About HdE

I'm a freelance comic book letterer, available to hire, with a number of published credits under my belt. If you have any enquiries, by all means message me here, or via the email address displayed here.

What’s the standard font size for comics? Answers revealed!

Making a break with the previous pattern of blog updates, which generally lead to me showing off sample pages from recent projects, I thought it might be beneficial to put together a shorter entry to answer a question I get asked frequently.

Two or three times a year, and sometimes during the production process on a comic, somebody will ask me “what’s the standard size for comic book lettering?”

This is one of those questions that you’d think would have a simple, straightforward answer. But in reality, it’s a bit more involved.

Simply put, there’s no such thing as ‘standard font size’ in comic book lettering. And that’s down to a few different factors.

Basically, what you need to understand is that the settings for point size (which describes how tall letterforms within a font will be) and leading (which describes how much space will appear between stacked lines of text) are set numerically within the type handling window of Adobe Illustrator, or whatever vector drawing software a letterer is using.

Below is a graphic which shows how three different, commonly used comic book typefaces look when show alongside each other. In each example, the point size and leading are identically set. But notice how different they all look.

So, this means that on each new book, a little bit of time’s going to be taken over addressing this issue by necessity.

It should be noted that there’s no hard, fast rule about how the size of a font should be set in a comic. But some common sense decisions can be made. If the font is too large, then it raises the question of whether balloons are obscuring more artwork than they need to. And likewise, a font shouldn’t be reduced to too small a size. However, it’s important to note that, unless it’s in the service of creating a specific effect (like whispering, or shouting) the lettering for dialogue balloons should be kept at a consistent size throughout. Every once in a while, I’ll hear from another letterer that they were asked to reduce the point size of text to make a wordy balloon fit in a panel. Or punch up the point size in another balloon for goodness knows what reason. That’s not done.

If you’re worried about setting the size of balloon lettering suitably for your own comic project, you could use a trick I’ve relied on in the past to work it out. Simply scan a page of a comic you like the lettering design of into your computer. You’ll have to crop this and tidy it up in Photoshop, but that’s nothing to worry about. Just aim to crop to the edges of your scanned page as tightly as possible.

What you need to do then is drag this scanned page into your lettering software. You’ll need to manually resize it so that the edges line up with the edges of what will be your final printed page. It should go up to the edge of the bleed area of your print template, if you’re using one (and you SHOULD be!) but NOT into the outer trim area.

You can then place your lettering onto the page on another layer and manually adjusted it until it matches the point size and leading of the lettering on your scanned page.

This will ensure that, provided the lettering on the page you’ve scanned is easily legible, yours will be too. (Amusingly, somebody once passed along a comment from somebody that they found my lettering on a book I’d set up like this to be ‘too small’ – if that’s the case, that reader is probably struggling to read books published by Marvel, DC, Dark Horse… you get the picture. Get regular eye tests, people!)

One final point that’s worth making here is that it’s sometimes a good idea to boost your point size by a point or two if your project is a web comic or other online-only kind of thing. Sometimes, for reasons I’m not clever or technically savvy enough to explain, what looks good on a printed page doesn’t often look so good on a monitor screen or tablet.

I hope all the above is useful!

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Kickstarters a go-go!

So, it’s been ages since my last blog update. And with good reason – I’ve been flamin’ busy!

2016’s proven to be a pretty full year for yours truly when it comes to lettering comics. There have been times where I’ve felt like I was coming perilously close to overload, but somehow (mostly through injecting coffee straight to the brain via my eyeballs and going without sleep) I’ve managed to stay on top of it all.

A by-product of this busy schedule is that I seem to be getting a lot more work on books that are being funded through Kickstarter. And a lot of these are popping up at the same time, which gives me a great excuse to show off some of the work I’ve done on each one. It’s also a neat opportunity to show how I’ve altered my lettering design across each one to suit it. Versatility is something I’m always  striving to develop as I letter more projects, and I’ve commented before about how each project teaches me something – no matter how small a detail – that helps me to benefit the next. As you might imagine, being this active gives me a a lot to add to my bank of experience, know-how and clever tricks.

