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.
Providence is lettered by Kurt Hathaway, a 30+year veteran of the comics industry, mostly lettering, but also writing and editing. Even if comics readers do not immediately recognize Hathaway’s name, you have probably read dozens of comics he had a hand in, from Aquaman to Youngblood. He is one of the current go-to letterers for Avatar Press, generating word ballons for Uber, Lady Death, Cinema Purgatorio, God Is Dead, and Providence. Hathaway was generous to give us this exclusive interview, to get some insight into an aspect of the comic creation process many readers take for granted—but which forms an integral part of how we read Providence.
The interview was conducted in June 2016 over email. We’ve added some links and images.
Facts: Tell our readers a bit about you. Where are you based? What is your background? What do you specialize in?
Hathaway: I’ve been interviewed a few times along the way, but the same theme comes up—I don’t like to talk about myself—or my work. I like to work. But I know folks may be interested in what I do and how I do it—so I’ll reach into my writer’s bag of tricks and try to make this informative—and interesting.
I’m based in Los Angeles. I went to NYU film school a million years ago and came out here to work in Hollywood—which I did for a while—all the while lettering at nights after long days in the editing room. Anyone interested can find me on IMDB, but the credits list there is woefully incomplete. I still do video work, but I suppose my main focus is on comics lettering.
I’m also a sometimes writer (TV, comics, video games), as well as an editor (mostly with Image comics—but freelance as well).
I also do logo design, general design for just about anything, book design, and pre-press.
Do you read a lot of comics? What were your favorite comics growing up? What are some of your favorite comics now?
I do read a lot, but these days they’re public domain scans that I read on my iPad. Golden Age stuff that I could never afford for real. So scans will have to do.
I got into comics as a fan in 1972 when I was 12. Marvel comics just popped up and slapped me around. I was exposed to some older Marvels by a kid across the street. It was 1972, but I was seeing 1968 stuff: Tales to Astonish, Sub-MarEE-ner, Captain America by Kirby! I was a guest several times in Kirby’s home when he was still alive and I couldn’t believe this weird journey from discovering these comics in 1972 and many years later being in Kirby’s living room while he’s telling stories about his WW2 experiences.
Anyway, I gravitated to Spider-Man—the Ditko issues are true treasures. Cap is still an all-time favorite. It was early enough that I could buy back issues for a buck or so, so it was pretty easy to amass a pretty decent collection of Silver Age goodies. I bought Batman, too and a bunch of other DC stuff.
As for current comics, I’m just too busy with deadlines and family that I don’t read much of it. I try to stay on top of lettering styles and such, but I don’t read much of it for entertainment. I like old stuff in general—old movies, old comics. I do have a backlog of current stuff I want to read, though, I just haven’t gotten to it.
Back in the 1990s you edited some of Alan Moore’s Violator vs. Badrock comics published by Image. Is there anything you can tell us about working with Moore then?
Not really, most of my time at Image is kind of a blur—I was so busy with deadlines that I don’t have many distinct memories of any particular project.
I have dozens of Image comics in my garage with my name in them, but I have no memory of doing the work. This is mostly with lettering, I’d do a book in a day and off it went. Years later it’s just not familiar.
I sound like Stan Lee, now. Spider-Man? What is this Spider-Man you speak of?
Seems to me I didn’t letter that old Alan Moore project (which was unusual for me—I lettered 98% of the Extreme Studios Image Comics books) but I could be wrong. My only memory is that his scripts were extremely detailed. Still are to this day.
There is no letterer listed for Moore and Burrows’ earlier Lovecraft-inspired stories The Courtyard, Neonomicon, and Yuggoth Cultures. Did you letter any of these? If so, anything interesting you could tell our readers about that work?
That doesn’t sound familiar—I’d have to look at the work to be sure, though.
What is it like working with Alan Moore? How does Moore’s work differ from other comics writers?
As far as the work goes, I just move forward one balloon at a time until the page is done—then on to the next page. The individual writer isn’t really on my mind when I work. But reading over the Providence material is a treat—as a reader (and a sometimes writer), I can see some of what he’s doing, but I don’t read it as a reader—I look it over to see if I did anything wrong, basically.
But I’m a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft and was actually born in Providence and went to Art School in Providence (Rhode Island School of Design)—one of the best art schools in the country. I do recall walking around the local streets and seeing a plaque on one of the residences explaining that it was the home of H.P. Lovecraft. So it’s neat to be on this series from that perspective. A lot of the street names in the series are very familiar to me from my art school days.
In Moore’s scripts, does he specify much in regards to the lettering, word balloons, and captions? What sorts of noteworthy lettering specifics did he include in Providence scripts?
For the special lettering, he’ll indicate that it’s “special”—so that’s a flag for me. Sometimes—maybe even all the time, he’ll outline his idea of what that “special” is. Not the font name or anything super specific, but some idea of what I need to know. From there I come up with something that I think is along those lines. Sometimes—and I don’t mean necessarily with this series, I’ll have to rework a lettering style based on the editor or writer’s notes.
Did you create the cover masthead for Providence? If so, describe that process.
Well, the process for that is pretty simple. I didn’t do the logo at all. Not sure who did, but as a logo designer, I can tell you it’s very effective and fits the project very nicely. I might even be jealous.
What do you use for lettering – what computer programs, equipment, and/or what kind of pen? Is it all electronic, or do you do any lettering by hand? Continue reading →