in the office and went [inaudible] that was it. So, you know, what's great about Facebook is you know, you know what your friends are up to, and then when you actually see them, you don't do backtrack from the last time you saw them. It's like you're up to date, you know.
Ramon: You know, it's been so much fun that we‟re already at the halfway point. So I'm going to open it up to questions from the audience.
Janice: Oh, really?
Ramon: Yeah. We haven't even gotten through our questions yet. But I'll open up to the audience because I want people to be able to ask their own questions. So, anybody?
Edwin: Hi Janice, it's me, Edwin.
Janice: Oh, Hi! How are you doing?
Edwin: Doing pretty good. I have a question. So like I'm working on a comic with artists and I hired a letterer, now usually like because I know you were talking about like doing the pencil stage is when they give it to you to letter or is it like after he does the coloring and everything like that, do they do the lettering after?
Janice: Well, are you doing digital lettering or hand lettering?
Edwin: It‟s going to be digital lettering.
Janice: Okay, so, you know as long as you have like I've lettered on thumbnails, you know, something's late or if I want to get a jump because you know if you do a bunch of different books, you know, I try to basically bring everything at the most advanced stage as possible because that way, you know changing out files doesn't take a lot of time. So, you know if you want your letterer to start, you know lettering they could do it over your pencils, your inks or your thumbnails, you know, the thing is, the most important thing is like make sure the template it's correct to what you want the printer to print. So, you know, the files you give to a letterer make sure it's scaled to the template. That's where the most problem is if somebody gives me like, a lot of the traditional artists are using 11 by 17 artboards. But you know the template is specific to the printer. So every printer has a different size. So a lot of the old-timer's guys think well if I make art digging is like a cookie-cutter some had template cuts it but you know, if you don't draw it to scale the template, you know, you‟re going to cut some important information like have somebody's face which I think is lazy. So the technical part is to make sure you know, the pages are scale correctly to the template before you get to the letter because a lot of time I have to do push back or I figure it out myself, but you know, basically, if you have consistency to the whole process then when you print it you'll get what you see. Because you know, it's like everything looks great on screen, but when you went straight to the 3D book that you know, mistakes going to be mistaken, you know.
Edwin: So I should tell my artist because he sends it to me through Gmail, so like I should tell him, “Hey, what's the size of this photo?” like because when I bring it to the letterer, I want him to know exactly so when I do go to the printing phase I would know…
Janice: You know, if you have Photoshop you can open the image and see the image size and stuff.
Janice: But yeah, but what you need is to give the letterer the template that the printer will print from. And the best...
Ramon: Edwin, may I know who‟s your printer is or who are you printing it?
Edwin: Like my printer? Like exactly what printer I‟m printing with?
Ramon: Yeah, who your printer is or you know because if she can get the template from them have your artist draw it to that size then…
Janice: Or in proportion to that size, you know.
Ramon: Yeah, proportion to that size.
Edwin: Okay, because I'm trying to, I might be using Morris publishing so I might be printing from with them.
Janice: Yeah, so give him a call and ask, “Can I have a template for the artists to use and the letterer”. Because that way you know Ramon knows a lot about production values, but from my experience, it's like when I see something like three times too big for my template is like, “No, not like this”
Ramon: Anybody else has any other questions? Thanks, Edwin.
Greg: I do actually.
Ramon: Go for it, Greg.
Greg: So I really love “Superman Smashes the Klan” which you lettered and something that I'm really curious about with your process on that book and really any kind of like a kid's comic so you might have done in the past like what kind of considerations do you make when you know, it's being read by children rather than adults, like do you do things to make the text more prominent or bigger word balloon? I'm just so curious about kind of how that might change your process.
Janice: You know, definitely young adult and children's book, the font will be bigger you know, because they're learning how to read. With “Superman Smashes the Klan”, I think the size was pretty much like what the scale used for a DC book. It's what you do when whether it's like an adult or young adult book that I'm lettering it's like the storytelling you know, how do the lettering elements facilitate the storytelling. So it's really not that different because it's the same quality I have to bring in terms of sound effects and stuff. So what was funny about “Superman Smashes the Klan” was the sound effects because the look was retro, I was allowed to do a lot of retro kinds of sound effects, which is really close to hand lettering. So I was happy about that because all the fonts are used with the sound effects are from my design. So I was really comfortable with it.
