Lettering Thinkkering

I think about comics lettering all the time! Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to.

1. Word Balloons Are Always Round
For awhile I’d make the balloons weird shapes to fit the words in just right, but I don’t think it looks as good as just keeping them nice and round and balloon-shaped.
Odd shaped ballons
fig. 1

2. Word Balloon Tail Origins
Balloon tails emanate from the center of the balloon in most cases. They look weird otherwise.
Balloon tail emanations
fig. 2

3. Word Balloons Do Not Exist In Our Dimension
Word balloons exist somewhere behind the character speaking them but in front of the background or other characters. But I really try to make sure there’s enough room allowed that a balloon doesn’t get stuck behind or in front of anything.

4. Words Need Never Be Broken With A Dash
I’ve done it before but I don’t like the way it looks. It might take a little time to work it out but I can almost always make the space work so that I don’t have to wrap longer words to the next line with a dash
Why bother?
fig. 4

5. I Really Shouldn’t Put More Than Three Or Four Lines Of Text In A Panel
Life’s just too short!
It looks like a Cathy strip
fig. 5

6. If A Word Balloon Is Only One Word Wide
Don’t stick it to the panel border. It looks bad.
fig. 6

7. Hand Lettering Looks Best
If you’re drawing your comics with the computer, by all means use the same tools to letter them. But If you draw the comic by hand it looks bad if the panel borders, word balloons and letters are all slick and vector-ey. If a person can draw then he can also letter, it just might take a little practice. And it’s easier than typing everything and screwing around with Illustrator anchor handles, for sure.

fig. 7

8. I Need To Learn How To Do Italics
Italics will be my next big thing. I need to look through some books to get an idea how to do it right. So far I am not ready (scared) to take a shot at it, but I know I can do it.

9. Dropping Punctuation Can Be Great
Sometimes I’ll put a period at the end of a sentence, sometimes I won’t. Usually I puposefully decide whether to punctuate or not, but sometimes I just forget to do it. I also like semi-colons, but more and more I think there’s no place for them in word balloons; the long dash works better. These may be writing concerns more than lettering concerns, who knows.

10. Studying Is Good For Me
I really like to look through lettering and typeface books. If I see one in a used book store I will buy it if it’s economical. They’re a wealth of information that tend to end up in library discard piles because nobody needs to know that stuff since there’s Illustrator and MS Word. Don’t you believe it! Reading just one page of the Speedball book was like taking a college course in hand lettering. I still have a long way to go, but looking at my older pages I feel like I’ve gone from being a kid making a birdhouse out of popsicle sticks to a master carpenter building a submarine.

Check out this beautiful stuff:

My Lettering & Type Sets on Flickr

Bob Lappan

Rick Geary

F.G. Cooper

Don Herold

Posted on April 22, 2010 at 3:48 pm in Blog. Follow responses to this post with the comments feed. You can leave a comment or trackback from your own site.

17 Responses

  1. milo says:

    The strip in #5 is still one of your best

  2. John says:

    fuck the rules, make comics any way you want

  3. Cole says:

    I agree with Milo and John, sir. Please don’t hold yourself back on the text if you’ve got something good to say. I bought all yer stuff because I like the words as much as the pictures.

    (I also like the old-timey word balloons and dashes.)

  4. David King says:

    Thanks for the nice comments you guys!

    I don’t want anybody to think that this is supposed to be some rulebook that I think everyone should follow. I guess the post is probably more about how I’ve changed as a cartoonist over time and how I feel like I’m getting closer to want I want out of it, lettering-wise anyway, and about seeing how things work and how they work themselves out. It’s just a list of theories that I think are working for me and possibly only for me.

    I might’ve come off a little high and mighty abut the computer lettering thing, though, sorry to anybody who likes to do it that way.

    I like that strip, too, but it might have been better to spread it out to eight panels instead of four…but we’ll never know!

  5. Todd Wandio says:

    I will do all of that with my next cartoon. Who am I kidding. While you make wonderful points here, I don’t even make word balloons. I hardly even draw. I’ve progressed from stick people, but they have their hands in their pockets.

  6. Tim Hensley says:

    Cool post, David. I end up with arbitrary rules, too, although I know cartoonists are supposed to be like Dubuffet or something these days and free. I’ve also found that removing dashes and not ending lines with articles like “the” make comics read smoother. I disagree that balloons are always round though; for me, they’re determined by how the words are grouped. I like irregular shapes esp. if the phrase is easier to read that way. One thing I picked up from an interview with Mike Royer was that if he had more than one person speaking in a panel he would sometimes change the baselines on the Ames so they didn’t match, so I do that sometimes.

  7. David King says:

    Tim, yesterday after I posted it it occurred to me that I should have put an example of your lettering in this post.

    Mike Royer is also pretty good but that changing the baselines thing sounds weird, like breaking the 180 degree rule in the movies. It might be a good effect to keep the reader off balance…

  8. Tim Hensley says:

    Ha, I like your lettering better than mine. The baseline thing is actually very slight; I think it makes the characters seem more like they have separate thoughts instead of locked together if you squint.

  9. Tim Hensley says:

    Just tried in vain to Google an example! Oh, well…

  10. Josh Kramer says:

    Say, what do you think about the balloon being the punctuation? Periods? Em-dashes? Elipses?

  11. Josh Kramer says:

    Also, check it out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jessohackberry/sets/72157623413677073/

    great minds think alike? Either way, old sign-painting books are the best!

  12. David King says:

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean, re balloons as punctuation, please elaborate. But if you can make it work, fuck the rules per John’s instructions above.

    That guy’s flickr set has a page that shows the directions of the strokes for making letters, which I love. Tim Hensley gave me a thing a couple years ago that had that and it helped a lot…I’ll try to find it again and scan it. It might have been a copy from that Speedball book, not sure.

  13. [...] gears, a few links related to comics. First, some interesting thoughts on lettering from David King. Second, enjoy the clever design on the cover of Daredevil #506 from Marvel Comics. [...]

  14. Tim Hensley says:

    Hey, David,
    That thing is from this:
    (Though the version there must be from a different year or something.) There’s also other lessons:
    (Not too bad a source for rules…)

  15. laura Park says:

    Good Post David! Italics is easier than ‘regular’ lettering, you’ll be a champ!

  16. Dylan Von Williams says:

    This is one reason why I love C.C. Beck so much:

    “Beck: I finished school before the stock-market crash and the Great Depression, so work wasn’t so scarce as it would be soon. I got some work because of my lettering abilities—I’ve always worked hard at lettering, and I’m proud of it. People who know me know that I’ve always said that the lettering is more important than the art. If the lettering is illegible, what good is it? The drawings support the words in the balloons, not the other way around.”

    He was a sign painter and it shows. Like Roy Crane his comics hold some kind of mysterious perfect formula for making comics.

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