Artist Spotlight: Janice Chiang

Janice Chiang is a comic pioneer as one of the first female letterers in the industry. From hand-lettering to digital, she has forged the way for countless female comic artists. Janice works with publishers old (Marvel) and new (DC’s SUPERGIRLS, which won the Ringo Award 2018 for Best Kids Graphic Novel). She was also the letterer for the Eisner nominated Storm Kids Comics STANLEY’S GHOST and two time Eisner winner DC Comics SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN.Comics Alliance honored Chiang as Outstanding Letterer of 2016 and gave her the 2017 Golden Issue Award for Lettering. In May 2017, Chiang was featured as one of 13 women who have been making comics since before the internet on the blog Women Write About Comics. With her kind and forthright nature, Janice has built a loyal family within the comic community. Everyone has met her at one time or another. Everyone who runs into her says the same thing: “Oh my god, she’s done so much, and she’s so nice!”

1. First John Carpenter memory?

I remember watching ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in a theater in Manhattan. As a native New Yorker, it was fascinating to watch the movie unfold in the locations I was very familiar with. It felt personal in which it was made for me.

However, my most favorite John Carpenter movies are STARMAN and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA. I was always impressed that John directed a love story between an alien and earth person. Perhaps it was my impression that he excelled at horror and suspense movies. John is simply an amazing storyteller.

When I watched BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, I felt that a director finally saw Chinese people as whole people. This meant that the characters were not Caucasian actors in yellow face, did not speak Pidgin English, and they looked like me. My favorite actor in the ensemble is James Hong who played David Lo Pan with such enthusiasm and energy that he superseded any stereotype. Hong owns the villain and in this manner, one can enjoy the humor and irony. He’s winking at the audience throughout the movie if you watch carefully.

2. How did you get started writing/drawing/lettering?

My background is in fine arts and I’ve learned many mediums…Drawing with pencil, ink, and charcoal, painting with oils and watercolor, sculpted with clay and marble, ceramics, traditional photography in a dark room and digital photography.

Before I attended grade school, I was taught the English alphabet and my Father taught me Chinese calligraphy with brush and ink. Basically, I needed to earn money for college and my sister Fay had called Larry Hama to see if he could help me out. At the time, Larry and his good friend and art partner Ralph Reese were working out of Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios.

Both Ralph and Larry taught me the basics of hand lettering. What tools to use, how to understand the placement of balloons, captions, and sound effects and titles and credits. I would practice at home and bring back my sample for Ralph to look over and critique. I can imagine how crude my first work may have been. However, Ralph and Larry were always kind and supportive. When I became proficient, I would letter projects that were pitched to Neal’s studio.

With a referral from Neal to Danny Crespi who was head of the Marvel Bullpen, I joined the staff in 1974. Here I learned production skills and how to make corrections on lettered pages. One had to look closely at the style of letterer and try your best to imitate his/her hand. My mentor Danny was very kind and patient, too. He would give me a single page to letter and increased my pages until I was finally ready to handle twenty two pages. My first story was an issue of DEATHLOK. My next story was a BLACK PANTHER story written by Don McGregor and drawn by Billy Graham.

3. How did you get involved with Storm King Comics?

When comic lettering transitioned from hand tools to digital format, many comic companies created internal lettering departments. Freelancers faced a difficult time in procuring work. I learned a valuable lesson from my son Calvin. When he was young, I watched him turn every rock in the yard. Curious, I asked him what he was doing. He replied, “Looking for salamanders.”

As I window shopped trying to get back into the comic industry, I turned over every rock. I’ve always had a good professional relationship with many people in different companies. I began attending comic conventions in 2008 to network information and see who of my friends were still active in the field. Facebook and comic new sites were valuable resources for my journey, too. Basically, I made digital lettering samples based on balloon copy fonts and sound effects fonts that I designed based on my decades of hand lettering. If someone was open for collaboration, I would send over my samples.

On Facebook, I connected with Leonardo Manco. I had lettered his first professional job for Marvel, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. The series was one of my first digital lettering projects. When I saw the first few pages of Leo’s work, it was thumbs up…This guy is staying in the industry. Leo was working with a company with a lettering department already. When I sent him samples, I wrote, ”If a project comes your way where you may need a letterer, please consider me.”

Calvin was working at Radical Publishing in production and design where David Wohl was the Editor In Chief. Btw, David met Calvin when he was eight years old at Marvel when he began as Assistant Editor to Mark Gruenwald. Leo was working on a series named DRIVER BY NIGHT at Radical. They brought him in from Argentina to visit the office. Calvin wrote and told me Leo was coming to town. I told him to give Leo my regards. After he was a given a tour, Calvin introduced himself as my son. Leo literally jumped backwards with surprise. Our industry is a close community.

