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Posts Tagged ‘Sandman

It’s December, and we all know what that means. STUPID OVERPRICED CHRISTMAS COMICS! And with the random holiday specials comes the totally awkward stories where Santa rolls around with your favorite superheroes. They’re generally throwaway stories that nobody buys and, well, really hold no bearing on continuity. So what’s the point? Well, occasionally, you strike gold. SO MUCH GOLD. Here are my top five Santa Claus comic cameos. And, um, apologies to your childhood.

(5) Bloom County: In 1981, PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) went on strike demanding better wages and a shorter work week, prompting Ronald Reagan to fire and/or imprison over half of them. Apparently, Santa’s elves were inspired. In newspaper comic Bloom County (dated 12/15/81 – 12/24/81), after Santa rejects the demands of PETCO (Professional Elves Toy-Making and Craft Organization) for higher wages, a hot tub in the locker room, and “short broads,” the elves go on strike. Once again, Reagan steps in, fires all of Santa’s helpers, and replaces them with out-of-work air traffic controllers. Yeah, it’s dated political humor, but it’s still pretty fucking funny.

(4) The Special Edition Warrior Winter Wonderland Pin-Up Book: After getting fired from the WWF in mid-1996, the Ultimate Warrior didn’t have much. How the hell was he supposed to make money as a ranting, painted idiot if he wasn’t on TV? Enter his company, Ultimate Creations, and its terrible pseudo-philosophical 4-issue comic series, Warrior, written by the Warrior himself. After it’s cancellation, Ultimate Creations decided to release one last book, The Special Edition Warrior Winter Wonderland Pin-Up Book. Good lord, is this thing bizarre. Essentially, it’s two pages of Warrior-style rambling (“nobody fucks with a Santa savior”) followed by page after page of your least favorite 90’s artists drawing the Ultimate Warrior in Santa garb (including a Joe Quesada/Jimmy Palmiotti cover). This book is most infamous for it’s final pin-up by Jim Callahan of the Ultimate Warrior putting on Santa’s pants while a half-naked Saint Nick lies passed out next to a bottle of whiskey with… Wait. Holy shit, what is that splattered across Santa’s chest?

(3) Sandman #7 (er, sort of): To be fair, this story almost never even was. Originally slated to be Sandman #7, the series got cancelled just after the release of #6. Then, this story was supposed to end up as the second half of Kamandi #61, except that series got cancelled after the release of issue #59. Finally, this story was released in 1978’s legendary black-and-white photocopied Cancelled Comics Cavalcade #2, a full two years after the last Sandman story was published.

Anyways, yeah. The Silver Age Sandman’s best pal, Jed Walker (the Earth-1 counterpart of Kamandi), has been challenged to prove to Titus Gotrox, an old millionaire, that Santa is real. If he succeeds, the man will donate $1,000,000 to charity in Jed’s name. With the help of Sandman, Jed is whisked away to the Dream Stream to meet Santa. Unfortunately, the old man’s nephew, Rodney, doesn’t want to get screwed out of a million busks worth of inheritance and follows. Upon arrival, Sandman discovers that Santa has been kidnapped by the Seal-Men, a race of half-seal/half-human creatures, who are pissed off that Santa gave them gloves for Christmas the previous year, even though their race has flippers. Santa says “sorry” and everything is fixed (that was easy). They get back to Santa’s workshop to discover Rodney pointing a gun at Mrs. Claus. Sandman hits him with some sleep dust (that was also easy) and everybody goes home.

(2) Hellblazer #247: I know that John Constantine isn’t one to shy away from trying a new drug, but this is just fucking weird. In October 2008’s Hellblazer #247, while attempting to prevent a cannibalistic mystic named Mako from obtaining some super-evil artifact called the Hell Mirror, Constantine travels to Bari, Italy, breaks into the Basilica di San Nichola, digs up the skeletal remains of ol’ Saint Nick, and has it ground into bone meal. After using the ground up icon in some weird thaumaturgical incantation ritual, he decides to hang onto it for a bit. And when he gets back to his apartment, what does he decide to do with the Santa dust? Same thing you or I would do, obviously. Roll up a Coca-Cola advertisement, snort Saint Nick like cocaine, and make the obligatory “white Christmas” joke! Classy, Andy Diggle. Classy.