Anyway! Onto the comics themselves!
(Please note that the pages featured in this update aren’t necessarily presented in sequential order – I’ve picked a few edited highlights from each one.)

1 – Asgard.
by Charles Ben Jones.

Asgard page 4-01Asgard page 5-01Asgard page 6-01Asgard page 7-01
Here’s a novel one! I sometime find myself wishing I’d get to work over a greater variety of art styles. As a fan of comics, diversity in visual styles and textures appeals to me. I get bored reading comics that all look the same. So when Charles Ben Jones asked me to letter a few pages of Asgard, it came as a breath of fresh air.

As you can see, Charles is riffing on the late ’80s – early ’90s look that characterised mainstream comics of the era, with an eye on dynamism and drama. This pushed me to adjust a lettering style I had developed some time earlier, which a lot of folks are now asking me to use on their comics. I’ve tried to ape the best of that period’s hand lettering – which was already becoming less easy to find as digital lettering became the industry norm –  and give it my own twist.

At the time of my putting this post together, the Asgard Kickstarter isn’t live just yet. But you can find out more about it via this Youtube video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e4Wafdvlh0

2 – Star Bastard.
written by Andrew Clemson.
Art by Jethro Morales.

Star Bastards #1 page 2Star Bastards #1 page 2Star Bastards #1 page 2
Andrew was kind enough to contact me about lettering this one after seeing examples of my work on social media. And with a title like that, how could I resist?

Star Bastard is a foul-mouthed space adventure featuring a bunch of central characters who very clealy hate each other, yet find themselves brought together by their own common indecency and, er… lack of values. Or something. If you enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy, you’re sure to find this one taps a similar (if more abrasive) vein of humour and adventure.

The only trouble for me is that, Guardians of the Galaxy being a Marvel comic, and with Jethro’s artwork already stacking up frightentingly well with the talent pouring out of the House of Ideas, I have to bring my best ‘mainstream comics lettering’ game to the table.

Issue #1 is already available to buy. You can support the Kickstarter for Star Bastard here:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/844347291/starbastard-issue-1?ref=nav_search

3 – Lights, Camera, Jungle!

Written by Tom Hutchison.
Art by Jenevieve Broomhall.

Shahrazad_03_01 CMYKLCJ #1 page 4

I haven’t featured any work from new Big Dog Ink books on this blog in too long. It’s a good feeling to be back in the saddle working for Tom Hutchison, easily one of the most clued up creators when it comes to ensuring his books have the best production values. Since BDI’s merger with Aspen comics, I’ve been assisting him with the repackaging of older, classic books like Sharazad (which is substantially different in its Aspen published form) and Legend of Oz: the Wicked West. But, like Joan of Arc which preceeded it at the start of the year, this is all new.

One of the things I really dig about working for Tom is that he always has a clear idea of the overall  character he wants his books to have. And usually, that boils down to making them fun, lively reads. Tom also knows how important lettering design is when it comes to nailing the appropriate look and feel for each book. So I’ve always got the appropriate guidance I need before getting started.

Extra added bonus on this book: I finally got to letter over BDI cover artist Jen Broomhall, whose work I’ve always enjoyed a great deal. As you can see, this book is an absolute beut!

You can find the Lights, Camera Jungle! Kickstarter here:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1016186425/lightscamerajungle?ref=discovery

4 – Tales of the Extraordinary.

Written by Dale Styler.
Art by various.

Here’s a selection of isolated pages from the short stories appearing in this anthology:

Bathala Rising p06-01 Kid Chimera p02-01 Saudade p01-01 Reckless p02-01

Well, here’s an interesting one. Dane Styler is an indie creator who found himself in a bit of a pinch. His anthology needed to be lettered in full on REALLY short notice, and his previous letterer was unable to complete the work, meaning he was left with an entire book and a span of just days to get it done. After answering the flashing red HdE Emergency Phone (which is totally NOT a rip off from the old ’60s Batman TV show) I agreed to take it on, did some drastic shifting around of things in my schedule and went without sleep for a few days to get it done.

Sounds like hard work, yeah? Well, yes it was. But it also gave me a chance to design lettering for several standalone stories and stand back at the end of it knowing that I’d lettered an anthology in full. I’ve been asked to handle full letering and design for these kinds of projects several times in the past, but anthologies being what they are (if you’ve ever tried editing a group project, you’ll know what I mean) it’s never come off.

