Strange Animals 11jan2019: Someone’s Gonna Miss Their Bus

I got a few rather heartwarming replies on the last newsletters, so it’s pretty clear that I have the best readers. Here’s the second one just under the wire. Let’s keep this train running.

11 days into January, and I’ve already talked myself into hand-lettering another graphic novel this year. Partly, it’s because it’s for a team I enjoy working with, and partly it’s that I’ve been practicing hand-lettering on the iPad Pro, and I’m itching to turn that into something. I mean, if you’re not gonna do at least one satisfyingly pain-in-the-ass, make-trouble-for-yourself, what-have-you-gotten-yourself-into thing every year, what are you even doing with your life.

(PS: You might wanna turn on images for this one if you haven’t already, or it’s not going to make much sense.)


I sent the writer an initial style exploration sometime last week, lettered as neatly as I could, that looked like this:

This is created in Adobe Sketch, which sucks in terms of features (I mean, who thought it was a good idea to not have basic selection tools in a drawing app?), but it has Kyle Webster’s brushes, and you can go into their settings and tweak their scatter and drag and all of that stuff, so I like actually making letters in it.

And to this, the writer’s response was, and I quote, “If anything, make it more erratic.” Which, as rejections go, is an extremely complimentary one. So I dove into my Gaspar Saladino and my Dave McKean and my Moebius, and here’s the one that made their heart go pitter-patter:

This one’s actually easier for me to write out, and faster, because I don’t have to be deliberate with every single line I make, as I would in a neater style. And it looks more satisfying too, because, I mean—if you’re gonna hand-letter something, then don’t try to make it look like a digital font, right? One can understand someone like Tom Orz making his letters as neat as possible back when hand-lettering was the only game in town, but now that we have separate disciplines with separate sets of priorities, lean into what you’re trying to do. I do need the undo feature for this, though, because it’s an emulated style, and not my natural one, so I need to correct the shapes every few strokes.

Every time I do a page’s worth of this, I’ll be sending it over to my computer, where I’ll then drop it into the actual page and draw the balloons and so on.

We’re still working this stuff out, and what we do in the book itself might end up entirely different, and you know, digital lettering rather than this mix of traditional and digital, but I’m enjoying this.


Out with my lettering the week of 9th January is Bloodborne #8, by Aleš Kot, Piotr Kowalski, Brad Simpson and me, edited by Tom Williams, from Titan Comics.


As I get better at drawing letters with pen on paper, I’m trying to think about what I find valuable about hand-lettering in the age of digital lettering (and of OpenType fonts, which can fake a bunch of hand-lettering quirks surprisingly well). Why am I spending my time getting better at something very nearly nobody does anymore and no one’s really asking for it? I could just have fun drawing letters on my practice papers and not actually try to make comics this way.

It’s one thing for an artist to choose to hand-letter their own art—it makes immediate sense, because it’s going to give the work a unifying aesthetic. But I’m a letterer already, who has tried to integrate at least some of the more useful quirks of hand-lettering into my digital lettering throughout my career. What’s the specific thing this would give me?

I don’t have an answer to that, because I’m gonna have to produce a decent body of work like this before I know where it’s taking me, but I thought I’d do a quick lettering exercise in public.

Here’s a single word balloon, that I’m going to cycle through some different lettering methods with different priorities and quantities of work involved. Let’s see if we reach anywhere by the end of this. Here’s the ‘script’:

Aaaahhh! I’m gonna miss my bus!

Here’s the most bog-standard, least-work-involved digital method of doing this, and, because I’d rather get through this method quickly, the same thing but with my “standard” balloon stroke. The first has been created with the basic shape tools that come with Adobe Illustrator, and the second is the same balloon with a calligraphic brush stroke applied, plus a quick hand-drawn tail (because I find the point-and-click way of drawing tails too plasticky).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, obviously, but it’s kinda flat. There are books that definitely need a “flat” style—you probably don’t want too much flamboyancy in a comic with a sombre tone, and I’ve used something more-or-less like this in a few books myself—but it doesn’t exactly shout “life”.

Now, here’s how I’d probably letter this if it was actually a part of a book I was lettering, and I had to do a quick but firm job of it to a deadline:

There’s a bit more bounce to it, it speaks a bit louder. But it’s still reasonably run-of-the-mill, which, again, has its own place.

So here’s an approach that’s perhaps a bit more the way I’d like to do more often.

The ‘AAAHHH’ is hand-drawn in Photoshop, so I could draw the letters slowly tilting from left to right a bit erratically rather than depending on a font, the body copy font is my own (with a kinky double exclamation point at the end), and the balloon is hand-drawn with a more naturalistic shouty bit at the top (that a friend looking over my shoulder referred to as “naughty boy hair”).

After which I lettered the same thing with a pen on paper:

The dicey bit about this for me is that I’m still not very confident working on paper, so I don’t end up doing too many flourishes—just trying to keep stuff legible, and not fuck it up, basically. I’d love to be confident enough on paper to do something like Dave Sim does with changing sizes or Gaspar did with changing styles, but I’ve got a ways to go.

Digital hand-lettering, illustrated below, gives me a lot more to work with—I can draw the letters to look a bit more rushed and natural, but cmd-Z ensures that if any one gets badly messed up, I can redo it.

Also, this isn’t my natural lettering style, so on paper, there’s a high chance to me defaulting to my regular pen-pull when I feel less confident. This ensures I can actually create a style and sustain it over the course of a book. Digital also means that I can do two or three versions of something like the shout at the top and choose the best one. And finally, the balloon’s all digital, so if I get this onto the page and it doesn’t work, I can do a new one in about five minutes rather than drawing it on paper and scanning it in again.

All of these feed into each other, pretty much, so it doesn’t feel pointless, but I still have to figure out where I stand on the subject.


At the end of last year, I tweeted about how I’d discovered the joy of listening to film and tv soundtracks while writing or thinking, and I listed my ten favourite albums of the year (not necessarily released last year, just ones I heard in 2018).

I got a lot of replies with more recommendations, and I added a bunch of these to my Apple Music library and have been going through them slowly. You should probably check out all of them if you’re interested, but my favourites that were recommended to me so far are the soundtrack to the video game No Man’s Sky and the ones to the films Moon and It Follows (both of which I’ve watched but somehow without noticing the beauty of the music).


From the commonplace book dated May 2008, from this Reuters article about a body parts harvesting scam:

The suit, filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common pleas, alleges that after removing parts from the corpses, the accused replaced harvested bone and tissue with foreign objects such as PVC piping ‘so that bodies would still appear normal for their pending visitations, funerals, or post-mortem proceedings.’

Filed under #crime and #weird.