(1) The Lobo Paramilitary Christmas Special: As much as I love Keith Giffen, I can’t stand the Lobo character. Even so, when I discovered he had a Christmas-themed one-shot in 1991, my morbid curiosity got the better of me and I had to check it out. Good god. Lobo is hired by the Easter Bunny to assassinate Kris “Crusher” Kringle after all of the holiday mascots decide that Christmas is overshadowing their respective holidays. Lobo takes the job and books it to the North Pole, only to be attacked by the elves. After they are all massacred by “The Naughtiest One,” he faces Santa (armed with a pair of razor sharp shivs) and his gorilla sidekick, Kong. Lobo ends up decapitating Santa, shooting Rudolph (who is apparently a mutant now), and is about to leave when he discovers Santa’s list. The comic then ends with Lobo dropping atomic bombs down the chimneys of everybody labeled “nice.”

Normally I wouldn’t give a number one spot to something that’s just so, well, 90s. But this gets better. In 2002, some guy named Scott Leberecht, a student working on a project for his American Film Institute director’s studies program, decided to do a $2,400 live-action adaptation of this comic starring Butterfinger from Hudson Hawk and the guy who voices Shikamaru on Naruto. And, fuck, it is horrible. How horrible you ask?

BEHOLD! THE LIVE-ACTION LOBO CHRISTMAS SPECIAL STUDENT FILM!

