Manga Letterer Abigail Blackman’s Advice on Manga Lettering

Soul Eater Not Inu x Boku SS Sundome

Well, I ended up getting one more response back to my query for manga letterers sharing advice about manga lettering. But as you already know, I posted it last week. That doesn’t really mean I wouldn’t stop posting very important info on manga lettering. As you can see, I’m now posting Abigail Blackman’s (Inu x Boku SS, Soul Eater Not!, a few volumes of Sundome) answers to my questions. Why yes, I did add this info to the original post. But since I know some might miss it, I decided to single Abigail out. It’s punishment for being late!

…Probably. Anyways, here’s her answers.

How did you get the opportunity to start working as a manga letterer?

I started working on the editorial staff of Yen Press back in 2008. When projects came in with tight turnaround times (particularly during the Yen Plus magazine era) I started lettering internally for Yen. Generally speaking, though, interested letterers can reach out to Yen Press via their general email (yenpress at hbgusa dot com). Every potential letterer is given a guide and a lettering test, and may be assigned to a project from there.

If there was one misconception you had about the manga industry before you started working in the industry, what was it?

I actually knew very little about manga when I first started working at Yen. Most of my knowledge of Japanese manga series came through anime. I guess anytime you hear “industry,” you wonder if the people who work for the company are super-fans or just doing their day job. (I thought they were all going to be crazy fanboys/girls.) Working in manga is certainly fun, and everyone I’ve worked with is a big fan and supporter of manga. But I think learning the balance between being a fan and being a successful business would be the hardest thing to learn for a lot of people. Fans will sometimes get hostile about a series being cut or not being licensed at all. There are so many times fans request series that we personally love, but just wouldn’t be successful in the US market. There are times when we’d love to do a fancy cover treatment for a book but can’t. That’s a hard decision and it breaks your heart, but it’s the reality of staying in business so a publisher can continue to release manga. Sometimes I feel like fans think the industry is deliberately trying to screw them, but there is soooo much discussion and back-and-forth about the best way to bring the best manga to the readers.

What’s the worst thing you had ever done when it came to lettering?

Yen has a very rigorous editorial process after the lettering is turned in, so it’s rare for a major error to make it into the printed book. Still, errors do sometimes slip past, but usually they’re things most fans wouldn’t notice. (Or so we hope!) For example, there’s at least one book where a stray piece of text was left over the art. Little things like imperfect centering or bad word breaks are annoying, but at least the really bad errors can always be fixed in a reprint if they’re noticeable to readers.

What type of advice would you give to someone who might be interested in this venture?

Some people think lettering for manga is easy, that it’s just a simple matter of copy-and-paste. But all comics are about the marriage of illustration and text, and the layout of the text is just as important. Sloppy lettering can detract from the art and from the readers’ experience, so it’s important for the letterer to have a good eye for design and be comfortable with all the functions available to them in Photoshop and InDesign. Some books may also require the letterer to repair art that was under Japanese text (particularly for companies that replace all the Japanese SFX), so the letterer really needs to be skilled in Photoshop and, to some degree, drawing. Really it’s that eye for good balance that makes or breaks a letterer for me. A letterer can be taught the “house rules,” but you need to be able to see that something is centered, that the text size is appropriate for the emphasis of the dialogue or for the size of the bubble, etc.

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Justin is the Editor-in-Chief, or overseer of 90% of what goes out, of this site. He might insert a sports reference in a post every now and then.

3 thoughts on “Manga Letterer Abigail Blackman’s Advice on Manga Lettering

  1. Wow! More valuable information! Thank you for interviewing the letterers and thank you to the letterers too! I’ve really enjoyed reading these articles an the insight they have to share. Lots of great insight here that normally people don’t hear much of. Thanks again!

    • Not a problem. Hope you’ll be successful in working for other companies in the industry. You should let me know if you do 😉

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