4. Who are your idols/mentors?

It is difficult to choose a person or a few people. I do have my mentors from my school years. My high school honor World History teacher, Miss Lanahan stands out. We were given a term paper to explore any topic. The majority of students chose Das Capital by Karl Marx. I wanted to understand the history of the creation of West and East Germany. She graded our papers and she said to our class, ”I want you to listen to this paper written by Janice. It represents solid research and critical analysis. Can you please read your paper to the class.” Mind you, the future valedictorian and salutatorian were in my class. My commercial art teacher Paul Bernath who gave me free rein in my art projects. I look back and remember that he told the class that he was a comic letterer for Al Capp.

My comic industry mentors, Larry Hama, Ralph Reese, Danny Crespi, Morie Kuramoto, Jon Babcock, Evan Skolnick, Morgan Dontaville, Jim Salicrup, David Wohl, Louise Simonson, John Carpenter, Sandy King and many more who taught me along the way and to not give up.

5. What is the thing you geek out the most about and why?

I geek out over Nature. The natural world has always fascinated me by the change of seasons, the people and creatures on this Earth, the relationship to planets and outer space. Nurturing indoor and outdoor plants gives me great satisfaction to watch them thrive. Now, with the lengthening of daylight hours, I celebrate the transition by watching our houseplants wake up from their slumber. New fronds are emerging from the maiden hair, button, and bird nest ferns, new leaves on the fig tree, rosemary and bay leaf plants… I enjoy being able to propagate new plants from seeds I collected or rooting green cuttings.

6. Guilty pleasure….food? music? entertainment? Everyone needs an escape.

Music is constantly playing in the house or I have earbuds attached to an iPod. It paces me as I create the silent soundtrack for my comic work. To emerge from the 2D digital world, I’ll gravitate to cooking and baking. When using a knife or following directions for a recipe, you need to be consciously engaged. I enjoy baking and sharing with family and friends. Danny, my husband usually lines up the music and films that we watch. If I read about an interesting series, movie or music group, I ask him to borrow it from our library system. Fortunately, he is quite expert with music selections. His library begins in the 1930’s to present in all genres.

I like to have John’s music playing while I letter the Storm King Comics or run on the treadmill. I’ve listened to his work many times focusing on the different instruments. I can see John at his keyboard, Daniel on his guitar, and Cody at his piano and keyboards with the drummer’s percussive beats.  His compositions are eloquent and elegant, sounding new every time I listen.  I feel very fortunate to have their music in my life.

7. The world has there anything you like in the post covid world?

This is our reality. For those who respect the natural sciences, we all have been on a learning curve about how to live with the pandemic. The masking, the vaccinations, the protocol in our social interactions, and even hand washing are steps forward. I’m looking forward to the Covid-Flu combination inoculation.

8. What change would you like to see in the world?

Where do we start? As an Asian American woman, the precipitous hate crimes against people of Asian origin is foremost in my mind. How do we combat xenophobia? My question is, ”Why have so many people hardened their hearts against one another?” Undoubtedly, it is easier to give in to the knee jerk reaction to hate rather than allow compassion and love be the direction and compass.

My only conclusion to this morass is that it requires decent individuals and groups of like minded people to unite together as friends and allies against hatred. The fight is change in our government, legal system, in our culture, and communities. This process needs to be taught and reinforced with every new generation born.

The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has created a new world balance. Democracy in the global theater is at play now. The hardship is already here for the Ukrainian refugees, those who stayed, and for the Russian people.

9. Favorite 2021 memory?

Our reunion with Calvin. We hadn’t seen him in almost two years when the pandemic lockdown began. FaceTime was very helpful to stay connected but it’s not the same as being face to face in real time. When we arrived to our hotel, Calvin had laid out a banquet of all of our favorite Chinese foods. I was really touched because for me it represented all the meals that we missed sharing during our time of separation. This special meal was the beginning our future good times together.

The visit out to California included many reunions with family and good friends. Happy times of good food, conversation, and laughter. This was the longest time period in forty years that I had taken time off.

10. What brings you joy?

Waking up to a new day. Time spent with family and friends. Knowing that friends and colleagues are succeeding in their personal and professional lives. Collaborating on a comic team where readers and new fans enthusiastically embrace our group’s talents. Watching the birds who visit to feed on sunflower seeds. There is a fearless woodpecker who stands her ground over larger birds. She is my heroine. Looking up to the sky any time of the day or night and seeing the constant change overhead. A piece of good chocolate.

See Janice Chiang’s work in these Storm King releases: