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My Plea For Hand-Lettering (Part 2)

Cartoonist, writer and two-fisted King of the Hoboes, Calamity Jon Morris returns with the second part of his plea for hand-lettering (If you missed the first part click here first).

Hand Lettering?

Malach's picture

Dude, you ever see my penmanship skills? I am an artist not a calligrapher.

I like hand-lettered comics, but I won't do one...

Howard Tayler's picture

My own lettering is awful, and my process precludes hand-lettering. I need to be able to bang out a week of strips in one or two days sometimes, and hand-lettering would render that all but impossible.

At the very least, the learning curve would set me back several months.

Regardless, you make good points. I try to make sure that my choice of fonts fits the style of the strip, and that the text is always readable. It's definitely more readable than if I tried to hand-write it.

Schlock Mercenary

If I hand-lettered, there

The Gneech's picture

If I hand-lettered, there would never be any strips done, because lettering takes me so friggin' LONG that my hand is cramped up by the end.

I'll keep my digital letters, and thus keep putting out strips, thank you!

Plus, my hand-lettering is ugly as sin anyhow. Trust me, "Anime Ace" is better for your eyes and my carpal tunnel syndrome.

-TG

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Great set of articles

Delos's picture

Great set of articles and comments.



And I'll chime in here. I think most readers prefer hand lettering but it's just so much easier to do it digitally. For some reason, when I hand-lettered my first comics, it garbled when I shrank it down for the web. After reading this, I might give it another try. Time to break out that Ames lettering guide, eh?



I've also been musing about speech balloons and wondering why (especially print) comics have someone draw a bunch of background stuff that they know will be covered over by the balloons. It seems so much more elegant, with respect to flow of action, to designate the speech bubbles as you draw. That's what I'm doing and I just don't understand why, as a rule, it's done separately.



I'm sure there are some benefits to doing it the other way but I just can't imagine what. (And I know that someday, when I'm published and actually know what I'm talking about, I'll regret having said that.)



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Confident Comics

Fabricari's picture

It seems that hand-lettering requires and reflects a comic creator's confidence. I wish I had the confidence to hand-letter. How many times do I create pages by the seat of my pants? Hell, some stories are draw before I even have a script. That's certainly not a good thing. I'll have to keep these things in mind. Even if I stick with digital lettering, I can at least try to emulate more of what makes hand lettering feel so inviting.

It's funny, I don't recall digital lettering becoming acceptible until the mid-nineties. The very first digitally lettered mainstream comics looked so gaudy. In a way, the comic-reading culture has become conditioned to digital lettering as the norm, now.

How much time is lost from drawing a background then covering it up with bubbles? I'd wager that I'd break even on productivity if I hand lettered.

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison

The problem with an article

The problem with an article like this is that it appears to link totally unrelated ideas, thereby implying that - because one is true - the other must also be valid.

The specific shortcomings mentioned can indeed all be symptomatic of poor lettering (and often are). But they are crimes of which both hand and digital letterers can be equally guilty and therefore do not support the argument that hand-lettering is somehow better.

The reality is, if you letter well (by which I mean choosing an appropriate font or fonts, ensuring the copy is legible, positioning balloons and captions so that they obscure as little of the artwork as possible and support the flow of the story rather than leading the reader in the wrong direction etc), then it really makes no difference whether the lettering is rendered digitally or by hand. It's simply a matter of preference.

There. And not a single mention of wax-cylinders anywhere.Wink

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

I think you just summarized

CalamityJon's picture

I think you just summarized the article.

Sure. I'm agreeing

Sure. I'm agreeing with most of the individual points made in the article. Absolutely.

My point is more about the presentation and the way it changes tack. To reflect the point being made, it would be more appropriate to title it "My plea for competent lettering" (since the points made actually support that) rather than "My Plea for Hand-Lettering" (which they don't necessarily).

The article acknowledges that these are not the same but, by being grouped under the "My Plea for Hand-Lettering" title, it implies that they are. That's really all I was trying to say.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

I hand-letter because I am obsessive compulsive...

Klio's picture

I hand-letter, which feels right for both the journal comic and the comic set in a time when scribes ruled the world and determined the fates of nations and gods, and also read your mail for you. I'm not professionally perfect, I make mistakes that need correcting with whiteout or digitally, but I'm happy with it.

I digitised a few versions of my hand-lettering using Fontifier's service, but even though they were my own letters, they came across looking too regular; they lost the feeling that the words were part of the art, changing even in subtle ways to the scene or the dialogue (a tiny bit smaller, ortighter, or italicised, or what have you). Sometimes the change in style is intentional, sometimes it's a mistake, sometimes it's completely spontaneous.

But then, I've spent my whole life being completely obsessive-compulsive about my handwriting, and even as a little kid didn't understand why all my friends didn't have tidy lettering. I'm sure it was because I approached learning to write the same way as learning to draw--letters as not only a tool, but also as having aesthetic value in being clean and purty.

