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COMPUTER LETTERING, continued

So, from its advent in the late 1980s to the present, comics lettering on the computer has been gradually replacing nearly all hand-lettering of comics. Here's another early example of my computer lettering, this time for some DC Comics covers.

DC Cover lettering

©DC Comics, Inc.

The traditional method for DC to acquire lettering for a cover was to first make a Xerox copy of the cover and the script (what the lettering should say), get it by Fedex or physical pick-up to the cover letterer, usually Gaspar Saladino or myself, who would then do the lettering and physically bring it to DC to be shown for approval. If the lettering was approved, it was photostatted to the correct size and pasted onto the cover art in DC's production department. Turnaround time for this process was usually a week.

As I began to produce cover lettering on my computer in 1995, I was already saving DC some steps and time. They could now fax me the cover image and script, and I could fax back a printout of the computer lettering for approval, usually the next day. When approved, I could email the lettering graphic file to DC, where they could print it out, photostat it and paste it on the art. Cover lettering could now be completed in two days if necessary. A few years later, as DC began to scan their cover art and produce digital files for their cover work, the lettering graphics could be applied digitally, saving even more time. Cover lettering could now be obtained and completed in a matter of a few hours. You can see why this method brought most of DC's cover lettering my way in the late 90s. And for me, creating effects such as the open lettering, curved lettering and drop shadows seen above, were much quicker on the computer than doing it by hand. Once the basic letter forms were created, variations were simple.

The same principles applied to creating logo designs on the computer. Where before each different version of a logo I wanted to present to a client had to be drawn from scratch, on the computer variations were much easier to produce, as in the samples below.

Kid Supreme logos

©Rob Liefeld, Extreme Studios

Certainly some of the spontenaity of hand-drawn sketches was lost, but the time savings was immense. And these "sketches" were often approved as final logos, where before any sketch had to be carefully and laboriously copied in india ink on plastic vellum to produce a final logo. Computer logos were a big time-saver, but did lead to some excesses, as I played around with color, gradients, and special effects, as in the rather overblown example below.

Age of Marvels logo

©Marvel Comics

For lettering comics pages, the computer has some distinct advantages and some disadvantages. Lettering SANDMAN on the computer, for instance, would have been a nightmare, because every time Neil Gaiman wanted a new lettering style for a character, I'd have to create a new font, a very time-consuming process. For a book like, say, CAPTAIN AMERICA, where the need for lots of styles is absent, the computer can be quite a timesaver. Over the years I've tried to develop a library of fonts that will serve in most situations without becoming stale, and now that nearly all the work I'm doing is on the computer, I've gotten comfortable with that, though I still enjoy the challenge of hand-lettering on those rare occasions when I'm asked to. While there are now many advantages for computer lettering for the comics companies, there are still comics artists who would prefer to have the lettering on their pages. First, it would save them some drawing time (not having to draw where you KNOW a big caption will be), same for the inkers. Second, comics tell a story, and a page of comics art without the lettering is only half the story. Selling a page of comics art with lettering is usually easier for that reason. So, there are still some hand-lettering holdouts, but they're dwindling fast against the rising tide of digital convenience.

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All text and images ©Todd Klein, except as noted. All rights reserved.

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