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Piccolo: Lettering is becoming a lost art

Another great post on the art of cartooning from Tina’s Groove creator Rina Piccolo – this time on the lost art of hand lettering comics:

I draw ?Tina?s Groove? with an ink brush and black india ink. I letter the word balloons with a pen nib dipped in the same ink. Hand-lettering my comic strip gives me the option to play with the physical features of the letters and words, because, when you think of it, letters are images just like cartoon faces are images ? they can be expressed, and ?drawn?, in a way that adds life to a comic. Sometimes I draw dialogue in a way that conveys to the reader how it should be read. Everybody knows that words can take on different tones through the style they?re drawn in. If I were to hunt for fonts that do this as effectively as I?m capable of doing it myself, I would be wasting time. And let?s face it, tapping out letters on a keyboard is just not what you think of when you think of cartooning. What?s a cartoonist, then, if not someone who crafts these things by hand?

And I would emphasize her last two sentences: “tapping out letters on a keyboard is just not what you think of when you think of cartooning. What?s a cartoonist, then, if not someone who crafts these things by hand.”

Community Comments

#1 Stephen Johnson
@ 9:34 am

I concur wholeheartedly.

I hand letter my strips for many reasons, both personal and artistic. For me to use fonts for my lettering is the same as using clip art for my drawings.

The joke might be the same; however, the reader feels a cold, mechanical side to the strip that should not be there. The imperfections of hand lettering create a voice that is more natural.

If you use fonts, you are typesetting, not lettering.

#2 Keith Brown
@ 10:35 am

Then why use a computer at all?

@ 12:15 pm

Although I do not disagree with Rina, there?s also a part of me that isn?t bothered by using keyboard fonts. I write my own letters but I?ve never had a problem with anyone that chooses not to. I?m pretty indifferent when it comes to this, obviously, but I do get what Rina is saying.

Hey folks, how’s my lettering ?

#4 Brian Powers
@ 12:34 pm

For myself, I made my handwriting a font and have at least 3 or 4 different versions of each letter so that I don’t have the same letters right next to each other. This is important to me for some reason as I don’t want my lettering to have such a uniform font look. I like the ability to edit my copy on fly and it looks much better than writing out the whole text by hand (I’m not consistent at all with my letters so it looks better and is more readable). I do my whole comic in photoshop with a tablet so not using my font wouldn’t make much sense for me. Just make the best art you can with the most effective tools you can find.

#5 Jim Lavery
@ 1:02 pm

Crap, I never thought of that. I could have been using clip art all this time!

#6 Gerry Mooney
@ 2:50 pm

I hand-letter when I need to with my trusty Speedball B6 and a bottle of ink, and I’m a lefty!

Awhile back I re-tooled a strip that I wanted to re-submit to the syndies, and I used a font just for efficiency. But it just didn’t look the same.

#7 Joe Engesser
@ 9:26 pm

Don’t know what it is, but the sketchier Schwadron’s lettering, the funnier the cartoon.

#8 Frank Mariani
@ 8:51 am

I agree with all your assertions on an academic level, and I once SWORE I would never use digital fonts, but deadline pressures and the abilty to make last second copy changes are sometimes worth the aesthetic compromise.

There’s no reason why the two modes cannot be mixed as needed. Some words just need to be drawn to be effective. Onomatopoeia-ists everywhere agree.

When I was a signpainter I went through a similar metamorphosis from time-honored hand lettering guy to have to stay competitive computer cut vinyl guy. Adhering to my old tenet would not have paid the bills.

#9 Frank Mariani
@ 8:54 am

And it won’t become a “lost” art — just a more scarce one. Just like neon.

#10 Chuck Akira Brubaker
@ 2:53 pm

I was contemplating on switching to fonts for my comic, but ultimately I decided against it.

Nice thoughts from Rina.

#11 Brian Fies
@ 4:51 pm

I agree 100% and especially appreciate Rina’s thoughts on text as a design element. But it only took editing one graphic novel to convert me to creating my own font.

Made a typo? Want to add or delete a sentence? Delete an entire word balloon (which means drawing the art that should be “behind” it)? Get published in another language? It’s all so, so much easier when the words and balloons are on different Photoshop layers. Like the difference between spending minutes or days on the task.

I value hand lettering on original art, and realize what’s lost by giving it up. But I gave it up.

#12 birdie Birdashaw
@ 5:36 pm

Though I think Hand lettering is a great art and it’s something I wish I could do, I don’t think I’m less of an artist for typing instead of drawing my letters.

I have my ames lettering guide and I practice using various pens but it’s still not something worth putting online or showing in public.

#13 Joe Vissichelli
@ 8:52 am

The one workaround I’m considering for an upcoming webcomic is creating a font from my own lettering if I think it’ll be faster/more efficient to do so down the road. Some great artists have done this to compensate for writers cramp or whatever. Carol Lay comes to mind. At least it’s their own personal font or set of them.

But yes, I agree ? it’s like handlettering never existed to so many artists today. And let’s not forget their use of canned balloons for dialogue. Just draw your art, and slap a shitty oval on top, right? Nooooooooo ? there’s something called layout skills that work it all in together gang.

So, for practicality, I may create my own fonts at some point but I’ll still put them into my own handlettered balloons, just like a real cartoonist.

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