A Lettering Sampler © Todd Klein, 1993.
I arrived at my first San Diego Comic-Con in July of 1993 with this print to sell. It’s something of a diatribe in favor of hand lettering over type, but despite what the print says, I had been using computers for some time, just not for lettering. I’d worked with very primitive computers in a non-comics job in the early 1970s, and in 1984 bought a KayPro II primarily for writing. It had no graphics capability at all, but when I needed lettering that looked just like typing, I could print out and paste down type from it. I considered getting the first Apple Mac computer instead, but at the time didn’t think I would use it for graphics, and the KayPro was cheaper. Like other letterers, in the early 90s I’d been watching the development of comics fonts by David Cody Weiss, John Byrne and Richard Starkings with interest, and came to believe it was the wave of the future, and one I should be surfing myself. I met JG and Rich of Comicraft at that 1993 San DIego con, as well as other letterers like Bill Oakley, and discussions of computer fonts for lettering were rampant and sometimes heated. More on that later. Continue reading
Chris Eliopoulos, Michael Heisler and Jon Babcock, recent photos found online.
The gradually increasing presence of digital fonts on comics from many publishers was catching the attention of those who made their living hand lettering for the medium, and some responded by making fonts of their own. Image comics, particularly their WildStorm studio led by Jim Lee, were encouraging letterers to use fonts for their all-digital workflow by 1994. Marvel Comics, at first resistant to that idea, began following suit a few years later. In recent correspondence, Chris Eliopolous remembered:
My first font was made by someone else. My father knew this guy and he used Fontographer and made up a font based on my hand lettering. This was around 1991. I wasn’t totally happy with it, so I bought Fontographer and started playing with it myself. I eventually tweaked the font to something I could work with. Looking back now, it was absolutely horrible, but it worked well-enough. I think the first work I did on the computer was with WildStorm. Continue reading
Jeff Smith, 1991, photo from Wikimedia Commons.
Writer/artist Jeff Smith began creating BONE, his self-published comic in 1991. The art style was reminiscent of Walt Kelly’s POGO comic strip, but while the writing had lots of humor, it unfolded in a vast fantasy world more like that of J.R.R. Tolkien.
From BONE #1 cover dated July 1991, BONE © Jeff Smith.
Smith did everything on the comic including the lettering, which again was roughly in the style of Walt Kelly with lots of large display lettering for emphasis. Smith began falling behind his publishing deadlines, and one way he found to save a little time was to create fonts from his own hand lettering. Continue reading
John Byrne from 1992 and more recently, photos from Wikipedia Commons.
In 1990, writer/artist John Byrne added computer lettering to his tool set. Rather than use his own hand lettering to create fonts, Byrne worked with lettering by others. In a 2000 interview for Comic Book Resources, John said:
Getting a hand-lettering font for my computer was what really turned me into a letterer, full time. I’d lettered my work at Charlton, laboriously, the old fashioned way. By using a font and pasting in the lettering, I got not only better lettering than I could do, but an extra layer of control over the design of the panel and page. “Control” is the wrong word, really, as it has emotional baggage not applicable here, but it’s also the only word that seems to fit.
In recent correspondence, John said:
I think I used the lettering for the first time in NAMOR. The software I used was more antique than Fontographer, though. Fontastic was the name, if I recall correctly. Don’t recall there was a whole lot of process in front of actually using the fonts. I was eager to try them out as quickly as I could! I remember it took me a while to get the scale right! Continue reading
Like many aspects of publishing in 1980s, font creation was also undergoing radical changes at the time. The first commercially available digital fonts, like DigiGrotesk of 1968 (above) were the product of big firms like Linotype, and were made with machines and software that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By 1981-82 companies like Bitstream and Adobe were producing extensive catalogs of digital fonts, but it was the release of the program Fontastic by Altsys for the Mac in 1985 that first allowed desktop users to design their own fonts. Fontastic used only bitmap images to build fonts, which could be scanned on early Microtek desktop scanners from hand-drawn letters. As a result, fonts created by Mac users began to appear from all over, not just the big type companies. The designs ranged from elegant to awful, but the cost of font creation had plummeted, opening the door for plenty of new designers. Continue reading