Is it wrong to admit I’m a lettering snob? Seeing badly done lettering can absolutely kill my interest in a comic, just as seeing well done lettering can artificially ensure that I’ll be reading for at least a few pages more, no matter how terrible the story (Tom Orzechowski, I kept reading early Spawn for far too long for you, sir). If you think I’m completely crazy, go back and re-read the early days of the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League; there’s an issue in there where John Workman – a spectacular letterer, I think everyone would agree – fills in for Bob Lappan, and it just feels like an entirely different book despite everyone else in the creative team being exactly the same.
These days, of course, it’s easier to have continuity in your lettering with shared fonts and the like, which is why I was so interested in Ron Marz’ interview with letterer Troy Peteri, where he talks about the dos and don’ts of lettering, as well as – and this is where my wonk-iness really comes in – choosing the right font for the project, and what makes good lettering important:
I think people commonly believe that as long as the words are in balloons and on the page, it’s as good as done. They’re not taking into account how word balloons should lead the eye to the appropriate reading order in the panels, or how too much/not enough negative space in the balloons themselves can also make things look amateurish. Same goes for sound FX that look like they’re merely words typed out and dropped on the page. I honestly think that good lettering can make an amateurish effort look less so, similar to the way good visual FX in an otherwise low-budget movie can make that movie feel bigger and better.
These days, I think that we’re seeing more good lettering, but less exceptional lettering, if that makes sense; overall, I think the quality has improved dramatically with digital letters, but that medium tends to lose the individual magic of a Workman, Orzechowski or Artie Simek (Here’s a great column from Augie De Blieck about why Orzechowski is one of the greats, for those unconvinced). But maybe I’m looking in the wrong places: Who’s doing the truly great comic book lettering these days?