Thursday, 2 January 2014
THE FORGOTTEN ART OF COMICBOOK LETTERING...
Imagine, if you will, that a new computer programme is made available, enabling anyone to replicate the style of any cartoonist or comic strip artist of the past or present (or even a new style), and which offers poses and character types which can be used to produce pages of sequential art in either the humour or adventure strip medium. (And, for all I know, perhaps it already exists.)
Anybody who has ever dreamt of producing their own comic strips would suddenly be able to do so, with the result that writers would no longer be dependent on artists as they'd be capable of completing the entire strip from start to finish all by themselves. Of course, it wouldn't happen overnight, but, eventually, many traditional-type cartoonists and artists (which is not to imply that the two titles are mutually exclusive) would inevitably find demand for their services diminishing to the point of redundancy.
People who could 'draw a bit', but were never quite good enough for professional publication ('though it never seemed to hinder some people on The DANDY) would be enabled, by computer technology, to elevate their work to the required standard and offer it at reduced rates to publishers desperate to save a bob or two in a world of spiralling costs and diminishing circulation.
Actual artists might be able to discern the derivative and less than spontaneous nature of strips produced in such a fashion, but the majority of readers wouldn't (or, indeed, even care about it if they could), so the fact that many a comics contributor could potentially find themselves being robbed of their livelihood would hardly be of any concern to the consumer.
That's progress - or so it's said.
Sadly, that's exactly what happened to another art form in the world of comicbooks some years back - the art of lettering. And don't be fooled - it is (or can be) an art in itself, despite it being looked upon by many as a lesser skill in the pecking order of prerequisite powers in the production of published comic periodicals. Nowadays, anyone with access to computer font programmes can letter comic strip pages, which, to the untrained eye, look just as good as good as those lettered by the likes of ARTIE SIMEK, SAM ROSEN, IRA SCHNAPP, or anyone else you care to mention.
One thing, though, that many practitioners of modern-day lettering have been unable to master is the placement of speech balloons and captions in a way that complements the art and aids in the reading of the page in a pleasing and 'natural' manner. I've lost count of the times I've picked up a comic with computer-font lettering and been appalled by the way in which the art has been obscured by the clumsy positioning of text and sound effects.
As I've said elsewhere, I don't have a problem with 'actual' hand-letterers putting their own styles onto computer programmes for their own use if it makes things easier for them. After all, they've earned their stripes and are still utilizing the same artistic sensibilities as previously. However, now that practically anyone with a computer who can afford to purchase the necessary programmes can set themselves up as a 'letterer', the 'art' has been taken out of the process and it has been diminished in some way.
No doubt there'll be a few cartoonists and artists who think I'm overstating the case and that my antipathy towards computer calligraphy is down to 'sour grapes' on my part. Although, should the same thing ever happen to them, you'd soon hear them whistling a very different tune.
Any thoughts on the matter?
Posted by Kid at Thursday, January 02, 2014