Or, I wasn't getting enough vitamins.

I like this column!I

I like this column!

I switched between computer and hand-lettering a lot over the years. Finally settled on hand-lettering for good a couple years ago. I knew there was a reason I preferred it, but it was hard to explain with words.

I feel the same way, that's

CalamityJon's picture

I feel the same way, that's why I drew it!

Words are HARD!

words!

They certainly are!

Since I tend to do a lot of typing, I suppose I could see myself using typed words rather readily if I did comics. On the other hand, I tend to read a lot of manga in addition to my usual webcomics, and so perhaps I've always known the impact lettering can have (it's why a lot of translations don't translate the sound effects directly, they are literally splashed across the pages as part of the art).

Just thought I'd give that example, since I can't read kanji and I haven't seen the 'raw' forms of a lot of the japanese comics I read, I don't know how the lettering would come across in the bubbles; from what I know though the comics are done totally by hand though. another example/reference to add.

Yep.

I use display fonts flagrantly. No plans to stop.

I will FIND you!

CalamityJon's picture

I will FIND you!

What are display fonts, and

What are display fonts, and why are they bad for dialogue?

Computer letterers need to the rules of typography!

Gordon McAlpin's picture

Display fonts are pretty much any font that aren't sans serif or serif fonts.

The main reason they're bad is that they're not very legible at small sizes. Even if they are legible, they're an aesthetic nightmare, because they visually compete with the art and with each other (if you're using more than one in a comic) for your eye. That's NOT what you want lettering to do. Lettering, with few exceptions (for emphasis, say), should be relatively inobtrusive.

Some webcartoonists say, "But I want to distinguish my characters!" Well, then subtly vary the coloration and/or balloon style à la Sandman. Todd Klein used SLIGHTLY different letterforms for a handful of characters (Desire, for instance), not every one. Don't use a different display font for EVERY CHARACTER!

By the way, Jon. You're not supposed to use the I with crossbar for anything other than the word "I"... ;)

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

"By the way, Jon. You're not

CalamityJon's picture

"By the way, Jon. You're not supposed to use the I with crossbar for anything other than the word "I"... ;) "

 

Try 'n STOP ME!

(Wait, where'd I use it? I can't see it! Also, it's past midnight and I'm a little ... well, okay, I'm a little drunk. Give the man some credit, he's got a rep to maintain...)

Panel 5. You only do it in

Gordon McAlpin's picture

Panel 5. You only do it in the first balloon spoken by the Zounds guy, I think.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

Ah, well, that would be a

CalamityJon's picture

Ah, well, that would be a digital font...

The "lowercase" i letterform

Gordon McAlpin's picture

The "lowercase" i letterform doesn't have the crossbars. You use that elsewhere in the strip.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

Eye-catching fonts can

Eye-catching fonts can sometimes be legitimately part of the message. I'm thinking of P.T and Deacon in Walt Kelly's Pogo, and Llewellyn in Ozy and Millie: exotic larger-than-life characters with strong (though hand-drawn) "fonts" fitting their personalities and lifestyles. Those are extreme cases, I know, and work well because they stand out against the plain lettering of the other characters. But I'll stand up for sensible disciplined use of fancy fonts when they're appropriate. (As for Sandman, I'd say Dream's white-on-black speech was as unobtrusive as a Tellytubby in a nunnery. Poor guy had no talent for blending in.)

I think you're absolutely

CalamityJon's picture

I think you're absolutely right here, and I definitely stand behind your specific examples, no doubt about it.

That being said, I think both of those examples are hand-lettered. The thing I'm concerned about with the use of digital display fonts is the sort-of "candy store" mentality a lot of cartoonists end up developing when it comes to choosing a digital font for their work - they pick what are essentially "the neatest" fonts, not the most readable, or most artistically appropriate, or what-have-you, and the end result is something that effectively resembles the first problematic example I mentioned; the disparate quality of art and lettering...

And man, the lettering in Sandman; Todd Klein, wasn't it? The man is a genius when it comes to lettering styles, but the low print quality of the early Vertigo publications just made his efforts look like alphabetic oatmeal...

Display fonts are fine if

Gordon McAlpin's picture

Display fonts are fine if used in moderation. Not for EVERY! SINGLE! LETTER! It's the typographical equivalent of shouting all the time.

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

More! More!

Gordon McAlpin's picture

More! More!

Multiplex is a twice weekly humor comic about the staff of the Multiplex 10 Cinemas and the movies that play there.

Actually, I may be done with

CalamityJon's picture

Actually, I may be done with this topic! Next time: Why I hate it when people just assume I'm gonna enjoy "Heroes" on NBC ...

You're done?

Tony Esteves's picture

You only break hearts, Calamity. Hearts and possibly minds too.

-tony

-tony