Lettering Hot Seat: Kev’s Tees
I think lettering is a crucial skill to master in comics — and there’s no shortcut to getting good lettering. Digital lettering comes with a plethora of pitfalls, and hand-lettering is a skill that takes a long time to master. That’s why I like to do one of these Lettering Hot Seat critiques every year.
As with all Hot Seat Critiques, my comments are only the beginning of the discussion. Members are encouraged to add their perspectives and opinions to the mix.
Your lettering is good. It’s very good.
You’re leaving adequate spacing on the inside margin of your word balloons. You’ve chosen a professional font. It’s not too small. You —usually— avoid the crossbar “I” error…
I’m not going to be able to give you any more pointers at that level.
So let’s move on to the next level of lettering…
When I read your archive, I see an awful lot of panels that are poorly composed. In other words, the image in the panel just doesn’t balance out properly. And — often — this is a result of haphazard word-balloon placement. Here’s a great example.
Look at all of that space to the left of the blonde character. There’s simply no reason that the word balloons have to overlap the characters to such a drastic degree. With a little planning, you could have moved that guy to the left and opened up a space between the two that would have accommodated all three word balloons.
Here’s another case in which the word balloon seems to be just thrown wherever — instead of composed into the balance of the overall scene.
I particularly don’t like that the word-balloon tail in Panel One overlaps the seated character’s head. It’s awkward. And, in Panel Two, we have a very uncomfortable tangent between the lines of the balloon and the lines of the seated character’s hair. In Panel Three, the word balloon drops to the bottom half on the panel for some reason. And then, we’re back to a super-uncomfortable placement in Panel Four.
A few seconds of planning would have made this an attractively designed comic. Instead, its lack of basic composition makes it look amateurish.
Now, I have to admit… some of what I’m going to say falls under my personal aesthetic. And my aesthetic is far from the only way to do comics. But one of my word-balloon pet peeves is when a word balloon covers up part of a character’s face. I’ll bend over backwards to avoid it — even if it means that my characters’ heads overlap the balloons…
I don’t expect you to adopt my aesthetic, but I do want you to compare it to a panel such as this one…
I’ll argue all day that the balloon with the overlapped head looks more professional.
Finally, I’d like to encourage you to let your balloons float to the top of the panels whenever possible. Here’s a great example.
See… I look at a panel like that as a compositional nightmare. That balloon placement is awkward, obstructs the scene, and presents an overall lack of polish.
Adjust your workflow
If you want to take your lettering game (and the overall attractiveness of your panels) to the next level, I want you to add two things to your workflow. (And, I’ll bet a dollar that you’re probably not doing either.)
- — Thumbnail your panels. Plan the scene. Put a little thought into what is going to go where… and why.
- — Work in this order: Lettering, balloons, penciling and then inking / coloring.
I’m gonna bet you’re not doing that second one. If you’re working digitally, it should be a snap. If you’re doing ink-on-paper, it’s going to to take a little creativity. But there are plenty of workarounds.
Right now, your word balloons are an afterthought. They need to be raised to a priority in your panel-composition process.
You’ve come a loooong way since January. You should be proud of your improvements.
Now, let’s take it to the next level.