Category Archives: Lettering/Fonts

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

Pulled From My Files 26: Supreme samples

WorldMadeNewImages © Rob Liefeld.

When I was lettering the Alan Moore issues of SUPREME, whenever I did some hand-lettering I thought I might want to use again, or at least refer to, I made a photocopy. My copier wasn’t the best, and sometimes, as above, the copies were dodgy, but good enough for reference.


This one I copied in case I had further use for this style for Squeak the Supremouse. The sound effect was a bonus. Leave it to Alan to sum up what I loved about super-animals like Mighty Mouse as a kid in one choice panel!

Pulled From My Files #25: THE KINDLY ONES


Images © DC Comics, Inc.

Here’s something I didn’t know I had until I uncovered it this week, the original title lettering for The Kindly Ones storyline in SANDMAN, running from issues 57 to 69 of the series.


When I used it, I assembled a reduced photocopy of the hand-lettering onto a frame, as seen here, adding the appropriate chapter number each time. I don’t recall how much of the art by Marc Hempel was sent to me for lettering, but it’s likely some pages were lettered on vellum overlays atop xerox copies of the art. In either case, I would have put the title block together first and pasted it onto either the penciled art or the overlay.


Here’s a larger scan with the words stacked so you can see it more clearly. It was penciled on DC art paper with a smooth or plate finish, probably a cover board, then inked with a technical drawing pen, I think probably a number 2.5 or 0.70mm size. When it was dry, I would have pointed the corners with a size 0  (.035mm) pen. The intent is to contrast the very euphemistic words with a style suggesting something creepy and dangerous, the characters themselves. I think it works well, if I do say so myself.



Images © Rob Liefeld.

I did lots of extra design work for the issues of SUPREME I worked on with Alan Moore writing for various artists. One assignment was to create a letter-column header similar to ones seen in most comics until the internet and email cut way back on actual fan letters. I’m not sure how many letters were coming to the editor of SUPREME, possibly the letter column was partly or completely written by Alan, but in any case, the idea was to give it a retro look, as with much of the SUPREME design work. I started by hand-lettering the column title and “Faithful Reader” as a return address, using Speedball dip-pens and a Faber-Castell TG-1 technical pen for the open lettering.


I scanned that and assembled this “letter” on my computer using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. “Via Suprememail” is one of my fonts with distressing to make it look rubber-stamped.


Finally I put the letter into a rectangular design containing a stream of letters flying toward Supreme’s flying headquarters, his “Citadel.” I indicated where to pick up the art for that from a previous issue, and that it would need art extension on the clouds. I don’t have a copy of the printed letter column, but it would have been colored and dropped onto the top of the letters page layout. In the old days on staff at DC, assembling letter columns was one of my production duties, this time I was able to pass that part on to someone else!