Making Comics: On the Importance of Typography
If there’s one thing that I’m continually passionate about when it comes to my art, it’s getting all of the elements to work together on the page. This is a process known as gestalt. In order to create good gestalt, careful consideration must be taken into all of the design elements on the page, to include placement, perspective, shading, color, and typography. Over the years I’ve come to realize just how important the relationship that the typography has to the other elements on the page really is. It’s not enough to just plunk down words on the page; those words, and the typography medium that carries those words, has to be relevant to the page’s content. For instance, here’s a preview of a page I’ve been working on:
Now, while that typography tells the story, consider instead this edited version:
With just a minor change in typography, we go from a generic comic-book feel to a genuine feel of antiquity; the typography (a derivative of the hand-lettered script found in the Book of Kells) calls to mind medieval associations, high adventure, and chivalry. Why is this so? Well, typography, like any other design element, must call forth specific images in the reader’s mind. Much as a writer might base a character on a basic aspect of the human psychology (id, intuition, emotion, superego, etc.,) in order to create a more “blank” canvas for the reader to slip into,* so too might the letterer’s use of typography call to mind certain things in a narrative, such as emotion, setting, sound, stress or subtlety, or any one of a thousand other variables. How to determine the correct usage, however?
In today’s world of comic art, the Internet is fast becoming the largest single source of all comic-based content; with the advent of the so-called “Infinite canvas,**” artists and authors are now able to tell their stories in way that the printed medium could never hope to touch. Of course with that come a lot of bad habits: over-reliance on technology, shortcuts to finished products, sloppy, hastily produced content, and typography that doesn’t provoke the right feel, or indeed anything at all… these are but a few of the problems up-and-coming artists, authors, inkers, and letterers can fall into. Heck, with most webcomics being single-person productions, the duties for all of these positions can become quickly overwhelming, to the point of killing all inspiration to even continue! But what can be done?
As with any undertaking, making comics is no small feat when looked at in detail, and getting a comic professionally produced is even harder! With all of the competition floating around in the 1s and 0s on the ‘Net, how is anyone to get noticed? Personally, I believe that flashy, shiny graphics will only get you so far… and yet we have people like Rob Leifeld running amok. In any case, the artwork and presentation will only get you so far, and if there’s no real substance to the piece, all it is is mere sensationalism, puffed up to draw a voyeuristic audience that will click, devour, and click away. No one is going to sit and pore for hours over the intricacies of a hastily thrown-together video gam screenshot comic; neither is anyone going to slog through a thousand pages of your Dragonball Z fanfiction comic in which the Earth is destroyed 15 thousand times and people stand around screaming for eighty pages. What will draw readers in and keep readers, is an attention to detail; a humanistic approach; a crafted story.
Without attention to the crafting of a story, whether the medium of expression is a comic, a book, a film, a TV show, or even a podcast radio drama (not that I’m knocking on podcasting in any way,) the audience will quickly “meh” out and leave. No one wants that. With the medium of comics, the typography is the visual way in which the characters express themselves to the audience; it’s the way we know what is going on in this world that we can only see, and not hear. It’s the way we know what’s going on in our characters’ heads, without them speaking. It’s the way that the omniscient author, or even the audience itself, communicates. Throwing words on a page isn’t enough. Those words need to be artistically thought out and presented, just like every other element of design on the page, in order to create the gestalt that will tie everything together on the page.
*For more information on using the basic elements of Freudian psychology as basis for character, see Scott McCloud’s Zot, published by Eclipse Comics.
**For more information on the Infinite Canvas, see Scott McCloud’s (again) Understanding/Reinventing/Making Comics, published by Tundra Publishing. Also see scottmccloud.com