Opinions on and resources for the lettering of comics

lettering.jpgJosh Flanagan of iFanboy wrote an interesting, if not rambling, post on the appreciation of comic book lettering and letterers. The lettering is the most often overlooked aspect of a comic, but it’s as complicated and nuanced as any aspect in the creation of comics. What does the letterer do? >A letterer is a member of a team of comic book creators responsible for drawing the comic book's text. The letterer crafts the comic's "display lettering": the story title lettering and other special captions and credits that usually appear on a story's first page. The letterer also writes the letters in the word balloons and draws in sound effects. The letterer's use of typefaces, calligraphy, letter size, and layout all contribute to the impact of the comic. Many letterers also design logos for the comic book company's various titles.

Lettering requires an odd mix of technical skill, storytelling expertise, and visual design talent, which means that in order to letter really well, you’ll likely need to practice and build up some chops in one or more of these areas.

### The technical side of lettering

##### Software

The industry standard for comic lettering is Adobe Illustrator, and as I’ve said many times before, it’s a great, albeit expensive, tool. It’s got a steep learning curve, but thankfully, there are loads of tutorials and books out there to help you get started. And, despite it being nearly 5 years out of date, I really like Todd Klein’s half of [DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics](0823010309). But I didn’t start using Illustrator right away. And you don’t have to have it in order to letter effectively.

If you’re just starting out in making comics and/or don’t have a whole lot of experience with graphics programs like Adobe’s big ones, you can make do with a couple of nifty little programs called [Comic Life](http://plasq.com/comiclife) ($25 from Plasq, for both Mac and Windows) or [Comic Life Magiq](http://plasq.com/comic-life-magiq) ($45, Mac only). This program will remove most of the more technical hurdles of lettering (and panel layout) for you and allow you to make some professional looking balloons and FX fast and on the cheap.

##### Fonts

Nate Piekos of Blambot is a friend to independent comic creators and makes many of his fonts free for us. Get thee to [Blambot.com](http://www.Blambot.com) for a huge selection of free and pay fonts (and for some good advice on lettering and logo design).

You can also buy some other excellent professional from [Comicraft](http://www.comicbookfonts.com/home.html?sid=0001NWtGIgFvQFooQ49K1J1), but they’re not cheap.

### The art of lettering

I see the role of letterer as more than just the person who puts the words on the page. The lettering of a comic brings the illusion of sound to a silent medium. When I’ve got my letterer hat on, I’m in the headspace of a dialogue coach, [foley artist](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foley_artist) and sound editor as well as that of a visual designer.

##### Balloon placement

When it comes to balloon placement, the job of the letterer is to guide the reader through the page, taking pains not to confuse or slow down the reader. Klein gives away his secrets for free on his[site](http://kleinletters.com/BalloonPlacement.html). He’s got visual examples of good balloon placement and bad balloon placement. Very, very enlightening. If you want to letter well, you need to print out this page and have it close by when you’re lettering, or buy [DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics](0823010309).

##### Sound effects

Personally, I find that effectively using sound effects in my comics uncomfortable. They’re commonplace in super hero comics, but I can’t shake the feeling of self-consciousness that I get when I put an effect on one of my pages. I can’t help being afraid that a poorly placed *KA-CHOW!!!* or *RUNCH!!*, or *THRACKA-BOOM!!!* would channel the ridiculousness of the campy Batman shows and completely remove my readers from the story.

So I use sound effects rarely, and when I do, it’s got to contribute to the story, visually work into the flow of the page, and *feel* right.

*In my hurried research for this post, I stumbled upon a research paper that examines the use of sound effects in Lynn Johnston’s **For Better or For Worse**. Interesting reading.*

##### Logo design

There was nothing that took longer, was reworked and revised more, and still makes me squirm with embarrassment than the Q-Burger logo. Logo design as a discipline is extremely difficult. Summing up a business or a comic with a simple graphic image is no small feat. So I have the utmost respect for the pros who do it day in and day out.

Todd Klein’s got some great logo resources ([how-to’s](http://kleinletters.com/LogoBasics.html), [history of’s](http://kleinletters.com/LogosTop.html), and such) on his site and Nate Piekos has [a short Q&A formatted article](http://www.blambot.com/successfullogo.shtml) on what makes a good logo, and he’s got a gallery of professional samples that you can peruse and become inspired by. Or you could pay him to make yours, I guess.

### Links

[Letterer - Wikipedia](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letterer)

[Respect the Letter-er - iFanboy](http://www.ifanboy.com/content/articles/Respect_the_Letter-er_)

[Todd Klein’s Site](http://kleinletters.com/)

[Blambot](http://www.blambot.com)

[Comicraft’s A Beginners Guide to Computer Lettering](http://www.balloontales.com/articles/beginners/index.html)

[Beyond the Balloon: Sound Effects and Background Text in Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse](http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v2_2/covey/)