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High Five! gets a lot of traffic from casual comics fans; I know because my mom comments on every third entry. While most fans are surely aware of the issue I’m about to riff on, the less initiated may not be:
You love Todd Klein. You may not know it, but you do.
Did you like The Sandman? What about Fables? The Dark Knight Strikes Again? The Invisibles? Kingdom Come? Promethea?
Todd Klein lettered all of them. Neil Gaiman may have given Morpheus his words, but with those now-iconic wavy black speech bubbles, Klein gave the Sandman a VOICE. He’s been in the comics business since 1977, back when penciling, inking, lettering – everything – was still done by hand. In the late eighties and early nineties when the comic production process became more & more computer based, a lot of letterers cried foul and refused to work digitally. Most of them aren’t working now. Todd Klein, on the other hand, made hundreds of font sets based on his lettering styles and wholeheartedly embraced the new technology. He is one of the the most sought after letterers in the business – and after you’ve read enough comics – one of the most recognizable.
In the assembly line that is modern comics production (writer, penciller, inker, letterer, and somewhere in there, an editor gets involved), the letterer is by far the most unsung member of the creative team. A letterer doesn’t just scribble some words into pre-drawn thought balloons (though I’m sure it happens that way sometimes); the letterer lays out the speech & thought balloons in a logical manner – and in a wordy, complex comic by a writer like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, presenting the dialogue and inner monologue in an intuitive progression is no small feat.
Not just bubble placers & fillers, letterers usually design and place sound effects too. Sound effects in comics are odd, you don’t necessarily notice them unless they’re crappy or just not there at all. But where would Wolverine be without “SNIKT!”? Where would Spidey be without “THWIP!”? And where would ‘SNIKT!’ and ‘THWIP!’ be without good letterers?
It can be easy to get wrapped up in the story and the “oh shit!” moments and miss the fact that you’re not just reading a book, you’re looking at a piece of artwork – and I don’t mean just the pretty pit-chers. Lettering give characters a voice, bubble design and placement paces the story, sound effects set the mood, and all of this is done by the guy you probably forgot about.
But we didn’t! In fact, we conducted a little Q & A with Mr. Klein, who was kind enough to take time out of what must be a pretty busy schedule to answer our questions.
(1) We all know that you started out “in the pit,” as it were, at DC in the late seventies. Could you talk a little about your comics career before you landed the DC gig?
Well, that’s pretty easy: I had none! I was a long-time comics reader and fan, had spent two years in art school, but was never good at drawing people, which is kind of a prerequisite for becoming a comics artist. I did prepare a sample story when I applied for the job at DC, you can see the first page here:
but the best thing about it was the lettering, which I always had an interest in, though that was my first attempt at comics lettering.
(2) After doing your time on the assembly line at DC, you went freelance. You’ve worked with all the top names in the industry. Was there ever a moment that you felt overwhelmed or more intensely challenged than usual by a project?
I can’t say I ever felt overwhelmed, and I enjoy challenges. Some projects are more challenging than others, certainly. Working on “Starstruck” with Michael W. Kaluta and Elaine Lee early in my career was the first time I was asked to do lots of different lettering styles, and that paved the way for what I did on “Sandman,” but it was all fun. Some assignments end up taking much too long, and one tries to learn from that. On the other hand, some go quicker than expected, so it evens out in the long run.
(3) When lettering went digital, you were one of the first to embrace the concept of computer lettering. You’ve covered a lot of the finers points of the subject on your very extensive website. Do you feel that lettering “loses something” when it is digitally rendered?
There are many differences between the processes of hand-lettering and computer-lettering, both have their good and bad points, both can be done well or poorly. I do sometimes miss the physical process of hand-lettering, but then when I get the occasional assignment to do that way, I struggle because I’m out of practice, and it takes way too long!
(4) Beautifully drawn words paired with beautiful artwork is far from a new concept. I honestly believe there’s a possibility that centuries from now, scholars will look at certain comics the same way we might look at medieval calligraphy and illumination today – do you feel there’s a connecting thread between the two?
I certainly felt one when I did hand-lettering. Typewriters replaced practitioners of fine writing in the business world decades earlier, but there were always artists and craftsmen needed for signs and decorative text of one sort or another, and there still are, even though much of that need is now filled by computer fonts. You can find artistic and decorative hand-lettering out there if you look for it, though.
(5) Sound effects are an often overlooked aspect of an overlooked art. Who has the biggest influence on sound effect design & placement, or does it vary from project to project?
My approach is usually to try to match the style of the art if I can. Gaspar Saladino was great at that, and I always looked to him for inspiration. Sometimes editors or artists have particular styles they prefer or don’t like, so that’s a factor. And working on the computer, I have a set of my own sound effects fonts I turn to most of the time, and a few other commercial fonts I also like.
(6) You’ve mentioned Gaspar Saladino as a major influence more than once, what other letterers would you recommend taking a look at?
For hand-lettering: Tom Orzechowski and Dave Sim come immediately to mind, lots of others worth looking at, but if I try to list them all I’ll leave someone out. For computer-lettering, I look at font creators rather than letterers using the fonts created by them, and John Gaushell of Comicraft, Nate Piekos of Blambot, and Rian Hughes are all doing fine work.
(7) You worked with JH Williams III previously on Promethea, and you’re working with him again on Batwoman. Obviously, working with Rucka is a very different experience than working with Moore – how has your previous work with Williams influenced the book?
When I work with JH, it almost doesn’t matter who the writer is, I’m working with JH, and he and I are in close contact. He lets me know what he wants, and try to give it to him (or tell him it’s impossible occasionally). Jim has very specific ideas about everything that goes on his pages. Dave Stewart (the colorist on Batwoman) and I are along for the ride, and trying to keep up!

High Five! gets a lot of traffic from casual comics fans; I know because my mom comments on every third entry. While most fans are surely aware of the issue I’m about to riff on, the less initiated may not be:

You love Todd Klein. You may not know it, but you do.

Did you like The Sandman? What about Fables? The Dark Knight Strikes Again? The Invisibles? Kingdom Come? Promethea?

sandman1Todd Klein lettered all of them. Neil Gaiman may have given Morpheus his words, but with those now-iconic wavy black speech bubbles, Klein gave the Sandman a VOICE. He’s been in the comics business since 1977, back when penciling, inking, lettering – everything – was still done by hand. In the late eighties and early nineties when the comic production process became more & more computer based, a lot of letterers cried foul and refused to work digitally. Most of them aren’t working now. Todd Klein, on the other hand, made hundreds of font sets based on his lettering styles and wholeheartedly embraced the new technology. He is one of the the most sought after letterers in the business – and after you’ve read enough comics – one of the most recognizable.

