Saturday 31 December 2016

Looking Forward, Looking Back…

Well, good riddance, 2016. What a thoroughly dismal year you turned out to be.

Brexit. Trump. Seemingly everybody dying. Not just distant celebrities (and, for the record, it's okay to be upset about those people dying… if their work was important to you, they became part of your life) but people like Stephen Prestwood, a prolific UK small press artist with whom I've worked for years, like Stewart 'WR Logan' Perkins, a much-loved member of UK comic fandom who I met often enough to consider a friend. Like Steve Dilllon, who I never got to know personally, but who was a constant fixture in my comic-reading life for three decades and was a good friend to some people I know quite well. Somehow, it all felt closer to home this year.

In the plus column, I worked on a great many fantastic books with too many fantastic creators and editors to list here. I still can't believe that I closed out 2016 with 8,646 pages lettered.*

Also very much in the plus column, was meeting up with a posse of fellow letterers at NYCC in October. I hope Sal Cipriano won't mind me stealing his accomplished selfie from Facebook to share here, which shows (left to right): Phil Balsman, me, Deron Bennett, Nic J. Shaw, Taylor Esposito, Nate Piekos, Thomas Mauer, Paige Pumphrey, and Sal himself.

Photo shamelessly stolen from Sal Cipriano. What is the collective noun for letterers anyway.
Although I wasn't expecting to win Comics Alliance's award for Outstanding Letterer of 2016, by virtue of simply not being the best letterer on the list, they did have some kind words to say about my work, which provided a real lift to the spirits at the end of the year. You can read them here.

And looking forward? I'm going to rescue my drawing table from the great pile of junk I've stacked up on it, and I'm going to start drawing again. At least an hour a day drawing, and another hour writing. I've missed doing both those things, and I'm determined to do more in 2017. If that means my working day ends up being two hours longer, so be it.

So, screw you, 2016. Onwards and upwards into 2017.

*That's not try-outs, covers or non-story pages. That's actual comic book pages.** An average of almost 24 a day, every day, for the whole of 2016. Wow.

**Just in case anyone is now trying to work how much money I made in 2016, I should mention that a fair chunk of those pages were for small press projects, which I still try to work on whenever my schedule will allow!

Sunday 20 March 2016

Comic Lettering Minutiae: Punctuation…

Number 1:

It's ?! not !? — you're adding emphasis to a question. If it's not a question, then the sentence shouldn't have a question mark in it.

Number 2:

Sound effects don't generally have exclamation marks (or any other kind of punctuation) at the end. Whilst I'll use them very occasionally for comedic effect, as firm rule, I don't think they're appropriate, for two reasons…

Firstly, aesthetically, the usually-rectangular upright of the character combined with the more-or-less circular point has a habit of throwing nasty tangents on a regular basis.

Secondly, logically, the purpose of an exclamation mark in prose is to add emphasis to a phrase or word that cannot easily be denoted otherwise. In a novel, the body text has historically all tended to be the same font at the same point size with only italics, or possibly all caps, available for additional emphasis. The exclamation mark exists to add emphasis.

With a sound effect, if the text is in a poster font, bright red and set to 144pt, it's probably got enough emphasis!

Monday 1 February 2016

Adventures in Space and Time

One of the key, unique elements of the comic medium is its ability to use space to create time — check out this brilliant flip-book-style illustration of the concept by Balak 01 over on deviantArt.

I came across a really neat illustration of this, and its relevance to lettering while looking for a sequence from Swamp Thing #51 as part of a completely different conversation.

Here's the scene, written by Alan Moore, art by Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala, colours by Tatjana Wood and lettering by John Costanza. (Click any of these images to embiggen.)

Swamp Thing & John Constantine © DC Comics
I was struck, however, by the placement of the last balloon in panel 3. I should mention that back in 1986, it was far more common for letterers to be given placement guides by the editor, so we have no way of knowing whether the decision to have the balloon straddle the border was made by Costanza, or editor Karen Berger, but at first glance, it's curious:

There's clearly acres of dead space within the panel to accommodate the balloon, and yet it breaks the panel borders and straddles the gutter. These are things a letterer usually avoids except when really tight for space or tackling a difficult page layout where the reading order isn't immediately obvious and it's necessary to give some extra assistance guiding the reader's eye.

None of which applies here.

What the floating balloon does do, however, is pull the reader's eye into the top right corner of the large bottom panel. If you were reading the page normally, without the straddling balloon, your eye would automatically begin the final panel in the traditional manner, starting top left.

Meaning that the first thing your eye would hit in the panel is the punchline.

Instead, the balloon pulls your eye to the empty space where John Constantine should be standing, but isn't. And then your eye has to travel across the empty space to the top left corner, physically delaying the reader getting to the punchline, using space to create a pause and effectively dictating the comic timing of the joke.

It's one tiny decision made by either the editor or the letterer, but it neatly demonstrates how small lettering choices can have significant effects on the storytelling rhythm and flow of a book.

Sunday 3 January 2016

Onwards Into The Future!

A belated Happy New Year to one and all…

I did slightly better about putting some content on this blog in 2015, despite lettering 6,454 pages in total for the year and I'm hoping to do better in 2016.

In the meantime, I hope everyone who reads this and patiently waits for the rare occasions I actually put something worth reading on here had a brilliant New Year, and I wish you all a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2016.