This time, though, the art and scripts were ready to go, meaning I simply had to retreive all the materials and have at them.

The anthology itself is Dane’s bold (and I reckon successful) attempt  at establishing his own set of alternative superhero characters. The art style changes from one story to the next, which keeps things interesting not only for readers, but for the guy lettering them. I had to devise complimentary lettering styles for each one.

The Tales of the Extraordinary kickstarter campaign will be live shortly.

Anyways, that’s all for now. I’m honestly feeling a bit frazzled after lettering all these pages! I’m going to disappear for a bit and dunk my brain in a bucket of ice water. Ooooh… tingly!

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Salvagers – The Wreck Raiders

Well, it’s time for another sneak peek at a new book I’m working on!

Long time readers (yes, both of you!) will probably remember a post from a while back when I demonstrated what I’d done with Bob Salley and George Acevedo’s indie book SALVAGERS. Well, I’m pleased to report that not only did the series receive a recent trade paperback collection, but the second arc is already underway!

The creative team has changed up a little, with artist Chris Gevenois and colourist Fahriza Kamaputra giving this second chapter in the Salvagers saga a fresh look and feel. Here’s a five page preview of the book to give you a taster of what’s in the pipeline:
Salvagers issue #5  page 7Salvagers issue #1 page 21Salvagers issue #5  page 7Salvagers issue #1 page 21Salvagers issue #1 page 21

It’s genuinely exciting to be working on a book that’s not only winning acclaim and generating its own loyal fan base, but very clearly evolving on its own terms. But is the lettering evolving? Well… yes, actually! Albeit in a very minor, but significant way. When a comic enters a new phase of its ongoing story, it’s a logical place to start tweaking any small details that were bugging me before, or iron out any kinks. In the case of Salvagers, I was pretty much completely happy with everything I’d done. But there was one minor
alteration I made to the book’s lettering design which I think improves it considerably. I’ve reduced the width of the stroke on the dialogue balloons. It’s a seemingly tiny change, but just by matching the thickness of the balloon stroke to the heft of the dialogue font, I think this makes things look much better. It’s something trying to do with all my work as I move forward. I had a lot of fun with that title treatment as well!

Keep your eyes peeled for this one. It should be available soon in print and digitally via Comixology.

Faking it!

Well, it’s been an age since my last update. What can I say? 2015 has turned out to be a particularly busy year!

I decided that, this time, I’d update the blog with something I lettered some time ago, because it addresses a common prejudice I encounter a lot. For some reason, when dealing with inexperienced comic book creators, the idea abounds that digital lettering is somehow inferior to how it was done in ‘the good old days’.

I’ve even had a few big name artists from back in the day opine to me that that letterers should be using traditional, physical tools, as if the use of digital type and vector drawing programs somehow invalidates the work.  But this is a wrong attitude for several reasons.

I’m going to sidestep the issue, for a second, that good and bad work stems from good and bad craftsmanship irrespective of the tools used, and simply stress a few practical concerns. First of all, virtually NOBODY is lettering by hand in the modern, mainstream comic industry. There’s still a place for it, and I’ll be the first to say that well executed pen and ink lettering looks beautiful. Secondly, hand lettering is simply not that feasible in today’s business climate. Can you imagine how unnecessarily complicated that would make things? Pages are far easier to send to a letterer electronically for digital work, and given the continual perceived need to drive down production costs, it’s extremely unlikely that editors would want to  bother with the hassle of sending physical pages through the postal system. And before you start thinking about clever ways to get around that, it’s worth mentioning that there’s not much money in this job. If we were asked to print out pages and letter them by hand, that would quickly eat into the time and profit margin we have on each precious gig.

Lettering with a computer, then, is a wise choice just because it’s expedient. But it doesn’t mean that the results are guaranteed to be of a lower quality. Remember – skill and craftsmanship determines quality – not the tools. And a computer is a tool just as surely as an Ames guide or a dip pen is. All that fundamentally changes when lettering digitally is the approach to the work.

