Hand Lettering Comics by Nate Piekos
Before we start, I’d like to thank Pat Brosseau for teaching me the basics of hand lettering. Pat is one of the best and without his help, I would probably still be struggling to figure this stuff out. On with the tutorial...
It's true, hand lettering has been replaced by computer lettering. But it's important that today's letterers have at least a working knowledge of hand lettering because it will help you better understand the digital medium of the present. Know your roots!
DRAFTING TABLE Any artist or letterer worth his salt should have a good drafting table set up to work on, and the basics that go with it, like drafting tape, etc.
TECH PENCIL Use this instead of a #2. The tips of the wooden pencils tend to break off in your Ames Guide. You can buy all different brands that range from a couple of dollars to ten or more. You'll have to buy the lead separately (Harder leads work best for this), as well as a special sharpener. All totaled, expect to pay about $15.00 to $20.00. You'll also need an eraser for boo-boos and an eraser shield so you don't erase any artwork accidentally.
AMES LETTERING GUIDE – You'll use this to draw your pencil guides on the original art. Set your Ames guide to "3" (or a little more) and use the holes shown in the graphic. You'll set this on the edge of your T-square. You can find these in any art store in the drafting section. They go for $2.00-$3.00, typically.
T-SQUARE An 18" t-square works perfect for comics. (Not just the lettering but everything else, too.) Expect to pay up to $20.00 for a good one.
HUNT CROW QUILL #107 This is the tip I was taught to use. Go to the calligraphy aisle in your art supply store and look on the barrel of the tips. In teeny, tiny lettering you can make out the size. Some of the packages have the sizes written on the back. I've never been able to find a #107 packaged all by itself. It usually comes with a #102. The two-pack runs about $5.00. You'll also need the smaller calligraphy handle to put the tip in. It's cheap brown plastic and some art stores will sell some loose. Other standard lettering pens include .05 Rapidographs, the Speedball B6 or C6, Micron 03 or 05 pens and Staedtler 03 Sketch Pens.
SANDPAPER Ever notice how most comic lettering has thinner down-strokes and thicker across-strokes? That's because the Hunt 107 (and Speedball B6) get filed down with some very fine grit sandpaper. It takes a sharp eye and practice to know when you’ve filed enough. You’ll probably ruin a few pen tips at first. File at an angle like below:
INK You'll need to find the ink that works best for you. For lettering I like Higgins "Engrossing" black ink. It's thinner than the stuff I use for actual inking of art (Speedball Superblack) so it flows better through the pen tip.
KOH-I-NOR RAPIDOGRAPH .70 OR A PIGMA MICRON 08 These are for bold words. The Rapidograph is the more traditional choice, but those puppies are expensive ($15.00 each) and you have to take them apart, clean, and refill them. In my experiments, I've found that a Pigma Micron 08 works pretty well, is cheaper ($3.00) and disposable. The time you save with the Pigma might be more valuable to you than the money for the Rapidograph. Personal choice. You can also use these for panel borders and balloons (or something slightly smaller depending on your taste).
CIRCLE/OVAL TEMPLATES You'll need these to make your dialogue balloons. Get lots of them. They can usually be found right next to the Ames Guides in the art store. They vary in price depending on brand and how many per pack. Better yet, check eBay.
FRENCH CURVE Use these to make balloon tails. They vary in price depending on brand and how many per pack.
ARTWORK If you were doing this professionally, your editor would send you the penciled, original art.
SCRIPT The editor would send you the script.
TOKYO ROBOT ISSUE 1, PAGE 99
1- Chiba-san is flying into San Francisco. He’s atop the TOKYO ROBOT. He’s finally about to get revenge for all that extra homework! TOKYO ROBOT has a schoolbus in one hand and a Japanese flag in the other.
1 - Chiba: Who's laughing now, scumbags?!
2 - FX: ZROOOM!
2 - Reaction shot from the citizens of San Fran. Detective McSmitty in FG, eyes up to the impending doom.
3 - McSmitty: Boy, did I pick the wrong day to quit smack...
BALLOON PLACEMENTS The editor probably would send you balloon placements. These are photocopies with numbered notes as to what dialogue/sfx should go where on the art. Some editors leave it up to you. Note that Dialogue #1 in the script, corresponds to #1 on the balloon placements, and so on.
TIME TO GET TO WORK First, tape the art to your drafting board. Estimate how many lines you're going to need from the amount of text in the script. With your Ames Guide, T-square and Tech Pencil, draw your guides. You could do all the guides on the page at this point.
Your penciled guides should look like this:
With your pencil, lightly write in the dialogue. Doing this helps you see what adjustments need to be made before you ink it. You can do this for the whole page at this step.
Now you ink it in. Hunt 107 for regular and italic dialogue, and Rapidograph or Pigma Micron for bold. You can ink in the lettering for the whole page, working top to bottom, left to right, and then let it dry a bit.
Now with your circle templates, find the one that fits around your dialogue best, and ink in your balloon. Be careful of smudging. With the French curve (and t-square if you need a straight tail) make your tail about halfway between the balloon and the speaker. Let the balloons dry a bit.
Now it's time for sound effects. This is where you can be creative. Just like your dialogue, start by roughing with pencil...
Then ink. You can use your Rapidographs/Microns for this.
The last thing the hand letterer does is ink the panel borders and you’re done! (Typically the inker will erase your pencil marks so you can leave them on.)
Now go do page two!
A final note about style: Inevitably the question will be asked, "How do I develop my own style?" The answer (and you already guessed it, I'm sure) is PRACTICE! Take a sheet of Bristol board, line the whole thing from top to bottom with your Ames guide and letter your brains out over and over again. Figure out the letter forms that you like and get comfortable with them.
For even more about hand lettering, go pick up the DC COMICS GUIDE TO COLORING AND LETTERING COMICS, by Chiarello and Klein. Excellent resource.