Comic Book Lettering!

(or... How I do the balloons for : Photo Cartoons)


Lettering Comics is the BEST job! I set my own hours- I "play" on the computer for a living- I get to see my name published...

Unfortunately, the comic biz slumped off and it couldn't be my sole means of financial support. The upside is that with my other "real" job, I get a steady paycheck and benefits AND I still get to letter comics part time.

Currently, I letter Soulsearchers & Company and the occasional Elvira for Claypool Comics.

I also use my computer lettering skills to make the best lettered Political photo-cartoons on the 'net. Check out on my stuff on my home page.

My past comic book credits include working on way too many titles for me to remember. Of the top of my head (Either as a one-time fill-in or as the regular letterer...) For MARVEL Comics: X-Men, Excalibur. DC Comics: Batman, Superman, Superboy, Catwoman, Wildcat, Teen Titans, Team Titans, Justice League, Aquaman, Star Trek, Flash, Impulse, and more. Others: Vampirella, Creepy, Harsh Realm, The Ray, Nightman, The Strangers, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy and dozens more.

So just what is lettering?

Good question. It's NOT quite writing... and It's NOT quite drawing... It's more the art of understated transcribing. I take the script and neatly write the words on the pencilled comic page (or use my personal computer lettering font and type it, balloon it and paste it up). Done well, a letterer can enhance the flow and read of the comic. Done poorly, it distracts from the artwork and the storyline. Below is an example of how I work. I use mostly computer lettering based upon my hand lettering font (Mainly 'cause it's easier... I don't letter enough to keep in practice to keep my hand lettering quality consistently high).

Here's how I work. I get a script...


To the right is a couple of panels of script calling for what the writer would like the artist to draw along with the dialogue.

Each spoken line of the script is separated and numbered for clarity.

Notice things that the editor emphasized for me to be aware...rewrites, boldfaced words, upper / lower case words, specialty lettering, etc. (The slashes between some words are my doing... to tell me when I should start a new line)

"Copy Placement" guidelines...

My editor also includes a copy placement page which is just a copy of the original pencilled page with hand-drawn, numbered balloons to tell me where to place the balloon, the general shape he'd like and where to aim the pointer.

I type it out using my fonts,

balloon it, and print it out...

On my computer, I type it up using a unique "comic book" font that is based on my personal hand lettering.

I form the lines to the shape desired so it best fits in the panel. Then I use Adobe Illustrator to draw the balloons. (This is what I do for my political cartoons as well) The final result looks like the example at the left.

I rearrange the balloons on the page so they all fit the size of an 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of label paper (we professionals call it sticky-back paper) and then print it out on my laser printer.

I would be negligent if I didn't mention Richard Starkings and the fine folks at Comicraft for all their help / fonts / advice / patience. Visit their website, be impressed, spend money.

Finally, I paste it up and add pointers...

I cut out the balloons and paste them up on the inked page. Then I white-out the area where I plan to hand draw the pointers. Lastly I draw the pointers to the appropriate character, do a little touch-up artwork if necessary and I'm done! Below is a progression of this from panel to panel.

Sound Effects? No problem.

Among the more interesting aspects of this job is to letter the book and not make it look boring to read.

This is accomplished by "punching-up" the lettering in certain ways. Sound effects should be lettered so they look like they would sound. A common example is to make a "KerRash" of a window breaking to look all jagged but still legible.

But my favorite example is the one at right where I got to letter a character throwing up and make it look like he WAS throwing up as he was speaking.

(For this I went to college?)


Copy Heavy? I can make it work.

Also, being able to place a lot of copy in a panel without it overpowering or covering up important art is a good skill to have.


( I hope you enjoyed your tour of how a comic book is lettered! )


See this cool page for Marvels #2? (written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Alex Ross) What a cool painting. The Sentinels have never looked more impressive and imposing. You know what else I love about working in comics? The people you meet, the places you get to travel (and write off of your taxes), the connections you make...

...y'see, a lo-o-o-ong time ago I worked on Vampirella when it was written by Kurt Busiek (who also did some Elvira stories I lettered for Claypool Comics). When Marvels came out, it blew everybody away. A painted comic book like this was never seen before. I knew I had to get a page for my collection. I called my editor and got Kurt's phone number. From him, I got Alex Ross' art manger. Sure enough, most of the pages were for sale. Of what was left, I picked the Sentinel page because I knew it would look best as a stand-alone in an 18" x 24" picture frame. I had it professionally matted and framed. And it hangs in my studio above my computer. When I told the story to Ross when I saw him at a comic book convention, he thanked me and said that he was glad it went to someone who appreciates it. It's one less of his paintings were bought on speculation waiting to be resold at a higher price.

Hey! Look what The Comic Shop News had to say about Claypool Comics!

To get to the Political Strikes : Photo Cartoon home page, click HERE.

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