Aside from comics, anyone who follows creator Joe Caramagna on Twitter probably associates him with donuts and/or hockey.
I first became aware of Joe Caramagna back in 2010 when he reached a spectacular milestone lettering 100 consecutive issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Considering the 3x a month schedule during “Brand New Day,” not an easy feat! I’m proud to say that I have all those issues signed by him. After getting to know him both professionally and personally did I gain a greater appreciation of the work of letterers but also Caramagna himself, not just as a letterer but as a writer as well.
Though he still letters some of Marvel’s most prominent titles, Caramagna’s career as a writer has risen considerably in the last few years, with Caramagna now working on some of Disney’s biggest licensed properties most notably IDW’s current DuckTales book based on the hit cartoon reboot.
During New York Comic Con, Caramagna was kind enough to take the time to let me interview him at this table in Artist Alley. We talk his career trajectory into bother lettering and writing and his love of all things Disney as it relates to his current projects.
Taimur Dar: Take us through your comics career journey beginning when you were a student at the Kubert School.
Joe Caramagna: I was definitely planning on being an artist at first. It definitely did not work out that way. It was always my dream to draw comics because Todd MacFarlane was my hero. I went to the Joe Kubert School and from there I learned how to letter comics. I learned from the great Hy Eisman who’s a comic strip artist. He drew Popeye for many years. And from there I got an internship at Marvel doing lettering. I could never make it as an artist but that’s sort of where my career trajectory went. Because the Joe Kubert School forces all first year students to take a lettering class I ended up here.
Dar: Even though you focus primarily on writing in addition to lettering, do you still have some drawing skills today?
Caramagna: I don’t know if I ever had great drawing abilities but my storytelling was always much better than my draftsmanship so I guess that’s where the writing came from. I did always write stories as a kid. I was always a better storyteller than a draftsman so I can tell a story through pictures but I couldn’t draw a cool Spider-Man or anything like that.
When I was a letterer at Marvel I just kept pitching stuff because I knew that I also wanted to write. I could never make it as an artist. But when I do write I draw layouts on a sheet of paper sometimes to make sure it works on the page. I do draw a little bit and I still use that storytelling ability.
Dar: What was your first published comic as a writer?
Caramagna: I wrote an issue of the Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four. It was pretty much a fill-in because a writer didn’t deliver on a script and the editor, Nate Cosby, in a panic called me on a Friday night and asked if I could deliver a script by Monday. I wasn’t going to say no so I did it and that’s where it started. It kind of picked up from there.
Dar: In the last few years you’ve done a lot of writing on various Disney related property like the DuckTales comic for IDW and the upcoming Wreck-it Ralph graphic novel for Dark Horse. How did writing for Disney comics come about?
Caramagna: When Disney bought Marvel, they took a couple of people over to Disney and to California like Marvel Studios and Marvel Animation. And they just called me up based on the stuff I was doing at Marvel like the all-ages books. They knew that it was a good fit for me. My friend Manny Mederos is an art director for Disney and he needed some scripts for some projects. He called me up asking if I would be interested and of course I said yes.
I was always a Disney fan, almost as much as a Marvel fan. I love Disney. I’m a Disney freak! I go to Disney World every year, so I was all in.
Dar: As the writer for the DuckTales tie-in comic can I assume you’ve seen entire first season?
Caramagna: I have seen the first season. I’ve actually seen some of Season 2, and I say can’t anything else.
Dar: I’m sure working on a licensed property comes with unique challenges not to conflict with the ongoing series. Have you pitched stories that were rejected because it contradicted the show or any similar reason?
Caramagna: All the time. It’s very common. I don’t know about the other writers and what their experience is but it feels like almost every story I come up with, “Oh, they’re doing it in the show.” and I’m like, “No!” [Laughs]
It’s really difficult to think of something that these guys who are brilliant didn’t already think of. It’s a great challenge. But they review all the scripts and they let me know what the deal is with everything. Like I said, I’ve seen some of Season 2, so I know what’s coming up a little bit. Not everything but I can plan my stories accordingly. Like use some of those characters from Season 2 or stay away from certain things.
When you’re working in licensed comics there’s always a lot of notes from people whose job it is to protect these properties.
Dar: What exactly is the nature of the Wreck-it Ralph Dark Horse project—is it a prequel to the upcoming movie or an adaptation?
Caramagna: They’re calling it a prequel but it’s not REALLY a prequel. It’s a story that takes place within the movie but it’s early on in the movie so I guess that’s where they get the prequel part.
I haven’t seen footage aside from that Princess scene that’s been going around the internet which I love. But I read the screenplay. What you read in the book doesn’t happen in the movie. It’s not an adaptation let’s leave it at that.
Dar: I see you’re sporting a Three Caballeros shirt. I’m sure you’ve heard about the Legend of the Three Caballeros cartoon that’s only aired outside the States but has been uploaded online. Don’t suppose you’ve seen any of it?
Caramagna: I have not seen any footage of that, but here’s a little DuckTales trivia for ya! I was working on a Mickey/Donald/Goofy project for Disney that got canned. Then they said, “We have this new Three Caballeros series we’re working on and we’d like you to write the comics.” I read some scripts and stuff and then they told me the deal that it wasn’t going to be released for whatever reason. So they cancelled the Three Caballeros comic as well. But then they asked, “Would you mind writing DuckTales instead?” And I’m like, “What?! Would I mind!?!”
So it’s funny, it started as a Three Caballeros project that turned into DuckTales. I’m so happy that they’re going to be in the new DuckTales series. That makes me happy and I hope to exploit that in future comic book stories. [Laughs]
Dar: Since you’re an unabashed hockey fan, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if you happen to play hockey at all.
Caramagna: I played when I was younger. Not very well! [Laughs]. Not for a proper team but there were a bunch of us that got together and formed a team. I played a little bit, mostly street hockey because my skating was terrible. I was much better at street hockey than ice hockey.
Dar: To wrap it all up, any other upcoming projects that readers should be aware of?
Caramagna: I think you named them all. DuckTales is a monthly series from IDW. I don’t write every single story but I do write quite a bit of them. Also Disney’s Frozen: Breaking Boundaries from Dark Horse. Ralph Breaks the Internet Click Start will be out December 4th. The movie is out in November.
Taimur Dar is the Digital Media Producer and Marketing Expert for the Beat. He has earned a master’s degree in marketing intelligence from Fordham University and has provided branding strategies for various companies and organizations. His name is pronounced like the first two syllables of “tomorrow” in case you were wondering.