Greg: Yeah, I definitely know as reading it but you know because it takes place kind of like the immediate post-world War II that he had a little bit of an old-school feel to the letters.
Janice: So was the letter you know, Gene and I work before on the “Shadow Hero” with Sonny Liew, so it was practically a story about an Asian American superhero. It's really funny, but that's how I started working with Gene and then with Sonny because I had gone to San Diego Comic-Con 2009 that was the first time I was there and I met Sonny and Gene at the signing, they had worked on this Anthology called “Secret Identities” to a lot of, this is to answer your question, Ramon, there were enough professional Asian American artists and writers to put that Anthology together.
Ramon: It was Jeff Yang‟s book, right?
Janice: Yeah. So that's where I met Bernard Chang, Cliff Chiang, you know. So, actually, I brought the book, look at the biographies that went up and down the artist‟s alley to see I can find them. Right? So they're signing at Jeremiah's table and I saw them there so you know that's how our collaboration began. And then we did a Panda Express for Asian Pacific cultural month. We did a little mini-comic continuing [inaudible] about the “Shadow Hero”.
Ramon: I love the “Shadow Hero”. Questions, anybody else?
Josh: I have a question.
Josh: So speaking of sound effects do you give free rein and how the sound effects and like the onomatopoeia and stuff like that look because you know in Comics they can vary, some of them have balloons some of them have, you know, these crazy, you know, Shadowfax or fonts and curves and stuff like that so you get to make all the decisions as a letterer or is that like a collab between the penciller or so how does that work?
Janice: Well, you know when we hand-lettered you know they were blocked out wherever they want the sound effect which you know because it was part of the art. Now, yeah sometimes you know I get ballons placed in a cell indicate you know where they look like it. But you know I'm the lettering department for John and Sandy King Carpenters Storm King Comics so I have totally free reign there. What I do, you know sound effects if you're familiar with illustrator, I go into the distort window and I distort every letter for my use so that way it could be organic. I'm literally moving or angling, skewing I do a lot of distortion because you know, coming from hand-lettering I want to go organic. I just don't want a sound effect font that I buy that goes up and down and says whatever. To me, you
know, I guess it‟s foreign to me but you know, that's a really popular style, you know comic aesthetics at this point, but I'm on the holdouts and you know, it's like I'm trying to understand digital lettering the [inaudible] of it more so than like I'm turning out a house look. So yeah, I get in conflict. I know people want it to looklike everything else but it's hard for me to do that. If you have [inaudible] you go and check out our Storm King Comics there're quite a few graphic novels. And actually, this year is our sixth year of the “John Carpenter‟s Tales for a Halloween Night”, which is basically 12 stories from 12 different themes. You know [inaudible] on Halloween so John always writes the first story and Sandy rights the ending story, the book ends. So it's a lot of fun stuff you know, I get to really be part of that.
Ramon: We have a question from Irish?
Irish: Yeah, sorry. I'm not too sure how to change my name on there. I got something on the sketching board, which is essentially I'm rewriting folklore from the perspective of some of the women in the story because if you take their perspective on say like Helen of Troy is perspectives on the Greek and Trojan War, Medidas‟ perspectives on Jason and the Argonauts or Medusa's perspective on the founding of Athens becomes a drastically different story. I want to know if there were any ways that you would recommend to try to network with women that write in the industry that I don't know might be interested in a project similar to that.
Janice: You can tweet, you know Twitter, I'm not that great on, I use retweet to write a comment because you can‟t‟ correct it if you misspelled something and people are tweeting away like, “Give me work I want to do this book”, but this company is like, “Good luck”, but sometimes, you know, actually, you know people respond so I think if you tweet about it, like, “Women comic writers out there with Twitter count for sure. Yeah.
Irish: Okay. Thanks. Yeah, it's funny that you mentioned the Chinese Exclusion Act up until a few months ago. I was defending immigrants in court. I was an immigration attorney still technically am.
Janice: You're doing great work just like…
Ramon: Where are you based, Irish?
