March 1, 1953
|Awards||Inkpot Award, 1985
Wizard Fan Award, 1993
Harvey Award, 1994
Tom Orzechowski (born March 1, 1953) is an award-winning comic book letterer, primarily known for his work on Uncanny X-Men. Over the course of Orzechowski's career, he has lettered something on the order of 6,000 pages of (long-time X-Men writer) Chris Claremont's scripts.
In 1968, when Orzechowski was 15, he met a group of aspiring comic book artists at the Detroit Triple Fan Fair comic convention in Detroit, and joined their comics club. Some older members of the club included future comics professionals Rich Buckler, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, and Mike Vosburg. An aspiring comic book artist, Orzechowski quit drawing when he saw their work. None of the club members wanted to letter their own amateur comics, however, so Orzechowski took on those jobs.
Tony Isabella, who knew Orzechowski from the comics club, joined Marvel Comics in 1972, and soon got Orzechowski his first professional work, lettering retouches on the Marvel UK editions of classic Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Daredevil stories. Within a few months, Orzechowski had worked his way up to lettering for some of Marvel's black-and-white monster magazines. One of his first jobs of that kind was for Monsters Unleashed, on one of the first Marvel stories written by future X-Men scribe Chris Claremont.
Orzechowski's connections from the comics club days paid off again when Rich Buckler pulled him over to letter Black Panther (Jungle Action), and Jim Starlin did the same for Starlin's run on Captain Marvel.
By the time of the debut of the New X-Men in X-Men #94, Orzechowski had developed a reputation as a "new projects guy," and was given the odd issue, and then with issue #122 (June 1979) finally the title. After a number of years on X-Men over Chris Claremont's scripts, the two men paired together on many future X-Men-related projects. (Orzechowski also designed the logos for The New Mutants and Wolverine comics, among others.)
When all was said and done, counting X-Men, many of its annuals, The New Mutants, Wolverine, X-Treme X-Men, and MekaniX, Orzechowksi lettered something on the order of 6,000 pages of Claremont's scripts over a 25-year period.
Orzechowski left the X-Men books shortly after Chris Claremont, in 1993. He joined the team putting out Image Comics' Spawn 1992, where his title was copy editor for most of the first six years. Orzechowski worked for the manga packaging outfit Studio Proteus from 1989 until their demise in 2004. Studio Proteus titles on which Orzechowski worked included Nausicaä, Appleseed, Dominion, and Ghost in the Shell.
In the early 2000s, with many publishers beginning to use "in-house" lettering teams, freelancers like Orzechowski lost a lot of work. Though Orzechowski still does the occasional job for DC Comics and a manga company called Studio Cutie, he did not letter comic books regularly until 2009, when he started doing the lettering for Chris Claremont's X-Men Forever books, and in 2010 for the New Mutants Forever book, also written by Claremont.
Lettering style and influences
Orzechowski's letters are almost perfectly square, with the exception of the letter "I." Everything has a solid, uniform look to it. Letters stand straight up and down, not at a tilt. They are all painstakingly the same height. Similarly, Orzechowski's standard word balloon outlines are meticulously uniform. He also helped popularize non-standard (non-bubble-shaped) designs for word balloons, to reflect different character voices (square for robots, jagged/dripping for demons, etc.). In the mid-1970s, while Marvel’s production boss and cover letterer Dan Crespi was developing a tight, attractive house style, Orzechowski was 3,000 miles away in California, "buried in design books." Orzechowski figured that "since the X-Men didn’t overlap the rest of the Marvel Universe," there was no reason not to draw influences from calligraphy, record jackets, old movie posters — everything except comics.
Early influences on Orzechoswki's distinctive style included the work of Alphonse Mucha, and the comics lettering of Artie Simek and Abe Kanegson. Orzechowski modeled his lettering on the Flash Gordon newspaper strips of the 1930s. Another influence was Robert Crumb's Zap Comix: Orzechowski recognized that Crumb’s title work was clearly derived from the brush techniques of that same era, the 1920s and '30s. Orzechowski studied everything of Crumb's (as well as the late 1960s DCs and Marvels), and developed a lettering style based on all of those influences.
In 1992, Orzechowski was among the first letterers to experiment with computer fonts. Working on Studio Proteus's Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Orzechowski found the sound-effect work to be so demanding that computer lettering seemed like a way to save time on the extensive dialogue. His font program, however, was primitive, and he ended up doing that series entirely by hand after all. By 1994, however, Orzechowksi was lettering mainly on the computer, and in 2002 he switched completely to digital lettering, using a Wacom pen on a graphics tablet, in Adobe Illustrator. He explained in a 2003 interview on Comicon.com's The Pulse that "even then  I was losing the knack, as the majority of my work had been digital for a couple of years. The fine motor control slips if the muscles aren’t in continual use."
On his favorite lettering projects:
|“||Chris Claremont’s Uncanny X-Men was the top of the stack for me. There’s no way to describe how it felt to watch those characters evolve under one writer for such a remarkably long spell.||”|
On the toughest parts of hand lettering to master:
|“||Letter "X" is the toughest. Seriously. I‘ve probably drawn “X” more often than anyone in the history of written language, and half of them were lousy. After that, numeral "8" is the one that will give you nightmares. Letters "J," "R" and "S" will show the most variety. I'd bet money I spotted the letterer on the '40s stories in the Black Canary Archive by his "J"s. I’m sure it was Gaspar Saladino, who later worked on all of the late '50s DC hero revivals for Julie Schwartz.||”|
On comic book logo design:
|“||The logo I did for Wolverine is based on 1930s elements, and I’m proud to see it’s one of the few old ones still in use. Designing a logo is probably a lot like designing a costume, to catch the tone of the character while pulling some unexpected elements together.||”|
- Orzechowski entry, Who's Who of American Comic Books, 1928–1999. Accessed Nov. 19, 2013.
- Miller, John Jackson. "Comics Industry Birthdays", Comics Buyer's Guide, June 10, 2005. Accessed December 21, 2010. WebCitation archive.
- Contino, Jennifer. "ABCs with Orzechowski," Comicon.com: The Pulse (Dec. 30, 2003). Retrieved January 3, 2010.
- Klein, Todd. "Logo Study: X-Men part 3," Todd's Blog (Oct 5th, 2007). Retrieved July 20, 2008.