Interview:JG Roshell

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On June 21, 2008, Ryan Gibson Stewart interviewed graphic novel letterer JG Roshell via email.


Ryan Stewart: If you were able to do anything you wanted for a career and make a decent living doing it, what sort of work would you do? Would it be anything different than what you are doing now? Or, if you are doing exactly what you want to do already, what would be the best or dream project with which to be involved?

JG Roshell: I'd be playing guitar in the biggest, baddest rock band on earth. I tried to, actually, but it didn't quite work out.


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What's a new hobby that you'd like to attempt?

Who's got time for hobbies? I've got two kids! I suppose they're my hobbies.


What are your favorite fonts to use? When? Why?

Ones that I create! Betcha didn't know that making fonts is second only to big, bad rock guitar playing in terms of raw thrills! It's true. Some of my favorite creations are SchoolsOut, MonsterMash, TheStorySoFar, EnemyLines, and WallScrawler. But, just like kids, I love 'em all. But unlike my kids, they're available for sale at our website.


The graphic novels normally just credit the lettering as "Comicraft". Does Richard Starkings participate in lettering at Comicraft? How large is the team at Comicraft (Comicraft's website lists 6 people)? Do other letterers assist you in lettering any of the novels? You are listed as part of Comicraft's away team--does that just mean you don't work out of Comicraft's Los Angeles Headquarters?

Wow, that's one moldy old webpage you found there! Better go delete that now. The Comicraft studio hit a peak of more than a dozen people in the late '90s, when we were lettering everything under the sun. Though fortunately I'd already started working from home--I much prefer just sitting down and doing my thing rather than having to train and supervise people.

These days, there's three or four of us, and we all work from home. Richard still letters comics, in between writing and promoting Elephantmen and our other publications, running the business, and driving his kids to kung fu.

I lettered each of the Heroes strips up until a month or so ago, when I handed them over to able Comicraftsman Albert Deschesne, who can letter faster than anyone on Earth. I still do the Heroes-related design jobs, like the hardcover book collection (nominated for an Eisner award for publication design!), the occasional t-shirt, and the yearly San Diego Comic-Con giveaway comic.


Active Images is listed as being a library for your commercial fonts. Is it a separate company? Is it run only by Comicraft?

Yeah, it's still the same handful of us yahoos--it's just a way of keeping the comic-publishing and font-selling separate from the lettering and design services. And it gives people the impression that we're some sort of worldwide conglomerate when we need it. Which I've now just spoiled. Whoops.


Balloon Tales, presented by both Comicraft and Active Images, has a cool tutorial on lettering. Are you and Richard Starkings big influences on each other's work? Who would be your biggest other influence in lettering?

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Oh yeah, absolutely. Richard taught me 99% of what I know about lettering comics. When I started working for him, I'd been a lifelong reader, but never lettered before. Richard, on the other hand, was just getting started on the Mac, so I brought my computer and design skills, and together we developed working methods that eventually became the industry standards.

As far as other influences go, as a kid reading Spider-Man comics, I can remember being aware whether it was Artie Simek or Sam Rosen doing the lettering, and still consider them my favorites. Once I started working for Richard, I started looking at Todd Klein, Tom Orzechowski, John Workman, Clem Robins, and many other pen letterers of the '80s and '90s. Richard and I also share an interest in design styles outside of comics--Victorian packaging labels, sixties rock posters, Mucha and Art Nouveau, Russian Constructivism, you name it--which we are always looking for the chance to apply to comic lettering.

These days Richard and I mainly rely on each other for a second pair of eyes, whether I'm stuck on a hardcover book design, or he wants feedback on an Elephantman script. That comic really represents the culmination of all of our skills and knowledge--Richard writes and letters, Moritat draws and colors, then I assemble the covers, recap page, letters page, and rest of the backmatter, with a lot of give-and-take from Rich. Each of us makes the other better, and I've never been prouder of anything I've worked on. Check it out at http://www.hipflask.com/elephantmen/ if you're interested.


Cool nickname: "Mr. Fontastic". When did you acquire this nickname?

I think the little icon came first. We needed a picture of me for somewhere and I sent that. Richard called him "Mr. Fontastic!" and I guess it stuck.


Are there any new font and bubble styles that you developed for the Heroes novels? How does the methodology you use to select font and bubble styles for Heroes differ from your other work?

Actually, the approach I've used on all the Heroes stuff, from the webcomics, to the 9thWonders site to the hardcover book (did I mention it was nominated for an Eisner? :) ) has been to go completely old-school Silver Age with the lettering and design. It's partly because that's the approach Tim Sale likes us to use when we letter his comics work, but I also figured that the sixties look would say "COMICS!" to people who aren't comic readers but would be reading these because of the show.


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Good thinking! Do you have any favorite font/bubble designs from your work in Heroes? Anything you're particularly proud of?

Yeah, there was a multi-part episode recently where Hana and Drucker are inside a computer, and I designed these great blocky computery balloons on the first page. Then I turned the page, and they started talking like crazy! I realized I'd created a huge challenge for myself to get them all to fit. But it turned out pretty well. And I love Tom Grummett's artwork, so it's always fun to letter over him.

Most of the time, we keep it pretty simple. The deadlines are tight, and the stuff has to be read onscreen, which isn't as forgiving as print at small sizes.


What assistance do you provide, if any, in the animation of the Heroes graphic novels?

They're animated? Cool! Nope, that's not us.


