Thursday 30 December 2010

Wednesday --errm-- Thursday Surgery: The Doctor is Late

Sigh! Apologies, once again, for bringing this to you a day late. The second plumbing catastrophe of the Festive Season has disturbed my otherwise calm and serene demeanour, and disrupted the normally zen-like processes of my working day.

Today, we'll cover a couple of points raised by Kyle Jones…

Forgive me for summarizing your first question, Kyle, but the crux of it is this:
You wanted to compare a page you'd scanned from a bought comic to one that you'd found on the internet side by side in Illustrator to assess the point sizes of the fonts used, but found the sizes of the two page scans very mismatched.
I suspect that you're over-thinking this quite substantially. It is true that the internet scan will have been created with thought only to its pixel dimensions, meaning that it is likely to have very large dimensions in mm and relatively low resolution.

However, assuming that your Illustrator document is standard US comic dimensions, then it is the right size. If the page was scanned from a standard US comic, then simply scale the scanned image to fit the Illustrator document (keep in mind that you will need to scale it to the trim line, because the printed document will have been trimmed down from full bleed). Regardless of the resolution, this has to be the right size, because this is the physical size of the original document!

I would caution against getting too hung up on making an exact match for someone else's point size. What's important is that you can read it (easy to check if you print out a sample at actual size) and you think it looks good.
The second question is shorter and sweeter. Since next week is Comicraft’s yearly sale where every font is about $20 (not trying to be an advertisement for them, I’m also looking into a bunch of Blambot fonts), which ones would you recommend […?]
I have literally no regrets about any of the Comicraft fonts I've purchased. You're quite right to note that the annual New Year Sale is the perfect opportunity to pick up some absolute bargains, but which fonts you choose are a matter of taste. You mentioned that I expressed a preference for Blambot's Hometown Hero over Comicraft's JoeKubert, for example. My preference for Hometown Hero is simply because I'm utterly beguiled by Nate Piekos' double-T auto-ligature, that runs the crossbar of the T across both uprights:
I don't expect anyone else to feel the same way -- it's just that I have done this in my own handwriting for many years, so the font makes a very personal, direct connection to me. Something in Comicraft's TimSale makes me think of classic 2000AD letterer Steve Potter's work and using it calls to mind vast bodies of fantastic comic stories from my childhood.

You should be looking for fonts that make you happy, fonts which it will give you pleasure to use. That pleasure should feed through into your work and add something to your lettering that no tutorial, and no amount of practice, will be able to provide.



Sunday 26 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Providing A Sample

The promised new practice packs will be along shortly -- having slain the Deadline Beast with a day or so to spare, a plumbing catastrophe has struck Campbell Towers, bringing further disruption to the festive season!

However, I do just have time to follow up on the following question from Robert Kurthy.

(I have no idea why you couldn't leave this in the comments, Bob -- it doesn't even seem to have been caught up in the spam filter… my apologies!)

"Can you elaborate on the contents of a typical 'sample pack?'

I can't imagine a letterer would be given enough (free) sample copies of an actual printed issue to mail out all over the place.

So what do you send: color printouts? How many total pages? How many pages from any individual book? From how many different books?

Also, anything else one might send, including important things to put (or avoid putting) in a cover letter, etc. etc."

The first thing to keep in mind here is that I'm hardly a towering example of lettering success! I mean, seriously, how many of you have actually bought a physical comic that I've lettered? Very few of you, I suspect! Once you've considered that fact, treat all advice that follows with the suspicion it so richly deserves!

The most important piece of advice is that anything I say here is automatically over-ruled by anything a company's own submission guidelines say. 

Quite a few companies have submission agreements on their websites so make sure that you've checked for this before you submit and that you've included a signed copy if this is something they expect. Otherwise, you're wasting a stamp.

In addition, always do your research. The recent advert by DC Comics for an in-house letterer and subsequent discussion on Digital Webbing strongly suggests that there is little or no point making a cold submission to DC. Similarly, I believe that Marvel have abandoned the slush pile some time ago and no longer even look at cold submissions, so that's another stamp saved. Top Cow have an exclusive agreement with their letterer, who does all their books; IDW have (I believe) all of their lettering done in-house… 

As you can see, the list of target companies for submission can be whittled down quite quickly!

So… with all those caveats out of the way:

My sample pack consists of colour printouts of my most recent work. On an A4 sheet, a US comic page leaves some space, so I try to include a small amount of text, identifying that publisher and the title, and a single brief paragraph talking about any design decisions that were made for the project. I also put my e-mail address on every page.

