In the comic book universe—the real one, that is—Deron Bennett does everything. The Eisner Award-nominated letterer has worked on such popular properties as Star Trek, The Muppet Show, Masters of the Universe, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Batman. In 2014, Deron self-published the critically acclaimed Quixote. At age 39, he runs AndWorld Design and is Production Coordinator and Assistant Editor at AHOY Comics. He spoke on the phone with publisher Hart Seely.
You claim to be 39. You’re not one of those celebrity types who always say they’re 39, right? That’s your real age?
Well, I am going to stay 39 forever. But, yes, that’s my actual age.
Once you hit 40, it’s all downhill.
The forties are crap. You know those things on your face that, when you were twenty, you could pick at them and they’d go away? From now on, they won’t go away.
You don’t make it sound appealing. I sort of thought I’d get older and more comfortable with myself. I guess not.
At least when you’re an old guy, nobody cares what you look like.
Well, there you go! I’m looking forward to it again!
Why did you call your company AndWorld Design?
It’s an acronym. My first daughter is named Alexis, and long ago, when I was trying to find a name for a pretend business, I came up with AndWorld—as Alexis n’ Deron’s World, and it stuck.
Your company specializes in lettering but does everything, right?
We do everything. We are primarily a lettering company, but we do production, designs, editorial--all that stuff. Our slogan is, “We do more than just lettering.” When AHOY came out with “Expect more,” and we were the company that “does more,” I thought, this is perfect.
Yeesh, you could have sued us.
No, no, no. Then I wouldn’t have a job.
How does somebody become a comic book letterer?
How do you break in? There is no really easy way. What I recommend is working with independents. There are a lot of people out there trying to make comics, and you should work with them. Team up with them, because—for the most part, the big companies already have established letterers. It’s tough to find work in that crowded sea.
If you can team up with people who are independently making comics, and get some work under your belt, hopefully, that will parlay into making more connections. But to get in is hard.
How did you get in?
I had sort of a backdoor entrance. I went to California to get a job with Warner Brothers. When that wasn’t working out, I was sending my resume to every company I could find. Eventually one landed at TOKYOPOP, the biggest Manga publisher at the time. They needed a layout and lettering person. And they hired me on the spot to freelance. For about a year, I did in-house freelance, then I decided to move back east to my hometown in Keyport. From that, a lot of the people I met there—the editors—branched off into other jobs. They recommended me, and I picked up jobs through word of mouth.
Where the hell is Keyport, New Jersey?
For comic book fans, I always reference Kevin Smith and Red Bank, which is about 10 miles away. If you look at the map of New Jersey, and you find the little indent, where the shoreline comes back, we are in the middle of it. Right where it makes that “V,” we’re in the crux of it.
So, you must have been a big fan of Jersey Shore?
No. No. NO! NO! That show messed us all up. I denounce that show!
But you watched it, right?
I saw a few episodes. I think it gives the actual Jersey Shore a bad name. People think that’s how we are. Keyport is considered “the Gateway to the Jersey Shore,” because we’re at the first exit off of the parkway, toward Asbury Park and all the attractions. So when you’re watching Jersey Shore, and you’re thinking of Snooki and The Situation, that’s not us at all. I love Jersey too much to let its representation fall into their hands.
What was your favorite episode?
None. None at all. Most episodes, I’m still trying to forget.
Come on, not one?
The only episode I remember is when Snooki got into a fight at a bar, though, actually, that may have happened in every episode.
I remember that one. Snooki mouths off in a bar, and everything spills out into the parking lot. Or maybe they just reran that episode over and over.
Yeah, we thought they had a full season, but that’s the only one.
They were always slipping in and out of bed with each other. That was groundbreaking TV.
All the reality shows had that theme. I remember The Real World on MTV. Every season, you’d have people hooking up.
The other night, my wife and I watched about five minutes of Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club.
Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club.
I have not seen that.
You’re lucky. It’s like a combination of Survivor and Baywatch. Nobody’s wearing anything. Lindsay sits there like she’s Donald Trump. She reveals her great wisdom, and they suck up. It’s… let’s change the subject. When you were little, were you heavily into comics?
Actually, I was more into comic strips. The Sunday funnies, all that stuff, really spoke to me. In grade school, I would go to the library and pick up collections of Calvin and Hobbes, or Garfield, or Mother Goose & Grimm—all the Sunday funnies. And The Far Side by Gary Larsen. I used to love it. Those would get me, the Sunday papers.
Their timing was so different, the sequences of what was happening. That’s what drew me into comics—the way they could tell a story. Eventually, around middle school, I started picking up comic books. My first was a G.I. Joe. I remember Snake Eyes was on the cover. I won it at a birthday party. They were raffling off prizes, and I won. That was the day I started reading comics.
Did you go to comic book stores?
There was this comic shop/baseball card collectors’ shop about five minutes away. I’d go there every few days. I was a kid, no money in my pocket, but I could go and browse, and pick up whatever I could when I could. It was the highlight of my week, going to that store and looking around.
Eventually, what caught my eye was Milestone Comics. Back then, that was the big diversity push. We talk a lot about diversity in comics now, but Milestone was doing it in the nineties. I could see all these superheroes who looked just like me, the same skin color, and I was, like—wow! this is cool! From then on, I wanted to write and draw my own comics and tell my own stories.
