Thursday, 26 January 2012

Strip Magazine: Restoring Hook Jaw!

For this post, I thought I'd take a quick look at one of the more involved lettering jobs I've been working on, the 'restoration' of classic 70s British comic strip Hook Jaw for the new Strip Magazine.

I remember Hook Jaw and the comic it appeared in -- Action -- from my childhood. As was the norm at the time, it was lettered using typeset Letterpress lettering, giving the lettering a very uniform and (frankly) boring appearance. When 2000AD appeared a couple of years later, editor Pat Mills had the whole thing produced with hand lettering, because he felt it looked more dynamic and exciting, and I had to agree. This practice then spread to other titles in the IPC stable and (although Action was long-gone by then) comics like Battle moved to hand lettering as well.

When Strip editor John Freeman announced that the new comic would be reprinting Hookjaw, I leapt at the chance to re-letter the strip. Much of the original artwork is long lost or possibly in the hands of private collectors, meaning that the only artwork available to use is scanned from the printed pages complete with the Letterpress lettering in place.

I felt that simply trying to drop new lettering over the old to cover up the previous balloons would be a less than ideal solution -- the new balloons might not be the same size, and some of the positioning (with the benefit of hindsight, obviously!) might not be ideal. John didn't take much convincing, and it was agreed that I would remove the old lettering digitally, and redraw the missing parts of the page so that we could approach the pages as if they were brand new pieces of artwork…

So, here's a quick breakdown of the process:

1) The pages are supplied to me electronically, courtesy of comic archivist Moose Harris (whose excellent sevenpennynightmare site can be found here)…

Click for larger version. 

Moose has already done an excellent job of cleaning up the artwork during the scanning process and dropped out the original colouring.

2) I import the artwork into Manga Studio EX. Many comic artists work in Photoshop, but Manga Studio has (for my money) far better tools for simulating traditional inking techniques, making it perfect for this sort of work. If you look on the right hand side of the screen shot, you'll see that I've added two layers, "White" and "Black"…

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3) Using one of the pen tools, I white out all the existing lettering. I try to remove as little of the surrounding artwork as possible -- I'm supposed to be restoring the original page, not showing off my own (limited!) drawing skills.

Click for larger version
3) Occasionally using a bit of guess work to figure out what had originally been under the lettering, I move on to the black layer and, using a combination of Manga Studio's pen and brush tools, do my best to recreate the missing linework.

Click for larger version
4) I then upload the artwork by FTP to the editorial server. The artwork then goes to the colourist (in this case, the very talented Gary Caldwell) and John Freeman reviews the script to provide me with a final lettering version.

5) The Gary provides the coloured version of the artwork…

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6) Which I then place onto a lettering template in Adobe Illustrator, and letter in accordance with script…

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…which then goes back to John for proofing, corrections and final approval. After that, it's ready to go in the comic!

Did I mention that this job is a whole lot of fun? I probably should -- a "Hook Jaw Day" might just be my favourite part of the month!




  1. What a fascinating process! It looks great and you do a great job filling in behind the word baloons.

  2. Very nice, mate! Can I ask what font you're using for Hook Jaw dialogues?

  3. That's CCTimSale, sir. I use it quite a lot because it feels less agressively "American" than many lettering fonts, if you see what I mean?

  4. Its a really impressive restoration when you see all the stages side by side (and a lovely colouring job too) and you can't see the joins with the new (this might not be a big deal to you arty types but I can't draw for toffee and it is the most... miraculous part of the process). A couple of questions:

    * Were you tempted to put in the lettering and then see what art you needed to redraw? It might have saved a bit of time, bit I suppose there is the danger of not getting the restored art right if you are just doing a bit of it.

    * Was there a good reason for leaving out the second balloon in the first panel? I suppose trying to redo old school comics highlights some of the redundancy from the more paternalistic approach (not as bad as trying to do restore early Marvel comics written by Stan Lee!!), but the tricky thing would be knowing where to stop once you start rewriting the script.

  5. Thanks for the kind words, Emp! To answer your questions:

    1) No. I deliberately don't give ANY thought to the lettering when I'm redrawing the art. I very specifically want to approach the page as a letterer as though I have a fresh page of unlettered art.

    2) The basic rule John and I have with this is to prune anything that "states the bleedin' obvious." In this case, the missing balloon foreshadows an oil strike that takes place three panels later and occupies three-quarters of the same page, and thus seemed a little redundant!

  6. Thanks to Jim for reminding me about this post over on Facebook this morning in connection with a discussion on comics restoration. He did a bang up job, along with colourist Gary Caldwell.

  7. LOVE to see that there are still people who (like me) have fond memories of these comics and the strips (especially Hellman of Hammer Force and Dredger).

    Unfortunately, sevenpennynightmare seems to have gone AWOL; does anyone know of anywhere else where the strips are still available to read online ?