Sunday, 13 February 2011

Sunday Surgery: Q&A

This week's Sunday Surgery brings a quick Q&A to some queries from talented artist and all-round top geezer, Conor Boyle, whose work you should definitely check out.
"Do you use a specific font size to page size ratio?"
Short answer: no. I have occasionally read suggestions on various forums that there is a formula for working this sort of thing out, but I've never seen it explicitly spelled out. Additionally, back in the Postscript days, 6pt was 6pt regardless of what font you used. Now, with OpenType (.otf) fonts, size appears to be variable in relation to the proportion of the font; fonts with wider characters appearing larger at a given point size than narrow fonts.

Trial and error will eventually give you a feel for it! I have a couple of bits of sample text that I know have worked at a specific point size locked on the pasteboard at the side of the artwork and I match the chosen font to one of these samples by eye.
"Do you have a particular amount of tolerance of breathing room between text and a speech balloon edge?"

Bizarrely, I now realize that I've never given this any consideration at all, having always done it by eye. However, having gone back and checked a few pages at random, it turns out that my spacing is fairly consistent unless specifically constrained for room, and works out at a single character top and bottom of a balloon, and more like two characters extra space left and right:

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Note that there are plenty of letterers who fit their balloons much more snugly to the text, so this is very much a matter of personal preference. When using a font with wider characters, I notice that I often reduce the horizontal spacing to a single character myself.

"Are there rules to characters talking off camera - do you use boxes or speech bubbles with no tails? Or something else?"

Yes, I believe there are rules for this. I'll confess that I have largely inferred these through observation, so I'm open to correction by older or wiser heads than mine.

Someone who is in the scene and speaks off-panel is represented by a balloon with a tail that is cut off by the panel border. Using a wavy tail is optional: I tend to use one when the tail itself is overly long, or if the unseen speaker is supposed to be speaking from some distance away:

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Charmed #4 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Dave Hoover

If dialogue is being used as a voice-over; if it is articulated speech coming from someone not present in the scene, then it goes in a caption box with quotation marks.

Charmed #5 -- Zenescope Entertainment
Script by Paul Ruditis; Art by Marcio Abreau

Note that if the same speaker continues to speak across multiple captions, each caption opens with a quotation mark, but only the last caption has a close-quotation at the end.

Vampire Vixens of the Wehrmacht -- WASTED Magazine/Bad Press
Script by Emperor; Art by Alex Ronald
If you have two speakers in captions on the same page, when one speaker finishes, you should close their dialogue with a close-quote and then start the next speaker, leaving their captions open until they finish speaking.

The only exception to this is that I will always close the quotation marks in the last caption on a page.

First person narration that is thought, or is a "voice-over" that comes from outside the direct narrative of the story (think of Deckard's narration in the original cut of Bladerunner) goes in captions without quotation marks.

Hopefully, that all makes some kind of sense. If it needs clarifying, or throws up further questions, please feel free to use the comments section below.


  1. Some simple pointers on questions I was probably too afraid to ask Invaluable as ever. One thing I would like to ask which is the best way to save the lettered file so it is editable? I have found in the past that I have made the mistake of merging all the layers and was wondering is it best to save the letters on their own so they can be overlaid if the art work needs changed and what's the best way to go about it?

  2. Yep, that makes sense. Another good entry Jim!

  3. Cheers Jim - much obliged as usual!

  4. Thanks Jim! I actually posted a question about something that I read today was pretty well answered in this posting... great stuff!