After my article “Colorists - Working with Magic” I thought we could talk about another important crew member!
So yes, in comics, the writer is really important. The artist too. And as previously mentioned on the blog, the colorists are also an important part of it. But there’s another team player that we almost never talk about: The Letterer!
We never really think about them because, well, if they are good at their job, they are invisible. Crazy right? Being one of the most important members of a team and being completely invisible for it.
So, what is their purpose? What do they do on a regular basis?
One could go with the easy answer and say: “well, they insert letters and texts in comics”.
Which is true, but not the whole thing.
As I said, a good letterer will be completely invisible in his work. He will have to play around with everyone’s creation to include the texts. Because an important part of comic books is the little bubble we read, which give us important information in the story. See, they have to insert tiny enough letters, so it doesn’t hide the beautiful work of the artist and colorist, but not too tiny so it doesn’t bother the reader.
Have you ever noticed how bubbles are never in the way of characters or drawings? That’s because there’s a good letterer behind the work who thought it would be annoying to include sentences in the middle of his colleagues’ creations.
When I decided I wanted to write an article on the subject, I started looking at comics with brand new eyes: the way they decide where to place the text, how to shape the bubble, where to place the bubble…. It takes real designer skills to think about everything!
Because yes, all those details matter:
The size of the bubble: not too big so it doesn’t cover up the rest of the CASE and not too small, so it takes a magnifying glass to read without a headache.
The form of the bubble: does it call for small bubbles? Long bubbles? Is it a story that inspires square? Round? Is the character thinking? Talking? Screaming?
One of my pet peeves when it comes to reading a comic is the order. We read from left to right, right? So why, in some comics, the dialogues start in the lower right side of the panel? It bothers me every time. I will give up reading a book just for that tiny stupid detail. Because it shouldn’t be a puzzle to find out where the dialogues start:
Letterers are also responsible with the placement of the bubble: does it make sense for the reader? Does it make reading harder or easier? Is it confusing?
But I think the most important thing of all is… The font. Because I’ve seen some crazy font in comics making, especially in amateur comics, that would completely destroy my interest in the story or the art. Don’t believe me?
Yeah. I don’t think so.
All those reasons and questions are the reason why a letter could make it or break it. They are entirely responsible for the clarity of the comic. Yes, the writer writes dialogues. But what if the writer decides to write a paragraph of 50 sentences in a panel with 60 different characters with more colors than in a rainbow? Letterer will be able to play around the text and Make. It. Work.
Just for that, I’m impressed.
Fun fact: During my research, I realized a lot of letters are in fact Graphic Designer, which isn’t surprising at all since it takes good design skills.
If you are interested in learning more on the subject, I would strongly recommend visiting the website blambot.com created by Nate Piekos, a professional Letterer who work for.... pretty much all the big publishers we know (Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image...). You can find everything on this site, from the type of fonts to grammar tips and even templates. It’s like a virtual bible of the subject and I am honestly obsessed with it.
And of course, this article wouldn’t be complete without a little top favorites Letterer from my collection. I’m not gonna lie, it was extremely hard to choose a top 3, there are a lot of amazing work out there when you just pay attention to the details.
So, I’ll finish this article with special mention to these incredible Letterers:
Nate Piekos – I Hate Fairyland
I swear it is not because of his extremely detailed website. It’s because he is INCREDIBLE at his job, especially for I Hate Fairyland. He was able to work with the super over the top work of Skottie Young and Jean-François Beaulieu to create a unique and super fun reading. The letters, texts, bubbles blend right in with the art... But my favorite thing about this work is the Sound Effect and Sound Effect Punctuation (which I learned from his blog too). I honestly don’t know how anybody could disagree with me. The letterer work in I Hate Fairyland is just perfection!
(Also, special mention for his great work in The Umbrella Academy as well, I’m not a fan of this book but was impressed by his work with the letters).
Todd Klein – Black Hammer
I personally chose his work in my top 3 mostly because I liked how he was able to illustrate through letters the different languages, accent and event from the characters. Even with the high amount of characters of different origins in the book, he was able to illustrate different dialogues which really enhanced the intriguing story by Jeff Lemire.
Andrew Maclean – Head Lopper
So, Mister Maclean (who is also the writer and artist of the same book) is in my top 3 because of one specific panel in Head Lopper. He is the perfect example of how Letterers have to work with a lot of texts and how to include it in the comics. He was able to give the essence of the character through the dialogue, by illustrating the endless talking of the witch head. I loved this part so much, it made me giggle and appreciate his talent.