I mention the extra text because a couple of editors have said that they found this added interest to the samples above a plain batch of sample pages. Artists are often advised to keep their portfolios for initial showing to the five or six strongest pages they have, and that's what I try to follow here. I additionally include an FAQ page at the back, with a brief run-down of my project history; telephone and postal contact details; and a couple of brief sound-bite testimonials.

Given that all this information is included in the sample pack, I try to keep the covering letter as short as possible, pretty much doing nothing more than introduce myself (if you're following up a contact you made at a convention, this is the place to remind the editor of that) and inviting them to contact me for further information if the sample pack doesn't answer all their questions.

There may, occasionally, be something specific to a submission that's worth also putting in the cover letter. Dark Horse specify, for example, that they prefer to see black and white lettering samples. I don't have any, so I thought it was worth putting a brief paragraph in the cover letter explaining this and apologizing, so they at least knew that I'd read the submission guidelines!

One seemingly trivial thing that's also worth mentioning: I always fasten my sample packs together with paperclips and not staples. If you're sending your samples to an office which recycles its paper, then removing the staples is a pain for the editor. Use a paperclip and, even if they throw your sample pack away, you've made their life a tiny fraction easier, plus they've gained a paperclip! It may not sound like much, but it might be enough to fix your name in their mind the next time one of your submissions comes across their desk, or if they see your work in print somewhere.

For what it's worth, that's the best advice I have.



PS: Belated Festive Best Wishes to all of you who celebrate Christmas. I hope you had a splendid day and I wish everyone a prosperous New Year into the bargain!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: MIA

On the home stretch with the deadline crunch, ladies and gents, but I've only time for a quick note today -- my apologies.

By way, hopefully, of an apology, I hope to have some more practice packs available for you lovely people in time for the Sunday Surgery (which is Boxing Day, unless I'm very much mistaken).

See you on the 26th!



Sunday 19 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Gizza Job, Go On, Giz It…

(Apologies for the post title which will be incomprehensible to the large chunk of this blog's readers who aren't familiar with blackly humorous BBC social dramas of the 1980s.)

This question popped up on another forum, and I thought it was worth a post here:

"Have you ever posted anything on finding work?"

Now, I will confess that if I had a magic formula for getting work, that's one thing I probably would keep close to my chest!

As it happens, however, I don't have any special insight! The bulk of my income is currently derived from two publishers, and my "in" with them was chiefly dumb luck: in both cases, they were looking for a fill-in letterer in a hurry and my samples were top of the pile. In both cases, the samples had been out for so long that I'd actually forgotten about them.

And this is the only key piece of advice I can offer: if you don't actually have any samples out there, then even dumb luck isn't going to work in your favour.

Also, you're going to want to those samples to represent your best work. I have a simple database (although a spreadsheet will work just as well) with the postal address of every US and UK publisher I can find details for. I record the date when I send a sample pack out to them, and what response -- if any -- I receive. In the overwhelming majority of cases, there is no response at all.

Every three months or so, I try to find time to update the sample pack with current pieces of work, and send a new pack out to everyone who hasn't already commissioned me, or told me to never contact them again.

Be aware that raising your profile is largely a matter of doing a lot of free work and hoping that some of it turns into paying work. The first year I made any money from lettering, I'd say that about 75% of the work I did was actually free, or 'back end', the second year it was about 50/50 and I was able to pack in my day job; this year I think it'll be about 66% paying and I hope that next year it's going to be north of 75%.

(I should stress that I am very fortunate to live an area of the UK where housing prices are relatively reasonable, I have modest lifestyle expectations, and an understanding wife with professional qualifications and a good job. You will not get rich doing this!)

On the subject of back end deals (where you do all the work for no pay up front but in return for a percentage of the profits on publication), I should say that I am not --in principle-- as hostile towards these as many professionals. There is an argument that if the work is good enough to be published, it's good enough to get paid for, a sentiment with which I take no issue.

However, given that these deals do exist, then they are certainly a means, if nothing else, of getting some original material to work on! Your chances of making any money on these deals (excepting some of the big players, like Image) is pretty slim, but if you look on these projects as good practice that you might get paid for, then I would argue that they certainly have some value.

Beyond that, the only advice I can offer is about making sure that even a small break turns into a bigger one: always do your best work, regardless of the page rate; always deliver on time; try very hard not to be a dick.

That's all I've that been doing. So far, so good…!



Thursday 16 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: Holding Pattern …

Sorry, folks -- you might have to be patient with me for a couple of days! More content is coming soon, I'm just grappling with an unexpected deadline crisis. 

