Lettering for Moore and O’Neill

Images and script © Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill.

Above is a photo of the script for the second 80-page issue of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN: CENTURY, this one dated 1969. It’s due out later this year, probably not until summer at latest report, but I’ve finished the first round of lettering, have sent color proofs to everyone, and am waiting for any further corrections or rewrites. Actually, this is not even the whole script, as it doesn’t include the six text pages at the end, but you get the idea. A lot to read and consider for artist Kevin O’Neill, colorist Ben Dimagmaliw and myself. Fortunately, it goes to Kevin first, and he does complete art on the pages before I get them for lettering, so I don’t have to study the entire script in detail, but can concentrate mainly on the dialogue and captions.

Alan doesn’t usually include many notes on lettering. In fact, Kevin is the one who decides where things should be in upper and lower case, as seen above.

Kevin sends me lettering placements as well, and I work closely with him, sending batches of lettered page proofs in black and white as I finish them, which Kevin goes over and gives me any corrections or changes he wants. We also work closely on the design of the covers and inside text pages.

Mostly, Alan gives us everything he can think of that might be relevant in the script, then lets us get on with doing the rest of it. So, when Alan does include lettering notes, I try extra hard to come up with something I think he’ll like. There are a couple of examples in this issue.

Without giving too much away, and I think one has to almost expect it, there’s a psychedelic drug trip in the story, one undertaken by Mina Murray. As it first appears in the script, Alan writes:

NOW WE HAVE A SHOT THROUGH MINA’S EYES AS SHE STARTS TO MILDLY EXPERIENCE THE FIRST EFFECTS OF THE DRUG SHE HAS TAKEN. WE CANNOT SEE MINA HERSELF HERE, BUT LOOMING IN FROM OUR LEFT OF THE FOREGROUND IN A SORT OF SWOLLEN FISH-EYE DISTORTION EFFECT, WE HAVE ORLANDO, HEAD AND SHOULDERS, HIS DISTORTED FACE LOOKING SORT OF CONCERNED HERE AS HE LEANS IN CLOSE TO PEER AT MINA. FROM THE NEAR RIGHT BACKGROUND, EQUALLY DISTORTED IN THE FISH-EYE LENS OF MINA’S VISION, ALLAN ALSO LEANS FORWARD, BEING ABOUT HALF TO THREE QUARTER FIGURE HERE. HE ALSO LOOKS A BIT CONCERNED ABOUT HOW ODDLY MINA IS BEHAVING.

Okay, nothing about the lettering there, but the dialogue has a repeated word effect, and in a side note, Kevin writes: “This is deliberate spelling, see page 47 for LSD effect.”

Not too hard to figure out what’s needed, a tripping effect that’s gradually developing. On this panel I made the repeated words in a variety of colors, and begin to introduce a rainbow gradient into the balloon colors.

On the next page we have another panel seen from Mina’s viewpoint, and as Alan writes:

BECAUSE MINA’S HALLUCINATIONS ARE GETTING STRONGER, MAYBE YOU COULD MAKE THE TWO HIPPIES LEANING IN TOWARDS MINA…IN INCREASINGLY PSYCHEDELIC AND DREAM-LIKE COLOURS.

Of course the colors are by Ben Dimagmaliw, following notes from Kevin, and I don’t see them when I’m doing the lettering, but I could imagine the effect this panel shows.

Here’s what I came up with, the lettering is now in full-blown rainbow gradient, with a lighter and more pastel gradient inside the balloons, and the borders in solid magenta. I also used Adobe Illustrator’s Envelope Distort feature to give the lettering some wavy distortion, and the balloons are amorphously shaped as well.

The setting for Mina’s trip is a rock concert in Hyde Park, London, and one of the focal points is the band’s lead singer. Alan had some specific suggestions for me about his dialogue balloons:

NOW, AS TO HOW WE HANDLE TERNER’S AMPLIFIED BALLOONS HERE, I’M NOT ENTIRELY SURE. WE COULD JUST HAVE ALL OF THEM IN A CRACKLE-EDGED BALLOON, BUT  SINCE I WANT THE SONG TERNER IS SINGING TO BE KIND OF PLAYING IN VOICEOVER DURING OUR CUTAWAY SCENES, A STRAIGHTFORWARD CRACKLE EDGE MIGHT BE TOO SPIKY AND OBTRUSIVE. IS THERE ANY OTHER SORT OF BALLOON EDGE THAT YOU CAN COME UP WITH, TODD, THAT SORT OF CONVEYS ELECTRICAL AMPLIFICATION WITHOUT THE SPIKES? HOW ABOUT SOME SORT OF WOBBLY, WAVERY EDGE TO SUGGEST THE DISTORTION OF AMPLIFIED VOICES OVER A TANNOY OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT? ANYWAY, I’LL LEAVE IT IN YOUR HANDS.

