About the lettering...
in All About Brad by Guigar
Wednesday, September 05, 2012 - 01:01 AM
My approach to lettering has slowly evolved over the twelve years of my creating a daily strip. I originally did the completely backwards approach of inking the balloon first and fitting the test into the space (Photoshopping when my guess was completely off). Then I started inking full panels, leaving space for word balloons, but adding both the lettering and the balloons digitally after the art was inked.
And, to be honest, I was quite content with that process until I flew to Los Angeles to prep for Comic Con this year. I was staying the night with Dave Kellett and he was trying to get a handful of strips done before leaving for the convention. I was eager to try drawing at his new stand-up drawing board (pictured to the right), so I offered to do a guest strip.
To make the process as efficient as possible, I decided to hand-letter the strip. Dave's drawing board as a built-in lightbox, and he has created his own handy lettering template (pictured below) to make his process accurate and quick.
As you can see, he has printed a guide to his lettering (his lettering fits neatly inside the black bars, but he mentioned some people who have tried it out like to letter in the white spaces and allow the black bars to guide their lettering). He also has panels measured so he can quickly sketch out a four-, three- or two-panel strip. The horizontal center is marked with a dotted line, to aid composition). The entire thing is printed on a sheet of transparent film and then laminated.
This lettering guide works beautifully, and I was able to do a pretty workmanlike job of hand-lettering the strip -- especially given that it wasn't a skill that I had spent an appreciable amount of time perfecting prior to that night.
Later, as we worked the convention, Dave and I discussed hand-lettering further.
"Have you ever considered it?" he asked.
"Considered, yes... but I'm a little scared of it."
And it is daunting. But as he pointed out, he was able to get such a broader range of expressiveness out of his hand-lettering than I could -- even taking into account a full range of wonderful special-effect fonts purchased at several consecutive Comic Craft New Years sales.
"But my lettering stinks."
"Only because it's a skill you don't practice."
Boy, that sat with me all the way home. I mean, who's that guy that's always telling people that it's impossible to get worse at something that you do every day?
Me and my big mouth.
Besides, if I did some lettering that really stunk, I told myself, I could always go back and erase the lettering and replace it with a digital equivalnet. I wouldn't be doing things that differently than I had been as recently as last year.
So, I started hand-lettering at the beginning of the strips for September.
You saw the first hand-lettered Evil Inc on Monday.
Not bad. A little shakey, but legible.
I made myself a lettering guide similar to Dave's, but adjusted for the size text generally appears in my comic. I found lettering that way to be awkward and painful on my back -- as I hunched over my small, tabletop lightbox to letter using the transparent guide. I even tried placing the lightbox on my drawing board to eliminate the hunching, but it was still awkward to letter a 13 x 4 inch strip on an 8.5 x 11 inch lightbox that was raised about five inches off the surface of the drawing board.
So I immediately switched to drawing my lettering measurements on the original art.
What I noticed was that I was really forcing the letterforms to span the height. They looked spindly and awkward to me. And I wasn't getting quite the same number of words in the same space that my digital lettering allowed me.
So I experimented with a 10 point character height on 4 points leading. I'm very encouraged by the result -- which you'll be seeing in a couple weeks.
I'm doing a little post-production in Photoshop -- adjusting spacing here, and fixing botched characters there. However, even with that extra futzing at the end of my process, I'm able to complete hand-lettered strips in about the same amount of time to took me to do digital-lettered ones. Maybe -- maybe -- a little bit quicker.
And this new process has had some unintended results as well.
Since I'm finishing the art on the board, I'm no longer allowing for last-minute composition fixes in InDesign. That has meant better planning. But it has also meant that I can add some compositional elements like solid blacks that I was reticent to add before.
I've noticed myself pulling back a bit from the panel-spanning (and panel-breaking) word balloons that I tend to take pride in (like the ones mentioned in my previous lettering post). But I think that's going to start to come back once I feel less awkward with my lettering skills.
Am I ready to claim victory over hand-lettering? Not by a long shot.
But I'm not ready to quit either. I think I'm on a pretty good path, and I want to give myself a little opportunity to grow into this.
I know a few of you guys are going to dislike the change. Readers hate change. Always. When I started running the strip in color, I got a sizable amount of negative reaction. It's hard to believe now. I mean... can you even picture a b&w Evil Inc? Me neither.
I'm betting I'll feel the same way about hand-lettering in a little while, too.
Meanwhile, one, final unintended consequence is the the originals look super-awesome, and I don't have to print the panel borders and text on a sheet of transparency. It's just a single sheet of acid-free bristol board with blue pencil and archival ink. If you haven't ordered an original yet, I strongly encourage you to add a hand-lettered Evil Inc to your collection.
This discussion has been locked. Feel free to start a new one to share your wisdom with us.