In the assembly line that is modern comics production (writer, penciller, inker, letterer, and somewhere in there, an editor gets involved), the letterer is by far the most unsung member of the creative team. A letterer doesn’t just scribble some words into pre-drawn speech balloons (though I’m sure it happens that way sometimes); the letterer lays out the speech & thought balloons in a logical manner – and in a wordy, complex comic by a writer like Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman, presenting the dialogue and inner monologue in an intuitive progression is no small feat.

Not just bubble placers & fillers, letterers usually design and place sound effects too. Sound effects in comics are odd, you don’t necessarily notice them unless they’re crappy or just not there at all. But where would Wolverine be without “SNIKT!”? Where would Spidey be without “THWIP!”? And where would ‘SNIKT!’ and ‘THWIP!’ be without good letterers? It can be easy to get wrapped up in the story and the “oh sh*t!” moments and miss the fact that you’re not just reading a book, you’re looking at a piece of artwork – and I don’t mean just the pretty pit-chers. Lettering gives characters a voice, bubble design and placement paces the story, sound effects set the mood, and all of this is done by the guy you probably forgot about.

But we didn’t! In fact, we conducted a little Q & A with Mr. Klein, who was kind enough to take time out of what must be a pretty busy schedule to answer our questions.

High Five!: We all know that you started out “in the pit,” as it were, at DC in the late seventies. Could you talk a little about your comics career before you landed the DC gig?

Todd Klein: Well, that’s pretty easy: I had none! I was a long-time comics reader and fan, had spent two years in art school, but was never good at drawing people, which is kind of a prerequisite for becoming a comics artist. I did prepare a sample story when I applied for the job at DC, you can see the first page here, but the best thing about it was the lettering, which I always had an interest in, though that was my first attempt at comics lettering.

High Five!: After doing your time on the assembly line at DC, you went freelance. You’ve worked with all the top names in the industry. Was there ever a moment that you felt overwhelmed or more intensely challenged than usual by a project?

TK: I can’t say I ever felt overwhelmed, and I enjoy challenges. Some projects are more challenging than others, certainly. Working on “Starstruck” with Michael W. Kaluta and Elaine Lee early in my career was the first time I was asked to do lots of different lettering styles, and that paved the way for what I did on “Sandman,” but it was all fun. Some assignments end up taking much too long, and one tries to learn from that. On the other hand, some go quicker than expected, so it evens out in the long run.

High Five!: When lettering went digital, you were one of the first to embrace the concept of computer lettering. You’ve covered a lot of the finers points of the subject on your very extensive website. Do you feel that lettering “loses something” when it is digitally rendered?

TK: There are many differences between the processes of hand-lettering and computer-lettering, both have their good and bad points, both can be done well or poorly. I do sometimes miss the physical process of hand-lettering, but then when I get the occasional assignment to do that way, I struggle because I’m out of practice, and it takes way too long!

lettsamplercolor2High Five!: Beautifully drawn words paired with beautiful artwork is far from a new concept. I honestly believe there’s a possibility that centuries from now, scholars will look at certain comics the same way we might look at medieval calligraphy and illumination today – do you feel there’s a connecting thread between the two?

TK: I certainly felt one when I did hand-lettering. Typewriters replaced practitioners of fine writing in the business world decades earlier, but there were always artists and craftsmen needed for signs and decorative text of one sort or another, and there still are, even though much of that need is now filled by computer fonts. You can find artistic and decorative hand-lettering out there if you look for it, though.

High Five!: Sound effects are an often overlooked aspect of an overlooked art. Who has the biggest influence on sound effect design & placement, or does it vary from project to project?

TK: My approach is usually to try to match the style of the art if I can. Gaspar Saladino was great at that, and I always looked to him for inspiration. Sometimes editors or artists have particular styles they prefer or don’t like, so that’s a factor. And working on the computer, I have a set of my own sound effects fonts I turn to most of the time, and a few other commercial fonts I also like.