Prospective letterers, take note -- "unexpected deadline crisis" are three words that will dog you for the rest of your life if you're serious about this line of work!



Sunday 12 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Over to you, Rich!

Grappling with a bit of a deadline crunch this week, so today's Sunday Surgery simply points you in the direction of this excellent resource page on Comicraft's Balloon Tales site.

If I have one mild criticism of Messrs Starkings & Roshell's excellent site(s) it's that some of this stuff is pretty tough to find, and the chaps don't blow their own trumpets often enough: how have I been lettering professionally for two years, and as an amateur for years before that and have never seen that page before, guys? It's brilliant!

Anyway, I'll happily leave you in the informative hands Comicraft for today. More stuff coming next week.



Thursday 9 December 2010

Thursday Surgery: Unlettered Pages! With Scripts!

With apologies, once more, for the delay, I'm happy to bring you the delayed Wednesday surgery post.

One area where prospective letterers seem to be at a disadvantage is finding sample pages to letter, either for practice or for portfolio purposes. There are lots of scripts on the web that pencillers can have a crack at, pencils for inkers, inks for colourists, but letterers…? Not so much.

Now, it is true that there are plenty of web-comics and small press titles out there with utterly horrible lettering, so you could just pitch up to them and offer to do their lettering, but that's not much help if you're just looking to get some practise in (and some people can get a bit defensive when you point out that their web-comic looks like absolute pants because they lettered it in ComicSans).

There are some sample pages on the 'Activities' thread on the Digital Webbing forum (which are well worth a go -- I've tried several of them myself, and some of them are hard!) but beyond that a quick Google turns up precious little.

Consequently, I'm happy to bring you some unlettered sample pages, with scripts.

The links below are direct downloads of ZIP files, which should uncompress with any suitable utility to give you the artwork files, and the scripts in Microsoft Word format.

Please note that these pages are supplied for lettering practise only and may not be used for any other purpose. If anyone breaches the copyrights then I will have to remove the files.

First up -- Judge Dredd: It Came From Bea Arthur Block (Part 1) provided by kind permission of editor Matt Smith at 2000AD/Rebellion. There are six B&W pages, and the ZIP file weighs in at roughly 4Mb.

Download Judge Dredd pages.

(NB: I didn't letter the published version of this strip. That was done by the supremely talented Annie Parkhouse. Extra thanks to PJ Holden for letting me have the pages and the script when I was doing some try-out pages for 2000AD earlier in the year.)

Next -- Fractal Friction Pgs 1-10 provided by kind permission of the named creators on each page. There are ten colour pages and individual scripts for each, so the ZIP file is a bit larger, weighing in at 11Mb.

Download Fractal Friction pages.

Please feel free to post the results on appropriate forums, such as the Digital Webbing Lettering Forum if you want some feedback. 

You can also post links to your lettered versions of these pages in the Comments section of this post if you'd like me to provide a crit of them in a future Surgery session.

I have feelers out to other collaborators and publishers, and I hope to be able to supply some more pages next week. 

If you know of any other resources where unlettered pages and the corresponding scripts can be found online, please use the comments section below to share the links, and I'll collect them together in future post.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery: Delayed by Snow!

OK, that's not true. I'm just trying to pull something together that was only highlighted to me earlier today. It should be helpful, but I'm unlikely to be able to get it all ready to go this evening.

Fingers crossed, I should have something for you tomorrow. Apologies, once again!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Sunday Surgery: Oh, what a tangled World Wide Web…

Today's Sunday Surgery arises in part out of a query from the depressingly talented Jim Boswell, but which touched on an area that had already caused me some considerable headaches…

As it becomes increasingly common for publishers to want to repurpose strips for web, e-reader or iPad, you may find that you're asked to supply layered lettering files so that publisher can adapt the pages for electronic consumption.

Given that Illustrator files already have layers, the obvious solution would be to turn all the text to outlines and simply supply the .ai documents. However, Illustrator seems to be viewed as a bit of a strange beast in some quarters and requests for layered TIFF files, or Photoshop (.psd) documents are very common in my experience.

Illustrator has an option for Photoshop export which should preserve your layer structure, but I found that every time used it, my artwork and balloon layers would be merged into one, with the Text layer behaving as expected. To save everyone else the frustration of working this out, I can report that that it's the Overprint Stroke setting on balloons and captions that causes this. If you turn this off, then the Photoshop export works perfectly.

Note that you can record an action that contains Select All, and then two clicks on the Overprint Stroke followed by two clicks on the Overprint Fill options which should remove all overprinting from your document.

