Strange Animals 12nov2019: Post-Bubble

Hello from the UK! I’m writing this just after ThoughtBubble, sitting in Ram V.’s studio, while he works on a new super-secret script in the next room. I just wrapped up corrections on a book or two, despite technically being on vacation.

Comics! Where the work never ends, but you love the work, so you do it till you die from it.

1. Notes

First up – I was at ThoughtBubble last weekend. I meant to put up a notice here, but this edition wasn’t done by the time I had to go, so you’ll just have to hear about it after the fact. There’s a reason TB is my only convention of the year – it’s absolutely brilliant. I get to meet so many of the wonderful people I work alongside – including the White Noise crew and my buddy Hass – and I get to touch base with some of my favourite creators and readers. I don’t table, at least as yet, so I also get to wander around and discover new comics as well. Plus, I get to share experiences like the instantly legendary men’s loo at the Majestic.

Next – Coffin Bound #4 came out last week. This is a nice, chunky 40-page finale to one of my absolute favourite series I got to letter this year. I’m lucky enough that I genuinely enjoy all the books I letter, but through its entire run, Coffin Bound felt like it was written for me. Happily, we’ll be coming back for a second volume next summer. Stay tuned.

Written by Dan Watters, art by Dani, colours by Brad Simpson, letters by me, design by Emma Price, from Image Comics.

Finally, writer/artist/colourist Sloane Leong announced her new book, A Map to the Sun – a rather lovely slice-of-life graphic novel, kinda like an American basketball manga – with lettering by me!

2. Ascenders and Descenders

This is part 2 of my continuing exploration of uppercase vs. mixed case lettering. I have a couple more in this series, but since I’m travelling, I might do those after I return home, given that they might require illustrations. This one, handily, is a reworking of a section of my essay ‘Writing Between the Lines’, which will be published as part of the backmatter for the new expanded edition of Grafity’s Wall in early 2020.

Mixed-case lettering involves four elements to do with height: the x-height, ascenders, descenders and line spacing (or leading). Additionally, there’s the cap-height, which is the height of the capital letters, but generally speaking, in hand-lettering and comic-book fonts, that can be ignored, since it’s functionally the same as the ascenders.

Uppercase lettering, on the other hand, only has two elements – cap-height and leading.

So when you look at digital vs. hand-lettering, uppercase remains straightforward in both:

Of course, when setting the leading, you need to make sure you have enough space for bolds, but once again, that remains the same in both modes.

Something quite different happens with mixed case lettering when you tackle digital vs. hand-lettering, though.

For one thing, when you hand-letter with some actual leading, you’ll find that there’s way too much space between the lines in a balloon.

To avoid this, I could letter like this on paper and then bring the lines closer digitally. But that would take more time than ideal, and it’d be a workaround rather than a solution. For one thing, I wouldn’t be able to trust the balloons I drew around the text because the size of the text would change.

And, obviously, veteran hand-letterers didn’t do any of that, given they didn’t have computers to work with. What they did instead was something far more ingenious:

There is no traditional leading here. Instead, the descenders of one line and the ascenders of the next occupy the same vertical space. The rest is pure skill – the only way to avoid lines touching between rows is to draw them so they never touch. You have to plan each letter you draw from scratch, such that the ascenders and descenders go on a careful little dance.

On the other hand, when you’re lettering digitally, you have to work with the letters you get with the font. So what you do is first reduce the leading to the lowest possible. Then you run into the fact that lines without ascenders and/or descenders would look like they have too much leading, so you manually adjust the line height for those. And finally, the reduced leading might mean that a few of your letters seem to run into each other. So you either adjust the height of one of those, or you move your lines horizontally so this is avoided.

My conclusion personally is that mixed-case lettering is complicated, whether you’re doing it by hand or digitally. Which is why it makes a lot of sense that, despite a certain amount of increased readability, most letterers prefer to letter in all-caps.

What do I mean by increased readability? Well, there has to some advantage to mixed-case, right? Otherwise it wouldn’t be a whole thing. But that’s a topic for a later edition.

3. Recommended Reading/Listening

Nick Cave has had two recent releases – the new Bad Seeds album Ghosteen, which I’m still getting to grips with, awash as it is by the aftermath of his son’s passing – and The Sick Bag Song, a book written on airplane sick bags on a 2014 American tour.

It’s a much more pleasant, light thing – at least as pleasant as Nick Cave things can go – being a combination of fictional memoir, poetry and philosophical riffs and flights of fancy. It’s a thin book, to be sure, more like a long essay, but it’s an interesting summation of Cave as he stood a few years ago, in all his strengths and his few weaknesses.

Handily, there is also an audiobook version available on Audible, read by Cave himself. He does a predictably marvellous job, bringing the power of his voice to bear. There are places where he stumbles a bit, but these only make the experience feel more intimate, as if Cave is sitting across from the table, pontificating on life to you personally. It’s worth it, if only just for his epic rendition of the line, “We have received room service.”

4. From the Commonplace Book

From ‘Get Realer’ by Vicky Osterwei: 

Nostalgia wipes history clean of its pain, and makes it more desirable than any imaginable present or future, because the past is always a place immune from our death, whereas the future carries it, inescapably.

Filed under #life.