Did you draw your own comics?
Yeah, I wanted to be one of the big artists. I figured that I would draw comics—write my own and draw my own—but I didn’t know how the whole thing worked. I just thought I could make a comic and find a publisher.
Did you have a mentor, an adult, who helped? Or did the grownups try to keep you away?
No. Everybody wanted me to be the next Disney. My parents encouraged me. Aunts, uncles, everybody, and the art teachers, too. A math teacher would give me transparency paper—you know, the sheets that they used for the projectors—to use practice cel shading, because he figured it might lead to something. Everybody was positive. I didn’t know about the starving artist part until later on.
They didn’t tell you about that.
Nope, they didn’t at all.
Were you drawing superheroes, big muscles, that stuff?
Oh, yeah. Muscles were the thing. I may have overdrawn a few. I put abs where they shouldn’t be, the supernaturally overexaggerated anatomy.
Do comics evolve with the times, or are they the same as they always were, and always will be?
Comics reflect the times. In the time that I’ve grown up, I’ve seen what was happening in the world through comics. What we’re seeing now is a push towards awareness and inclusion. For better or worse, we always see people interjecting their views of the world through comics. I think that’s where we. As creators, we are sort of—I don’t want to say “torchbearers”—but we do show what is going on. The content in comics reflects who we are as a nation, as a people, as a country—as a world altogether. But you can also escape all that and just see the mundane, everyday things. I think that’s cool.
Do you think the huge success of Marvel and DC superhero movies help or hurt the comic book industry?
I think it’s helping. I mean, children are being engaged. I see more kids aware of comics now—adults, too. Ten years ago, if I told someone I do lettering for comics, they might have said, “Oh, they’re still making comics?” Now, I don’t get that question because everyone knows there still is Iron Man, there still is Captain America. I think it’s helping to generate fandom. But I’d also say it hinders the industry, because everybody’s trying to get a movie deal, trying to angle it that way—and the comics are still not always taken seriously. As far as bringing in people, it’s great. The question is, how do we harness it, how do we use that spotlight, and make it for all of publishing?
Do you think superheroes are past their peak in American culture?
I think it is sort of evening out. You’re seeing a little less interest in the superhero, the cape. I think more people are interested in other genres as well. As far as Hollywood entertainment is concerned, I think it’s becoming oversaturated, with a new superhero movie out every month. But as long as people are consuming it, it will keep going.
They’re making billions of dollars.
As long as somebody is making money, they’ll keep going. You can hear grumbling, some actors or producers starting to complain, but we’re still looking at ideas that are far larger than us.
Who is the one superhero you think you would hate?
Iron Man. I think I’d hate Tony Stark. Well, I probably shouldn’t say I’d hate him.
Hey, it’s a free country. You can say it.
First of all, still mad at Civil War. Both versions—comics and the movies. Secondly. The dude is waaaay too arrogant. That’s my thing with Iron Man. I want to see him taken down a peg. If I ever write a Iron Man story, I’ll take him down a few notches.
Philosophical question: Would Batman would ever let Superman drive the Batmobile?
Yes, they’re buddies. Why wouldn’t he?
Don’t you think it would take special training to drive the Batmobile? My wife drives a Prius. It took me a month to learn how to turn it on.
Okay, how about The Flash? Batman would let The Flash flip through the owner’s manual really quickly, then he could drive.
Okay, but if The Flash said, “Hey, can I have the keys to the Batmobile,” wouldn’t Batman wonder what’s going on? The Flash doesn’t need a car. He can run there. He can get anywhere, while the Batmobile is still in the garage.
Yeah, what’s the point?
Who is your all-time favorite comic book villain? Who would be good to work for?
Why is that?
For one, in the Christopher Reeve version of Superman, Lex Luthor was actually sort of endearing. In fact, I think in almost every rendition of Superman, Luthor is a little bit endearing. He’s certainly no idiot. He’s super smart. He’s charismatic, and he’s a businessman. I respect that.
He’s a job creator. What makes him a villain is his hatred of Superman. And hey, this is a free country.
The way he acts on his hatred makes him evil. A lot of people might dislike Superman. That doesn’t make them inherently evil. Right?
Didn’t Luthor hate Superman because he blames him for the loss of his hair?
Something like that. He caused the explosion or something that made him lose his hair.
Yeah, it is. He and Superman should settle their differences in a vote… who wears it better, baldy or S-curl?
Change of subject: Does comic book lettering ever change? Or is it always the same?
The technical aspects definitely have changed—from hand-drawn to digital. It’s gotten to be less of a drawing skill set. I think the sensibilities have also changed. In the digital age, where we have different fonts for everything, I think a lot more people can grasp the concepts. It’s sort of like everybody can be a designer.
But what separates good letterers from the rest is the ability to bring a creative sense to the job. If you just know the digital program, if you just know the tool, obviously, you can do it. But you need to know how to use the tool to create something unique, something that is your own, and which will match the artwork.
If AHOY were the Jersey Shore what would be your nickname?
Woah. If AHOY was the Jersey Shore… well, there was The Situation. I would be—hmmm—The Expectation. Yeah, but I still hate that show.