To the letter
July 30, 2007 2:22 PM   Subscribe

Comixfilter: Todd Klein discusses lettering choices for Sandman Comics writers and artist get a fair amount of press. But the letterer can make a huge amount of difference to a piece of comic art. Here's a recollection from the (almost) continous letterer of one of comics' major works.
posted by Sparx (33 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hunted for other such articles (I would have thought Sim would have been lousy with them) but, apparently, no.
posted by Sparx at 2:23 PM on July 30, 2007


The lettering on Sandman really stood out. It definitely is an underrated part of the comics process -- the lettering on so many comics these days is so nondescript and often clashes with the organic artwork.

The coloring on Sandman, however... yeeech!
posted by ScottMorris at 2:29 PM on July 30, 2007


It was good to see Fables at that site--they've done some wonderful things with lettering and type--esp the specials like 1001 nights of snowfall...
posted by amberglow at 2:33 PM on July 30, 2007


this too--League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
posted by amberglow at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2007


It's weird that comics still separate lettering from regular layout and design.
posted by amberglow at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2007


I don't know that comics as an industry separates them - there are lettering awards for example. But it's quite the unacknowledged art amongst, well, most people - possibly because when it's done adequately it's invisible, and when it's done well, it emphasises the artistic impression, but doesn't stand out on its own.
posted by Sparx at 2:42 PM on July 30, 2007


well, aren't the comics the only industry that has separate Letterers still? (and Colorers/Inkers, etc...)
posted by amberglow at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2007


Not being in the graphic arts, I couldn't tell you. But I'm sure MC Fontalot has an exceptionally rhythmic opinion.
posted by Sparx at 2:54 PM on July 30, 2007


Nice article. As he says nonstandard lettering is something that can very easily be over done, but in the case of Sandman it worked out really well and added a lot of character.
posted by Artw at 2:57 PM on July 30, 2007


Irony of unreadable font/background combination on website noted only in small text out of deference to the man's excellent work.
posted by cortex at 2:59 PM on July 30, 2007 [3 favorites]


well, aren't the comics the only industry that has separate Letterers still?

What other industries would? It's definitely a talent. Having downloaded/ dug through a lot of old comics and indie comics from the '80s, bad lettering is almost as off-putting as bad art. It seems weird, but the crappy block letters artists tend to use make comics look amateurish.
posted by yerfatma at 3:07 PM on July 30, 2007


Good point, Mr Cortex, now you mention it. Mostly because of intrusive background design. Black and yellow is usually fairly distinctive, if a trifle abrupt, but with the orange tiled speech balloons - not of the excessively readable. The rest of the site goes for simpler colour schemes.

Perhaps that's why he's a letterer.
posted by Sparx at 3:09 PM on July 30, 2007


It's weird that comics still separate lettering from regular layout and design.

Theres the odd artist that does it, but it's generally a seperation that makes sense - illustration being a different skill from typography. From an economic and production standpoint it makes sense as well - Artists work at a slower pace, so you can you can have one letterer working on pages for many titles from many artists, and maximise the amount of time your srtists spend actually drawing art.

well, aren't the comics the only industry that has separate Letterers still?

Er... pretty much the only industry that has letterers full stop. But if we look at it as typography and illustration then you'll frequently see magazine articles where the text layout has been done seperately from the photos or illustrations.

And comics is nothing compared to the bewildering variety of roles in the film industy...
posted by Artw at 3:10 PM on July 30, 2007


I can imagine the conversation in the lineup to sign comics at the convention:

Todd Klein: Who should I sign it to?
Little Kid: I don't want you to sign it. I want the guy who draws the comic to sign it.
[snatches the comic away]
Little Kid: You're just a letterer.
Collector: Tell him, little shaver.

With apologies to Chasing Amy.
posted by sillygwailo at 3:29 PM on July 30, 2007


How do letterers sign their comics?
posted by empath at 3:32 PM on July 30, 2007


Who needs letterers any more? Isn't that why they made Comic Sans? Sheesh.
posted by zsazsa at 3:41 PM on July 30, 2007


Immaculately.
posted by cortex at 3:41 PM on July 30, 2007


How do letterers sign their comics?

Dude, they already have.
posted by Sparx at 3:42 PM on July 30, 2007


zsazsa - Comic Sans is horribly prevalent in the small press comics world, despite being horribly unsuited and utterly vile. It marks you out as a bit of a beginner - anyone who's been making their own comics for a bit graduates to Anime Ace or something nicer pretty quickly.

