Steve Wands on lettering Gideon Falls
Steve Wands is one of the coolest people I know in comics. In addition to lettering pretty much everything, he’s a nice guy with a good sense of humor.
Steve is once again teaming up with frequent collaborator Jeff Lemire, and I asked him if we might have a chat about their project, Gideon Falls. He agreed, and here’s our conversation:
Brian Warshaw: Is it just me, or have you worked with Jeff (Lemire) a lot?
Steve Wands: It’s not just you. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to work with Jeff on a lot of really cool books. I did some work early on with him at DC, and that led to Underwater Welder and we’ve been seeing a lot of each other ever since.
BW: Why do you think he keeps asking you back for new projects?
SW: Because we both like button-up shirts and wear glasses. Or maybe it’s because I tailor my lettering to each book, and that’s something that resonates with him. When you find other creatives you work well with, you tend to keep on working with them.
BW: Did Jeff or Andrea have any mandate for you on this book, or did they set you loose and let you rely on your own sensibilities to guide you?
SW: On this book in particular, I pitched the initial style, and they dug it right away. They’ve given me a lot of room to do my own thing on Gideon Falls. We’re already nearing the end of the arc, and issue 1 isn’t even out yet. Things have come up where they’ll mention something to try for a certain scene and I’ll try to bring those ideas to life.
BW: Are there any unique challenges to lettering Andrea’s work?
SW: Not getting lost in it. Andrea brings such an immersive quality to his work, it immediately puts you in the world of Gideon Falls. Andrea has left some tight places for me to work in, but more often than not, I have plenty of room for the lettering. You can tell he’s considered my part in the process of creating this book by the space he leaves and layouts he’s chosen.
BW: He gives you a lot more space than some artists might. Is that a blessing or a curse? How do you decide how to occupy that space?
SW: It depends on what the page needs. Any page can use some visual balancing. I can accomplish that with placement. I need to be very precise with where I place things to not obscure any details in the background. This is a book where you need to pay attention to the finer details. Clues are abundant. Everything on the page has meaning, and I can not get in the way of that. So, in the instance of this book, it’s a blessing.
BW: I’m especially thinking about that amazing spread with the polaroids—I love how the blocks of text seem to dwindle as you work through them—a very interesting visual. Can you walk us through your process for that one?
SW: What an incredible page. If you like that, you’ll love what he’s doing on future issues. For that page in particular, I was simply following the flow of the art. I did a few versions of it, but ended up going with what you’ve seen which is at it’s simplest. The entire style of the lettering is simple, maybe even minimalist. And that is by design.
BW: Borderless balloons—they’ve been popping up a lot lately. You’re obviously a bigger student of lettering than I am—is this something that’s cyclical? Was there a previous point in comics history where borderless balloons were a thing?
SW: It’s something that works well, in my opinion, for Gideon Falls. I knew from the start that Dave would be coloring it. I’m very familiar with his work and love it. Given that this is a horror book, I had anticipated a dark palette; but as you can see, he also uses plenty of lighter palettes. In my experience with borderless balloons, they work best on books that are dark, painterly, full of color. By going borderless, I’m able to add contrast. I don’t need to have a holding line on most of it, because the shape of the balloon is defined by the color and art around it. It can be cyclical.
Usually, once someone does something different, everyone else will do their own version and put their mark on it until something new comes along again, and we all repeat the process. As far as history goes, I think we can thank the developments in print and digital coloring over the last few decades for even being able to have the option of borderless balloons. Pretty sure the first time I saw it was over painted artwork.
BW: I count two instances where you had to adjust the balloon color to create contrast with a panel background, and you went with a different color each time. Is that because you wanted to go with a color that was common to the artwork on those pages?
SW: If the balloon is getting lost to the point where it is formless and unclear who is speaking, then I need to correct that by adding color. For this book, I pulled color from the page. Dave has put thought into the palette; if I pick any old color at random and slap it in there we would lose some visual harmony and I would be doing his work, and—potentially—the tone of the book, a disservice.
BW: Let’s talk about those tails—they’re fairly clean and square, as opposed to the rough edges on the balloons themselves—what made you decide to go that way?
SW: This goes back to simplicity and minimal design aesthetics. Letterers call them tails and pointers almost interchangeably. For Gideon Falls, I would call them pointers. They are working out of a sense of utility to point out who is talking, and I thought the best way to do that was to go with a deadline point. Often, the pointers are short and straight with very little flourish, and I think it is in these moments it works at it’s best. Touching back to the details Andrea is leaving behind, I wanted to keep their width thin and unobtrusive to avoid covering background detail. And also, I just think it looks cool on this book.
BW: Anything else of interest about working on Gideon Falls that I missed?
SW: It’s the first time I’ve worked with Andrea, so that’s cool! It’s also Jeff’s first foray into horror...I think? So that’s awesome, too.
BW: So, I understand you have a novel coming out...
SW: I do. One of the things I do when not lettering is writing. My newest book is coming out March 13, 2018. It’s a new series I’m co-writing with fellow indie author Keith Latch. We also brought in Greg Lockard whom you may recall from his editing on Vertigo titles such as Dial H. Really excited about it. I think readers of horror and of comics will enjoy it. It’s a love letter of sorts to John Constantine, Night Force, The Lost Boys, and books like The Light At The End among many other things.
BW: What’s the basic premise?
SW: Trail of Blood is a fast-paced roller coaster ride with teeth. The good guys, Sam and Carter, find themselves in way over their heads. They end up in a small, blue-collar kind of town with a bit of a vampire problem. They make some friends along the way and try to survive till sunrise.
BW: What other projects do you have in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
SW: Things I’m currently working on other than Gideon Falls are Attack on Titan, Attack on Titan: Before the Fall, Aquaman, Descender, Metal, No. 1 With A Bullet, Royal City, Supergirl, The Flash, Throwaways, Underwinter, and just announced this week is The Weatherman. I’m also working on two new series with new publisher TKO which I can’t talk about yet, but I’m very excited about those. Their whole line-up is killer. I’ve also launched a little passion project, Lo-Fi Fonts. I’m doing a monthly newsletter and should have the site live in the coming weeks.
Well, that does it for our chat about Gideon Falls. My thanks to Steve for taking the time out of his busy schedule and making this happen.