Category Archives: How To



Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Co.

“Sho Card” lettering is a term rarely heard these days, and the actual thing is rarely seen. It was once the common technique for making signs on paper of all kinds, and clearly Ross F. George was a master of it. By “gothic” he means sans-serif, and these letters are beautifully made. He’s used a dry brush to show the strokes very clearly, as well as his usual white arrows. I never tried this, it was already becoming a lost art when I got into comics in the 1970s, replaced by photographic type and photocopying mostly. He mentions his tool is a “sho-card brush.” I never saw one specifically named that.


The lower case is equally  attractive, I love the old-style G. Numbers and currency symbols are included, one of the form’s most common uses was for prices in stores. Love the angled square atop the I and J too. You see that small insect-like glyph between the P and Q? That’s George’s signature symbol. The fact that it’s so small gives us a rough idea of how large the original lettering must have been throughout the book, probably at least twice the printed size, if not more.


Here’s the sho-card version of the ancient Roman letters from Trajan’s column of antiquity. George calls the style “spurred gothic,” a term I’ve never heard, and I suspect one he made up. The small pointed serifs on the stroke ends originally made carved letters more readable. They’re an attractive feature of many type styles to this day.


On the left, we see an alphabet made with straight lines and circles mostly. George indicates the circles are pencilled with a compass, and the letters are outlined in ink with a small pen point, then filled in, or you can make them with a very large B point. The style on the right he calls “line gothic,” I would call it an inline style for the inner lines running through it. Those add interest and give the thick strokes some extra style.


Another inline style George calls simply “modern.” In 1941 it was, though we recognize it now as Art Deco. A little hard to read in places, not a style you could use a lot of, I think.


The style on the left carries the inline idea into new territory, and this alphabet is one of my favorites in the book. What life and movement it has, what personality! Very organic, yet all those sharp corners make it strong and emphatic too. The one on the right doesn’t appeal to me much, it’s going even further with inlines, sacrificing readability for design.


This is the first style we’ve seen with a date, 1938. There were many editions of this book, and I don’t know how often George replaced older designs with new ones. A very condensed sans-serif font, meaning narrow letters, a good way to get a lot of them in a small area. By “cut-in,” George means the letter forms are open, white, implied by the black areas around them. The same effect could be achieved by making a negative photostat of black letters, but in this case he’s done it the hard way, except for the bottom line, with the gray areas added to show where the letters might open at the tops and bottoms.


For contrast, here’s a very wide style with tiny serifs, just enough to give the corners a crisp look. Very handsome. In a few places, George shows his construction method of outlining the edges and filling with black. I often did my large letters the same way in comics, though I generally left the inner areas open for a color to be added.

To be continued. Earlier parts of this series can be found under the “Lettering/Fonts” category on the right side of this page.




Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Co.

Continuing my examination of this 1941 edition of the very popular guide to hand lettering. This page shows suggested alphabets for architects and draftstmen. I haven’t seen any architectural plans from the period, so I can’t say if this came into use. Plans from the 1960s I’ve seen used a simpler and more angular lettering style. Continue reading



Images © Ross F. George/Hunt Manufacturing Company.

The division of lettering (and type) into groups or classes is a tricky business, and one with lots of confusion, as there are many conflicting systems and names. I find George’s three basic groups unhelpful. What he calls Gothic are all letterforms with strokes of equal width. To me, Gothic suggests the kind of letterforms he calls Text, which I would classify as Blackletter. He claims Roman as the name for all styles with thick and thin line weights, but his category right below that has them too. Yes, traditional Roman styles like Trajan have thick and thin weights and serifs, but so do many other styles. What he calls Text, as I said, is what I call Blackletter, coming from the medieval manuscripts of Germany and other European countries. I do like his examples of how different serifs change the appearance of letters. In type, the most common basic division between letter forms is Serif and Sans-Serif. Beyond that, you can tease out subcategories like Slab Serif, and styles like Art Deco, but it’s all rather subjective and unscientific, and many styles cross boundaries. Continue reading



Images © Hunt Manufacturing Company.

My friend Dave Hunt recently gave me this edition of the perennial lettering how-to booklet, the “Speedball Text Book,” 14th edition of 1941, by Ross F. George. George was a talented sign painter, inventor and type designer, a student of William Hugh Gordon. In 1913 George and Gordon were asked to design a new system of lettering pens for the Hunt Pen Company, and they produced their innovative Speedball designs in four main styles, as seen here: Continue reading

How To: Charlton’s Lettering Guide

Images © Charlton Comics or the respective copyright holders.