Well then never mind...How long do you generally have to caption the Heroes graphic novels?

Usually a day or two, but sometimes less. Then another day passes while they're approved by NBC. We'll make any corrections, and send the files off. Then the comics appear on the site that Monday. Fortunately the strips are short, so we can knock 'em out pretty quickly.


Do you add all the text additions to the Heroes graphic novels? For instance, in Wireless, Part 4, Hana holds paperless e-mail texts in her hand and whirlwinds of text swirl around her. Were all those text additions done by Comicraft? And if so, what kind of direction were you given?

Thank goodness, no! Here's the direction from the script, though:

Panel 9--Back to the present. Hana stone faced. A GLOWING FLOOD of E-MAIL, FLOORPLANS, PASSWORDS swirl around her head.

I remember asking Frank [Mastromauro] at Aspen about it, and believe he said they had reference from the show they would lay in, so it was probably the colorist that did it. Here's the panel with the artwork as I lettered it:

Wireless4 p2 lettering.jpg

Occasionally there's signage, or computer screens that we're asked to do, and that's a fun change of pace. I remember a really difficult page later in that story where Hana was accessing ID cards, phone books and all kinds of stuff. It was really tough to fit with the odd spaces the artist gave, but it ended up looking great:

WarBuddies1 p2 art.jpg WarBuddies1 p2 lettering.jpg


Are there any new promotional items you're creating for Heroes for this year's Comic-Con in July (which people like me might have to find from places like eBay...)?

Yes! We're doing a limited edition comic in conjunction with Dynamic Forces. It will have four strips from the site, plus an interview with Jeph Loeb and Tim Kring, and a Tim Sale sketchbook. Tim's drawing a new cover for it as well.


Regarding your lettering work for Heroes, what do you think the fans would find the most interesting or the most surprising?

Um, that I've only seen one episode of the show? Just the pilot. Been meaning to catch up, really...


When did the idea for 9thWonders.com originate? Was the original idea for it to be a message board?

It was the writing crew's idea--they wanted a site like the Lost one that J.J. Abrams runs, where they could communicate with fans and share behind-the-scenes tidbits. It was their plan to appeal to the hardcore fan community first, and hope word-of-mouth would build from there. I don't know if the site ever fulfilled all the goals they had in mind, but certainly the strategy worked! I was amazed at how fast it took off, and then, a month or so later, how many people I knew who'd never read a comic in their lives who were hooked on the show.


Who else worked with you to create 9thWonders.com? Was the site your idea? When did your participation in the site end?

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We were teamed with Craig Byrne, who Jeph knew through his Smallville fan site. Craig conducted the interviews and compiled the content, and I designed it, with pretty much free reign from the writing crew and NBC. It was kind of just the writers' pet project, so NBC wasn't too concerned--they were busy enough with the official site. 9thWonders.com launched just before Comic-Con that year, and the traffic just rocketed. The following year, we were asked to redesign the layout so they could incorporate ads. We haven't been contacted to do anything since.


If you had the freedom/authority to help the 9thWonders website "evolve" with the show, what changes would you make to the site?

I don't know! I really don't spend much time at fansites or even browsing the web. Since I work all day on the computer, when I have free time, I'd rather do something physical, like shoot hoops, play guitar, build something in the garage, or just run around outside with my kids.


Just so you're aware, there's a thread just for fun brainstorming by 9thWonders members about how 9thWonders could "evolve" (password: shanti). Do you think that The Powers That Be will have plans for 9thWonders to grow or change along with the show in ways similar to those suggested in that thread?

Wow, you guys are dedicated! That's awesome. I think a lot of the things mentioned there are things the writers originally had in mind for the site. I've never asked, but my guess is that the weekly whirlwind of actually writing the show took over, so they never got around to them. Plus, with the popularity of the show, fans (like you with this Wiki) came along and took care of them.

That said, I will forward that link to the guys--if they haven't seen it, maybe it will light a fire, who knows?


Did you ever get that 9thWonders.com lunchbox you refer to in your interview with Fabrice Sapolsky? And are you still getting phone calls from when NBC put your info online?

The lunchbox! That was certainly a milestone for a Star Wars lunchbox-carrying kid like myself. Yeah, I did get one--two in fact. My youngest carries one around that's full of his Hot Wheels.

Fortunately those phone calls stopped after a week or so. That was the ugly downside of all the wonderful attention this Heroes thing has brought. Though, with hindsight, it has made for a good story to tell at parties.


Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your work with Heroes?

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Yeah, I'd like to mention that Jeph Loeb and Jesse Alexander are two of the nicest and easiest-to-please guys I have ever worked with, and they have stuck up for us at every step of the way during our involvement with the show. I will drop whatever else I'm doing if either of those guys calls and needs something done. Well, to a point. I will not pick up your dry cleaning, Loeb.


Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for the fans, JG!

Absolutely! Thank you for taking an interest in what I do!



Interviews edit
Cast

Sally ChamplinAlex FernandezMike FoyJames Kyson LeeNtare Guma Mbaho MwineJoshua RushJames RyenRoberto SanchezDiana Terranova

Crew

Adam Armus and Kay FosterYule CaiseZach CraleyNate GoodmanChuck KimTim KringJason La PaduraDebra McGuireJoe TolericoKevin Tostado

Graphic Novel Crew

Robert AtkinsMicah GunnellR.D. HallJoe KellyChuck KimKotzebue brothersRyan OdagawaJG RoshellMark Sable

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