Comic lettering, part one: My hand lettering

For years I’ve been talking up the virtues of hand lettering, and how your individual mark-making can be expressed in your hand lettering just as much as it is in your drawing style. Even for those who feel their lettering isn’t what they’d like it to be, that distinctive, hand-drawn essence adds a lot to the look of your comic pages (I’m talkin’ to you, Joel!)…

In an effort to bring some order to my own (often sloppy) lettering, I came up with this method, first shared with the public in the pages of Tim Corrigan’s Small Press Creative Explosion #16, Dec. 1998. It’s still the same method I use for hand lettering today, even if I’ve gotten looser (sloppier) with my technique since then:

“A Foolproof Method of Comic Book Hand Lettering” / ink on paper / 14.75 x 11.25” / 1998

This method has served me well for a number of years and through a number of projects, though I did eventually change my pen of choice (to a fountain pen and liquid ink). But gradually– whether through inattention to detail, being able to devote less time to my art and thus rushing through it, or something else entirely– I became increasingly unhappy with not the concept of hand lettering, but with my execution of it … which is why earlier this year I began experimenting with typeset lettering in my Watusi strip.

Next time I’ll share my experiences– both pro and con– with that change in process. In the mean time, here are some links covering the art & science of comic book lettering:

  • Hans Presto made this page dedicated to comic book lettering, including lots of technical and theoretical info for both hand and computer methods. Also features a great essay on “The underappreciated art of lettering” by Augie De Blieck Jr. (from CBR, Dec.1999).
  • Todd Klein may be one of the most well-known letterers around; here’s his history of his career in lettering.
  • Ken Bruzenak was the letterer of Howard Chaykin’s groundbreaking American Flagg! series. Catch this podcast interview with him on Sidebar.
  • Balloon Tales is Comicraft’s online guide to comic lettering and production!
  • Blambot’s Nate Piekos writes about some of the grammatical and aesthetic traditions unique to comic book lettering.


3 thoughts on “Comic lettering, part one: My hand lettering

  1. Your cartoon strip on lettering brings back memories. I am currently redrawing the cartoon font I created with Fontographer 20 years ago. My new computer operating system does not like it. I switched to computer lettering because of the problems you point out. I was spending half my cartooning time on lettering, inking, spacing, reinking, respacing. Now I spending more time coming up with cartoon ideas and characters and am not concerned about tweaking their words. Beast wishes, Teddy Harvia


  2. I still letter my strips by hand– to give enough space for my lettering– then tidy it up on the scan using my custom font. It’s important for me to allot enough room in my composition for the words, but the font certainly improves readability … especially since my lettering has gotten rougher since I know it’s just a placeholder in the art!


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