Colorist and letterer Josh Van Reyk stopped by CBI studios to talk with Publisher John Michael Helmer about his career in comics and his lettering style and techniques.
JMH: Where were you born and raised?
JOSH: I was born in Sydney, Australia but have lived most of my life in Townsville, which is in regional North Queensland (basically the top-right of the country).
JMH: Tell CBI about yourself…
JOSH: Well, I’m a proud Australian, who is married with three kids (two boys and a new baby girl). Spending time with my family is the most important thing to me, and I love being able to share my love of comics and cartoons with my children. I’ve been running various fan-comics for five years now, and have been very luck to work with some extremely talented and nice people over the time.
JMH: How long have you been lettering comics?
JOSH: I’ve been lettering comics for just over a year now. I started more out of necessity than anything else. Being a writer, it’s tricky enough to find artists and or colourists to work with, so it just became easier to letter comics myself. When I’m wearing my ‘editor’ hat (which I have on full-time for RGA), lettering helps tidy everything up at the back-end – it’s so quick and easy to adjust dialogue to suit finished art at that stage.
JMH: How did you break into the industry drawing comic books?
JOSH: As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been running a number of fan-projects for the past five years, the largest of which is ‘Transformers: Mosaic.’ That project gained popularity across major TF fan-sites, and drew attention from staff at IDW Publishing (who currently publish Transformers comics). A few years back, we were very lucky to have a number of our comics printed in the official TF comics with IDW, and I was able to develop some good contacts with the company, which ultimately lead to having my first official comic published; ‘Transformers Spotlight; Jazz,’ which was really a dream come true. I was also able to provide some additional material for the ‘Reign of Starscream’ TPB that was written by my very good friend Chris Mowry.
JMH: Do you have any formal training?
JOSH: Nothing related to the comics industry. Everything I know about lettering, I’ve learned as I’ve gone along and or picked up from various tutorials online.
JMH: Who are your artistic influences?
JOSH: There’s no real influence for my lettering, just started with the basics, and tried new things to develop my skills. As far as writing goes, I tried to read as much as I can, from all different genres and pick up bits and pieces from everywhere. I am really enjoying Scott Lobdell’s work at the moment.
JMH: How do you focus when lettering?
JOSH: It’s probably quite cliche’, but I tend to focus best when listening to music.
JMH: Do you letter by hand?
JOSH: Nope, digital all the way!
JMH: What types of technology do you use to letter?
JOSH: I use Photoshop CS5 for all my lettering. I know there’s probably better programs to use, but it’s what I learned with, and I have a number of custom bubbles that I use that I’m too lazy to re-create in other programs.
If it’s possible to include some links with the interview, all of my work is on my facebook page; www.facebook.com/ChooseWiselyProductions
JMH: What was the first comic book you ever read?
JOSH: I think it was an early issue from the original G.I. Joe comics by Marvel. I was already a pretty mad collector of the toys and I remember being totally blown away that all these characters that I loved playing with were part of a story that seemed so grown-up – people were actually dying, which wasn’t something that I had been exposed to by cartoons I was watching at the time.
JMH: Do you read any of the new comic books that are being published today? If so, which ones?
JOSH: Absolutely! If you work on comics, in any form, you MUST read comics, and I think you must read as much as you can. Obviously, I’m reading all the Transformers comics that IDW are putting out, plus their Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe and TMNT (seeing a theme here?). I’m also really enjoying the Bat-family books that DC are doing at the moment, and LOVE Atomic Robo by Red 5 comics. Honestly, anyone who is a fan of the medium should be reading that comic.
JMH: Print vs. Digital. Your thoughts…
JOSH: While nothing compares to the ‘feel’ of printed comics, the smell of the paper and the fun of collecting, I think the functionality of digital-comics today is hard to refute. The price and availability (no more sneaking in and out of comic stores) just makes them so accessible. Seems like everyone has a smart-phone or other portable device, and thanks to great apps like comixology, you can get the new issue of your favorite comic with the click of a button, and enjoy it where and whenever you like, and the quality never decreases. I don’t think we’re that far away (a few years) from a time when digital will be the preferred medium.
JMH: Talk about your lettering process. Do you start with page one or is there another system you like to use?
JOSH: Well, if I’m editing the comic at the same time, I definitely start with page one and work through the lettering and dialogue adjustments at the same time, just to keep a good flow through the issue. If I’m just lettering the comic, I tend to start with the easiest pages (those with least amount of dialogue) first, just to feel like I’m actually achieving something, and have something to show the other contributors.
JMH: How do you choose a certain type of font? What goes into your decision making process?
JOSH: I tend to use the same few font for all of my lettering jobs, one for dialogue which is clear and easy to read, and at least one other for SFX which lends itself to onomatopoeia really well. I try to keep things simple as far as colour choices go, too – black text on white bubbles is the standard for a reason.
JMH: What other mediums or genres have you lettered for?
JOSH: Just comics at this stage.
JMH: What makes a good letterer?
JOSH: Being able to walk the thin line between complimenting the art and over-powering it. While the majority of comic-artists are good at leaving room for text, it’s not always a space that helps the dialogue flow correctly, so being able to place balloons in the right spot is a very important skill to learn, and probably the hardest for letterers to get right. Also, knowing when and when-not to try something a little different with fonts / colours / balloon shapes is vital, too. I’ve seen so many good comics ruined by a letterer who’s used way too many fonts and chosen colours that are too bold or bright for the art.
JMH: What projects are you currently working on?
JOSH: RGA is going strong at the moment and I’m putting finishing touches on the first season of my Transformers fan project; ‘Bots of Honor.’
JMH: What future projects do you have in the works?
JOSH: All going well, the above projects will continue for quite some time. I’m also hoping to help out on a number of other fan-projects with lettering, too. I’ve got a number of creator-owned projects in the works with some really talented people that I’m hoping will see the light of day this year.
JMH: Do you have any words for aspiring letterers?
JOSH: Well, I don’t think there are very many people who ‘aspire’ to become a letterer, it definitely feels like a job out of necessity than anything else. But, all I can say is that you should always apply the KISS principle; Keep It Simple, Stupid.
JMH: Josh, CBI appreciates your time. All the best.
JOSH: Thanks very much for the opportunity. Go! Go! Team RGA!
About the interviewer –