Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Comic Book Wednesday: Fifity Shades of Lettering

Hi there! Dave-El here and welcome to I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You, the internet's leading blog for Amish drug dealers.

For the last couple of weeks, I've set aside time on Wednesday to post some stuff about comic books, my longtime passion cripplingly expensive habit.  Today I want to, well, let's be blunt, gripe about modern comics, a propensity for weird lettering. And what, pray tell, do I mean by that? Well, I'll tells ya. In my day (uh oh...old guy rant), information relayed by text took four different forms.

  • Word balloon
    • Dialogue spoken out loud
  • Thought balloon
    • Inner monologue

  • Caption boxes
    • Narrative device for establishing information not clearly obvious from the scene
  • Sound effects

In recent years, 3rd person narrative caption boxes have mostly been replaced by 1st person narration which in turn has virtually removed the thought balloon in modern comics. There is a certain level of "maturity" that comes from comic book characters narrating, "Against my better judgment, I decided to go inside Arby's" as opposed to a thought balloon that says, "This may be a trap but I'm going into that Arby's."

But the thing that has always bothered me about 1st person narration is this: Who the hell is the character talking to? And when the hell are they having this conversation? OK, TWO things that bother me.

This is not to be discounted. If the character is telling a story after the fact, well there goes any suspense because, hey, he must be OK, he's telling us his story. (Granted there have been exceptions but man, they are more than strange.) But if the character is telling the story as it happens like she's in some kind of pulp fiction detective film noir, well, that's just weird; focus on the job, not your colorful 1st person account.

And as caption boxes have become the defacto means of communicating character thoughts, it seems letterers are getting clever about how to prep these boxes. At least, I think I should blame the letterers. Maybe it's the colorists. All I know is instead of getting this:

Sometimes I get this:
I knew time was running out. I had to see her one more time.

Or this:

I knew time was running out. I had to see her one more time.

Part of the reason for coloring caption boxes is to distinguish one narrator from another. When Superman and Batman team up, they both get to narrate. We need color coding to tell them apart. 

Another reason is make the art more an organic part of the surrounding art. I guess, I mean, I just made that up. But it sounds like it might be a thing. But the point here is I can't read this stuff without a miner's headlamp and a magnifying glass.

You might say, "Gee, I can read those just fine, mister!  Golly, you need to get your eyes checked or something!" First of all, why are you talking like Opie Taylor or Beaver Cleaver? That's just wrong, OK? But secondly, wise guy, try this. 

I knew time was running out. I had to see her one more time. I don't know why, I had left things where they needed to be. She was better off without me. She had her life in front of her and all I could offer her was...what? Night after night of  me, dressing up like a gopher and fighting crime. I did not ask to become Gopher Man but I could not deny the responsibility that came with my gopher powers. Yes, she was better off without me. But facing what could my final battle with Doctor Yard Tiller, I knew, I just knew, I had to see her again. One last time.

OK, have your eyes started to bleed yet? When all that text starts to pile up, my pupils pulsate with pain. And don't get me started on this.

I scan the waterfront but so far, I've seen not a sign of  either of them. Dare I hope that those two crazed costumed maniacs had come to their senses? I took a puff on my I swear to God last cigarette and I shook my head. No, Doctor Yard Tiller would come, his ego would demand it. And Gopher Man would be here to, driven by whatever drives him. No, they'll both come and try to kill each other. And I and the rest of my squad will have to clean up the mess. As usual. I light another cigarette. Swear to God, last one.

A recent issue of Batman had narration boxes with white lettering on a light grey background and, to make it even harder to read, was in script format, not block lettering. The thing about the lettering in that issue, the artistry of the lettering was well matched to the actual art. As an artistic choice, it may have had its appeal. But from the simple point of just being able to read the damn thing, eh, it's not so much a good thing.

Comic book letterers, be creative, be daring, break new ground and take chances. But remember, someone of us out here still want to read these things. And is it too much to ask for the return of the thought balloon? The thought balloon can convey such a wealth of intelligent and interesting information.

Or maybe not. Everyone, be good to one another. 

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