ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

For Cartoonists and Artists Part 2: Lettering

"Lettering is the afterthought of the bad cartoonist." -- Andy Fish

Yup.  I said that.  It'll go down with some of my more famous quotes like "I don't like poached eggs."  I'm thankful that I was forced to study things I considered boring at the time, and if you injected me with sodium pentathol I'd probably say they can be boring now, but understanding and mastering things like inking, perspective and lettering separates the professional from the amateur.   It's akin to using proper grammar and being able to spell.

So let's talk lettering.  Will Eisner had a term for lettering that looked like this:

 FIG A - He is indeed, Batman.
I can't for the life of me remember what he called it, if Marcus is reading this blog feel free to remind me.  It was something along the line of long tail.  Eisner pretty much hated word balloons to begin with but he was particularly annoyed by these which made it appear the figure in question is speaking through a ghostly medium.

FIG B - Yup, still Batman, but this time he means it.
With this second example I shortened the tail (it's still too long for my liking) but I also altered the lettering so that it's no longer on one line, it's more balanced with more air around the words which makes it easier to read.  I also introduced the idea of BOLD lettering for the word BATMAN.  It's about giving your characters DELIVERY.

It was explained to me many years ago as the way a good movie director gives his actors motivation as they deliver their lines.  As a good cartoonist that's your responsibility too.

Lets take a look at this sample script:

JIM: Did you catch the game?
TOM: No.  I hate baseball.
JIM: Oh.  Um, sorry.
TOM: No problem, I just happen to hate baseball, so I don't watch it.
JIM: Well, it was a football game.
TOM.  Oh!  I hate football too.

Both characters deliver their dialogue but the way it plays in your head varies.  As a writer I'm not giving the characters inflection in the lines they deliver.  You can overdo it and your characters start to sound like Ross on FRIENDS but here's what I mean.

JIM: Did you catch the game?

Jim's emphasis on 'catch' and 'game' gives those words punch in the sentence.  Hammering the point home.  In the second deliver Jim is actually excited to ask the question.  In the first he may be asking it in a more laid back way.  The key here is that you as the creator get to decide HOW he delivers it.

Another thing to note about the differences in both examples is that in FIG A I placed the balloon inside the ring of the moon behind our dark knight.  I see this a lot, artists don't want to cover up their artwork so they find a blank area to squeeze a balloon into.  You should think of the balloons as PART of the overall composition of your art, not as an afterthought or something you have to stick in.

In FIG B the balloon crosses the edge of the moon.  Not only does it look more balanced but subliminally it says to the reader that these words are equally as important as the artwork.  Fair and balanced lettering here.

MORE SOON.  Art Tomorrow