Comic lettering, part two: My custom font

After years of doing my own hand lettering I’ve become frustrated with how much cleanup work is required to finish my pages. Open spaces in the characters of my scanned lettering were filling in at an alarming rate, coupled with the fact that my letterforms were getting waaay too inconsistent for my tastes, led me to spend too much of my production time cleaning up individual letters. But how to retain the mark-making of my hand lettering while reducing my workload? The answer: a custom font!

Knowing nothing about how to create a font, yet knowing that other artists (John Byrne and Jeff Smith, for instance) had done it, I took Kansas City cartoonist Mike Sullivan up on his offer to create a font based on my lettering. He did a great job with it, adapting my lettering into a full character set, a bold alphabet, and a variety of dingbats & special characters.  I was a demanding customer– I asked for a full keyboard set, including non-dialog characters like |, {, %, and + not typically used in comic lettering, but Mike worked with me to get the results I was after at a very reasonable price, even suggesting options I wouldn’t have thought of.  If you’re interested in a font of your own, and don’t know how to do it, I’d definitely recommend hiring Mike for the job.

Rather than just a collection of drawn characters, I set out to design a more consistent font than my lettering had become. I filled them out to a consistent height, balanced out the symmetry, and evened out the curves … but I may have gone too far in that direction, as I’m not entirely happy with how some of the characters turned out. Certainly not because of Mike’s translation of them, but rather because of how far I designed them away from what my lettering looks like (or at least what it looks like these days). It’s taken me a while to warm up to how the font looks after seeing my hand lettering for so long, but I’m enjoying it more and more as I continue to use it and fit it into my working method.

In fact, if there is any downside to the change in process, it was how little experience I had using a font before I designed mine. I wish I’d tried lettering some pages with a font first– even just as a test case– to better understand how I’d be using it in actual pages. Sadly, it hasn’t yet been the time-saver I’d hoped it would be, and I still find myself preferring some of the variety in my hand drawn lettering, especially for emphatic bolds and punctuation elements. Overall, though, I’ve been happy with the improved legibility the font has brought to my recent strips, which was the whole purpose of the change.

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2 Comments to “Comic lettering, part two: My custom font”

  1. Looking at it, side-by-side with your hand-lettering, it is quite a contrast. There is definitely a less-organic quality. But it is clean and readable. And I’ve used it a couple of times myself and do like how it looks on a page. Thanks for allowing me to help you with that, Dale. It was fun!

    • “Less organic” is a good way to describe it. But without the side-by-side comparison, it doesn’t really jump out as being typeset. And I’m getting more used to incorporating it in my work, too – I’ll probably continue hand lettering, just to get a sense of spacing needed, but instead of cleaning up those characters, I’ll just overlay them with the cleaner font characters.

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