Art Comics and Graphic Novels

My Exploratory Journey or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love my Ph.D. (Part Five)

This is the fifth log entry of my ‘exploratory journey’. I’m developing a practice-based Ph.D. thesis in Media Arts titled “Transmedia Storytelling and Speculative Worldbuilding: Graphic Literature and Cinematographic Strategies in the Construction of a Transmedial Franchise”. The main areas of my thesis are Comics, Speculative Fiction, Transmedia Storytelling, and Worldbuilding. On this article I will address ballooning and subtitling in comics; I will do this task in the graphic novel I’m producing with Matthieu Pereira for the thesis, therefore I need to understand everything there is to know about the subject in order to achieve the best results I can (my background in communication design will be helpful).

Comics lettering can be done as one wishes, I guess, but if you want to do it the ‘professional’ way there are a few mistakes that must be avoided. Jason Thibault has a very interesting resource page online [01] that tackles several issues. I will start with an infographic titled “5 Amateur Lettering Mistakes”, designed by Nate Piekos. The mistakes to be avoided are as follow: 1) we use the crossbar letter ‘I’ only for the pronoun ‘I’, never use it in the middle of other words because it takes too much space; 2) “text should be staked to comfortably fit inside a balloon shape”; 3) the space between lines of text should be tight but not as for the text to overlap; 4) do not coincide the limits of the balloons with the panel borders; 5) the tails of the balloons should not be too wide (they should be consistent).

Nate Piekos created another image, titled “5 More Amateur Lettering Mistakes”, that shows more mistakes that should be avoided: 6) don’t cross the balloon tails; 7) when cutting a balloon at the panel border don’t cut it at its widest point; 8) tails should emanate from the center of the balloon; 9) tails should point at the character’s mouth; 10) try to cover the art with balloons as less as possible. 

Nate Piekos also explains how and when we can use the italic version of a comic’s typeface when subtitling: 1) always italicize internal monologue; 2) always italicize thought balloons; 3) always italicize foreign words; 4) always italicize names of ships; 5) always italicize titles; 6) always italicize vocalizations; 7) always italicize radio transmissions; 8) italicized lettering may be used on whispering balloons.

For some more good advice, the website of Blambot has a ‘resources’ link for several pages. I recommend reading two: “Comic Book Grammar & Tradition” [02] and “Lettering Tips” [03]. The images below were taken from the first resource and are but for a few of what is available on the website, organized by Nate Piekos. Blambot sells typefaces but they also make logos and custom fonts.

The lettering should be staked in harmonious ways but the layout of the text and the balloon has some good and bad ways to be done. Chris Oatley had (can’t find it anymore) a tutorial online with two pieces of advice: 1) fit the text into the balloons in a football or diamond shape; 2) Keep important words or phrases together, it will help emphasize them.

Dividing a long line of dialogue is essential when the phrase is long. Joining balloons with connectors or just overlapping them is graphically interesting and it helps the reader. Drawing the balloons (and tails) can be a challenge and some artists enjoy diversity to make sure the reader knows who is talking and if that character is whispering or shouting or if it has a menacing voice. The lettering can be very important for these nuances in dialogue as well. Placing the balloons on the page is a designer’s work. The readability from one panel to the other needs to be tight and the page layout must not be harmed. The weight of the balloons on the page and how they interact with the illustrations must be carefully designed.

Because the Portuguese language has specific typographic characters (e.g. ç) and accents (e.g. â, ã, à, á) it’s important to find a good typeface that allows using those without constraints. Below, I share an image I found on Facebook, a list of typefaces available for Portuguese authors. I’m also making available a list of typefaces that some comic artists mentioned on the Facebook post that are not on the image below: CC Astro City, J. Scott Campbell, CC Wild Words.

For a better understanding of comics lettering and the history of the comics fonts, there are two videos that can be watched: “Where the ‘Comic Book font’ Came From”, by Vox [04], and “The History and Techniques of Comic Book Lettering”, by ComicTropes [05].







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