August 30, 1952 |
|Awards||Harvey Award, 1988–1990|
Ken Bruzenak (born August 30, 1952) is an award-winning American comic book letterer, primarily known for his work on Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg! Bruzenak's lettering and logowork was integral to the comic's futuristic, trademark-littered ambiance. During the course of his career, Bruzenak has been closely associated with both Chaykin and Jim Steranko.
Early life and career
Bruzenak grew up in Pennsylvania as a huge comic book fan. At age 17, he attended the Detroit Triple Fan Fair convention, where he met his hero Jim Steranko, and also crossed paths with Chaykin for the first time.
After meeting Steranko a second time, Bruzenak took a job renovating Steranko's house in Reading, Pennsylvania. He stayed and worked at the house, along with another Steranko disciple, future comics artist Greg Theakston. Theakston was ostensibly there to assist Steranko on The Steranko History of Comics, volume two; Bruzenak was there to do construction. After about two years, Theakston left the project and Bruzenak took over as Steranko's primary assistant.
During this period, Steranko formed Supergraphics, his own publishing company, where among other things he published the magazine Comixscene (later retitled Mediascene, and finally Prevue). Bruzenak assisted Steranko on the first fifty issues of Comixscene/Prevue, as well as other concurrent projects, such as Marvel's official fan magazine, FOOM (Bruzenak was the associate editor); the illustrated novel Chandler: Red Tide, the comic book adaptation of the film Outland; and various paperback covers and posters.
Bruzenak's duties during this time were varied, basically comprising all aspects of publishing, from research, editing, copy-editing, and proof-reading; to lettering, paste-up, operating a stat camera, and other production skills. (Steranko's 1981 Outland adaptation, in fact, constituted Bruzenak's first professional lettering job.) In the end, Bruzenak worked for Steranko for almost thirteen years.
Bruzenak eventually left Steranko's employ to embark on a freelance lettering career. Artist Dan Adkins introduced Bruzenak to editors at DC and then Marvel, which at first didn't lead to anything. Bruzenak then lettered a couple of issues of Frank Brunner's Warp for First Comics, before landing the letterer job with Chaykin's American Flagg! in 1983.
Bruzenak's work on that title was more typography than simple lettering. The comic featured signage, multiple typefaces, robot type, and a mixture of formal type with balloon type for special effects. Bruzenak's lettering was so integral to the book, it virtually became a character of its own. Readers took notice — as did editors for other companies — and Bruzenak soon became the industry's first "celebrity letterer," getting more offers for jobs than he was able to take on — even with his famous non-stop work ethic.
In the years since both men left American Flagg! in 1986, Bruzenak has gone on to letter much of Chaykin's later work, including Time2 (1986), Blackhawk (1987), Black Kiss (1988), the short-lived second volume of American Flagg! (1988–1989), Wolverine/Nick Fury: The Scorpio Connection (1989), Twilight (1990–1991), Power and Glory (1994), and American Century (2001).
Besides working on Chaykin's comics in the 1980s, Bruzenak stayed busy lettering a number of other First Comics titles, including E-Man, Jon Sable, and Nexus, as well as titles published by Marvel and DC. In the 90s, Bruzenak worked steadily, often pairing with Michael T. Gilbert on his Mr. Monster comics, but his work was never as much in demand as it was during his mid-80s heyday. From 1995 to 2002, Bruzenak lettered DC's Azrael series. In the 2000s, Bruzenak has lettered much of Michael Avon Oeming's Powers series.
On why he became a letterer:
|“||I . . . knew that I would get the chance to see artwork by guys that I had always admired; I’d get to see Buscema and Kane and Kirby and all of that stuff, and I did. I guess I was arrested in the fan mentality of just being around these guys, because I didn’t get to socialize with them while working for Steranko much more than a phone call here and there. That’s not the same: It’s not the artwork, it’s not the comics. I really wanted to be involved in that, because all the big guys were still alive, and I wanted to contribute, and the lettering was something where I felt like, 'I can do this, I know I can do this, I’ve done it. It’s just a matter of getting in the door.'||”|
On computerized lettering:
|“||I still have a great ambivalence about computers. I’ll use it as a tool, but I’m not comfortable with how easy it makes mediocrity acceptable, just because it looks slick. . . . It’s superficial and shiny and shallow. I find tweaking, making the changes, reworking it, reworking it, absorbs so much time that when it comes to splash page titles, things like that, often if I want something interesting, I can do it much faster by hand. The computer does not save me one second when I want to do something really good. When I just want to get a title out there, . . . I can pull that up on the screen, bang! typewriter face, put an outline on it, make sure it’s bulky enough, . . . that’s exactly what it needs to be.||”|
Bruzenak won the coveted Harvey Award for Best Letterer three consecutive years, from 1988–1990, for his work on American Flagg!, Mr. Monster, and Black Kiss.