Yesterday I wrote about the Famous Artists lesson on lettering and showed this mini-comic cover, mentioning it contained the only information I could find on comics lettering when I was trying to get into the business in the mid 70s. I got it then, and I believe I still have it somewhere, but haven’t seen my copy in many years. Several readers sent me the entire booklet in PDF form, so I thought I’d write about what it contains on comics lettering, a mere four pages out of 36, but it was enlightening to me then, and is still somewhat useful now for anyone interested in hand-lettering.

I’m putting the first and last of the four pages together because they contain continuous text, with the pages between having drawn instructions and samples. So, let’s look at what’s written here. Everything is short and to the point.

A. TOOLS: Speedball B-6 is what many letterers were using when I started at DC, but for regular balloon lettering they usually filed down the sides of the point to make a thinner line, a tricky job that I never really mastered. I did nearly all my balloon lettering with technical drawing pens instead for my first few years. When I tried dip pens again, I used a C-6 wedge-tipped point instead of the rounded B-6. Also note that the name of the plastic lettering guide is misspelled, it’s “Ames.” Most of this is covered better in the drawing below.

B. YOU BEGIN TO LETTER: The one thing I highly disagree with here is the last sentence, “Some letterers prefer to underline emphasized words.” Maybe someone at Charlton did that, though I don’t recall seeing it, but at DC and Marvel, no one did that. I tried it occasionally when the script called for a hand-written note, and was once reprimanded by Julie Schwartz for it. “Nothing in comics is underlined!” he told me. (I still do it for hand-written notes…)

D. BALLOONS: The description and differences between Dialogue and Thought balloon shapes point out one of the problems with the older style of dialogue balloons, which where shaped with large, wide scallops (see the examples below). When you do that, there’s less to set them apart from thought balloons which also have scallops, though smaller and more of them. Of course these days thought balloons are rare, so it’s not much of an issue, but the movement to mostly oval and round speech balloons can be seen as a way to keep them separate from thought balloons visually.

E. PANELS: I kind of miss inking panel borders, one of the letterer’s jobs for the vast majority of comics art when I started, and until computer lettering took over. A few artists insisted on inking their own borders, but most were happy to have the letterer do it. Now it’s often the inker’s job, and the inker also has to completely ink all the art even where the lettering will cover it, where with hand-lettering part of each panel was already accounted for. No wonder inkers hate computer lettering!

G. SWIPES: I never really had this, just a large comics collection. When I was on staff at DC, of course, the world’s greatest swipe file was right in the Production Room, rows of file cabinets with all kinds of reference: logos, panels clipped from old comics art, cover photostats, piles of original cover lettering by Gaspar Saladino and others. And mine, too, after I was there a while.

Here’s the first of two hand-lettered pages by Frank Bravo, dated 1973. I don’t know the name, but Charlton didn’t always give lettering credits, so that’s not surprising. As a letterer he wasn’t really that good. His basic alphabets are okay, but some of the other work on the open title here and the display lettering on the next page is barely of professional quality. Perhaps he was a staffer who pitched in on lettering when needed. And remember, Charlton was kind of the low end of the comics business, pay wise, so perhaps their standards were lower. I know on some Charlton books they did lettering with a kind of giant typewriter (credited as A. Machine), and some of their artists like Joe Staton and Jim Aparo did their own lettering. That aside, all the advice and examples given above are perfectly fine for a beginner, and the information about the Ames Lettering Guide (spelled right here) is what put me in the know on that subject, and very similar to MY OWN instructions for new letterers. I never used the angled edge of the guide for italic guidelines, though, I just winged it, as did other letterers I learned from.

Here’s where Frank Bravo goes off the rails a bit, some of this is pretty dubious, though it does get the idea across. But, looking at these examples when I was trying to letter samples to show to the comics companies, I was already thinking, “I can do better than that!” I might have been wrong then, but once I got rolling it was true, at least. And remember, this booklet was all the help available to someone outside the business at the time, so really, I owe a lot to Charlton for it! They used to give these away with a subscription to any of their titles, and I bet they got a lot of subscriptions that way.