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

Incoming: 75 YEARS OF MARVEL

MarvelTaschenImages © Marvel.

YEESH! This fershlugginer book is gigantic, and it comes in a cardboard carrying case with built in plastic handle that’s even bigger! The book is 12 by 16 inches, and 3 inches thick. I’m not sure how I’m going to read it, it weighs over 14 pounds. In small amounts, I imagine! I was asked to submit a design for the cover titles, but Taschen went with something else, so my only involvement is a few small year titles on the included but separate Marvel timeline:

MarvelTimelineThis one folds out five times to 55 inches wide! Cat for scale. I appreciate Taschen sending it to me, but I have no idea where I will have room to put it! A quick look through the book reveals all kinds of over-the-top design extras like foil printing and heavy cardstock on some pages. Who knew, when I was buying those cheap, poorly printed comics in the early 1960s it would come to this? Not me, that’s for sure!