Category Archives: Creating Comics

Lettering Tips for Comics Writers

Image © Marvel.

This morning a writer I’m working with asked me if I had any tips for comics writers from a letterer’s point of view. This is something I’m rarely asked, but of course a few things did come to mind. I’m sure I could think of more, and probably will later, but this is what emerged in a half hour or so.

The big one is to write economically, and don’t describe what the art is already showing. Leave room for the art, this is not a novel.
Use of double dash (- -) and ellipsis (…): double dash (replacing an em-dash in regular type) is for an interruption of some kind, ellipsis is for a pause or unfinished sentence. Where one is at the end of a piece of dialogue that continues, it should also be at the beginning of the continuation.
Inner dialogue captions (where we used to employ thought balloons) do not need quotes. Quoted dialogue by someone off-camera does, but you only need an opening quote for multiple captions in a sequence until the final one, which gets a close quote. If such running captions are interrupted by dialogue, I close quote before that.
Spell out numbers up to twenty (thirty, forty, fifty, etc. is optional), use the actual numbers above twenty.
Symbols like % should generally be spelled out in dialogue if possible.
If you are going to emphasize words, make them Bold Italic. With emphasized words, less is more. Read dialogue out loud to find the correct emphasis points, but don’t overdo it. Some emphasis is recommended in large balloons or captions to help break up the large areas of lettering and make them easier to read.
Things to consider that will make your letterer happy: 
Don’t end a dialogue balloon with a very long word that can’t be hyphenated easily. Example: ecclesiastically.
Don’t write characters that repeat things a lot. Yes, there are people who do that, but it’s annoying. I say, it’s annoying, son, annoying, and it takes up too much space. This goes double for stuttering!
If you can, I recommend following in the footsteps of Alan Moore by doing thumbnail layouts with lettering placements of your comics pages yourself. You don’t have to be a great artist to do this, and it will help you understand visual storytelling and balloon placement. Of course, your artist and letterer may have other ideas, but it will give you a better concept of what works and what doesn’t. Remember that lettering is read left to right, then down and left to right again, generally, within a panel, across a row of panels, and over an entire page. Lettering should form a natural flow for the eye across the page. See my website article on balloon placement.
Finally, try to avoid calling for special lettering styles unless they are really needed to understand the story or express a unique characteristic of your cast. In some cases your letterer may decide to volunteer some special styles, but this is an area that is often overdone, and when it is it can make storytelling less clear and reading more difficult. (Yes, yes, I know, SANDMAN, but the exception proves the rule!)
ADDED: I forgot an important one brought to my attention by Chris Eliopolous. Writers should not treat the lettering as a first draft that will go through one or more rewrites, making extra unpaid work for the letterer. This is a growing problem from newer writers and editors who don’t understand the fact that letterers are generally only paid once. Respect that.

The Danny Crespi Files Part 13

This and all images © Marvel.

Continuing my ongoing series about the cover lettering of Danny Crespi at Marvel Comics, mostly from 1974-1979. Photocopies of saved cover lettering from Danny’s files were compiled into a collection by letterer and friend Phil Felix during the 1980s when he worked with Danny on staff at Marvel, and Phil sent me copies. This time I’ll look at pages 49 (above) through 52. Several of these are by Gaspar Saladino: “Brain Parasites,” “Raid on Samisdat’s Island” and “150th Anniversary Issue.” Possibly also “Danger Room Operational.” The rest are by Danny Crespi. Sources follow. Continue reading

Jack Kirby’s 100th!

Image © DC Entertainment.

Today would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. I loved his work, though didn’t recognize the earliest examples I saw as a child, on DC’s CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN. When I discovered the Marvel superheroes around 1962, I loved his work there on FANTASTIC FOUR, THOR, X-MEN, AVENGERS and more, and he and Steve Ditko, along with Stan Lee, made me a Marvel Comics fan, as I left staid DC behind for a few years. When Kirby came to DC with his Fourth World titles like NEW GODS, MISTER MIRACLE, and THE FOREVER PEOPLE, I was happy to return for them to that company, and loved Jack’s work there, too.

I have two personal Kirby stories. Around 1975 I saw him at an New York comics convention surrounded by fans and admirers, holding court in the dealer’s room, or nearby. I enjoyed listening to his comments and stories, but was too shy to speak to him.

