Monday, 6 February 2012


Front page of hand-lettered promotional leaflet. (Address
& 'phone number removed)

As regular readers of this humble blog should know by now (all four of them), your fearless host has never been one to avoid subjects of a controversial nature.  So, let's once more leap into the fray and tackle the topic of the role of computers in comics, and whether or not they've taken some of the 'art' out of the process of producing them.  With that subject in mind, I once enquired of a computer-colourist if he'd be able to colour a comic the traditional way, by hand.  "No!", was his short and honest answer.  Apparently, he didn't think he had sufficient ability and was therefore dependent on technology to enable him to make his comic contributions.

Technology has taken over in other areas too.  Lettering, for example.  Most comics nowadays are lettered by computer fonts, enabling practically anyone who can type (which is just about everyone) to overlay speech-balloons, text panels, sound effects and logos onto a comics page.  All of which most of them would be unable to create by their own hand to a satisfactory professional level.

From the reader's point of view I don't suppose it matters so long as it's done well, although I find all those perfectly elliptical balloon shapes quite tedious.  I prefer the spontaneity of hand-lettering (again, when it's done well), because it permits the letterer to accommodate the artist's layout in a far more personal and sympathetic manner than computer fonts can allow for.

When I used to earn a full-time living from lettering many years ago now, I took great delight in making speech-balloons fit in spaces that one would think had no room for them, and to do it in such a way that didn't seem forced and awkward-looking.  For the most part I succeeded, and derived immense satisfaction from making a page look as if art and lettering were an 'organic' whole.  I find that a lot of computer-lettering looks as if it isn't part of the artwork, but rather some 'disembodied' shape that floats over the surface of each panel.

Photo of promotional leaflet's centre-page spread of hand-lettered logos

A few years back, I briefly considered returning to comics work and had a go at computer-lettering with some fonts someone lent me, just to see what the process was like.  How mind-numbingly tedious compared to the joy of handling an actual page of art and affixing the lettering directly onto the page or acetate overlay (for colour work) in such a way as to make it a 'finished' piece.  I soon abandoned the exercise as it afforded me not even an iota of creative satisfaction.  I felt like a secretary.  (Which is fine if that's what you want to be.)

I should make it absolutely clear that I have no problem with genuine hand-letterers putting their fonts onto a computer programme and going down that route.  After all, these guys have been in the trenches for years and earned their stripes, so anything that makes their job a little quicker or easier is not something I'm going to grudge them.  Legendary 2000 A.D. calligrapher TOM FRAME eventually resorted to computer-lettering (I believe his deteriorating eyesight made it increasingly difficult for him to continue in the 'old-fashioned' way), but he'd earned the right to do so, and it was his own lettering style he utilised.

It niggles me though, when I see some of the newer people called letterers when they should more properly be credited as typographers - or in some cases, just plain typists.  After all, they couldn't letter by hand if their lives depended on it.

If you can't play the game, then don't wear the name.


(Agree or disagree?  Feel free to let me know, but try and do it without cussing.  You know how sensitive I can be.)
Back page of hand-lettered promotional leaflet 


Anonymous said...

High quality work. I never understood why you didn't create fonts for Comicraft or Blambot.

Kid said...

Thanks for the compliment, but I was never invited to. That's probably because Richard Starkings and wottsisname are perfectly capable of creating their own and don't need me. (Boo Hoo.)

Mr Straightman said...

Despite the writer's cramp it can cause, I love hand-lettering my strips and doing the wacky hand-drawn bubbles. Look at some of the early Peanuts strips and you can see how much fun Schulz had playing around with different fonts for different sound effects - even something as simple as a character shouting "Hey!" would often be rendered with a lovely serif font. The use of often scribbly, doctor's prescription-style hand lettering in a certain comic, however, is NOT a trend to be encouraged.

Kid said...

What makes me laugh is that the editor of 'certain comic' said that u&l case is easier to read. Not when it's a ruddy scrawl it ain't!

Anonymous said...

Spankings, slipperings, six of the best used to be standard punishment in Beano and Dandy until political correctness stuck its snotty nose in. Dennis The Menace and Danny from Bash Street used to get what they deserved but now the stories end up with the little b*st*rds getting one over on fathers and teachers. It's all back to front. Go back to show Dennis getting a good hiding for his impertinence and maybe the cheeky over privileged brats reading it will think twice before they do it.

Kid said...

I think your comment may have better suited my 'internet neds' post, but as you left it here, here is where it stays.

To be honest, I don't think naughty kids getting their commeuppance in the final panel would ever have deterred anyone from misbehaving. It was far too humorously rendered to be a serious deterrent.

Seems to me that such scenes were only included so that editors could ward off criticism of unruly behaviour by claiming that, as the characters got their just deserts in the end, the stories were teaching a valuable moral lesson.

Kid said...

In fact, upon consideration, I think someone is trying to take the mickey with that last anonymous comment. Now, I wonder who the target could be?

Wayne Thompson said...

Amazing pieces of Artwork. Any chance of a step by step on how to hand-letter? By the way great blog!

Kid said...

Thanks Wayne. The way I look at it is this: I 'draw' letters in the same way I draw anything. You being an artist would probably find it not too difficult. Pick a style you like and then just imitate it until you're proficient. Same goes for logos and sound effects. Glad you like the blog.

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