ANDY FISH is a comic book artist

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Comic Art Technique: Lettering Part One

It's equally as important to your comic page as the art is but is often given second class citizen treatment.  When you are doing your thumbnails you should be aware of how much text will be involved on the page and give yourself ample room for it.

While we're talking thumbnails, here's a fresh version of the WALLY WOOD 22 PANELS THAT ALWAYS WORK SHEET that I always hand out to students;

Comic Book pages, in the old days-- were lettered in a very matter of fact way:

CAPTAIN AMERICA by Simon and Kirby
This page above, by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, was considered dynamic for the time-- today, unfortunately it would be considered very old-fashioned.  Too many panels for one-- and the figures constantly breaking panel borders would be looked down on.

But sticking with the lettering-- it's not bad, but it's definitely squeezed in more often than not-- the result of the art being designed without consideration of the lettering.

John Carter Page
Even without zooming in- it's clear that this JOHN CARTER page (shown above) commanded respect for the art and then went "Oh yeah, we need some lettering here too!"  In panel 2 and 3 the word balloons don't fit in the respective panels so they chose to just bump them up into panel 1!

This example, from NEMESIS, utilizes a variety of Balloons for different speech effects.  This can sometimes be distracting but here it's used well.  Note the variety of balloon sizes, yet each one formulates a 'stacking' system on the lettering:

The example above is pretty self explanatory I think.  I don't care if the rectangular word balloon fits in your panel-- it just don't look right.

See?  This second example just looks better, okay?

AND if you really want to get technical-- this looks even better-- I punched up the word STACK as a bold work in the dialogue.  Giving emphasis to some of the words your characters speak will make it sound more natural.  (By the way-- the FONT is of my own hand-writing-- more on that later).


Continued dialogue delivery; it's better to use multiple balloons to break up the delivery.  In the case of FIG 1 there is maybe a half-second pause between the two thoughts.

Slow, deliberate dialogue needs to be broken up into multiple balloons, each one with their own pointers FIG 2.  Speaking of pointers...

You don't want your pointer to go all the way to your character's mouth (FIG 3)-- that just looks ridiculous.

Instead, the pointer should indicate WHO is talking, but we take it for granted that the reader understands the words are coming out of the character's mouth.

There are a few places to find a good font.  One place you DON'T want to choose a font from is your computer-- COMICSANS may have the word COMICS in it, but that's as close as it should get to actual involvement in any comics.

The first two balloons in FIG 5 are COMICSANS.  Readers HATE comicsans, so do editors.  The third balloon is a font called ANDYFISH (if you want this font shoot me an email and I'll send it over to you).

You can get nice handwritten style fonts over at
DAFONT -  There are a lot of great fonts here-- all of them FREE.  But read the license, some are only for personal use and therefore you shouldn't use them if you're going to publish your work.  Bring a notepad and paper and write down the names of the fonts you like and then whittle the list down before you start downloading, otherwise you'll kill your computer with fonts.

BLAMBOT - A personal favorite of mine.  Run by Nate Piekos this great site features nothing but comic book fonts, dialogue fonts and Sound FX fonts-- there are both PAY and FREE fonts available, so check it out and pick a good font.   Just don't use COMICSANS.  Resist the temptation!

There are a couple of different ways to control the SOUND of the delivery of dialogue through some creative ways:


LARGE font in a small (or jagged balloon) indicates shouting (FIG 6) while SMALL font in a large or even a normal size balloon means a character is whispering.

Placing balloons takes a bit of skill, check out this graphic from Pro letterer Todd Klein's site, when you are laying out your panels you need to take dialogue delivery order into account.

In the first panel we see a simple speaking order between two characters, if the artist has positioned them in the wrong sides of the panel, then the layout in panel #2 is a viable option.

If you need to have characters responding to dialogue then look at Panel 3.
I don't love the solution to the problem with Panel 4, but it does work.

Remember lettering is read left to right top to bottom as it flows through the panel and down the page, keeping it orderly and sensible will prevent your reader from becoming confused.

PART TWO Tomorrow