Can typography enhance art in webcomics?

 

My handwriting sucks. Blame it on a lifetime of typing or a lack of coordination, but I can’t seem to get straight lines or graceful curves at tiny sizes.

When we started marketing the Grawlix CMS, we wanted that comic look without getting all cheeky. So we bought CC Legendary Legerdemain, now our signature type family.

That got us thinking about words in comics. How can artists use text as a visual tool?

Using typography to reinforce style

We talked to Nate Piekos, creator of the comic font site Blambot, about how to choose the right type face (or family) for the job.

“If the artist inks with a brush, the style guide should reflect that.”

“Matching a font style (or a group of fonts/balloons/caption styles, called a ‘style guide’) to the artwork is top priority,” Nate said. “If the artist inks with a brush, the style guide should reflect that. Perhaps a dialogue font with a more calligraphic look, balloon strokes that aren't quite perfect, sound effects that look like they were done with a big fat brush.”

You can almost feel the detail in his custom typefaces at his webcomic Atlan. His and other sites use typography to make words blend into the art. For example, the 8-bit style in Diesel Sweeties by Richard Stevens carries through to its deliberately pixellated words. Hark, a Vagrant by Kate Beaton has hand-written text that comes straight from the artist’s hand, and it shows.

“Using typed text allowed me to ensure that it would always be consistent and, furthermore, simpler to create and alter.”

Joe England of Zebra Girl fame told us that he recently moved from hand-written dialogue to a typeface, he created his own font to mimic his handwriting.

“The decision to change was made because, while I was rather proud of my hand-written text, it was occasionally difficult to read and always, always time consuming to create. Not to mention sometimes difficult to draw around,” Joe said. “Using typed text allowed me to ensure that it would always be consistent and, furthermore, simpler to create and alter.”

Walls of text

Even the right typeface can work against visual storytelling. The “wall of text” problem occurs when readers must plow through entire paragraphs of dialogue or narration. Too much text informs without engaging.

“It's usually very obvious when a balloon has too much dialogue…”

Many comics do fine without text. Pages in Scurry by Mac Smith leans on its outstanding visuals when the action picks up. But when a comic needs dialogue, a narrator or onomatopoeia, text enters the picture.

So is there a rule of thumb for the most text a word balloon should hold? That is, when does a balloon become a wall of text?

“No, but it's usually very obvious when a balloon has too much dialogue and should be broken into several balloons,” Nate said. “The biggest hint is when there are too many trains of thought going on. Separate ideas that should be split up.”

Drawing conclusions

We’ve seen some creative typography out there, but the best uses their choice of typeface, color and weight to enhance their art. Whether you’re telling a dramatic fantasy story, a slice-of-life comedy, or publishing one-off dailies, text is an opportunity to reinforce your style.


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