Thursday, December 30, 2010

Questions 21: Tom Orzechowski

Tom Orzechowski is an award-winning comic book letterer, primarily known for his work on Uncanny X-Men. He has been lettering X-men over a 25 year period, mainly working on pages of Chris Claremont's scripts.  His letters are almost perfectly square and painstaking the same height.  Orzechowski modeled his lettering on the Flash Gordon newspaper strips of the 1930s but you can also see one of influences was Robert Crumb's Zap Comix.   While Marvel was standardizing their style,  Orzechowski was drawing influences from calligraphy, record jackets, old movie posters almost everything except comics.   Roy Thomas complained that that his letters looked too much like underground comics when he was working in 1973.   He was an innovator in lettering and logo design.   The Wolverine logo is his design that was based on elements from the 20-30's.

In 1968, when Orzechowski was 15, he joined comics club with a group of aspiring comic book artists that me at a comic convention in Detroit.   Some older members of the club included future comics professionals Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, and Mike Vosburg.  Orzechowski quit drawing when he saw their work.  None of the club members wanted to letter their amateur comics so Orzechowski took on that job.   Later, Tony Isabella, an old friend, got an editorial job at Marvel around Halloween of '72.  When a lettering corrections job turned up and he gave Orzechowski a call to see he wanted to work at Marvel for $100 a week.  By the time of the debut of the New X-Men in X-Men #94, Orzechowski had developed a reputation as a "new projects guy," and was given the odd issue, and then finally the series.  From there he became the letterer for X-Men, many of its annuals, The New Mutants, Wolverine, X-Treme X-Men, and MekaniX.  
In 1992, Orzechowski was among the first letterers to experiment with computer fonts.  His his first font program was so primitive he ended up doing that series entirely by hand.  But by 1994 Orzechowksi was lettering mainly on the computer, and in 2002 he switched completely to digital lettering, using a Wacom pen on a graphics tablet, in Adobe Illustrator.  Although he is now Lettering Savage Dragon by hand now, with the same pen he has been using since the 80's.   He is busy lettering now and has a typography and logo design studio.

As Tom said, "Orzechowski is probably the most famous Polish name in the lettering world. No one can pronounce it, but they recognize it on sight."

Doug Dorr:   What projects are you working on currently?
X-Men Forever, for which I also letter the covers; Savage Dragon, which I letter with pen and ink; New Mutants Forever; Forward 54th, about an African American regiment in the Civil War; Reign of the Underdog, written by rapper Lazarus; Captain America, Fighting Avenger; Hulk Aftershock; The AdvanceTeam, a graphic novel for Tor Books; Spawn; and a couple of Wolverine projects.
What is your artistic Process?

I letter the comics digitally in most cases, which includes page composition, titles, dialogue, balloons and sound effects. A lot of the fonts I use are my own designs.

DD:   When you are story letterer, how involved are you in the books look and feel?
I’m the midpoint between the script and the art. I have to balance both elements on the page. This has me designing the script’s layout so that the dialogue and captions bounce attractively amid the art bits. I make it all flow, pulling the eye continually toward something interesting.

DD:   What skill would you like to learn?
Time expansion.

DD:   What's the most important thing you've learned?
How to work 32 hours without a break.

DD:   Do you have a collection?   If so, what is one of the items you're most proud of?
I tend toward coverless ‘50s DCs. No favorites.

DD:   What is your favorite genre of Comics?
My interest is in the artwork, so I go for all genres.

DD:   What is your favorite TV show/ movie?

DD:   How does the Portland comics culture shape your work?
It’s nice to have so many other professionals nearby. We know a lot of the same things, but learned them with different emphasis.

DD:   What was your first comic convention?
Detroit Triple FanFair, 1967. I met some people at the ’68 show who ran a city-wide comics club. Most of us were working in comics by ’75. Most of us still do.

DD:   What is your favorite part of comic conventions?
People bring my books for signatures. I see a lot of the same key books, but every so often something old and obscure turns up. I haven’t looked back at them since I did ‘em, so it’s interesting to see everyone’s early work. 

DD:   If you weren’t doing comics what would you do?
Except that I don’t drive, I might have studied to be a general contractor. I like working toward exact outcomes.

DD:   How long have you lived in Portland, what made you choose Portland?
My wife and I moved here six years ago. We got to know the town a bit, and liked it a lot, when I was up here for a job interview some years ago. I didn’t take the job, but couldn’t resist the town.

DD:   What is your favorite part of Portland?
We live in St. Johns, which we chose because it has a village-y quality to it.

DD:   Would you like to write/Illustrate for another media? or conversely, how would you feel about working with a popular character from a different media, for example, Dr. Who, James Bond?  What would you explore?
I’ve been too busy in comics to give much thought to other areas. Everywhere you go, the deadlines are brutal… but the pay might be better elsewhere. Comics come out every month, and I like the security of that. Dr. Who was canceled for quite a few years, and James Bond movies may never happen again. For me, it comes down to a balance between high-level thrills and regular work.

I found this interview with Tom Orzechowski was great

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