Sep 2, 2020

Interview with Todd Klein, America's Best Letterer

Todd Klein is an 18-time winner of the Eisner Award for Best Letterer and a 9-time winner of the corresponding Harvey Award. But to me, he was both the letterer and overall designer of America's Best Comics, the Wildstorm imprint headed by Alan Moore from 1999 to 2007. With my interview with Scott Dunbier up on YouTube, I thought I'd also reach out to Todd  Klein and ask him a few questions over email. And since today is National Letterer Day, I'm putting this up today.

You're usually credited as a letterer, but Alan Moore asked you to do the design work for ABC, really tying those books together. Do you feel that design is an understated skill of yours?

When I was hired by DC to work in their production department in 1977, design work was part of the job, and continued to be for the ten years I was on staff. After that, when I was freelancing full-time, design played a smaller role, but was still used at times. Such work is often not credited, and when it is, fans pay even less attention to it than they to do to lettering. This is all fine with me. It helped that once I was working on my own desktop computer I could do almost any kind of design work for comics myself if asked, and I had the experience to know what was needed from my time doing everything by hand on staff. Most letterers these days are also designers on their computers, and letterers have largely replaced designers at small companies or self-publishers. Such skills are only understated by fans, other professionals understand and appreciate them.

What was the collaboration process like with the artists on the covers? Did you help them with the interiors as well?

It was somewhat different on each book and with each artist. On Promethea, J.H. Williams III the was the most involved in the design of the covers, and we discussed each one beforehand, exchanging ideas with each other and Alan. Sometimes Alan had an idea that we carried through, sometimes the idea came from J.H. or myself. It was a collaborative process. On Tom Strong, I usually worked out an approach with Alan first, then presented it to the artist. On Top 10 I worked with Gene Ha from Alan’s suggestions or came up with an idea myself and presented it to Gene and Alan. On Tomorrow Stories and Terrific Tales the artist often presented an idea and we worked with that. Everything began with Alan, of course, and his scripts are always full of visual ideas.

Which of the artists did you see most visibly grow skillwise the time you worked with them on the ABC books, from beginning to end?

That would be J.H. Williams III. He kept pushing his own skills as we went on and never failed to rise to any challenge he was given.

Any memorable/funny stories of working with Alan Moore?

Can’t think of any. I talked to Alan on the phone about once a month, otherwise I was just following his scripts. I rarely had any questions that weren’t addressed in the scripts.

Are there plans for more prints like Alphabets of Desire, Klein's Compendium of Calligraphic Knowledge, and Joyride?

You can buy this print here.

I originally thought I might do enough prints to have one for each letter of the alphabet, but after Knowledge I decided there were enough, and I had plenty of inventory to sell, so I have no plans to do more. They sell slowly but steadily.

Finally, how would you feel if they just made you ineligible for the Best Letterer Eisner Award and just named it after you moving forward? 

I’d be fine with that. I don’t expect to be nominated again in any case, as I’m doing very little new lettering work now. I’ve always felt it best not to get involved in any awards process other than trying to be there for the ceremony if I was nominated.

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