I felt I understood what Alan was after, and here’s what I came up with:

I don’t know how well the details of the balloon edges will show when printed, but there are actually three layers to them. The balloons are filled with 75% yellow, to suggest electrical amplification, and have a dark orange border. I used Illustrator’s Roughen filter to give them a randomly wobbly edge. Then, for each balloon oval I made a copy, pasted it in front, removed the fill color (leaving only the outline), reduced the outline width and flipped it left to right, then made the color a lighter orange. Next I copied THAT balloon shape again, pasted it in front once more, and flipped it vertically, top to bottom, then made the color of this third layer an even lighter orange. The resulting balloon borders have what I hope is a randomly energetic and electrical look without the spiky edges I’d usually use, as Alan has asked for. When this was done I added the balloon tails and connectors, placing them behind the rest, and since the borders crossed the tails I added another small section of yellow fill with no border to cover each of those overlaps. A pretty complicated process for this style, and there’s a lot of it, but I think it achieves what Alan suggested.

On a later page Mina’s trip has taken her spirit right out of her body, and for that we needed another style, and a different one for the evil astral spirit she encounters there, floating above the concert. Alan writes about Mina:

HER WORD BALLOONS HERE…AND INDEED THROUGHOUT THIS ASTRAL SEQUENCE…SHOULD MAYBE HAVE SOME KIND OF RAINBOW JELLY EDGE TO THEM, OR COLOURED LETTERING, OR WHATEVER ELSE TODD THINKS WOULD WORK BEST TO CONVEY THE FACT THAT THIS IS MINA’S ASTRAL VOICE THAT SHE’S USING HERE.

Small problem, I’d already used the rainbow effects for the earlier tripping panels, but I saw no reason why I couldn’t use them again here, since it’s all related.

I followed the same plan, but with a medium blue border that I hoped would contrast enough from the previous magenta one to give it at least some individuality. The rainbow gradients are also slightly paler. As it turned out, Ben colored Mina’s astral form in yellows, so that all worked well, I thought.

For the other spirit, Alan writes (with one name deleted to keep from from any possible plot spoiling):

AS WITH MINA, _____’S SPEECH BALLOON HERE SHOULD HAVE A SIMILAR KIND OF DIFFERENT EDGE, TO DENOTE THAT THIS IS _____’S ASTRAL VOICE TALKING. SINCE HIS SPIRIT IS MUCH DARKER AND MORE MONSTROUS THAN MINA’S, MAYBE YOU COULD MAKE _____’S SPEECH-BALLOON EDGING OR COLOURING RELECT THIS, WHILE KEEPING IT IN THE SAME BASIC STYLE AS MINA’S, TODD?

I thought the way to go was with gradients made from dark and mismatched colors for the balloon fill, and the lettering and balloon borders would be reversed out of that in a hopefully disturbing yellow-orange:

I’m not sure how successfully dark and evil it is, but at least it’s a stark contrast to Mina’s balloon style, sort of the antithesis of it. For this character I decided not to give the lettering a wavy distortion, thinking he’s more in control of his astral state, and the lettering should reflect that.

As you’ll eventually see when the book comes out, the styles for Terner, Mina and the evil spirit are used often in the climactic sequence of pages, all intertwined, and it was a lot of work getting it together, but I’m happy with the result. Hope you like it as well. Kevin and Alan both still have to give their final thumbs up, so if anything looks different in the end, that’ll be why. It’s always a fun and interesting challenge working with them, and I’m already looking forward the third and final issue of the CENTURY series, though I expect it will be a while before I see pages to letter.

16 thoughts on “Lettering for Moore and O’Neill

  1. Dan Guy

    Very interesting, and looks very cool! I look forward to seeing it all together in the completed book.

  2. Richard Bensam

    Those color effects really make me smile. I’ve been looking forward to this issue most of all, and the glimpses here just pique my interest even more. Love the appearance by Turner! (This story obviously takes place right before his retirement and later spell as a recluse in his London mansion, which was followed shortly afterward by his presumed murder…)

  3. Marcel Souza

    Todd, that’s great! I am looking forward to read this book!
    I would like to take this opportunity and wish you and your family a happy 2011!
    Regards!

  4. Simon

    That was a very interesting read. I don’t aspire to be a letterer (I do simple place-holding at best), but I know how hard it is to make it look good, and having read many comics I’ve learned to discern good from bad lettering. In my experience the lettering can easily make or break whether I enjoy the read or not and sometimes there’re chunks of text that just take forever to read because the letterer didn’t make it ‘inviting’ to read. So, I always find it fascinating to read the process of how a letterer works, and with you being top of the game, Todd, it’s a real treat to see how you’re thinking when you do what you do.

  5. Art

    Excellent work! The electrical/amplified balloons are particularly inspired. Thank you for posting this – lettering, good lettering, takes a lot of forethought and it’s good to see the process.

  6. BobH

    Something I’ve been curious about, does the letterer do the actual colouring effects that appear in word balloons or sound effects? I’d always assumed that was done by the colourist, as I assume it was back in the day when the lettering was done on the actual art boards, usually between pencilling and inking, or physically pasted on the boards. But from your description it sounds like you’re doing the actual colour effects in the lettering files you send back. Is that unusual in LOEG, because the effects are so intrinsic, or is that pretty standard these days when there are colour effects in the lettering?

  7. Todd Post author

    With computer lettering, which is most of what’s being done these days, it’s standard for the letterer to add any color needed in the lettering, sound effects, sign letters, titles, etc. Sometimes those colors are changed by the editor, artist or colorist if it’s not a good match to the rest of the coloring, or they just don’t like the choices. Occasionally I’ll be asked to make changes, but usually there’s no time for that.

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