Thursday Lab Report: Interview With Letterer Annaliese Christman

ThuLabRep_002So I guess this space has returned with a brand new interview for your reading pleasure. This time I got in touch with someone who probably puts in way too much work whenever she’s working on her manga. Kind of makes me wonder if she has a soul. …Anyways, hope you enjoy the interview with Annaliese Christman, who happens to do lettering at Viz Media!

Justin: So talk a little about yourself and can you share some manga you’re currently working on now?

Annaliese Christman: My name is Annaliese Christman and I’m a freelance letterer and touch-up artist who has been working for VIZ Media for about eight years. I’m currently working on World Trigger, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, Psyren, Tegami Bachi, Library Wars, a couple boys love titles, and an awful lot of Pokémon series.

I bet some people honestly don’t know what a letterer is or does, so I guess I’ll ask: what is a letterer, and normally how long does it take for you to letter?

The way I see it, the letterer is in charge of making sure the interior of the book looks natural. I am given a high-resolution scan of the Japanese book and a script. My job is to take the Japanese text off of each page and replace it with whatever it says in the script, matching the size and style of the original as best as I can. That includes dialogue text, sound effects, and sometimes signs. When someone picks up a book I’ve worked on, I want them to be engaged by the art and story and never be pulled out of it by the English sound effects or text seeming out of place or unnatural. The time it takes to letter a volume varies from book to book depending on how much action and dialogue there is, but I’d say on average it takes about a hundred hours from getting the original files to turning in my final completed ones.

World TriggerDid you ever foresee yourself becoming a freelance letterer at some point or did you have other ideas on what you wanted to do growing up?

When I was much younger, I wanted to be a veterinarian when I grew up. Then I wanted to be a Sea World trainer. But… I’m not good with animals dying and I can’t swim very well, so eventually I got into manga and decided it would be really cool to try to work with it. I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do, I just knew I wanted to do something with manga. I stumbled onto lettering by chance while working as a design intern at VIZ, and thought it was a lot of fun.

Is there a significant difference between lettering and touch up on a Japanese comic as opposed to a American comic?

I haven’t lettered any American comics (yet!), but as far as I know American comic letterers do little or no retouching on the art. They put their sound effects directly on top of clean artwork. I believe most also draw in the speech bubbles before filling them with text. With manga, I’ve never had to draw any speech bubbles, but the vast majority of the time I spend on each volume involves retouching art around the sound effects I create. The purpose of the job is pretty much the same, but the steps to the final product are a little different.

What have been the challenges of working as a freelance letterer? From working with different teams, manga, etc?

The fluctuation of work is really difficult. Some times I’ll have 100+ hour weeks, sometimes I’ll have 30 hour weeks. Books are due when they are due, and I need to get them in on time no matter how many hours I’ve already worked that week. As a letterer, I’m just about the end of the production line, so if things are late in any of the production steps before me, I feel like I have a lot of pressure on me to make up that lost time. That’s really stressful. Even though the time crunch happens more than I’d like, I’ve been really fortunate because most of the teams I’ve worked on have been excellent and I enjoy working with them.

Is there a huge difference between lettering a manga for a physical release as opposed to a digital release? Or is it just about the same?

It depends on the title. When I work on digital-only boys love titles for the Sublime line, it’s just like working on a physical book; I replace the sound effects as I usually would. If I’m working on something for the digital Weekly Shonen Jump, the deadline is so short that the sound effects are subtitled instead or replaced. Besides the sound effects, things are the pretty much the same between physical and digital releases.

Tegami BachiYour work schedule definitely sounds stressful. Has there been any times where you was working on a manga and it got so dire that you were worried you wouldn’t have your work in time? Or conversely, a time where a manga you worked on went amazingly well? Or is it always just a rush to finish the job?

Hahaha, there definitely have been some times when it came down to the wire. Once I had a book due and it was 11pm on that day and I still wasn’t done. I kept telling myself, “It’s not late if I get it in before midnight!!!” I’m pretty sure I ended up getting it in right before then, but it was close. I don’t cut it that close very often, but I still constantly get stressed about getting things in before deadlines. Thankfully it does go the other way too! Sometimes when I work on a series long enough I get a good feel for the art and sound effect style and the work goes really smoothly. Other times, the series or volume just happens to be really easy, either with few sound effects or minimal dialogue. I was able to work on Children of the Sea volume 5 and it was like that…there were pages and pages of just gorgeous art and no text for me to place or sound effects to create. It was really relaxing.

Is there something that you learned by working in the manga industry that you did not realize before?

When I was in high school, I honestly thought most manga companies were soulless beings just churning out whatever was most popular. Now I know better. I don’t think I had ever met such huge fans before working in the industry. Most of the employees I’ve met are so incredibly in love with some of the series they work on, it’s really incredible.

Can you name a few manga from Japan that you wish would come over to the US?

Space Traveller Robo and Usakichi by Katou Kazue is my favorite series ever and I really hope it gets brought over at some point. It’s about a young robot named Robin who leaves the planet he’s been living on for the first time after meeting a weird-looking humanoid rabbit who is being pursued for escaping from jail. I’d also really like ARAGO by Takahiro Arai, Master Keaton by Hokusei Katsushika and Naoki Urasawa, and Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida to be licensed.

Finally, what manga or manga series got you hooked on manga?

Rurouni Kenshin volume 1 was one of the first manga I ever got. I bought the Japanese version and couldn’t read a lick of it, but I thought it was just about the coolest thing ever. I felt like it cracked opened the door to this whole world of storytelling I’d never seen before. Then I got into Detective Conan/Case Closed and suddenly the series was the center of my life and I knew I was hopelessly hooked on manga.

You can keep in touch with Annaliese by following her on Twitter (@Kaitou_Ace).

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Justin

Justin is the founder of Organization Anti-Social Geniuses. Anime & manga fan that likes to blog about anime and manga, is addicted to sports, and weak to crossovers. You can follow Justin on Twitter @Kami_nomi.

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