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My Plea For Hand-Lettering (Part 1)

Cartoonist, writer and two-fisted King of the Hoboes, Calamity Jon Morris offers a plea for hand-lettering in this hand-lettered webcomic.1

1 PriceWaterhouseCoopers has tabulated all of the votes and reports that the following webcomic is indeed, hand-lettered.


Jon Morris is the creator of the heartwarming and stomach-churning Ignatz-nominated webcomic about Doctor Frakenstein's youngest son, Jeremy: Just Turned Nine. He also has a collection of short and one-panel strips at Open Book, and collaborated on BOO!: Halloween Stories.

Doesn't scene matter at all?

Doesn't scene matter at all? I mean, not one of these panels shows a room, or location. Doesn't that make your panels generic? Why is scene less important than lettering?

C'mon now!

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

C'mon, this is a comic about lettering.

Your comment is about the same as listening to a physics lecture and complaining that it didn't teach you how to make a fruit salad.


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

i too prefer hand-lettering

i too prefer hand-lettering in a comic.

love the art too!

Whatever fits your

algeya's picture

Whatever fits your comic



Nothing much to say, other than:

IronSpike's picture

Oh, man. I totally agree 100 percent.


CalamityJon's picture

OH MAN LOTS OF COMMENTS!Thanks for reading and for giving our thoughts on this, folks - I'm currently on vacation and writing this response from a Burger King near the Empire State Building, and don't really have the time to reply to everyone just yet, but I'll be sure to when I get back home. Thanks again for getting a conversation going about this!



I'm amazed

...that you can actually letter with your hands! Sounds awfully messy. I always thought there were pens involved somehow. ;-P

The computer, like any tool, will be used differently in the hands of different people. There's good and bad digital lettering just like there's good and bad, pen lettering, you know.


We do both!

P-Frank's picture

I'm pretty anal about lettering in general. For our newspaper strips, we do hand lettering whereas with the online version we use digital lettering. Aesthetically I find the hand lettering more pleasing, but it's logistically sound for us to use digital in the comic that has much more text (we do pages as opposed to strips on our site) on top of the fact they come out more frequently than the newspaper ones.


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I really should do more

tynic's picture

I really should do more hand-lettered stuff. I get so anal-retentive about spacing and justification that it seems less of a headache to just do it digitally. But I do prefer the hand-drawn look.


Byrobot Dot Net

Aaah, hand-lettering ...

Aaah, hand-lettering ... doesn't that take you back? I'd say that, whilst there are always exceptions (especially for certain gag strips) in most cases, the argument for going back to hand lettering is right up there with the case for putting music on wax cylinders again.

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Bad analogy

Jon isn't arguing that we all go back to hand lettering for everything and his argument isn't as stupid as you make it out.

First, there are times for digital lettering. If you've got deadlines, huge amounts of text, or the perfect font to go with your art, then type away.

Jon's pointing out that if we all favor digital text instead of taking the time to draw our letters, then our work will start to look the same. Also, artists will lose their grasp on an important skill. If you don't maintain your ability to hand letter text, you run the risk of being unable to do a good street sign or billboard. You're not just hurting your characters' ability to speak, you're hurting their environment.

Second, your wax cylinder argument is absurd and you know it. Making a case for recording music on wax cylinders would be closer to arguing that comics should be drawn on clay tablets. Jon isn't saying that at all, so let's keep our arguments here in the real world, eh?

Probably kidding a bit there

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

A good rule of thumb is to pretend you're in a room talking with everyone else on the comment thread....

Wax cylinder (probably)= exaggeration for comic effect?


Xaviar Xerexes

On second thought, let's not go to Comixpedia. It is a silly place.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Thanks X. Good to see

Thanks X. Good to see someone here understands my sense of humour!

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

I don't appreciate people

I don't appreciate people putting down wax cylinders. If they're good enough for Murray K. Hill, then they're good enough for everyone.

But digital lettering doesn't really improve on hand lettering. It's easier for people who suck at doing it by hand(people like myself, though I hand letter anyways), but there's a huge difference between something being rendered obsolete or simply inconvenient/difficult.


<a xhref="" target=blank>Kiwis by beat!</a>

Strong Argument

Sean C's picture

I've been one to use the "terrible handwriting" excuse in the past. However, I found a font that I love and that works with my comic, so I'll stick with that. I used to hand letter my work back in my school paper days, and it really did seem to work better. But that was another comic - another situation.

Don't hesitate to procrastinate.

Don't hesitate to procrastinate. My brand new comic:

>>I've long sought for a

>>I've long sought for a font that would suit me, but I'm slowly coming round to the idea that it just doesn't exist.

You can have a font made from your lettering, if your lettering is fairly consistent. I know Bob Roberds ( ) does it that way. Because a font comes with both caps/lowercase, and because all most comics do is caps, you can have 2 versions of each letter.

OTOH, I try to vary the entire look of letters from instance to instance. And for someone like DC Simpson ( Ozy and Millie ), who makes lettering part of the art extremely well, a font is out of the question.

Yep, totally agree. *sigh* I

WillieHewes's picture

Yep, totally agree. *sigh* I mostly handletter, and I have to say it's a pain. I'd much prefer to just say 'screw this' and do it digitally, but I just don't like the way it looks. I've done it twice, for short comics, and for the first one got told: excellent story, but you should really handletter it. =.=; The second one, it kind of works for, but it could have been better handlettered.

Initially, I lettered into the page, that is, drew the letters on the same page the art was on. I started drawing the letters separately because I wanted to shrink the letters more than the art, and that has worked well for a while, but it increases the distance between letters and art. I kept forgetting to leave enough space for the letters, and that kind of thing.

Now I'm kinda thinking of going back to lettering into the page, or maybe on a sheet of tracing paper, so that I can see the letters in place while drawing them. It's an ongoing experiment.

I've long sought for a font that would suit me, but I'm slowly coming round to the idea that it just doesn't exist.

One thing I will say for digital lettering: it's much faster. For some who are on a tight updating schedule, I'm sure that's what matters most.


Comics by a girl who likes sad things (but sometimes they are funny) -

Comics by a girl who likes sad things (but sometimes they are funny) -

I completely agree.Although

I completely agree.

Although since I've made the conscious effort to consider the lettering as part of the art, and changed my lettering drastically about two years ago, I've gotten no positive comments and a few negative ones. So, you know, if you suck you still suck.

Agreed. A few weeks ago, I

grantcthomas's picture

Agreed. A few weeks ago, I looked over my work from this past year and realized that the computer fonts just didn't mesh with the artwork. I am now hand lettering my next comic and probably will continue to do so on future work. I am also treating the letters as drawing and my handwriting has improved greatly.

Plus you can play around with integrating the text into the images more. I've been toying with having the curly ends of cursive words wrap around the characters and turn into the panel borders and what not.



Jon you make a good point. I

Jon you make a good point. I would only play devils advocate here by saying that if we didn't treat digital fonts as if they were a solid unchangeable thing we would get better results.

I guess what I mean is if we would at the least remember that the lettering can be changed in size and shape we would find more attractive pages.


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