Friday 23 April 2010

Love Letters

I had a phone call from David Orme scribe and fate caster of all that occurs on Cloud 109, yesterday. He'd spent a day at the London Book Fair, which was apparently a pretty drear affair with a lot of sparsely populated stands as the movers and shakers that would normally have been in attendance at this show were unavoidably delayed courtesy of Icelandic volcanic ash. That country's recent celebrity status as Europe's first (but sadly not last bankrupt economy) had evidently given even the Eyjafjallajokull volcano a taste for publicity.

Anyway to cut to the chase he had gone armed with some printed copies of our Cloud 109 proposal, and got engaged with some of the exhibitors there who had graphic novel stands. He showed them our baby, and as they peered amongst the swaddling clothes they proclaimed the infant to be a young and lusty creature full of promise, sharp of intellect, fair of face, a bonnie child in all respects save one - by this stage the infant had kicked aside it's blankets and exposed a rubbery leg. Now all infants have rubbery legs but the hope is that they don't have an Achilles heel. It was this potential Achilles heel that the men from Europe's bastions of bande dessinee focused their gaze on.

It was in effect the lettering! It was deemed to be dull and lifeless and "By George!" I thought - they're right. The lettering that I had chosen from my Operating System's font library was total crap in context of the job I was asking it to do.

Rewind film some nine months, I did make an attempt to sort out some cool lettering without (ulp!) having to faff around trying to create my own typeface in Illustrator. So I checked out Garen Ewing's (he of Rainbow Orchid fame book two due out shortly) always fascinating blog, where he has very helpfully detailed his ongoing refinements of the lettering he evolved for Rainbow Orchid. He was initially recommended WhizBang as a pretty good all purpose comic book font. So WhizBang it was, I went online paid for the download and away we go.

The only problem was that a short while later Illustrator which had previously been a very stable piece of software would abitrarily start quitting on me. A bit of Googling later and I discover that something as apparently innocuous as a downloaded font can create a lot of bad voodoo on your computer. So I incanted a prayer and nuked the font with my trusty AppZapper.

Hey presto! Everything working fine again but no cool font but what the hell I thought, just get on with the artwork. But I was wrong, wrong wrong - oh so very wrong.

So I am now the soul of contrition and am now near obsessed with lettering, I've just downloaded a Dave Gibbons (International) style letter font from ComiCraft's excellent site and am busily injecting life into the previously dead zones occupied by Tekton Pro Extended.

Here's some before and after samples, plus a lovely Dave Sim Cerebus page to show what can be achieved by truly great handling of letter form.

Just got to make sure that the old JuJu man is not burrowing into my hard drive.

And talking of JuJu makes me think of Wrong a blog cooperative venture where writers and artists pool their talents to create some disturbingly different stories. At the moment there's a really great short piece by the combined talents of  Norman Felchie and Alex Sheikman.

Pictured to the right is the first page of something I'm currently working up for Wrong - homage to Ditko, Krigstein and Motorways - more later!

The ranks are swelling but more are needed - so if you fancy contributing something give it a visit. 


  1. For a comic as neat as Cloud 109 you should try and create your own font if possible!

  2. Garen, don't say anything like that to Leo or he'd lock himself away for weeks working on a Green Comet font :)

    I agree the new lettering looks better - just shifting some of the single lines to two helps a lot. But you do have to wonder at any publisher who'd carp about the lettering - which is a pretty simple thing to fix. Okay, yes, it is important, but I think they swoop down on details like that just in order to undermine the creators' confidence. The publishers are actually damned lucky to be given a peek at your pages, and I'm kind of sick of their sniffy, condescending attitude.

    But... that's just me having my daily rant :) Loving the Wrong sneak btw!

  3. Many thanks Garen, I'll hop over to your blog and give it the once over.

    Yes, I did actually have a momentary think along the same lines Dave, from what David said the stuff they had on their stands was pretty standard fare and it might have been a slightly dog in the manger'esque response, but I'm just so Goddam insecure about the whole thing. Plus bearing in mind the thought of us supplying print ready artwork I really do want to get the whole thing nailed down as perfectly as possible.

    Of course on an app you can constantly refine and tweak and in a way it keeps the whole work alive, with readers and creators in a kind of ongoing interaction.

    All very exciting - still thinking of all the possibilities that this opens up for all of us.

    Love the idea of Rainbow Orchid being on an app with Garen's providing the same kinds of tweaks and refinements that he has so engagingly documented on his blog.

    And Mirabilis - well the mind boggles with the amount of texts and sub texts that offers.

  4. I'm inclined to agree with Dave that there's an element of criticism for its own sake in all this. Speaking personally I'm perfectly happy with both versions.

    Having said that I must admit that I've always been aware of a fundamental tension between form and function when it comes to my own attempts at comic strip lettering. If one looks at each page purely as a visual artist - seeing it as just an arrangement of shapes and colours within a single polyptych design - one can easily make decisions that conflict with basic storytelling requirements: something that becomes even more problematic when one remembers that text and pictures are processed by very different parts of the brain.

    In my opinion this sort of conflict was all too obvious in a number of the Warren strips that were drawn by European artists with excessively decorative styles which tended to distract from the story rather than enhancing it.

    Of course nobody could accuse Cloud 109 of falling into this elementary trap, but have you considered the possibility that your artist's eye might nevertheless have led you to choose word balloons that work better as visual shapes in their own right than as vehicles for the words they contain? It's just a suggestion but it occurs to me that, rather than changing the typeface, you might actually get a better effect by simply making the balloons taller and less wide (more like the format used in Mezolith in fact).

    As I said this is only a tentative suggestion, made on the principle that a fresh eye can occasionally see things in our own work that we're too close to see ourselves. Whatever look you choose to go with I've no doubt it will be infinitely better than anything I could come up with...

  5. Funnily enough Phil, I was talking about this very thing with David Orme earlier today. I'm going to revisit the balloons, but overall they're not as bothersome to me as the text. The danger with balloons is if there's too much of a contrast with the line work then they become a distraction.

    But I am looking at Garen's suggestion of designing my own letters - makes a lot of sense and as he suggests would make the thing a more organic whole.

    Very much agree with your comments on the European Warren artists, lovely work a lot of the time but at the cost of storytelling and a complete contrast to the work of the U.S. artists such as Ditko, Severin, Wrightson, Corben, Heath, Toth et al, who were consummate storytellers.

  6. Love the sneak peek at your short for Wrong look forward to seeing the completed piece.

  7. Many thanks James - the pages are coming along really nicely. I'll let you know when it's ready to go up.

    The text is a real inspiration to work with.