Ramon: Oh, okay.
Irish: Yeah. Yeah. I was working over in freaking Federal Plaza over in lower Manhattan.
Janice: Oh, yeah? Do know Ye Ling Poon? She's an immigration attorney in Chinatown.
Irish: Interesting, well, it's a relatively small community but I was only doing it for about two years.
Janice: Oh, okay. She‟s been doing it quite a long time.
Ramon: Is anybody else have any other questions? James?
James: Oh, sorry. Can I hop in? Okay cool. So you talked about preserving the story, are there any other ever any kind or it's like you have an impulse to preserve the art over making the best narrative experience, and have you ever followed that impulse?
Janice: Have I overridden that?
Janice: Looking back, I think you know the “Morbius” series I lettered for Marvel, I think my sound effects are too big and that was like in the 90s I think. And I think it was the pressure of being the only woman letterer, you know, it's like, “yeah, you do look at my sound effects, you know, I designed to “Ghostrider” balloon”, because at that time the stakes are you know going up you know, I would come into work, you know, just a little more pages and this is basically, “oh, look what this guy did with balloon shade and I was like, “Oh, yeah, we can design different”. The thing with the Ghostrider was so funny it was like, “Why are people saying this, this guy has a skull his heads on fire”. I run the f$*# out of there, right? Excuse me. And then one day I was exercising in the gym. I said “fire, that‟s what his balloon needs”, right? Because you can see the balloon now he's speaking without reading it. So I remember Bobby Chase told [inaudible] years later she said when I saw those pages with the quote new “Ghost Rider” balloon, I caught Harry [inaudible] said, “Oh my God, you should see what Janice did”. And I'm proud to say, you know, I forgot what issue. We saw 800,000 copies. I forgot what issue probably but you know, it was so much fun because you know Mark Texeira was the original artist, I was just like wowed at his pencils he‟s another really super fine artist. And you know, I felt like I had to meet the challenge like something quality just as good so yeah, you know, that's the first thing I say to people yeah, I did the Ghost Rider balloon, yeah.
Ramon: Jill, you have a question? Jill?
Jill: Oh, yeah. Sorry, I'm so transfixed I forgot I going to ask. Okay, it's a little bit of a story but I'm not sure what the question is but maybe you'll tell me what it is. So I worked in selling original art in a gallery for years the place called Illustration House down in Manhattan, and we met Walt Simonson and Louise and you know a lot of really cool people Jim Steranko, great people, right, and we were handling a lot of original art, we have you know “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, “The Originals”, “Airman”, “Krazy Kat” all this stuff right? It's like going to grad school and I didn't even really know what I was handling. We had thousands of pieces of art from paintings down to these things and you look at some of them had been redone and redone and rubber cemented and you know, sometimes the son of the artist would redo, “Little Nemo‟s” happened a lot, redo the captions and do his own versions and there were terrible. And so anyway, I'm deeply steeped in the original art, right? So I'm just getting into graphic novels and Comics finally returning to think about what I wanted to do all my life. So I started to grab type thinking, “Well, I got to do it. I've got to grab fonts. Fonts are fun. I'm going to distort. I'm going to do all that fun stuff with it”. And my friend of mine, Heinrik Drescher, a great illustrator, rips me a new one it's like, “You got to put your handwriting in there”. If you were this type, what are you thinking?
Janice: So now, I'm really confused. Like I think it's going to take me the rest of my life to do like one graphic novel. It's like all better off, there‟s no wrong or right way to do it, you know, hand lettering very organic to the art so, you know, it doesn't have to be perfect. You know, it's the personality of the person. For me, it's like what the need is it‟s like digital lettering it‟s about publishing process. Hand lettering, you know, Stan Lee really wanted the hand lettering kept on strips. I think it really pleased him to see it. That's why he kept our team going. So, you know, it's like it goes higher letterer to you know, buy you time if not, you know, like handle everything yourself. So If you have legible hand-writing, I don't see what's wrong with that, right? You know hand-lettering is unique to the person. What I'm most proud of about my time was hand letterings it's like people can recognize my style right away and that's very difficult to do. So, you know, I tell people as an achievement, I know that much, you know, it's like going on 40 something years in the industry, I'm known for that people can see it without my name and know it's me so it has its own energy and personality hand lettering.