It’s at this point that I should mention BULLDOG AND PANDA, by Jason Cobley and Stephen Prestwood, which currently appears in the excellent PARAGON small press anthology. It’s a revival of the strip, having first appeared in a UK small press comic back in the 1980s. Paragon’s publisher, Dave Candlish, put out a call for a letterer for the second part of this continuation, and because I saw an opportunity to experiment with different lettering techniques, I jumped at it.

Here are a few isolated pages:

Page 2
Page 2
Page 2
The timing here couldn’t have been better. I had  been thinking for some time about ways of making my lettering look more lively and organic. There truthfully IS a trap you can fall into with digital work whereby it starts to look clinical and sterile, and this is something I’ve been trying to steer clear of in all the time I’ve been lettering professionally. In truth, for a while, I’d been pondering ways to make my work look more like it had been executed with pen and ink.  So a new project with a distinctly old-school vibe to it was just the spur I needed. I dug out some reprint material of old 2000AD strips – Judge Dredd, Nemesis the Warlock, A.B.C. Warriors – and collected volumes of Marvel UK comics such as Transformers and Dragon’s Claws, and started to examine them studiously. These comics were chosen specifically, as the production methods of the day were pretty hands-on. I had gotten used to lettering in a very regimented, almost mechanical process of creating perfect balloon shapes and uniform blocks of text. What I was looking at in these older comics was much more organic. Slowly, I started to work out what the components of that aesthetic were, what made it work, and what parts of it I could convincingly ape.

There were two key aspects I focused on with this project: balloon shapes and type dynamics. The balloon design is probably the easiest part of the process to describe, so I’ll go with that first.

When lettering digitally, coming up with an attractive balloon shape is one of the most important aspects of page design. This is one of those things that IMMEDIATELY indicates the difference between  an experienced letterer and a beginner. Too many digitally lettered comics at indie and hobbyist level feature ugly, mechanical ellipses drawn with a marquee tool and left unfinished. Modern comics feature much cleaner, more rounded and attractive balloon shapes, and these are easy to produce in cookie cutter fashion in vector drawing software.

BUT… do you necessarily want that perfection all the time? Given that the aim here was to mimic the look of an old 1980s UK comic, that point was debatable. Looking back at comics of that era, the lettering was often characterised by irregular balloons which were very obviously drawn with a pen and ink. Hence, I decided to alter the curves of my standard balloon shapes in Illustrator, creating several variants that I could repurpose across multiple pages. I also introduced some subtle  variation into the line weight of the balloon stroke, to simulate the irregular flow of ink from an overworked and poorly maintained tech pen. No disrespect to letterers from that era – I’ve owned Rotring pens from that period, and they were always horrible, imprecise tools in my hands. Adding a little of the chaos those old, traditional tools used to introduce to the line, though, just sold the aesthetic a bit more.

Another trick I tried was a fake ‘paste up’ effect. Notice how the caption boxes have a reversed colour scheme in comparison to the traditional black on white of the balloons? This was something I lifted straight from Steve Potter’s work on early Nemesis The Warlock strips. To approximate the look of a hand applied caption, I placed a little sliver of white underneath the caption box and nudged it around slightly to look like a hasty and slightly imprecise scalpel job put in place by an art bodger. I even did this on a few select balloons as well, just to push that illusion a little further.

(‘Art bodger’ isn’t a derogatory term, by the way – it was a term used to describe people who worked in-house back in the old days who would carry out page corrections by hand.)

The final part of this particular design scheme is the type dynamics. This basically comes down to a simple trick, but it MUST be used carefully.

The best and most design savvy letterers of the ’70s and ’80s understood that a lot of creative mileage could be had by altering the height and thickness of certain select lines of dialogue . Pick up an old E.C. horror comic or an issue of 2000AD from all those years ago, and you’ll find that specific portions – usually just a few words, or even just a single one – were  rendered with a  thicker stroke. This adds a lot of character and drama to the dialogue, and it was something I REALLY wanted to put into BULLDOG & PANDA.

