Down To The Letter

Having the opportunity to take part in the creation of a comic has really opened my eyes to the attention-to-detail that creating (and reading) comic texts requires. In traditional texts, every detail can be considered important, down to what beverage the character chooses to have with their breakfast. If the detail was included, the author obviously thought it was important to the story in some way. In that same line of thinking, every detail and stylistic choice on a comic page can be considered a deliberate, important inclusion.

I find this topic especially interesting to consider in context of lettering. Font choice is normally something that goes unnoticed; in traditional texts it is the vehicle for the story and is supposed to best represent that story without drawing attention to the font itself. In comics and graphic novels, the lettering and font choices are more integrated into the work itself and therefore hold more importance. They’re a key element of the visual experience that is a comic text, and while the lettering may not be the first thing that a reader notices, it certainly holds a degree of importance.

This idea has been strongly demonstrated in almost every comic text we’ve covered this far, excluding a few (like The City). In the texts we’ve read so far, lettering has been important in terms of conveying tone, emotion, and inflection patterns. We’ve seen lettering that is highly stylized and lettering that serves more just to deliver the narrative (think Obadiah Oldbuck). Take A Contract With God as an example of the importance of lettering. In A Contract With God, the lettering is essentially as important as the artwork itself in terms of the information it conveys. In the scene below, Frimme Hersh is coming back to his apartment after his daughter’s funeral. Through the depiction of Frimme Hersh (head down, slumped) we can discern that the tone is sad, but the lettering also supports that notion in the way it drips and smudges like the rain, like “the tears of ten thousand weeping angels.” The lettering in A Contract With God not only conveys the elements of the story, but it also underscores them by supporting the tone.

contract with god

Other comic texts we’ve covered have used lettering as a means towards a different end. In Watchmen, the main lettering (excluding posters, signs, newspaper headlines, etc.) is in a consistent font throughout the work. What changes within the lettering is the bolded letters. Watchmen uses bolded letters to indicate where characters place emphasis in their speech; this allows the text to develop a specific inflection pattern for each character and thereby subtly enhance their overall characterization. In the image below, we can see through the bolded letters how much emphasiss both Laurie and Dr. Manhattan put on words in their speech. Laurie’s speech seems to have a lot of bolded words, indicating that she places a lot of emphasis on various words and varies her inflection frequently. Dr. Manhattan, on the other hand, has very few bolded words in his speech, which supports the image of him as a fairly flat-affect, monotone, few-emotions character.


As a more alternative comic text, Lynda Barry’s What It Is explores the influences of lettering in some unique and interesting ways. The lettering in What It Is draws the eye to different parts of the page; it ties certain lines together as related and separates the multitude of content present within a page. I have found What It Is to be a very rich text for someone with an interest in lettering, as Barry exhibits a variety of styles across even one single page, not to mention across the entirety of the work. Barry’s text ultimately uses lettering to draw and direct the eye, to intrigue the reader and divide the content into manageable pieces.

what it is

Furthermore, our latest text, Asterios Polyp, uses lettering to its own individual ends. The lettering for each character’s  speech differs, and the style of the font choice often indicates something about that character. Asterios is portrayed as a logical, formal man and his speech font is plain and even. His mother is portrayed as a sweet, devoted older lady and her speech font is a curly cursive. The size of the lettering often also corresponds to the volume of the speaker’s voice; there are several instances where someone is speaking so quietly (or far away) that their speech cannot be heard, and such speech is represented through small indistinguishable marks. The lettering text also indicates when one speaker overlaps another, such as the instance in the image below when Asterios keeps interrupting Hana. I find that the lettering within Asterios Polyp is often as engaging in the artwork, and does an enormous amount of work in characterization.


Ultimately, there’s a multitude of important information that lettering within comic texts can convey. Each comic text we’ve studied this semester has used lettering in a different manner to convey different information, but each’s use of it is crucial to the text. Through size, boldness, and font style lettering within comic texts does a lot of important work from enhancing characterization to signaling tone. I’ve certainly been considering the importance of  lettering and the role it plays when illustrating my team’s webcomic, and I truly did not realize the gravity of its importance until the webcomic undertaking. As we progress through the semester and through more comic texts I’m interested to see different writers’ approaches to lettering and ways it can influence a text that I have not yet considered.


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