PopCultHQ is kicking off 2018 in a new way. Each month, we’ll be selecting Comic Book Creators of the Month and interview them for a spotlight article. For May 2018’s Letterer of the Month, we chose Clayton Cowles.
In looking over the comic books letterer Clayton Cowles has worked on, it blew me away how it’s a veritable smorgasbord of popular, well-known, and highly praised titles. He’s been featured in a massive list of titles Marvel Comics and has also worked on books for DC Comics, Image Comics, AfterShock Comics, and more.
What I MUST mention is that Clayton Cowles has been nominated for a 2018 Eisner Award for Best Letterer! Eligible for works published between January 1 and December 31, 2017, Clayton’s work on Bitch Planet: Triple Feature, Redlands, The Wicked + The Divine (Image); Black Bolt, Spider-Gwen, Astonishing X-Men, Star Wars (Marvel); Batman, Mister Miracle (DC Comics), caught the eyes of the blue-ribbon panel of judges. Definitely a highlight of any comic book creator’s career!
Comics ft. Clayton Cowles’ Work – Cover Gallery 1
Clayton has worked along such high-profile and talented creators, such as Jeff Lemire, Jason Aaron, Matthew Rosenberg, Charles Soule, Dan Slott, Jody Houser, Jason Latour, Jordie Bellaire, Paul Jenkins, Tom King, Kieron Gillen, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Fraction, Gail Simone, Daniel Kibblesmith, Mike Deodato Jr., Tamra Bonvillain, Matt Hollingsworth, Michael Allred, Vanesa Del Ray, Mitch Gerads, Kate Leth, Matt Wilson, and so many more! With his lengthy list of credits, the popularity of the titles on which he has worked, and having worked with so many pros in the industry, it was clear we HAD to feature this professional letterer to be featured at PopCultHQ.
So sit back, relax, and hear from the man himself as Clayton what a regular workload looks like, what challenges him as a creator, and how he compares being a letterer to being the bass guitarist for a band.
PopCultHQ Spotlight Interview
Letterer of the Month – May 2018:
PopCultHQ: How did comic books influence your childhood? What was the defining moment in your life that you knew, from then on, that you wanted to letter comic books for a living?
Clayton Cowles: Comics were present, and there was no way they couldn’t be. I was a kid in the early 90s, so Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men were dominating the Saturday morning airwaves. When I wasn’t watching those, I was reading Tintin, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Far Side. I got into super hero comics during my teen years, and that’s when I knew I wanted to attend the Joe Kubert School. However, I didn’t know I wanted to letter for a living until I started doing it professionally. I’d been told in school I was a natural at lettering, but to be honest, I didn’t really view it as a true art form, and I pursued it as a means of breaking into the industry and avoiding minimum wage jobs. But once I dove in, I fell in love with the craft pretty quickly.
Clayton Cowles: I know I should cite my Eisner nomination for Best Lettering (he said, trying to appear modest), but to this day, no high has matched the completion of Bitch Planet #1. Everyone brought their A-game, and we knew we made something special. But, er, ask me again if I win a little statue with my name on it.
PopCultHQ: Your work has spanned across numerous publishers, including for both Marvel and DC. Looking over your massive list of credits, it looks like you tackle many projects at one time. How many titles do you prefer to, or can you, work on at one time comfortably?
Clayton Cowles: Comfortably, about 18 books per month, but I’ve done up to 30 and still kept my head above water. A year and a half ago I would have said 20 was my maximum, but I revised my workflow last year and took out as many non-creative parts as I could. So much of digital lettering is technical procedures that doesn’t require much thought (reformatting text, setting up pages for lettering, etc.), and finding ways around that tedium does, indeed, make larger workloads more “comfortable.”
PopCultHQ: What is the most challenging aspect for you when it comes to lettering a comic book?
Clayton Cowles: The biggest challenge is keeping up with the rest of the creative team. This comes up a lot on The Wicked + The Divine, especially after I see Matt Wilson’s finished colors. Quite often, he’ll add little effects that aren’t present in the ink stage (the most common of which is using a different color scheme for flashbacks), so I go back and adjust my lettering to match what he’s done. This is by no means a bad thing. The harder my collaborators work, the harder I work, and the book is better for it.
Comics ft. Clayton Cowles’ Work – Cover Gallery 2
Clayton Cowles: That’s a good question. I think all the advice I’ve been given has been solid (or maybe I don’t remember the bad advice because it was bad). I don’t remember who first gave it to me, but the lettering philosophy of “enhance, don’t distract” is a great one to live by. Years ago, Casanova letterer Dustin Harbin said letterers were the bassists of the comic book band, and I think about that a lot. Take John Entwistle, for example. He’s called the Jimi Hendrix of the bass for good reason, but he wasn’t the frontman of The Who, and he knew when to let loose and when to hold back. To me, a great letterer employs the same practices. They go all out when the book calls for it, but they don’t outshine the rest of the band. Comics need lettering, but comics ain’t about lettering.
PopCultHQ: On top of Batman, Mister Miracle, Star Wars: Thrawn, and Daredevil (and others), what’s on tap for the rest of 2018 for Clayton Cowles? Any conventions and signing appearances lined up?
Clayton Cowles: I’m not planning on attending any conventions or signings in the foreseeable future, but you never know when that could change. So far, I’m spending the rest of the year working on those 18-30 books a month.
Comics ft. Clayton Cowles’ Work – Cover Gallery 3
PopCultHQ: If you had the power or ability to make one change in the comic book community or industry, what would it be?
Clayton Cowles: I’d eliminate harassment. No book, character, or property justifies this behavior. Other people are better at talking about it than I am, so go read what they have to say.
PopCultHQ: Which comics are you reading right now? If given the opportunity, is there a creator currently producing comic books that you’d like to work with (in any capacity)?
Clayton Cowles: I’m mostly reading Image books these days. Deadly Class has been my favorite monthly since it first started. Coyotes, Death or Glory, Motherlands, Saga, Southern Bastards, Seven to Eternity. Ms. Marvel is the only super hero book I’m reading right now. As for creators, there are a few friends of mine who I haven’t worked with yet, but I don’t want to put them on the spot. Let’s collaborate! You know who you are!
Comics ft. Clayton Cowles’ Work – Cover Gallery 4
Special thanks to Clayton for making time to speak with PopCultHQ.
Be sure to follow Clayton Cowles online for all the latest
from our Letterer of the Month for May 2018!
Letterer – Clayton Cowles