The biggest challenge at this stage was coming up with a font selection that would tolerate a bit of tweaking in each individual balloon, and also mesh with the irregular, hand drawn look. I have a fair number of dialogue fonts in my personal library, but trying to zero in on one that would fit this project was quite a test. Eventually, I found one which convincingly suggested the fluid penmanship of the best hand letterers, and a little fiddling produced results that I’m personally VERY happy with.

The final pages  became a real labour of love. While I’m not sure this exact approach would work for any comic, it certainly gave me a few new ideas about handling dialogue and designing pages, and I’m still experimenting with them on projects that call for it. Keep an eye on the blog, and I’ll show a little of them as time permits!

The letterer also writes, part 3 – GODZILLAAAAAAA!!!

Well here’s something a bit different!

Every now and then, I like to get stuck into a just-for-fun comics project. You may well have seen some stuff I wrote, pencilled, coloured or lettered for things like the old Transformers Mosaic project, which I was forunate to collaborate with some really talented people on. But a while back – last year, in fact – I decided I fancied writing a Godzilla story.

I’ve been a fan of the King of Monsters since I was a kid. Those movies are a lot of fun, and I’ve been very avidly following the most recent comics put out by IDW under license from Toho. These fostered a desire to tell my own little kaiju story, and before long, a bouncing baby 5 page script was born.

This went off to my pal Roy D. Stiffey, a fellow fan who just happened to be filling up his DeviantArt page with some cracking kaiju artwork. We’ve both been pretty busy since we started this thing up, but it’s finally ready to unleash!

More about the production of this in a bit. But I’d better let you read the darned thing first!
Godzilla Worse Things P1 Final-01
Godzilla Worse Things P1 Final-02 Godzilla Worse Things P1 Final-03 Godzilla Worse Things P1 Final-04 Godzilla Worse Things P1 Final-05

Roy and I have collaborated on several short fanboy-centric projects before and, not to gush,  every time has been an absolute blast. He tackled this short comic with real enthusiasm, which was ridiculously evident as it neared completion.

If you’d like to check out more of Roy’s work, you can find hm on DeviantArt here:
http://royalentertainment.deviantart.com/

He’s also been working very industriously on his own book, entitled Anonymous Nancy. You can chec that out here:
https://m.comixology.com/Anonymous-Nancy/comics-series/11858

As for this strip itself, and the alll important lettering (I figure that’s still what a lot of folks swing by this blog for, right?) it was a pretty easy project to approach – but not exactly a no brainer.

The first thing you might notice is that teh story is entirely told in captions. It had actually been on my mind for a while to set myself a challenge of telling a story without using speech balloons, and as I found myself writing this, it seemed to organically go that way. But it did raise a question of how I would make the captions mesh with the artwork. We decided pretty early on that we were going to keep the art to grey tones and not go full colour. So I was limited to using black and white.

Initially, those captions were going to have a tatterd look to them, but this was just too much of a visual overload on top of Roy’s artwork. So I kept to straight (boring) rectangular boxes and opted to use a more characterful font to add interest.

Now, I’ve done two things here that I’m very, very reluctant to do on most projects. One is that I’ve used a typewriter style font. The other is that the captions are all rendered in sentence case.

My objections, generally, are that typewriter fonts can easily look hacky and over-done. I used ths same font recently on Spazdog Press’s ‘Nothing Can Stop Me Now’, a collection of short stories inspired by the music of Nine Inch Nails. In that instance, I had lettered several stories in that book, and going for this weathered, typeset look added a bit of variety. Here, I like the businesslike feel of it. The idea of the story’s narration being lifted from a published report seems to support the use of lower case letters, and the worn look seems to be a good fit with the theme of monstrous carnage.

Lower case letters usually make me put a comic aside in a huff. I’m not a fan of the approach, and while I’ve seen it used on mainstream books before (it was a stylistic choice dictated by Marvel for a while) it’s never looked as elegant or immediately readable as all caps.  But I’m never one to throw an idea out completely. Here, as I say, it seems to fit. Just don’t expect to see it again from me anytime soon!

Anyways – there it is. Hope you all enjoy the comic!

Astronauts and mounties!

Alright everybody?

It seems like an age since I last updated the blog. What can I say – I’ve been in demand!

The last few months of 2014 proved to be exceptionally busy for me lettering-wise, what with a combination of ongoing projects, some new books, and even preparing a few things for print in non-english speaking territories.

For this entry, I thought I’d showcase some of the work that’s been keeping me so busy of late. One of the books in question is Kenneth Brown’s Judas Breed: The Awakening, a sci- fi story about an intrepid team of space explorers who, while on their travels, stumble across something VERY nasty indeed.
Issue 1 page 1
Page 10 Page 10 Issue 1 page 4 - 5-01

There’s a very heavy flavour of the Alien movies and Prometheus about this book. So if you’re a fan, you’re more than likely to enjoy what you see.

I’ve remarked on this blog  before how much I love lettering science fiction comics. I get to think in terms of what I can do to add to the futuristic aesthetic. It’s often tempting to really go overboard with crazy effects, but in this instance, I found myself actually scaling things
back. For a story with this kind of tight focus, I didn’t want to over-egg things. Thanks to the series artist, Ryan Best, the story already has a pretty distinct visual style. So it only really needs a little extra salt and pepper.

You can find out more about the book via Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judas-Breed-The-Awakening/1417428325194089?fref=ts

Next up, here’s a look at Steele #1, which carries the sub-title ‘Dead Horse Trail’. This is the second of Scott R. Schmidt’s tales of Canadian mountie Sam Steele.The book continues his interesting approach, first established in Steele #0, of pitting him against a combination of challenges posed by the unforgiving setting and antagonists with a supernatural aspect.

Steele #1 pg1-01
Steele #1 pg2 Steele #1 pg3-01

It’s worth mentioning here that Steele #1 was a pretty easy book to whizz through. I’d worked on the zero issue for Scott, and we spent a long time honing the design of it there.
This time around, there were still a few pages where I had to come up with something new, but it was pretty smooth sailing. I’m very proud of the results.

Once again, you can find out more via Facebok:
https://www.facebook.com/SteeleVs?fref=ts

And that’s all for this update. Look out for another coming up soon, to showcase some more recent work, including Escape from Dino Isle #1 and Salvagers #3.

Lou Scannon – IN COLOUR!

So, I recently wrapped the lettering on issue #7 of the UK small press comic Lou Scannon.

Without question, this is one of the most fun books I get to work on. It’s the brainchild of Dan Harris, Kris Carter and Jim Bampfield, who have put a lot of work into earnestly pushing the book at UK conventions and small press events. And it pays off! It’s great to see such dilligent, hardworking guys gaining an audience for what is, quite honestly, a really fun book. Did I mention it’s soon to be a major Hollywood motion picture starring Tom Cruise and Rachel McAdams? No? Eh. Probably because it’s not. But, whatever.

I’ve been lettering Scannon since issue #5, but issue #7 marks the beginning of the second volume, and I was given free reign to re-design the lettering on the book. Having worked over Dan’s artwork on my short story ‘A Star Falls’, which appearedin the Metaverse 2014 Anthology that was launched at the Cardiff Film and Comic Con in March this year, I already had a few ideas. hence, I’ve ditched Blambot’s AshcanBB and broken out some curved balloon tails.

ANYWAY! Here, presented for your edification, is a peek at Lou Scannon #7 – and you’ll notice that it’s in colour! The print edition itself is rendered in greyscale, but here, in something of a first, you can see the work of uber-colourpunker and general top bloke Kris Carter in all its glory.

The book’s a bit sweary (in entertaining fashion) so I’ve censored profanities here – just to keep things family friendly. Click to view each page at its best.

Scannon 7 p1

Scannon 7 p2-01

Scannon 7 p1 Scannon 7 p1

If this whets your appetite for more of messyrs Bampfield, Harris and Carter’s particular brand of Red Dwarf-esque comedy and hi-jinks, you can order the issue (and issues #1 – 6 ) online at the official Lou Scannon website.

http://louscannon.co.uk/blog/

And if you’re looking for a capable colourist who attacks his work with vim, vigour and (most importantly) industry standard software, Kris comes highly recommended! His previous published work includes stuff for Transformers, Doctor Who and IDW’s Wynnona Earp comics.

You can find Kris on Facebook, via the link below.
https://www.facebook.com/drivaaar?fref=ts