A Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Serendipity rears its head in some awfully strange places. If you provide lettering for comic books, you get used to a lot of funky situations which call for sound effects. Planes crash. Jaws get broken. A man was hung at the end of a graphic novel and the writer, much against my own inclinations, insisted that i provide the sound of the condemned man’s bowels and bladder evacuating. You get used to it all.

But I’ll never forget lettering a strip some 16 years ago called “Adventures in the Rifle Brigade”. I think writer Garth Ennis got a little tired of the renewed appreciation for The Greatest Generation which came around the turn of the new millennium, celebrated by Tom Brokaw’s book, and of course Spielburg’s Saving Private Ryan. The Rifle Brigade was Ennis’ antidote to the Baby Boomer Generation’s recognition that our parents pretty much saved mankind. Nothing was sacred to Garth. The Rifle Brigade was a top secret team of commandos, reserved for only the most dangerous missions, invariably behind enemy lines. There was Hank the Yank, a taciturn American. There was Milk, a commando who managed to make it into the Brigade despite his penchant for the love that dare not say its name. There was the brigade leader, a stalwart super soldier with a stiff upper lip, but endearingly blind to the fact that Milk wanted to take their relationship to the next level. And there was the brigade’s secret weapon: The Piper, a surly Scotsman armed only with a set of bagpipes. I guess Garth didn’t like bagpipes. When the chips are down, The Piper is called into action. He need only play his bagpipes and the enemy goes into brain hemorrhage.

When this happened at the climax of the final issue and one of the Gestapo men surrounding our heroes yanked off his own head, I knew that it was unlikely that i’d ever again have an opportunity like this:

aaa_pull off your head.jpg

Looking back, I could do without the rather uninspired KLANG on the final panel. but that RRRTCHH was very important to me. I played with several ways of doing it, and finally settled on the old cliche of the sound effect itself getting ripped in half. i’ll try that one maybe once every five years. When it all went digital, I designed a sound effects font that would make the trick easy. But what you see here was all hand lettered.

I didn’t know until this morning that we’d lost artist Carlos Ezquerra a few months back. In addition to Rifle Brigade, I’d lettered various other projects illustrated by Carlos, most notably a Preacher graphic novel called “The Good Old Boys”, also written by Garth Ennis. I never got to meet Carlos, but he was a consummate pro, and it was always a privilege to get to work on his artwork. I think all of the projects, including Rifle Brigade, were done for DC’s horror imprint Vertigo. This was the Golden Age of Vertigo. It was all terrifically written stuff, if occasionally unnecessarily vulgar. It was always fun.

But it was this yank-off-your-head fight sequence that pretty defined the high point of the experience. My only regret here is that i wish the colorist had allowed the RRRTCHH to pop a little more clearly.

A lot of people have spent a lot of years lettering a lot of sound effects for a lot of comic books. But I may be the only one whose shoulders were touched for this particular motif. The moral of the story is watch out for opportunities when they knock. And if you know what’s good for you, stay the hell away from bagpipes.