Jill: Did you get the credit you deserve all the way along? Did you have to fight for it?
Janice: You know it‟s like the credit, we get credit on the credit line we did books and then sometimes when we at like books the credit went to many hands because we had to break out the pages and do it and bring it back. Yeah, I would think so you know there was a time I wasn't working when I went to Ramon‟s class, DC-Marvel created their own lettering departments so a lot of hand letterers who didn't transition to digital lettering had no work. So yeah [inaudible] put all my printed credits together so they rewarded me greatly. So, you know when I was fighting back to get digital work it was like, “Yeah, I've lettered books, you see my database?”. So yeah, you know, I've been honored a couple of times is different, you know, like fan folk or from Comicbook.com chose me as the best letterer in 2016 because they said, “she can handle, you know horror with John Carpenter and Sandy King in is line to DC superhero girls. So yeah, I think I have been amply rewarded and you know it's like we're in a community that's like really you know comic is really difficult in terms of the deadlines if you assume printing deadlines everything else goes out the window you know it's like you're during the pandemic I haven't been sleeping well you know because you know usually my husband I go train in the gym just so I can sit still. So you know during the pandemic I've been waking up like just like taking long naps like two hours, I'm awake and I'm ready to work you know which is crazy but they're in really tough deadlines that is my schedule you know it's like these days I know I shouldn't drive so I make a coffee to stay awake then I get to the microwave and put another cup and I said, “Whose cup is this?”, so I knew I was like tired in the physical world but you know in terms of the focus to do the work I was on.
Ramon: And that's the reason why it took so long to get Janice to be a guest speaker because she didn't have time to come down to the city and be a guest speaker. But now that we're doing everything online she's able to do it. So let's take two more questions from James and from Greg. So let's go with Greg first.
Greg: Yeah. What‟s your biggest pet peeve that artists would do like what the artist should avoid doing to make a job more wonderful?
Janice: Well, when they don‟t leave enough air space to consider lettering. When hand-lettered the writer usually used the boom placement sometimes, you know, it's like really tight, you know its weirdest place to look like the person was a hunchback. So, you know, we try to really squeeze the lettering and fit so I was known for tight lettering but we have to get it in. I don't know it's like the artist is doing the storytelling, you know, we come after so I never heard where a letterer dictated to the artist what to do, that‟s not the pecking order in how we create. And you know, the tricky thing is, you know, computer lettering need not supposed to notice, it‟s not to stop the flow. So that's like an oxymoron, you know where the silent soundtrack to the story and the good lettering you do not suppose to see. I was like, “yeah, we‟re invisible on many levels except for what you read. I hope that answered your question?
James: Hi Janice! I wasn't expecting to be talking to Fay Chiang's sister today because I knew Fay Chang and Chi Yan from Project Reach it was like a decade ago and like your mannerisms I got the feeling like I'm looking at a doppelganger and the laugh.
Janice: He will say I sound like her too.
James: You‟ve been doing this for a long time and what are aspects of your career or job like at the day-to-day, and technical processes with different people like to do you find like joyous doing this like over time?
Janice: It's like whenever I commit to a project I commit to a team so my main responsibility is not to let them down. I can have to meet my deadline on time or earlier. So I find what I do, you know you who work on staff their weekends is like Saturday or Sunday, but I noticed like I start my week, I take my weekend Friday-Saturday so I don't have my work completed on Sunday before Monday. So yeah, that's the main thing. You know, I really enjoy being part of our team and that's my responsibility. But you know, I do a lot of different clients and you know what I still Freelancers or people being in the industries like you have to hear what the client needs not so much like what you want to give the client. So these different levels are a collaborative process, it‟s like when I worked with DC it‟s pretty structured in terms of the job definition. So, you know, my lettering supervisor will contact me about a project that you know an editor with the writer request me to work on. And then you know, the editor will get me the full script and the balloon placements, and my lettering supervisor will you know to send files for me. But then I'll get clients who have no experience making comics, looks like it's really easy. It's like oh no, it's like in situations where I had no safety nets but myself where I had to edit and you know all the other things. so that's why I was struggling about template being most [inaudible] start because I know what can happen when there isn't one so luckily I've never let anything go past my hands to the point where it's printed in it's totally unusable, you know. But you know, what's great about my job is I get to work on so many storylines. It was like with John Carpenter's storyline we have tales of science fiction so I go to do these space travels, time travel. So yeah, it's like every project I take there‟s something exciting, you know, this always like, you know, because the stakes in terms of beautiful art it's like I'm spoiled I get to see all this phenomenal or before it goes public, you know, so that's like a real plus to the job. Any other questions or…?
