Category Archives: Creating Comics

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 4

JohnByrneTwiceJohn 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

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 3

digi_grotesk_n_bold_condensed_characters_96920Like 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.

FontasticPlusBy 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

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 2

charlton_vari-typerImage from the website of Mark Simonson.

Some time in the 1950s Charlton Publications bought this or a similar model of Vari-Typer, a machine designed for small businesses to set their own type. It worked like a typewriter, and employed a single-use carbon ribbon that left a very clean impression on paper as large as 13 inches wide. The machine could hold two fonts on the central “Type Shuttle,” and many interchangeable fonts were available from Vari-Typer. In an article about Charlton In COMIC BOOK ARTIST #9, author Christopher Irving writes:

One unique aspect of the Action Hero books was in the lettering, often credited to “A. Machine.” In reality, the rather constipated lettering was done on a large comic-font typewriter called the typositor machine.

“Pat Masulli designed a comic typeface for a large typewriter,” [artist Frank] McLaughlin said. “The comic pages would fit in the typewriter and the copy would be typed right on the artwork. The results were a complete disaster that caused many more problems than it solved. It was a typical attempt to cut corners, but the finished product suffered greatly.”

Thanks to Scott Dutton who wrote about this on his blog. I think Irving has the Typositor machine (which produced large type for titles on a roll of photographic paper) confused with the Vari-Typer, but the idea of someone at Charlton having a font made for the Vari-Typer brings us a step closer to the perennial wish of being able to create comics lettering by typing. Pat Masulli was a comics artist who had begun working for Charlton in 1950 as a colorist, but by 1955 he was the executive editor. I think it’s likely he created the font for the Vari-Typer some time in the mid to late 1950s. Continue reading

The Rise of Digital Lettering, Part 1

The-US-ConstitutionSince the invention of written language, people have tried to find ways to reproduce it more quickly than the age-old method of copying with pen in hand. Writing is made of alphabets or glyphs that repeat in a myriad of combinations. The quest was to reproduce those glyphs reliably to order without having to create each one anew. This seven part series will explore that quest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALeft, replica of the Gutenberg printing press. Right, the Sholes-Glidden Typewriter, the first commercially available model.

The first attempt was the printing press, and as that evolved, it gradually replaced the creators of hand-lettered book manuscripts —often monks in monasteries — with a new technology. Many things still needed to have hand-made copies, though, as in the case of the U.S. Constitution, above, lettered by Jacob Shallus, and many other kinds of legal documents. In the early 1800s the job of “engrosser,”  “penman,”  “scrivener,”  or “copyist” was filled by legions of such letterers keeping records of all kinds for businesses, courts, and governments. The invention of the typewriter began to gradually replace those jobs with typists in the later 1800s as commercially successful machines were released. By 1900 or so, the majority of written documents were being typed rather than hand-copied. This undoubtedly put many scriveners out of work and was probably a source of tumult and outcry at the time. Continue reading

Julie Schwartz and SUPERMAN 411


Images © DC Comics, Inc.

On Friday, June 19th, writers Paul Kupperberg and Peter Sanderson both commemorated what would have been the 99th birthday of long-time DC editor Julius Schwartz on Facebook. Peter included the cover above, (this copy signed by Julie himself) the first time I’d seen it in decades. It came out in 1985. I had a hand in the production of the comic, which celebrated Julie’s life on the cover and inside. The entire issue was produced secretly. Julie was the Superman editor and was working on an entirely different story that he thought was going in issue 411.

Meanwhile, writer Elliot S! Maggin and penciller Curt Swan were crafting this tale of an alternate universe where Superman was real, and so was Julie, though his life had taken a very different course. When the story was lettered by John Costanza and inked by Murphy Anderson, it came to me. I was the Assistant Production Manager at DC then, still doing lots of hands-on stuff. I took the pages home to do all the needed production work on the issue: corrections, art touch-ups, pasting in logos and so on. I didn’t dare work on it in the office. Julie was a very involved editor, and he might have popped by the production room to check on his books at any time. I’m not sure who penciled the cover, it was certainly inked by Dick Giordano, who might have also penciled it. When it was ready, I took that home too, doing the cover lettering (top line above the logo, word balloon and UPC box lettering for the direct sale edition), pasted on the trade dress (logo, price box, DC bullet) and everything was photostatted or xeroxed for the colorists, probably Tatjana Wood on the cover and Gene D’Angelo on the interior pages. Finally everyone approved the finished work, and it went off to the printer with Julie none the wiser, though there were some close calls I think.

As Julie remembers in his book “Man of Two Worlds,”:

“So comes the day [of his 70th birthday], and all of a sudden publisher Jenette Kahn’s administrative assistant Carol Fein comes in and says we’re having a special meeting in the conference room. I probably fretted as I walked down the hall wondering what the latest crisis was—and walked into the conference room to discover champagne on ice and Jenette handing me the first copy of SUPERMAN #411, and I see that I am depicted on the cover.” Continue reading