In 1984, Jack was back at DC to oversee the deluxe reprinting of his NEW GODS series from the early 70s. Jack was visiting the offices, and I was told to come in to talk to him. He asked me to design a new logo for NEW GODS, something reminiscent of the original, but new, modern and exciting. The one above is what I did, and he said he liked it. I was thrilled.


Mr. and Mrs. Harry Donenfeld, 1954

Comics Historian Steven Thompson has turned up this photo of the Donenfelds from The Honolulu Advertiser, July 1954. The accompanying article has Donenfeld commenting on the then-current crackdown on crime and horror comics led by Dr. Frederic Wertham. Harry, of course, says he’s against that kind of trash, and doesn’t publish any of it, which is essentially true of his comic books, but he had a long history of just that kind of thing in his pulp magazine empire of the 1930s and 40s. That had died out by 1954, though.

What interests me most about the article is the photo. This is by far the best one I’ve seen of Harry’s wife Gussie. Born Gussie Weinstein, she was a few years younger than Harry, and they married in 1917. Here’s what Gerard Jones writes about her in his book, “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book.” Jones:

“[Harry] needed a helpmeet, a money manager, someone to bear him children and give him respectability. He met her in the Seward Park Public Library…her name was Gussie Weinstein, and she’d arrived from Russia only a few years before. She was hardheaded and practical, intent on moving up in the word; she studied business skills when she could afford the time….she was just what Harry needed.”

Gussie is seen above with the traditional flower necklaces given to arriving steamship passengers in Hawaii, suggesting this was a typical tourist photo of the trip. Honolulu reporters may have covered arriving guests to see who might provide a story.

Here’s a woman in the 1945 National (DC) Comics Christmas Party photo I had tentatively identified as Gussie Donenfeld based on her clothes, which suggested “boss’s wife” to me, and the fact that she’s standing not far from Harry. You can read that article HERE. They look like the same person to me. There’s even a similar uneven mouth position. This kind of suggests Gussie may have had a stroke, but could also just be the way her mouth worked. In any case, it’s great to get confirmation of my earlier guess and put a face to the name of the wife of DC Comics’ owner (or co-owner) Harry Donenfeld.

Photos of H.G. Peter, Wonder Woman co-creator

If you search for photos of Wonder Woman’s first artist and co-creator, Harry G. Peter, the one you are most likely to find is this one, a publicity photo from the All-Star Comics offices, around 1940, showing William Moulton Marston (seated left) Harry G. Peter (standing left), editor Sheldon Mayer, and publisher M.C. (Max) Gaines. When I was researching the early DC offices and employees, this was the only one I could find. (This version was tweaked by Paul Guinan, there are many versions out there of poorer quality.)

In June of this year, Jackie Estrada posted on Facebook that she was searching for a photo of Peter to use at this year’s Eisner Awards in San Diego, as Peter was being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Many people tried and found nothing new, but Alex Johnson came up this this image:

He saved it from an eBay auction of Peter’s personal effects in 2016. Looking for that, I found this on Bryan Hayes’ “Hayfamzone Blog”:

An interesting lot of personal effects from the estate of original Wonder Woman artist Harry G. Peter is now up for bid on ebay! Maybe you’ll be interested in the National Cartoonists Society group photo shown above, featuring Rube Goldberg at third from the left and Frank Robbins at far right. Or maybe you’re curious to see a Wonder Woman Christmas card that Mr. Peter drew, shown below. The lot even includes the gentleman’s wedding certificate! The bidding lasts a few more days and, while it’s available, you can investigate the auction description over here.

Sadly, the auction link is gone, and the images the Bryan put in his blog article are also gone. The one above is all we have from that auction other than a photo labeled as Peter’s wife that Alex Johnson also saved. No other information about these photos is out there, but I later learned from Jackie Estrada that she had been in touch with a friend of a friend who was the winner of the auction. That person, who apparently wishes to remain anonymous, was willing to give her a different photo of Peter for the Hall of Fame slideshow as long as it wouldn’t be used anywhere else. I asked Jackie if she could put me in touch with this person, but haven’t heard anything, so I’m guessing he doesn’t wish to be contacted. Could it be a comics historian gathering material for a book or article? Or just a Wonder Woman fan who does not like to share? In any case, it’s a shame that we can’t add his images of Peter to the public knowledge base online.

I did some tweaking to the photo above, and offer it as at least one alternate photo of the elusive Harry G. Peter. This is him as a young man, which at least gives us another reference point, as the All-Star photo shows him as a much older one. I hope more of the mysteriously held images of Peter surface at some time in the future.