(You could even build the .psd export into the action, which would enable you to run the entire process as an automated batch option on a folder full of .ai documents.)

However, you need to be very clear with your publisher that a file with no overprinting should not be doubled up as a print file.

There is -- to the best of my investigations -- no way to extract a layered TIFF file directly from Illustrator, but you could record an action in Photoshop to save your exported .psd files as layered TIFFs and then run a batch operation from within Photoshop to handle the second stage of the conversion.

At this point, I will concede that the obvious solution that suggests itself is to simply letter the whole thing in Photoshop. 

The sky will not fall in if you letter documents in Photoshop, but a bitmap graphics editor is, regardless of how many features Adobe shoe-horns into it, simply not as good an option as a programme for which setting type is a primary function. Sooner or later, you will run into the limitations of Photoshop as a typesetting application and, at that point, you'll need to consider using Illustrator instead.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Wednesday Surgery

…Aaand we're back.

Still pretty busy, to be honest (not that I'm complaining, I should stress) but there's enough time to mop up a couple of questions from previous posts' Comments sections, which is what these 'surgeries' are for.

Where does default lie?

Jesse asks:

"Is there a way to lock Illustrator's ellipses at 0.75 pt? Mine (CS1) defaults to 1pt, which looks too chubby to my eyes, but it's a pain to change each balloon. I've considered creating the page at 1 pt, then selecting the Balloons layer and changing it all to 0.75 pt when it's done, but I think that may end up introducing side-effect oddities where balloons don't look quite right after I change the stroke width."

To the best of my knowledge, there's no way to set the default value in Illustrator.

However, I really only have one basic dialogue balloon for most projects. A not-quite-oval one or a slightly-squared-off one. Some fonts and projects suit one style better and some suit the other -- I don't tend to mix them.

Consequently, I have one balloon with the correct stroke, fill and trapping values to one side of the document on the Balloon layer. When I want a new balloon, I simply CMD-C/CMD-V or hold down the ALT key and drag the balloon onto the document area with the Selection tool. Using ALT turns the normal move operation into a copy.

As long as you have the "Scale Strokes" option unchecked in Preferences, you can then resize the balloon to your needs:

If you want to create a different balloon or caption box with those values, simply click on the master balloon with one of the selection tools (doesn't matter which) and then switch to whichever drawing tool you need. The next object you create should be on the same layer and have the same stroke and fill values.

If you find that having a live object at the side of the page gets in the way, you can always lock it (CMD-2) so that it can't be accidentally selected, and then pick up its properties with the eye-dropper (quick-key 'I'). I've never used CS1, but if it has Graphic Styles, you could also create one with your basic balloon properties and use the Styles palette to quickly apply the relevant values.

What's the vector, Victor?

Kyle Jones came back with a quick follow-up question arising from my 'Resolution' post:

"... Do you ink on a vector layer or a raster layer in Manga Studio. I realize you'd still have to use the bucket tool and some other things on a raster layer (even if inking with vector layers)? Do you do this (inking on vectors) in case you want to make characters or objects bigger as you adjust your drawings?"

I use raster (bitmap) layers for all my Manga Studio layout, pencilling and inking. I'll confess that this is largely because I haven't yet got to grips with the vector features of MS yet, but also because I had previously tried inking in Illustrator and literally never found myself going back and editing individual strokes, only ever deleting them. Given this, the very generous number of Undos available in MS seems more than sufficient.

You're quite right to observe that scaling elements on a vector layer will give better results than a raster one, but I try to do anything like that at the "pencilling" stage so that the inks are all laid down at the same size.

Nonetheless, the vector tools are still something I intend to get to grips with, and I promise a post on that subject once I have!


"Also, what would be the precise specs you'd recommend when building a standard US comic book page in Manga Studio (for Page Size, Finished Frame, Basic Frame and Bleed Width) as it seems different comic company's specs vary slightly, what would be a good generic template?"

Again, I've never used MS professionally for a page of comic art, but this is my understanding…

Finish Frame is the same as the Page Size, in as much as it is the finished, trimmed size of the page. A standard US comic book is 168x259mm, so that's the size I'd use for my Finish Frame; Bleed varies by printer but no-one ever complained about having too much, so make that 5mm on each edge, to give 178x269mm.

Basic Frame is the Live/Safe Type area. This is the one that can really vary, so for a paying job always, always check! For practise documents, you might as well call it 10mm in from the finish frame, so 148x239mm…

As ever, if anything here is unclear, or gives rise to further questions, please feel free to use the Comments section to post queries or give feedback.