High Five!: You’ve mentioned Gaspar Saladino as a major influence more than once, what other letterers would you recommend taking a look at?

TK: For hand-lettering: Tom Orzechowski and Dave Sim come immediately to mind, lots of others worth looking at, but if I try to list them all I’ll leave someone out. For computer-lettering, I look at font creators rather than letterers using the fonts created by them, and John Gaushell of Comicraft, Nate Piekos of Blambot, and Rian Hughes are all doing fine work.

High Five!: You worked with JH Williams III previously on “Promethea,” and you’re working with him again on “Batwoman.” Obviously, working with Rucka is a very different experience than working with Moore – how has your previous work with Williams influenced the book?

TK: When I work with JH, it almost doesn’t matter who the writer is, I’m working with JH, and he and I are in close contact. He lets me know what he wants, and I try to give it to him (or tell him it’s impossible occasionally). Jim has very specific ideas about everything that goes on his pages. Dave Stewart (the colorist on Batwoman) and I are along for the ride, and trying to keep up!

Thanks again to Mr. Klein for taking the time to answer some questions for us. Check out kleinletters.com; the site is chock full of in-depth lettering information as well as cool stories from Todd’s 30+ years in the comics industry. Be sure to check out the blog as well, it includes some fascinating logo studies. Mr. Klein has also created some awesome limited edition samplers, working with the likes of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, JH Williams III, and Alex Ross – the samplers are signed, hand numbered, and at $20 a pop, a totally affordable piece of awesome.

“Hey, Rob, what are you reading?”

“Oh, I just picked up all the trades for Animal Man. Seems like a pretty good book.”

“Wait… That’s a comic book… Forget it, I’ll be over here jerking off to James Joyce.”

There are so many uppity people who I’ve tried to get to read comics who turn them down because, well, they’re just comic books. So fucking what if comic books don’t dress all dapper and fellate your ego? They are FAR from the mindless entertainment that they are stereotyped to be (blame the Golden Age for that one). Stop being so elitist, jerks. I’ve got suggestions and you’re gonna read ’em, come hell or high water.

sandmanFirstly-first, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman might be a great jumping off point. I mean, check it out. It’s about a guy who granted William Shakespeare the ability to write and frequently visits Hell and Asgard to consult with the deities and demons there. Wait, who are those weird-lookin’ folks? Oh, that’s just Elemental Girl and Martian Manhunter. Yeah, they’re DC superheroes. Ha! I tricked you! You’re a couple hundred pages into the DCU and you didn’t even know it! Oh, that’s rich.

invisWhat else we got? Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles isn’t about heroes, it’s about being fucked up, wordy, and making you feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible (something it accomplishes almost immediately). It deconstructs reality and reassembles it in a way that leaves you feeling like you are missing some integral part of yourself. Plus, the Marquis de Sade plays a gigantic role and we all know what he did for literature, right? Double plus (book joke!), you know The Matrix, that movie all the kids had their panties in knots over a decade back? Well, the Wachowski Brothers Siblings stole it right out from the pages of The Invisibles. Take that, elitists!

v1Then there’s Alan Moore, who snobby types probably already like without knowing it. V for Vendetta explores fascism versus anarchy and all that other esoteric shit pretentious people like. Moore’s ‘V’ character quotes about a million different literary works and spreads anarchy through vaudeville. If you quote V in arguments, you’ll win. The hyper-literate LOOOOVE to argue and win. Probably. Elistist braggarts eat this shit up, right?

And isn’t hyper-literate elitism simply the art of quoting people cleverer than you are? We just hooked you up. Look, there’s nothing wrong with reading books that aren’t comics. I do love me some occasional Sedaris or Foer or whatever. Books what ain’t got none of them pretty pictures don’t make nobody better than nobody else, you know? You might as well do yourself a favor and discover what other stories (and storytellers) are out there. Curb the pompous superiority and read a fuckin’ comic.


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