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.


  3 comments for “Down To The Letter

  1. kutoof
    October 25, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    I enjoyed your post for many different reasons! I like how you contrast the use of details in a ‘normal’ book and a ‘graphic novel’. We find details in the imagery that the author presents to us, but when we read graphic novels, we look and observe the images, making sure that we don’t miss out on anything. You emphasize on topic, fonts, which is good because you make a stronger argument. You back up your arguments with texts that we’ve read in class giving our classmates a better understanding of ‘font theory’. It would be nice to give outside sources to emphasize that font dictation is important and crucial in a graphic novel. The wide spectrum of using fonts vary from text to text and you give us great examples of the different possible uses. Even in Watchmen when the font is the same, some words are bolded showing the emphasis on it and showing different emotions from the characters. You talk about how the fonts represent the personalities of the characters and how each description of the fonts is somehow perfect for the different characters. Even in What It Is, the author uses different lettering to draw attention from the reader but I feel as if it does much more than that. Not only does it draw our attention, it represents and shows the different uses of fonts and how they can be used in different contexts. Even the placing of phrases, sentences, words across the whole book is strange but I believe that Barry does it so that reader is forced to not just look at the page, but every detail on that page. You gave fonts a whole new and interesting meaning! I liked the way you organized your thoughts in a cohesive and organized manner.

  2. mkarrs
    October 27, 2014 at 12:56 am

    I think that you make a lot of really good points about the importance of font choice. We’ve seen it used subtly but effectively in many of our texts this semester. I had never really thought about the importance of font choice, bolding or italicizing words, and even the bubbles around the words. This is just another one of the stylistic differences between traditional novels and graphic novels. It’s interesting to think about how both types of novels have significant attention to detail, but detail can come across in different ways. Graphic novels have much less text so their authors have to find other ways to discretely indicate things to their readers. Having different font types for different characters is a simple way to indicate differing personalities without having to give explication about the characters. Like you mention about Asterios Polyp, each character has a developed personality, but the author’s use of different fonts for each character adds to their development. Font isn’t the only way that authors can direct the reading of the novel. It isn’t as subtle as font or word bubble choice, but color of a background or character can strongly affect how we read them. In Asterios Polyp, the difference in time in Asterios’s life is marked by colors. The present day has a color scheme usually of purple and yellow, while the past is depicted in more blues and reds. This is also partially due to the characterization of past Asterios and Hana and their acquaintances and present day Asterios and the other characters in the story. Overall it is interesting to analyze how graphic novels are not just different from regular novels in that they are largely pictures. Every decision an author/illustrator makes is a conscious one to change the impact their work will have on the reader.

  3. clairejmerenda
    October 27, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    Hey! I really enjoyed your post on fonts.

    What surprised me about reading your post is that I realized, I haven’t given much thought to the font of our comic. I chose the first comic-looking font that I liked, and I downloaded and started using it without much thought as to why I liked it, what it’s history was, or what effect it would have on a reader. Looking back, I see that it’s a legible, neat font, but it has these soft, handwritten look that I love. This was pretty convicting for me, because as a young artist and author, I’ve been learning how important it is to craft your work so that your reader has the experience you want them to have. I have a certain experience looking at the font, but will others? I don’t always realize how important every single detail is! Somehow, font choice really slipped my mind!

    I also appreciated the parallel you drew in the beginning of your post between the experience of creating a comic and reading a comic. I feel like there’s a lot more we can talk about here; it’s very relevant to understanding the choices we make as authors, including font choice. In the process of reading a comic, we first read for the overall “gist” of a story. We glance over the pictures, and let the story take our emotions where it will. Then, as students of a literature class, we “zoom in” until we can see the individual choices the artist/author made. This is when close reading happens. We notice traditional literary elements like repetition, imagery, personification, tone, alliteration, etc. and discuss what they mean to the story; we look at how a character’s eyes are drawn and what the author is saying through that choice; we talk about things like font choice, and how important it is in understanding the “voice” of a character. We examine each piece of the story and try to draw conclusions about why the author made the choices they did.

    I think our experience in creating a comic is very similar. In the process of writing and drawing our own comic, we first spoke about our ideas in very broad, surface ways. But as we delved into the process, we found that every single decision takes so much time and effort. We painstakingly designed and redesigned our character, and thought out every panel and every word before we even began illustrating and posting. Even in the coloring process, I spent most of my time zoomed in until I could see individual pixels. I was convinced that if that one pixel wasn’t blue, it would show and mess up the effect. I appreciated your post recalling my attention to font as something important to focus on in this process as well!

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