As anyone who’s ever read a comic text like “Unwritten” should know, typography is a big deal. The way letters are shaped, the space in between them, and the thickness of the lines all play a big part in how we read the actual words presented to us. Inflection is hard to show in plain text (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted a sarcasm font), and therefore artists and letterers go to great lengths to try to show what the author really wanted to show. Other times, fonts and stylistic choices are used to distinguish between story-lines. In “The Neverending Story”, text color is used to tell the difference between the real world, and the story being read by Bastian. In “Unwritten”, different font styles are used in the story version of Tommy Taylor, the movie version of the books, and the present, real world.
I found all of this interesting, and wanted to share a bit about what I know of typography. First off is the basics – what I learned from my Photojournalism I class in high school – letter spacing. More specifically, kerning and leading. Kerning refers to the horizontal space between letters, while leading refers to the vertical space between lines. Both seem like simplistic and pointless things, but they really can change a text a lot. Squishing the letters together can drastically change readability, and thus, the mood of the comic.
But not all typography is intertwined with comics. Some people do typography for a living without ever working on a comic. Two of my favorites are Lee Crutchley and Chris Piascik. I stumbled upon both of these artists years ago, and have been following their blogs ever since. Chris Piascik is an independent illustrator and designer from Connecticut. He tends to do large fonts with quotes, or all-over prints involving words and small drawings. His work reminds me of comic lettering because of the way he matches the style of lettering with what the words are trying to say.
Lee Crutchley has a blog by the name of Quoteskine, from which I love almost everything. As the blog name implies, he does mostly drawings of quotes in a Moleskine notebook. The unique thing about him is the shape his words and letters often take on. His most famous example is the “why so serious?” quote from the Joker, but all his work does a nice job of showing the reader what all you really can do with a few felt pens, some quotes, and an imagination.
So the point to all this rambling is simple. Sure, fonts in comics are important – they help us read what we’re supposed to read. But they’re also interesting in other contexts. Typography isn’t all about being able to tell the difference between the fonts, superhero 1, superhero 2, and superhero 3. It’s also about art.