Should Letterer Awards Be Open to All Artists?

Steve Morris at Comics Vanguard has posted a call for the Eisners to change how they select and recognize letterers. He starts off by recognizing the dominance of the Best Lettering award by one very talented man:

Todd Klein's lettering print

An example of Todd Klein’s lettering skill

Aside from Stan Sakai’s win in 1996, letterer Todd Klein won the award every single year between 1993 and 2008. Every single year! And then he won in 2010 as well. Out of the 21 years that the Eisners have recognised lettering, he’s won 16 of them.

He then goes on to talk about the winners who also wrote and drew their own work:

Because the thing is, full-time letterers like Joe Caramagna, Chris Eliopoulos or Richard Starkings (who has NEVER won, despite being perhaps THE most important name in comic lettering of the last several decades) are working on a different level to the level that [Chris] Ware has to. Ware is preparing a whole comic at once, so he can draw a panel with the dialogue required already in mind — allocating the words a space. If he can’t fit the words into this space, he can always rewrite the dialogue to fit. He has complete creative control.

Letterers don’t have that luxury. They’re given a script they had no hand in, and art they can’t dictate, and told to put the two together in a way which tells the story. It’s an incredibly difficult, technical task to pull off, especially with the level of style that someone like Annie Parkhouse or Dustin Harbin can achieve.

He has a suggestion:

What I’m saying is absolutely that the Eisners should stipulate a clause into the nomination process for letterers which blocks writers and artists from being eligible. The phrase “best lettering over someone else’s work” would be appropriate, in this respect. […] Because apparently it seems, letterers will be ignored otherwise.

But that proposed clause wouldn’t fix the real problem, that there’s one best-known guy in the field whom people kept voting for, whether because he does excellent work or his name is the most recognizable or some other reason.

If you do agree with Steve that including artists as letterers is a problem, should the category be restricted in this way? Should others? I can imagine the outcry if someone suggested that the only people eligible for Best Artist are those who did nothing else but draw the book. Would that mean that someone who colored their own work wouldn’t be eligible for either Best Artist or Best Coloring? Would we need a combined category to recognize them, the same way we have Best Writer/Artist?

It’s an interesting discussion, but to me, it feels like a way to make the category less competitive. What do you think?

3 Responses to “Should Letterer Awards Be Open to All Artists?”

  1. Torsten Adair Says:

    I don’t consider the Eisners to be “the Oscars of comics” (the membership and nomination system is different), but…

    Why not have a dedicated lettering award, with various categories? Just like the various movie guilds have their awards shows before the Oscars?

    Yeah… you could say, who would care for that minutiae?

    As for the distinction between lettering over art, and lettering as art… it’s a fine line (usually drawn with an Ames guide!)

    Chris Ware definitely deserves an award, if only for his crazy display lettering.

    Lettering, like coloring, is best when it doesn’t draw attention to itself. But then, that doesn’t win awards. You need Workman’s onomatopoeia which is large enough to place a figure inside. You need the calligraphy of Walt Kelly. You need the design of Todd Klein. You need the detail of Chris Ware. Otherwise, people will just say, “eh… I could do that with Comics San and WordPad.”

  2. Turk Says:

    Best letterer is fine the way it is……for the most part. Take a look at the past few years worth of nominees and winners. Look at this year’s nominees. Carla Speed McNeil is nominated for best letter (for Bad Houses and her Finder comics which ran in Dark Horse Presents). Take a look at the other nominations this year. What critically acclaimed work is absent? Bad Houses.

    My point? Best letterer, in addition to recognizing the best letterers, is also used as a consolation category. Apparently Bad Houses wasn’t good enough for best graphic album-new or anything like that, but good enough for a nomination of some sort. So….best letterer. Just take a look at the nominations from the past few years. Last year Paul Grist was nominated for best letterer for Mudman. Was his lettering good? Hell yeah! Good enough for that specific nomination? I don’t know.

    Another consolation category? Best Publication Design. Think about it…. As I said, leave best letterer the way it is.

  3. Brigid Says:

    When I was an Eisner judge, I actually advocated for giving Todd Klein a lifetime achievement award and doing away with the category altogether, for precisely the reason Torsten says: If the lettering is good, you don’t notice it. I was the only one who felt that way, and the other judges took some time to school me on the subject, but I still feel like it’s a problematic category.

    Since then, though, I have become more conscious of the effect that bad lettering can have on an otherwise awesome comic; a lot of indy creators, especially up-and-coming ones, do their own lettering. You can only have so many talents—and so much time—and lettering is a very different skill set than writing or drawing. So I do feel that it’s an important skill, but I’m not still sure how you can recognize it with an award.




Most Recent Posts: