Friday, October 3, 2014

Comic Series Planning - Part 2: Choosing a lettering typeface

In this second part of my series on producing my own digital comic-book using computer graphics resources, I will be focusing on something most readers probably don't think much about consciously -- the lettering typeface.

Traditionally, of course, comic-books are hand-lettered.  And using my comic-production software, Manga Studio 5 EX, I could, in theory, with a digital pen and digital tablet, hand-letter my comics. But, in the first place, that's just far too laborious, and in the second place, I'm a lousy letterer these days. (I was pretty good in my day, having taken drafting in high school, but by using computers so much and hand-writing so little over the years, my writing has become appallingly sloppy.)  So actual hand-lettering is a non-starter.

Of course, Manga Studio comes with the ability to type words into each panel using the keyboard, which technically obviates the need for any sort of hand-lettering and also allows one to use any typeface one wants -- from Georgia to Trebuchet to Courier.  However, because comics have always been hand-lettered, using a mechanical typeface that resembles something from a typewriter or a printing press dramatically changes the look and feel of the word balloons, and, in my view, diminishes the overall result.  In short, comic-books should at least look hand-lettered, even if they are typeset on a computer these days.

Additionally, although the mind may not explicitly notice it while reading, there is an art and craft to hand-lettering.  Many letterers have made their name in the comic-book industry over the years by having a distinctive style, and frequently they will alter the style to suit the setting, such as producing calligraphic lettering for a fantasy scene or digital-looking letters for a robot voice.  John Workman Jr.'s unique-looking lettering, for example, wonderfully complemented Walt Simonson's equally unusual artistic style in his famous run of the Thor comic.

Therefore, one decision I have to make regarding the creation of my own comic-book series is the lettering typeface.  Microsoft provides us with a very few basic lettering styles, including one called "comic sans MS," which supposedly looks like comic-book lettering font but is, in my view, rather ugly and with hardly any redeeming qualities. It's also used by just about anyone trying to make something that looks like a comic-book, so it's become nauseatingly common.  Comic Sans looks like this (just a simple test shot with default lighting in DAZ to use as an example):

Test shot with MS Comic Sans
It certainly is readable, and passable, and it looks somewhat like comic-book hand lettering, but it has none of the character that lettering like John Workman's does. And again, there is the fact that, because it comes with default on any computer with Windows, nearly everyone, no matter how serious or not, who wants something to look like it was hand-lettered, uses this typeface.  Plus, I really don't like the kerning. So in my view, this one is a non-starter.

Manga Studio 5 EX doesn't really come with its own typefaces, but it defaults into a different MS typeface, called MS PGothic.  This typeface does not really look very hand-written, more resembling Arial or Helvetica than comic-book writing. However, having used it for my Supergirl fan comic, I can say it is a serviceable typeface, in that it is legible, looks clean, and doesn't look overly "typed" the way something like Times Roman would look.

Test shot with MS PGothic
I definitely like PGothic better than Comic Sans both in terms of the clean look and the kerning of the letters, and it doesn't look overly artificial. So this is one candidate. But it still lacks character, in my view... so I wanted to try something with more distinctiveness.  Fortunately, there is a great website called Blambot that has tons of lettering typefaces. Now, you have to pay for a lot of them, although they're not expensive, but if you are not making money off of your creations, and are just posting a free webcomic or digital comic like I plan to do, quite a number of them are completely free.  So I downloaded and installed a few to try them out.  The first one I looked at was called 888 Manga, and has a much more handwritten, interesting look to it than PGothic.

Test shot with 888 Manga
I like quite a bit about this typeface, but I think it is a little too "hand-writey" if you will.  I'd like something that looks a little cleaner than this just not quite as clean as PGothic.

The next typeface I tried was called Digital Strip, also from Blambot.  Digital Strip, as the name implies, is meant to ape traditional comic-book lettering styles, but looks cleaner and a little less distinctive than 888 Manga.
Test shot with Digital Strip
I like this typeface a great deal. It looks clean but still hand-written, and it is easy to read. Additionally, and this is important in my view, the bold-italic font looks very different from the regular font, which I didn't feel was quite true of 888 Manga.  This is actually quite critical, as bold-italic font is used in comic-books (as I do in this example) to indicate verbal emphasis -- the person is saying the word more loudly or with more emphasis much the way all caps would be used in regular print ("Screw YOU Mr. Mighty!").

Finally, also from Blambot, I tried Anime Ace 2.0 (there's a 1.0 as well, and they differ only slightly... mainly in the size of the letters and kerning.  I'm not sure which I like better yet, but this example is with Anime Ace 2.0.
Test shot with Anime Ace 2.0
I like this typeface a great deal as well... it looks handwritten, perhaps a little more so than Digital Strip, but remains nice and clean. It is a little more distinctive than Digital Strip, but is clearer-looking than 888 Manga. Additionally, like Digital Strip, the bold-italic font is clearly distinguishable from the regular font.

Well... those are my main choices.  Comic Sans is out, and I think PGothic is probably not appropriate for the tone I'm going to be trying to achieve in the comic.  I think that 888 Manga has some real benefits to it, being both distinctive and very hand-writey, but it has some drawbacks, the main two being a lack of distinction between bold-italic and regular font, and being maybe a little bit too sloppy-looking.  Though I'm not sure about that. Digital Strip is cleaner and has a better bold-italic/regular distinction, but doesn't have as much character as 888 Manga.  Anime Ace may be the best compromise, having more character than Digital Strip, PGothic, or Comic Sans, but being cleaner-looking than 888 Manga.  Right now, I think my top two contenders are Digital Strip and Anime Ace, with Ace taking the slight lead, but I have not made any firm decisions yet.  I welcome feedback and opinions on the matter.

I also want to point out that this is a decision for the main typeface of the comic.  I will be using lots of other typefaces to indicate things like special speech, alien languages, and the like.  I am also going to be telling the story in a lot of flashbacks to older times (going as far back as A.D. 515), and I may end up choosing one font, say Anime Ace, for the flashbacks and then a second, more modern-looking one (such as Digital Strip or even PGothic) for the stuff happening "today." I will decide that later on.

So let me know what you think, if you have an opinion on the typefaces. I'm still on the fence between AA and DS.

No comments:

Post a Comment