Interestingly a lot of the old school hand-letterers have created fonts from their lettering style - for instance Tom Frame, who pased away recently. As far as I know he never passed his font on to anybody, so his lettering style died with him.
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2007


But if we look at it as typography and illustration then you'll frequently see magazine articles where the text layout has been done seperately from the photos or illustrations.

That's true, but typographers are mainly font (and/or logo) designers exclusively nowadays, while comic letterers still overwhelmingly stick to the basic letterforms (like there's some rule all comics even if experimental still have to use san serif caps that look hand-written and blocky or something). Fabulous font work in headlines and magazine features and book covers and things is most often done by graphic designers and art directors--not specific and exclusive type people (or "letterers").
posted by amberglow at 4:20 PM on July 30, 2007


There's also Delirium's lettering., I'm not sure if it's the same letterer, without looking up the comics themselves.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:44 PM on July 30, 2007


You know you're a hardcore comics dork when certain letterers really stand out for you, but they do for me -- Todd Klein is one, John Costanza another. Increasingly, real lettering is looking like a soon-to-be-lost art; Marvel for instance seems to have done away with human letterers entirely, replacing craftsmanship with a lowercase font that gives the books a (bland) uniform look. I mean, seriously, they could at least tinker with the font so that it doesn't all look exactly the same in every damn book.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:49 PM on July 30, 2007


Man, too bad lettering talent does not equate with webpage typesetting talent. Ctrl-A to the rescue!

[this is still good, if hard to read]
posted by Eideteker at 6:42 PM on July 30, 2007


At least they're not inkers. Those guys just trace!
posted by autodidact at 7:10 PM on July 30, 2007


I never even noticed lettering in comics until I read Sandman. And then I thought it was incredibly neat how he made each character's lettering fit them.
posted by Many bubbles at 9:51 PM on July 30, 2007


I mean, seriously, they could at least tinker with the font so that it doesn't all look exactly the same in every damn book.

If you do it right, you can give a font enough contextual alternates to look hand-drawn even under reasonably close scrutiny, as with the now-ubiquitous Zapfino. But it takes a lot of work.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:34 PM on July 30, 2007


aeschenkarnos: That is indeed Mr Klein's work.

Eidetaker: that's the second comment about how hard it is to read. I'm not really seeing it myself. Maybe it's because I'm on a mac at the moment which I seem to recall have lighter gamma (horrid fiddly osxy things, and with uk keyboards no less, ptui)
posted by Sparx at 11:27 PM on July 30, 2007


Thank you so much... of course, an interview with Sim would have been super perfect, but as was pointed out, I don't think such a thing exists. And Todd Klein is really one of the good ones. A pal of mine is just now abandoning all his old digital blambot type fonts and is doing it himself. (The closest I've ever come is making a digital font out of my handwriting.) He'll dig this.
posted by Adam White at 1:55 AM on July 31, 2007


they could at least tinker with the font so that it doesn't all look exactly the same in every damn book

Do you mean the same letterer on multiple books or different letterers? Because I can't agree all comic lettering looks the same. The work of Janice Chang still screams 90s Marvel book to me.
posted by yerfatma at 4:18 AM on July 31, 2007


There's also Delirium's lettering., I'm not sure if it's the same letterer, without looking up the comics themselves.

It is the same letterer. There's a whole section on Delirium in page 3 of the linked article. He said: "Neil had a specific idea about Delirium's style, that it represent a sort of mad variety, getting louder and softer, like something going in and out of focus. This was fun to do in small amounts, but tedious in large ones."
posted by tomboko at 4:28 AM on July 31, 2007


Adam White: I'd be interested to hear how you went about that. I've seen places where you can send them your writing and they'll make a font for you, but never thought of doing it myself. My handwriting is so mercurial that I doubt I could get a consistent font going on.
posted by Eideteker at 5:25 AM on July 31, 2007


Do you mean the same letterer on multiple books or different letterers? Because I can't agree all comic lettering looks the same. The work of Janice Chang still screams 90s Marvel book to me.

Oh, absolutely -- that was kinda the whole point of my comment. All letterers are not created equal, and most artificial lettering, for lack of a better term, feels...well...artificial. Current Marvel books all seem to use exactly the same (computer) lettering.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:37 AM on July 31, 2007


Ah, got it. I only pick up one or two Marvel books (Iron Fist) right now, so it hasn't caught my eye.
posted by yerfatma at 1:55 PM on July 31, 2007


« Older N.C. A&T food scientist develops process for aller...  |  The Internet is for porn. Neve... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments