Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Word play

Although I've often lettered my own strips I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a professional letterer. Which is odd really, especially as I've often been paid extra for it. (Perhaps it's because I've never lettered anyone else's work.) Anyway, personally, I've always felt that lettering is all part of the art duties. I suppose that's because I started out producing my own strips for fanzines, so you had to be your own writer, penciler, inker, letterer - and colourist if the zine allowed colour - because it was all part of getting your personal vision down on paper. (Not that I'm disrespecting the fine folk who are professional dialogue letterers of course. It's quite a skill, ahead of my uneven efforts.)

From what I gather, most artists in the pre-war era of British comics lettered their own strips. People such as Roy Wilson certainly did, and studying the lettering is a useful way of distinguishing Wilson from the many artists who were told to draw in his style. It seems that commissioning someone else to letter pages didn't become widespread until the 1950s, - in UK comics at least. 

I lettered all my own strips for Oink! and Marvel UK in the 1980s. Basically because the editors let me, and it probably worked out cheaper for them. You can see a couple of the Oink! half pages here (Tom Thug and Pete's Pimply Puzzles) photographed from the original artwork. Dialogue lettering can be a bit of a chore sometimes but it's nice to have complete control over a page and I've always loved doing the logos and sound effects. 

When Tom Thug moved over to Buster in 1988 that comic had a policy of using their own letterers. Which was fair enough as I wouldn't want to take work away from people who were used to doing a set number of pages every week. Initially, Mike Peters lettered Tom Thug in Buster using a mechanical font that I was never keen on to be honest as it was far too large. Later, Jack Potter took over, with results that were much easier on the eye. 

Jack Potter had been lettering comics for years and his neat, hand-lettered word balloons looked great. (His son, Steve, was also in the lettering business.) Here's a 1995 Tom Thug page that Jack lettered. (I still did my own logo and sound effects.)...

Back in those pre-desktop publishing days, it was a case of posting the artwork to Jack Potter, and he would letter the colour pages on a clear acetate overlay. Dialogue was lettered onto good quality sticky-back paper ('Crackback' it may have been called, - unless that was just a nickname) which would then be cut out and stuck onto the acetate. Here's the same page without the overlay...

These days of course, pages are emailed to the designers and opened in Photoshop or Illustrator, with the lettering done on screen with top quality fonts such as those sold by Comicraft. (If you're embarking on doing your own comics, and you're unsure about your letting skills, you'd be well advised to invest in some good comic book fonts and read their website.) 

The strips I do for The Beano and Toxic are all lettered in-house by their designers, using computer fonts. However, I still enjoy lettering my own sound effects for the strips. Nothing like putting that gut feeling into a SPLAT! of your own design to suit the image it accompanies. Pages for Viz are always lettered by the artists themselves. 

Incidentally, all of the pages shown here just happen to be up for auction this week over on my eBay page. Yeah, I know. I feel like a club singer trying to sell you his CDs after doing his act. Whether you bid or not, I hope you've enjoyed this article and having a peek at the original art. 

Sound effect I designed on a Tom Thug page.

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