Chris Eliopoulos on “Labels”

by  in Comic News Comment
Chris Eliopoulos on “Labels”

Letterer extraordinaire Chris Eliopoulos is also a name familiar to readers of his Desperate Times comic from Image, and more recently, on the excellent Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius series from Marvel, which Eliopoulos draws and co-writes with Marc Sumerak. Chris’ website can be found here.

Whenever I meet people at, say, a wedding or a party, they ask me what I do? I do plenty of things. I brush my teeth, I eat food, I take showers, I drive my kids to school, I watch football games. But that’s not what they want to know-really. What they really want to know is what do I do for a living, so they can judge me as someone worthy of talking to or someone to make a run to the bar to avoid.

But to be honest, I can’t really describe what I do, so I usually say I’m an insurance salesman and, moments later, they make that run to the bar. But seriously, what is it that I do? I know that people who read comics and those that are in the business label me a letterer. And that’s true, I do letter a bunch of books and have been doing so for fifteen years and that’s what I’m known best for. But I also do more that that. I do things that I think I’m better at, but everyone else thinks is a hobby of mine. I want to shout at the top of my lungs that I’m more than they think I am.

Let’s be honest here. Letterers are the scum of the industry. Everyone looks down on what we do-except maybe Augie De Blieck-and thinks that the art of lettering is akin to moving furniture. You can get just about anyone to do it and it’ll look the same. We are a necessary evil and are usually the least-considered member of the team on any given book. We don’t even get a credit on the cover like everyone else.

To prove my point, here’s a story from years ago. It’s no slight on Wizard-I like everyone there and they’ve always been kind to me and I love hanging out with them, so no Wizard bashing here. That said–I was lettering the Black Bull line of books at the time and they invited me to the Chicago show. I agreed, thinking that I was being shown a level of respect I didn’t get anywhere else. I was a member of the creative team. I later learned that they were paying my way, so I could man the Black Bull booth. That’s one way to deflate an ego. But, I always keep my word and shut my mouth and did what was asked of me. I spent the entire time manning the booth with my good friend Glenn Herdling, which made it fun.

Then it was time for the Gatecrasher team to do their signing. Mark Waid, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Paul Mounts and…well, I was manning the booth. It was my job to make sure the talent were taken care of. So, I was the one who had to get them drinks and snacks. It was embarrassing, both for me and my co-workers, whom I also considered friends. It was made better when Gareb Shamus saw what was happening and joined me in getting the snacks. Gareb has always been a stand up guy and he made me feel better about what I was doing, so no animosity at all. It was what it was and I was used to the feeling of being considered less than the rest.

But, I am more than they think I am, I can do more than they think I can, I can do different things than they think I can. But no one seems to notice.

For example, did you know that for the past five years or so, I’ve also written and drawn cartoons for the “Complete Idiots Guide” books? Did you know, for two years, I wrote a golf strip for Sports Illustrated? Did you know I wrote and drew my own self-published book at Image? Did you know that I write and draw a comic book for Marvel Comics? I’ve done all of those things and what is my label? Letterer.

Speaking of Franklin Richards, the book I co-write and draw. That book is labeled an “all-ages” book. Another label. It’s not a bad label either. Unfortunately, there’s a perception that comes with that label-“kiddie stuff”. People dismiss this book out of hand as beneath them, as children’s books, as something stupid people read. Sound familiar? That is what drives most people within the comic book industry crazy about the outside perception of the label “comic book”.

So, the world, in general views “comic books” as a label to describe material for kids or stupid people. They’re all about guys flying around in tights and nothing more, so why bother reading. Believe me, I understand it because my “all-ages” book has been ghetto-ized in a ghetto-ized industry. We’ve been nominated for an Eisner award, a few Harvey awards, but it’s just some kids book. But, as I said before, I’m used to being looked down on and I’m okay with it.

The label “comic books” is so bad now that movies will label their adaptation of a comic book as “From the graphic novel work of…” so that it isn’t considered cheesy and scare off potential viewers. There is a perception out there that makes everyone within the industry want to scream at the top of their collective lungs that we’re so much more than what they think we are. And no matter how many times we try to tell people that comic books aren’t always what they think, you’ll get a polite nod as they make their way to the bar.

So what do we do about it? How do we change perception? We’ve had movies made based on comic books-blockbusters even. We’ve taken to calling comic books graphic fiction or some other new term. We have major writers in Hollywood looking to write comic books. We’ve improved the quality of the books, the coloring, the stories, the diversity and yet, comic books are for stupid people and not worth the time. So, what’s the answer? I don’t know. I came into this industry with that perception because I hadn’t read comics. How I got here is beyond me, but I’ve had my perceptions change. I mean, there are still a lot of super hero comics and that’s not my thing, but there is so much more out there.

Maybe the answer is books like Franklin Richards-the kiddie books. Maybe now that comic strips are dying off with the newspapers that are folding, maybe we can get readers to follow strips to the comic book format. People buy strip collections in bookstores, why can’t we offer the same thing as well? Or why can’t we provide daily comics in newspaper format to newspapers around the world? Maybe that could build up newspaper readership and comic book perceptions. In February, a collected edition of Franklin Richards will be coming out and will, hopefully, be in bookstores. Maybe that’s a test bed to see if we can get some new readers to look beyond the perception of comic books and try something new and realize that comics aren’t for stupid people.

Anything’s possible, but what do I know? I’m just a letterer.