While Deadpool may have provided a much-needed break from all the seriousness we get here at the Weekly Webbing, it's time to return to the folks at Marvel to talk about Amazing Spider-Man.
This week, we look behind the scenes at how production and lettering come together for the thrice-monthly comic, talking with Chris Eliopoulos and Joe Caramagna.Newsarama: What is the process like behind the scenes on Amazing Spider-Man? Is it as crazy as one would imagine with a comic coming out this frequently? How does it all come together?
Chris Eliopoulos: It is insane and can, at times, get us all frustrated. But that happens because everyone is trying to do the best job they can and putting out 66-plus pages a month can be quite daunting. There's a lot of back-and-forth in the process and triple-checking that goes on. But in the end, we're working on a cultural icon, and that's the coolest thing in the world.
Joe Caramagna does the lettering and compositing on the book and acts as the focal point for [editors] Steve [Wacker] and Tom [Brennan]. He'll put the whole book together. At times I help out behind-the-scenes with art corrections or other things, but Joe will do the lettering, receive the coloring from the colorist and marry them together, as well as doing the recap and letters pages. Having editorial deal with one person in the whole process, I think, provides a sense of security and faith that nothing gets missed. And Joe, being a huge Spider-Man fan, helps him keep it all together.
Joe Caramagna: It is crazy. Perhaps even crazier than one would imagine. Right now, I have files for five different issues of Amazing Spider-Man at the same time, and not necessarily issues in sequence – and I have three issues of Amazing Spider-Man in different stages of the lettering process. Sometimes I get the art, but not the script, and sometimes I get the script and I'm waiting on the art. Sometimes I get a script with a page missing in the middle because it hasn't been written yet. Sometimes I even have to letter books out of order, out of necessity – for example, Amazing Spider-Man #615 is going to be lettered before Amazing Spider-Man #614. But, before Wacker calls me to yell about dishing all of the dirt about the chaos, it's a well-organized chaos and Wacker and Brennan deserve so much credit for getting this book out on time despite the hectic pace.
Nrama: At what point in the process does the letterer get ahold of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man? And does it change a lot after that?
Eliopoulos: Once the book is drawn is when we get a book. Usually we get the script ahead of time, so we can start breaking down the dialogue and set the files up to go. This is especially important on an almost weekly book like Amazing. Once the book is lettered, we create a PDF of the book and send it in to editorial for proofing. With the advent of computer lettering and the fact we do all the production on the books as well, there has been a greater flexibility to make changes, rewrite dialogue or make any other changes that are needed. The book we turn in is never what actually hits the stands. Steve works really hard to make sure everything reads well, works in continuity and works with the upcoming issues, so there tends to be many changes throughout the process.Caramagna: Amazing Spider-Man is the most unique book that I've ever worked on, and not just because Wacker and Brennan keep asking for pictures of me in a dress for the "letters column." Because it comes out three times a month, and because the creative teams rotate in and out, I get ahold of an issue of Amazing Spider-Man at different times at different stages of completion for every issue. I can get the files for an issue three months before it has to go to print, or three days. It all depends on the creative team and their comfortable work process, whether or not the events in the issue affect other titles in the Marvel Universe, or some other twist of fate that decides to come around the corner and step on our heads.
Nrama: What's the toughest part of a letterer's job?
Eliopoulos: Listening to Steve Wacker sing in the office. He has a voice that could curdle milk. Seriously, the hardest part is the time constraints. We all, editors, letterers, writers, artists, try to put out the best product we can, and that means a lot of last-minute racing around making sure everything is the best it can be which usually means working down to the last minute before a book goes to the printer.
Caramagna: It depends on the title because every title has its own set of challenges. But the most consistent challenge from book to book has to be making sure all of the text fits where it's supposed to go, and still have it read in the proper order – especially nowadays when so many writers are writing in a full-script type of style rather than in the traditional "Marvel" style of writing the script after the artist draws from the plot outline. The challenge is not only to make the book look good when there's tight space, but to make the artists and writers look good, too. I know the lettering credit doesn't sell any books, so I won't even try to overshadow anybody!
Nrama: Is there anything about Amazing Spider-Man that is a unique challenge?
Caramagna: The challenge in Amazing Spider-Man is keeping things consistent from week to week with different artists and different writers coming in every few issues. On other titles, I lay down a style that I feel compliments the creative team and stick to it from issue to issue, for the most part. For Amazing Spider-Man, I do the same thing, but the creators change so frequently, and always rotate back in later, that I have to make subtle changes to the lettering that fit those particular creators, yet still keep it within the parameters of the style. Some issues have a lot of big, bursty fonts, and then in other issues, a similar panel by another creative team might be more subdued. Besides editorial, I'm the only constant on the title, so I have a responsibility to make sure that in both cases they fit in with the overall consistent style of the book, despite their differences. On other titles, I also have the luxury of stepping away for a month. For Amazing Spider-Man, I have to deal with Wacker and Brennan just about every week! Dealing with Wacker's moods is a challenge in itself! Sometimes I want to hug him and tussle his perfectly-manicured hair, and sometimes I want to turn off the phone and hide under my desk!
Eliopoulos: The fact that the book is almost weekly throws some wrenches in the works. There are things that need to work with upcoming issues that have been written already and the current issue has to mesh with that. There's a lot of coordinating that Steve and Tom Brennan do to keep everything organized, and that comes out in the lettering at times. I honestly don't know how they keep it all straight in their heads. I don't think they sleep.
Nrama: OK, we covered the challenges. So what's the most enjoyable thing about your job?
Eliopoulos: Working in pajamas.Caramagna: The most enjoyable part about my job is that I work from home, so I can work without wearing any pants if I want (for the record, I am wearing pants right now). And obviously, as a comics fan, I get to read a lot of comics before they hit the shelves, and I mean a lot of comics, even the books that I don't work on. Seeing original scripts by so many of the industry's best writers, and seeing the editorial process up close, has also made me a better writer. I've learned a lot of things that can't be taught outside of this environment, so I've been extremely lucky! (Don't forget to pick up my four-issue limited series Iron Man & The Armor Wars on sale now!)
Nrama: Is there anything else you want to tell people about the job you do or about production on Amazing Spider-Man?
Eliopoulos: Well, I know most comic fans pay little or no attention to the folks who letter books or work behind-the-scenes doing production work, but without the dedication and hard work that these people put in, these comics wouldn't make it onto the stands. The talent and commitment of these unsung folks is what keeps everyone's favorite comics coming out. And they are happy to stay out of the limelight, content in the knowledge of a job well-done. I'm lucky to count many of them my friends.
Caramagna: I think I've said too much already! I'm going to get in trouble! But I just want to finish by saying that I've been a loyal Amazing Spider-Man reader since I was in the fifth grade, so having the opportunity to be a part of the team is a dream come true. It's definitely a lot of work, but I love what I do and I love the company that I keep, so it never feels like work. I'm so incredibly lucky to be doing what I'm doing, and I don't take it for granted at all. So, I don't care how much Wacker hates me; he's going to have to pry this great job from my cold, dead hands! Even though Tom Brevoort does take "Casual Friday" a little bit too far (see the letters column of Amazing Spider-Man #612). Gah! I've said too much again! Psst...if you want more dirt, follow me on Twitter @joecaramagna.Lastly, a big thank you to all of the crazy fans that I've met at conventions who appreciate the subtleties of the things that I do – you're all lunatics for even noticing! And if you ever see Tom Brennan at a convention, pinch his cheeks. He loves that!