Welcome to this month’s installment of Interviews With The Industry. We are terribly excited to get a chance to interview one of the most prolific comic book contributors in the Modern Age for this November. He has a very interesting body of work. On one hand, he is an independent cartoonist with webcomics like Misery Loves Sherman and Desperate Times. On the other hand, he has had substantial work at both mainstream publishers (DC, Marvel) as a letterer and writer as well. He has been nominated for multiple Eisners, Eagles, and Harvey awards and has even won a couple of them. Today, we are pleased as can be to interview Chris Eliopoulos.
Chris Eliopoulos has a long and diverse career in comic books and children’s publishing. Starting as a letterer for Marvel comics, he has worked on literally thousands of comics. But along with that, he has also written and drawn many comics including Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, for which he was nominated for multiple Eisner awards and received a Harvey award. He also wrote the extremely popular series, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers. He currently has an all-ages graphic novel, Cow Boy, out from Archaia. He lives hidden from view in New Jersey with his wife and identical twin sons.
Deaux: Chris, I want to thank you, heartily, for taking the time to be interviewed today. You are, arguably, the most famous person that we have had the fortune to interview. My first question is where would you say that your official place in comic-dom is?
Chris: I don’t think I know where my place is. Most people know me as a prolific letterer, but I’ve been doing more and more writing and drawing, so that may be changing. To be honest, I haven’t thought about it that much. I just do the work and try to continue to work.
Deaux: How did you get started in the comics industry?
Chris: I always liked cartooning, but not really mainstream comics. But in college I took a course on sequential comics with Gene Colan who took us to Marvel and I applied for an internship and was taken on. After a couple weeks, they started giving me freelance production work, then they hired me out of college.
Deaux: How long does it take to letter an average comic book?
Chris: These days, with computers, I can letter a book in about 5 hours, but then there are rewrites and edits and changes which can take upwards of another 5 hours.
Deaux: I read somewhere that you hand-lettered the first 100 issues of Savage Dragon. How cool is it to be such a big part of a seminal book in the independent comics’ industry?! When Erik Larsen asked you to do it, was it something where he contracted you for all 100 or was it more of a drawn out decision?
Chris: I love working with Erik. He’s a good friend and we had fun on the book. We had done some work on Spider-Man and we seemed to click. So, he just called me up one day and asked to letter this new book he was doing. I agreed and we just kept going. There was no contract or set plan. We just worked on it month in and month out.
Deaux: Now, your lettering style is essentially Marvel’s in house style, how does that work? Did they just make a font out of your handwriting?
Chris: I’ve created my own fonts. I have a few guys working for me and we letter most of Marvel’s books. Just like other things, it was very organic. It grew over time and I’ve tried to do right by Marvel and they’ve tried to do right by me. The guys use my fonts, so that’s why it may seem like a “house-style.”
Deaux: What is your least favorite font?
Chris: Comic Sans, followed closely by Papyrus.
Deaux: Have you ever had to letter in other languages? Is that hard?
Chris: I don’t think I have. I’ve created a font with international symbols so that books can be lettered in different languages.
Deaux: Do publishers generally just want all the lettering the same, or do they give you context directions to be reflected in your lettering (angry, sad, drunk, etc.)? Which do you prefer?
Chris: Mostly we get a script and we tend to just follow the story. There are times where a burst is asked for in the script or a special font for a character. I’ve seen people asked me to letter things with weird descriptors such as “anxious balloon.” I’m not sure what an anxious balloon would look like. Then once it’s lettered, the editor or writer may ask for something specific.
Deaux: Are you a big comic reader, or is it more just business?
Chris: I’m not a big mainstream reader. Have never been into superheroes. I’m more into other things. So I do read other types of comics.
Deaux: What titles are you reading regularly?
Chris: I tend to pick up graphic novels–mostly cartoony stuff. More of the all-ages type books.
Deaux: Do you ever look at other comics and think “man, I wish I could letter like that?!” Or “I could letter that book so much better?!”
Chris: I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked on a lot of really good books. When I was hand-lettering with pen and ink, I wished I could letter like Bill Oakley, Jim Novak or Mike Heisler. Those guys are and were talented and make me look like an amateur. I’ve never really looked at other people’s work and compared. Everyone does their best.
Deaux: You are known for your lettering, but you have created some wonderful comic book properties that are accessible to children. What is it about writing fun and wholesome comic books like Franklin Richards and Pet Avengers that interests you so much?
Chris: I tend to like that. I love Pixar films and I like stories that everyone can enjoy. I wanted to create books that any new reader could pick up and enjoy. Having a couple kids, when they were younger, I really wanted to have comics I could read with them. Since I couldn’t find many, I tried to make my own.
Deaux: We loved the Pet Avengers books at Comical-Musings, who was your favorite character to write?
Chris: I love them all, but Frog Thor was a blast and I have a special place in my heart for Ms. Lion.
Deaux: Were there any Pet Avengers based off of real-life pets that have made your acquaintance?
Chris: Ms. Lion was based on my old dog–silly, goofy and always upbeat. The others were more of just personalities that I felt worked with the animal they were and a way to play off each other.
Deaux: There are obvious parallels to be drawn from Franklin Richards to Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes.” I know that you are a huge fan/student of cartooning. Was this intentional? Were you ever in contact with Watterson about this? I have read that he lives a very private lifestyle.
Chris: My art style is very similar. I think we both grew up on Peanuts and Pogo and kinda worked out having styles that are close. And, of course, I related to his art. Other than that, there was no intention other than having fun and creating something for all-ages.
Deaux: Two part question-
What do you like more, creating stories and drawing or doing more nuts and bolts tasks like lettering?
Which works out to be better income in the end? Like is it better to make a legendary story and sell copies forever or to have steady lettering jobs?
Chris: I really prefer telling stories—doing it all—than just lettering. There is some sense of accomplishment in lettering a book that contributes to the vision of a writer or artist, but if I had a choice I’d rather do my own stories. That said, I have been able to make a good living all these years lettering books and if it wasn’t for lettering I wouldn’t be in this business.
Deaux: J.M. DeMatteis was quoted on twitter as saying, “Lettering is incredibly important to a comic book story. Done well, it elevates the script; done poorly it sabotages it.” As a comic book fan, thanks for all that you have done in the industry and for taking the time out to answer my questions even though you were caught in the midst of Hurricane Sandy.
Chris Eliopoulos can be found at his website at chriseliopoulos.com or you can follow his twitter feed @ChrisEliopoulos. Although he has a rich history and a strong body of work, Chris is still lettering and creating graphic novels like the aforementioned all-ages Cow Boy for only $13.75 at Amazon. By reaching out to the all-ages community I.E. creating for them and celebrating them, Chris Eliopoulos is helping to ensure that comic books are still relevant for future generations. All of that and twin sons…he’s a busy guy. Comical Musings wishes him luck and we thank you for reading. Stay tuned next month for when we will bring you an interview from another interesting personality in the world of comics.
~ Scott Deaux ~