Creator Confessions: The Art Of Lettering

by Frank Martin

As a writer of both novels and comics, Comicon contributor Frank Martin has a lot to say about the process of making fiction a reality. In Creator Confessions, he offers some of the discoveries he’s made in bring a story from initial idea to a complete, published reality.

Readers usually consider lettering as a means to an end, just a way to communicate the story. With Marvel and DC titles, readers often breeze past the lettering without giving it much thought. As a new creator, I viewed lettering as more of a nuisance, some final touches that need to be slapped onto a story before it can be released. The cost of lettering I thought of as a tax to be paid before I have a real “comic.” It wasn’t until I began lettering myself that I realized just how wrong I was about everything. 

I admit, I didn’t begin lettering my own comics for some noble reason. I wanted to cut costs for my books and figured lettering them myself was a good place to start. I’m by no means a visually artistic person and my technical skills with design programs are abysmal. But I jumped into the learning process and quickly figured out the tips and tricks that make the lettering of comics so special.

Any diehard comic fan will tell you that lettering can make or break a book. It doesn’t matter how good the art is or how compelling the story could be; if the book’s lettering isn’t up to par then it can completely take a reader out of the story. I often state that lettering is the only art form that becomes more successful the least it’s noticed. Good lettering becomes one with the art, blending with it to make the telling of the story seamless.

For my own craft, I quickly went from viewing lettering as a chore to a task I take pride in. Lettering allows me to encompass my work from both ends. I get to write the script, birthing the story from ideas in my head, and letter the pages, tweaking dialogue and balloon placement so the story flows the way I as creator intended.

Yet still, even after all the lettering work I’ve accomplished I don’t consider myself a letterer. I’m merely a writer who letters his own work. True letterers are masters with different fonts, and balloons, and sound effects, and tails. They can letter an entire book in the time it takes me to do one page, garnering my utmost respect with their process.

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