Here’s a series of questions Fabrice Sapolsky asked me about the Heroes website and webcomics for the French magazine Comic Box. We figured since it’s going to be in French there, we’d present it here in English, along with some comic pages and props from the show.
Fabrice: How did you come on the Heroes webcomics project?
Two of the writers on the show requested me. Jeph Loeb is one of Comicraft’s best clients and friends — whatever he writes, we letter, from Batman: The Long Halloween to Hulk: Gray, Superman/Batman and beyond. And Jesse Alexander and his family are good friends of ours, and he and I like to geek out on whatever the other is doing professionally.
The funny thing about it was, when the subject of the comics and website came up in a Heroes staff meeting, neither Jeph nor Jess knew that the other one knew me, and apparently they argued for a while over whose “guy” would be better for the job. Turned out they were both talking about me, which was one of the nicest compliments I could receive!
How does it work on a day to day basis? Do you do just the lettering or also process the PDFs or whatever it is?
The editors (Frank Mastromauro of Aspen, and Nanci Quesada of Invisible College) send me the script and JPGs of the art. I letter in Adobe Illustrator, using the JPGs as a template. PDF proofs are sent to them for approval. I make corrections, then delete the placed art and send them EPS files for compositing with the artwork. (If you have a sadistic interest in the actual nuts ‘n’ bolts of this process, check out the Balloon Tales tips & tricks pages.)
It usually takes 2-3 days from the time I receive files until I send the lettering in, but we’ve turned it around in a matter of hours when the deadline’s been especially tight.
Since you’re doing the lettering, you’re the penultimate stop before the audience sees the comic. How do you deal with pressure and how come nobody’s never late?
As I’m sure you know, one doesn’t survive very long in comics unless they can deal with tight deadlines! I’ve always had a pretty good eye for catching mistakes, and the pages are proofed by Frank or Nanci and NBC before they go online. The strips are pretty short — usually just five or six pages — so it goes much quicker than a typical 22- or 24-page comic book.
There has been only one gaffe (that I’m aware of) with the online comics, which was pretty surreal — something that could only have happened with the crazy merging of technology that they use to promote this show, plus the obsessiveness of the fans. The PDF proofs I send to Nanci and Frank have my contact info (phone, e-mail, etc) on them, which are removed from the final files. Well, someone at NBC jumped the gun and posted a proof on the Heroes site, with all of my information intact!
Fortunately, they realized their mistake and pulled the page down within an hour or so, but not before a hardcore fan had downloaded it and posted it on his blog, along with speculations about what clues the mysterious information might hold! My phone rang off the hook for two or three days, and I had to explain to people that this was my home number and I had no secret knowledge about the show to give them. It was good for a laugh, until we got one at 4am that woke the baby….
Until that point, I had no idea just how popular the show had become, and it suddenly occurred to me that my work was probably being seen by more people via this show than all the comics I’d ever lettered combined! So that was kind of a thrill. But it also made me appreciate what a tight-knit little world comics is, and how I can give out my e-mail address or phone number to people without worrying about being bombarded day and night.
You’ve also designed the 9th Wonders website. Was there a particular brief from NBC regarding this one? And regarding the lettering itself, apart from using the Tim Sale font set, which is pretty natural, was there any request from the showrunners?
This being big-time network TV with lots of money on the line, I expected to be micromanaged every step of the way. But while NBC was particular about technical things like software and hosting for the 9thWonders site, as far as the design goes, I’ve had an amazing amount of freedom. Since the writers already knew the comic and sci-fi fan community so well, they were given their own promotional budget (which is apparently pretty unusual for a TV show). So Jeph and Jesse (along with Aron Coleite, Joe Pokaski and the rest) were able to make their own decisions, and they in turn trusted me to go ahead and do my thing. I sent ’em a few sketches, they said “looks great!” and off I went.
My goal was to capture the classic 60s/70s Marvel look that most non-comics readers probably think of when they think “comic books”, but do it with a level of detail and authenticity that would impress true comic fans as well. The site has remained popular, and NBC keeps coming back with more projects, so I guess that means we’ve succeeded!
I’m certainly happy with the work I’ve done, and the whole thing has been a lot of fun. The larger scope of the TV industry has brought opportunities that almost never come up in comics — for example, I just turned in designs for a 9th Wonders tin lunchbox! They’re not even selling them, it’s just a promotional item — hopefully I’ll manage to get my hands on one!