It turns out that I don’t live that far from Providence letterer Kurt Hathaway’s suburban Los Angeles home studio. I asked and he was willing to let a fan drop by to see the inner sanctum where Providence and many other comics are lettered.
When I arrived, Hathaway was in his garage tinkering with a rolling camera track that he plans to use on a film project. He brought me into his modest lettering studio, mostly a desktop with two large monitors. The room is decorated with numerous shelves of action figures including G.I. Joe, superheroes, cowboys, and more. There is also plenty of artwork, on display and in files, both by Hathaway and other comics artists he has worked with.
I had already interviewed Hathaway, so this visit ended up being much more informal. Hathaway told stories from his many years as a comics industry professional.
A few highlights from our conversation:
- As a kid, Hathaway and his friends wrote, drew, and lettered their own comics, including a superhero called “The Ram.” One of those friends is Wayne Faucher, currently an inker for DC and Marvel. Hathaway met Faucher in high school. They made their own comics as teens, went to the same art school in Providence, R.I, and later broke in the industry as pros.
- Hathaway described how veteran letterer Todd Klein reviewed his work and accompanied him to pick up his first DC lettering assignment, an issue of Wonder Woman. (Klein later collaborated with Alan Moore on various titles.)
- Hathaway relocated to Southern California to pursue film projects, while continuing to letter comics. He was brought in to Image Comics Extreme Studios, headed by Rob Liefeld. Their headquarters were in Anaheim in Orange County, where Hathaway worked. He lettered, wrote, and edited numerous Extreme titles.
- In the late 1990s Hathaway shifted from hand lettering to computer lettering. Initially the word balloons were still hand-drawn, with lettering pasted in. Today, all his work (other than Providence‘s Commonplace Book pages) is done by computer. His workstation has an elaborate range of ready-to-use styles for fonts, word balloons, thought bubbles, captions, and the like.
- Hathaway told me how he is sometimes frustrated with unprofessional comics novices who want to cram too many words onto the page. Not unlike Alan Moore, Hathaway has occasionally refused to make changes. He related that sometimes if he is asked to make a specific change that would make the project look worse and would reflect badly on his work, then he has responded to “take my name off the book.” I told him about Moore’s adherence to the Mort Weisinger’s general rules for wording in comics: a maximum 210 words per page, corresponding to 35 words per panel, and 6 panels per page, and general maximum of 25 words per word balloon.
- Hathaway showed me some of his hand-lettered Providence Commonplace Book pages. As Hathaway described in his earlier interview, Moore’s Providence script called for “handwriting” which Hathaway initially assumed meant a handwriting-style font. When he submitted the initial Commonplace Book version typeset with a font, word came back from Alan Moore that it should be actual handwriting. Hathaway typesets the Commonplace Book text using a handwriting-style font, then places tracing paper over the page and hand-letters on the tracing paper. Each half-page is a landscape oriented standard 8.5″ by 11″ page.
The studio visit took place in July 2016. Thanks to Kurt Hathaway for his time and for his hand in creating lots of great comics.