Category Archives: Lettering/Fonts

Lettering Placements

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Images © DC Comics, Inc., except as noted.

I’ve written about balloon placement in my book, The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics and also on my website. When I started in comics, lettering was laid out on the art by the penciller, at least at DC Comics. Artists like Curt Swan would pencil in all the dialogue so he and the letterer would both know where everything should go, and that it would fit. The Marvel style of comics creation spearheaded by Stan Lee started to change that. Marvel artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko would lay out an entire story from a plot, and Stan would write the dialogue afterward. This was fine with experienced artists, but later ones using the plot-first system didn’t always have a good handle on how much space to leave for lettering, and the situation has only gotten worse since then. Today many letterers are expected to do their own lettering placements, and often have a tough time of it. Newer comics writers and artists who don’t really understand the medium and how it tells stories both contribute to the problem. The writer will try to do too much in one panel: multiple actions, back and forth dialogue. Artists struggle with that, and also make basic storytelling mistakes like having the first character speaking on the right side of the panel instead of the left, or filling the panel with large close views of character heads, leaving no room for dialogue balloons.

I have to say I’ve often been lucky enough to work with writers and artists who understand comics, and what I need to do my part of the job. Here are a few examples. Above, two panels from DC’s DEAD BOY DETECTIVES. Artist Mark Buckingham does layouts in pencil, and often lightly indicates where lettering should go. Either the editor or assistant editor marks up a copy of the pencils with clear marker indications for placement, usually following Mark’s lead. The storytelling is clear, so when I get the finished art by Ryan Kelley I rarely have trouble fitting the lettering in where requested, though I will move it around if I need to, as in the second panel above. Continue reading

SPEEDBALL TEXT BOOK 14TH EDITION Part 8

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Images © Ross F. George estate and/or Hunt Manufacturing Co.

Continuing my commentary on this 1941 lettering and design handbook. Previous chapters can be found under the “Lettering/Fonts” category tag on the right side of this blog page.

Ross F. George was a master with the Speedball pens he helped design, and this alphabet is full of appealing bounce and humor. It also looks quite old-fashioned to me now, though in 1941 it was probably right up to date. I particularly like the capital S. Continue reading

Pulled From My Files #23: The Spider’s Web

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If you remember when nearly all comics had letter-columns, you’ll know that they needed a header with the column title (usually something relating to the book title or a pun version of it), and the address where readers could send their letters. I did a number of letter-column headers for both DC and Marvel, and this is one of the latter, for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in 1994, utilizing my revamped Spider-Man logo in the title. I did new headers for all the Spider-Man books at that time, just as my pointy logo appeared on all of them.

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Here’s a closer look at the fine print, all hand-lettered. The style of the larger lettering is highly influenced by Gaspar Saladino, my favorite letterer. I’m surprised at the abbreviation “SO.” for South, I don’t recall seeing that anywhere else.

Email has replaced nearly all mailed letters now, and internet message boards and social media have replaced letter-columns. Even when I was on staff at DC (1977-87) the amount of letters coming in to a particular title was quite small. It was often a challenge to find enough good ones to put together the letter-column every month. Some editors (or usually assistant editors) were forced to make up letters to fill the page. I don’t know how much communication there is now, but at least the editors, writers and artists can tap into it pretty easily with a web search. I know I enjoyed reading the letters that came in about the comics I wrote back in the day, even when they were negative.

SPEEDBALL TEXT BOOK 14TH EDITION Part 7

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Images © estate of Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing.

Continuing my look at the 1941 edition of this lettering how-to booklet, on these pages George takes us back to the beginnings of the Roman alphabet as we know it. By placing each letter on a five-by-five line grid, and also showing the angle he used to work out the thick and thin variations of the strokes on some of the circular sections, he’s made it easy for anyone to reproduce these letters much larger. Simply prepare a much larger grid and sketch out the black areas in each section. It’s a time-honored way of transferring small things to large surfaces reasonably accurately, before computers. Note that, while based on the Trajan Column letters, his forms have softer and more rounded serifs and corners.

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The name Triple Stroke says it all in this classy use of round-tipped pen points to create decorative letters with a New Orleans flair to my eye. At the smaller size it’s still easily readable, too.

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Here’s a very elaborately decorated open letter style with a Circus feel. It might also look nice on a party invitation. Rather hard to read, so something you would use sparingly.

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George calls this Stunt Roman signifying that he considers it a lettering equivalent of showing off or performing for the crowd. The letter forms are very stylish, Art Deco in the extreme. I like it, though again would use it sparingly. There’s a font called University which is clearly based on this.

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A patriotic style that works well for these large letters, the thin strokes would disappear at smaller sizes.

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These alphabets use the idea of wobble, adding a rough or crude look by making all the strokes uneven in random ways. It’s an idea I used often when lettering comics, though not in these specific styles. “Western Letters” suggests the crudeness of signs in the Old West, I guess, though I’ve never seen anything like it in real Old West imagery.

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The final page in this post is full of contrasts. On the left is a stylish condensed Art Deco alphabet that I like, though the strokes are a bit thin. On the right is an experiment in tone and rounded shapes that I find almost unreadable and rather ugly. Well, they can’t all be winners! More next time.