Ramon: I have one last question and the question is what advice can you give to somebody who wants to get into the industry?
Janice: The industry is pretty broad now, you know, it's like I remember it was like the beginning it was very traditional certain comic has Archie, DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, I still advise a young people if you couldn't work like DC or Marvel IDW, Dark Horse some large company that's always a good start because you can be a fly on the wall. You could be the gopher, but you can see everything and you can have access to people. The thing that I realized with the internet in 2000, the whole thing when Comics people made their presence that way, you know, the social media and go out there. You know, we're really missing out on conventions in terms of the one-to-one contact because I saw a question you had like, “Do I stop the hustle?”, Yes. I do. You know, it's like even after all these years, you know, there's always liked in big companies, there‟s always a change in the editorial who you know in terms of like people you have working relationships with over years also and they‟re gone either in this time they're laid off or they go to another job. So, you know as a freelancer you learn to throw at your own stepping stones before you fall. It's like a Super Mario game. It‟s like jumping from platform to platform. The first thing is also to see what's out there in that way you can get an understanding like what are people's interesting storylines and the quality that's expected of what you put out you know that's an important part of the publication, quality and the standards you know. And then I have an article at Comics creators, you know the magazine that John Cook puts out, so I had to write a bunch of answers for the interview. So, one thing in terms of quality, everything's digital and everything is like you can magnify it so much. So, you know, you can't flog coloring, we can‟t flog anything. So, you know, you have to have that discipline to put it out there also, you know a professional level. I know the smaller comic Gavin Zamalka fest and the other things like finding a mentor that helps a lot. Doesn't it? Do you have a network already? You know, it's like right now it's like yeah, these twos assessable you can write and draw your own graphic novel, but if it works easier, not easier if it‟s more streamlined that you get a team of collaborators who are specific to drawing or the writing with the lettering. And that's helpful too because sometimes you know, it's like when I work with Del Rey doing manga work, they gave us compressed art files in the Japanese sound effects. So our job is to clean the files and they would have super tone and every angle and every density. So I would have to make sheets specific to that book of you know, the zipped tone patterns and what I learned in the manga, in Japan, they have teams of people doing every aspect like this only, you know, the team for textures, a team for inking and that's how they can get it out. So, you know when I was doing is like, “Oh so that's what I‟m going to be fighting at, an army of fifty”. But you know collaboration is always good, you know the feedback from other people will help you understand if you're telling the story clearly, either it's an art or the writing. Sometimes art by itself says more than words can describe. That's the thing about I feel a successful balance is that the writer has to trust the artist to do the storytelling more so than by the way to words. So if you're doing your own book, you know, it's like this, you know, you have to let air in there. So, you know when people were just doing art without the balloons like the hand art when they started going digital, I felt something was lost not having the balloon say the white space it gave you a breather in terms of jumping from here to there. I remember friends selling it I was like, “It‟s out of context. You don't know where it belongs”. I was like, “Okay looks really great. But where they belong?”. Let's open a comic and print the comic and where it showed up, but that‟s the changes I noticed.
Ramon: Well, thank you very much, Janice. I don't want to keep you any longer. Thank you very much for coming to talk to these guys to us. If you can, please give her a nice round of applause and appreciation.
Janice: Thank you.
Ramon: Not just for coming but for all the work, you've been putting out over the years. It's funny because I find some of my old books and I was like, “Oh, Janice lettered that”, I see the credits not even realized it because obviously, I was reading that before I knew you so.
Janice: I know, well, here I am.
Categories: Guest Speakers