Reading Comics: James Stokoe & Lettering

April 30th, 2012 by | Tags:

There’s a lot of little nods to Godzilla and kaiju film tropes I’m trying to cram into the book; some are just visual (drills on everything!), some are part of the story. The second issue even has the first test firing of the Maser, which anybody who has seen a Godzilla movie will know barely ever works as intended. I got completely stumped trying to figure out what the sound effect for Godzilla’s trademark roar would be, so I looked up what it looked like run through an oscilloscope and just traced over that with some vague lettering. Godzilla has almost 60 years worth of movies, in different eras and with some radically different tones, so it’s great to pick through and try to figure out how to make those ideas work in a comic book.

-James Stokoe, 2012

Every medium has its own way, or ways, to wow you. Books may be devastatingly lyrical. Music may sound like a slice of heaven or hell as it crawls its way into your heart. Movies show you another world in excruciating detail. There’s even a certain amount of pleasure in watching someone explain something you’re not interested in, if they’re a good storyteller.

I think of the art that really, really wows me as solutions to a problem, which makes the comic artist. How do you get from A to B? How can I show this insane thing that exists only in my head? How can I quantify the sound of Godzilla’s roar? I can wrap my head around Garth Ennis’s dialogue or Rucka & Waid’s structure or Bendis’s pacing. I may not be able to quantify what’s so great about “Finn Cooley. Anyone not wanting to die for Ireland better clear on out the back” in Ennis & Fernandez’s Punisher: Kitchen Irish — “It’s harder than a Spanish test” is about as far as I’d get there — but I can pull it apart and dig into it in a way that I can’t do with art.

I get writing in a way that I don’t get art, which makes me want to dig into art all the more. Stuff like this, stuff like “Oh yeah, something something oscilloscope, something something vague lettering” would never even cross my mind. It’s a new way of thinking, one that’s not alien to my day-to-day life but definitely on a different track from mine, and that makes it irresistible to me. I’ve gotta figure it out. I’ve got to make it make sense to me, and since I’ve got a comics blog, that means talking it out in public.

I like that Stokoe’s solution to this problem was so literal and figurative at the same time. The oscilloscope shows you what Godzilla’s roar literally looks like. It’s the literal solution to the problem. And Stokoe’s execution is the figurative solution. He sketched a few letters on top and came up with EEYAEEEARRGH and a few letters (?) I can’t parse at the end. Just looking at that doesn’t seem very Godzilla-y to me. But when you combine the two, you get that jagged scrawl of a roar ripping the scene apart and looking great on the page. The sideways creativity there is fantastic.

Y’all should already be reading Orc Stain. It starts off as this raw action/adventure comic about orcs, and that got me hooked. And then issue 7 hit and Stokoe is folding in Vietnam War iconography into orc mythology and man o man o man is it A+ fantastic stuff. Get some.

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9 comments to “Reading Comics: James Stokoe & Lettering”

  1. James Stokoe is one of the few authentic artistic genius’ working in comics today. I do not believe that statement is hyperbolic at all.

  2. This immediately reminds me of one of my favorite parts(of many) in WE3. In the third and final chapter, Weapon 4 is unleashed on the team. He’s built up as this huge, almost demonic force of destruction, and the way he attacks the team he lives up to the hype. When he shouts, it’s just this black spark of anger.


    No words, no punctuation, but leaving it to our imagination works even better with this shorthand visualization. There’s nothing good about Weapon Four, and when he opens his mouth, its the most heinous thing your ears have ever heard.

  3. @Jeremy: Oh yeah! These are the kinds of things I’ve started to cherish in comics, since they are, or are becoming, so rare these days.

  4. […] Commentary | David Brothers takes a look at James Stokoe’s solution to the problem of depicting Godzilla’s roar. [4thletter!] […]

  5. “New word, onomatopoeia… boom.”

    Thanks for pointing that out David. I look at those letters/symbols and I hear Godzilla from my memories.

  6. GREAT use of the form. Thanks for posting this.

  7. Maybe it’s my eyes playing tricks on me, but I think the last few, unclear letters might be “RGG,” which does kind of fit with the kind of low, guttural noise at the end of Godzilla’s roar.

  8. @jeremy Spot on, dude. When We3 talk, they have personality and life. Weapon 4 is the literal opposite of that.

  9. I am loving both Orc Stain and James Stokoe’s unique art style. I remember reading Strange Tales II and coming across this page. You don’t even need his name there, because there’s only person who could have drawn that Galactus. That’s damn impressive.