January 24, 2010


I'm suffering my annual resurgence of a mono-like virus I picked up a few years back, and don't have it in me to put a post together, but I didn't want to just call in sick, so I'm holding a fun little contest.

You may remember my post about lettering, where I showed many of the most common mistakes I see in amateur lettering, and gave a general philosophy about how artists can approach this intimidating subject.

This last week it was announced that the Twilight graphic novel was going to print, and that they'd be making 350,000 copies for their initial print run, an insane number for a comic. As it turns out, Stephenie Meyer cares even less about how her books are adapted into comic form than she does about how they're adapted into film, or for that matter the quality of her writing. Stephenie could certainly pay for quality, if she wanted, but instead chose first-time comic book artist Young Kim (who, it's reported rather vaguely, has a "fine arts" background) for the job. Kim's too-shitty-to-be-called-generic, obviously hastily produced hackwork is hysterical, confusing, and infuriating. It's hard to see how such a terrible artist was chosen to helm a GN with one of the largest print runs I've ever heard of. Maybe Meyer saw in Kim a kindred spirit with absolutely no pride in her work? Meyer has stated that she was involved in every page of the book, and feels very happy with it. But the artwork actually wasn't what caught my eye first. The lettering in this book is literally- and I use that word mindfully- literally the worst published lettering I have ever seen. If I'd known lettering could look this bad, I'd have requested that Meyer actually piss in my face instead.

Here's where we get to the contest. In my post I covered nine distinct types of mistake one can make in lettering. I counted eight major types of mistake in this lettering, and four of them were ones I didn't think of when making my post. Here is a single page from the new book:

The first person who can tell me what those types of mistake were, and which ones I did not cover in my post, will win a signed print of my poster for Patton Oswalt:

Leave your answers in the comments. I'll let you know when I have a winner.

Have a good week everyone!


Rivkah said...

I love you.

Do I get a prize now?

C B Sorge said...

Aaahahahaha that's atrocious.

A serif font? Not all caps? See-thru balloons?? That tilted one is amazing.

DavidMcG said...

I totally thought that was a parody!

Mario Colella said...

Off the top of my head:
Way too much space around word in Ed's Balloons.
Tilted balloon. (seriously, what the fuck?)
Overlapping word balloons.
The terrible black lines leading into the balloons.
Semi-transparent balloons.
Terrible placement throughout page.
Ugly computer font (both of them).
The balloons actively wrecking the reading flow.
On last tier, balloon that crashes through the gutter and is used in two panels.

(Eh, it's two in the morning. cut me some slack)

Unknown said...

I can't see.. my eyes are blind from the Times New Roman in photoshop elipse and swiggly tadpoles.

Claire O'Brien said...

Hi Matt,

I really enjoy reading your blog, I'm just getting into comics and I too, am from a fine arts background, so please don't hold it against me : ). Here are my answers:

1. The balloons were obviously not planned from the start as seen in panel 2 where the balloon obscures the microscope.
2. Because the balloon overlaps the microscope the artist has made it transparent (the square captions are guilty of this too).
3. There is no thought of composing and designing the bubble shapes at all, they are simple ellipses and rectangles.
4. In the tilted balloon, the letters are crashing against the sides of the balloon
5. The balloons show no consideration of negative space, they're all uniform and their 'force field' is too big.
6. The first caption overlaps a balloon.
7. The bubble tails look like dreadful after thoughts and come from everywhere except the characters' mouths.
8. Use of serif fonts, one in italics.
9. Should the captions be thought balloons?

Anonymous said...

Obviously not a comic artist, but I think you may have been a little harsh on the artist.

Sure, it's a bland style, but the art is fairly competent - especially for a first book. They just needed to read a few comics first, I think.

As for the type, well...

Sckraps said...

I can't stop swooning over Edward's eyes long enough to spot anything.

::throws up::
Sike! (I love you, 1990s)

Yeah, they've been broken down pretty well, so I'll add what I personally think makes it look - really - bad.

Just kidding, I'd love a crack at a signed print, but I've also reached my "bothering to type about anything Twilight" limit for the century.


I'm rooting for Claire, go you! (or is it Mii? :P)

Will Wheatley-Uhl said...

It looks like I might not be the first to post a list of problems with the lettering on this page, oh well.

I think the few previous posts just about nailed it, but one thing I didn't see mentioned so far was the major problem in panel 2. As word bubbles are normally intended to reinforce the visual, it should be noted that the word bubble in panel 2 actually overlaps the primary action of the visual, which is where the hands touch. This steers the reader's attention away from the image, destroying its impact and drama, or enforcing its complete lack of it.

Thought I'd toss that into the ring. Thanks for giving me something to chuckle about down at the shop, I know what book I'll be begging to not have ordered.

Comic Tools said...

Attention to detail is, as always, important: I didn't just ask for a listing of the mistakes, I also asked you to name which ones were NOT covered in my post. So far folks have only done part one of this task. No winners so far!

Will Wheatley-Uhl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Wheatley-Uhl said...

Well in that case, once more with feeling:

Firstly, there is a profound issue with the sizing of the word bubbles in relationship to the size of the text. All but one of the bubbles have far too much space around the text, leaving large gaping white circles or blurred line work all over the page, as opposed to story serving ghosts which go unnoticed. The one that is in exception is the odd, tilted one where the letters almost touch the bottom of the outline, while also leaving too much negative space at the top. A double whammy. The crazy, wacky angle bubble also has one of the panel borders going through it, which can be seen in the spaces between the lines of text. It also took me a minute to realize that this angular wording was coming from an out of panel character, and not from either of those on the page. Another problem with these bubbles would be their tails, which are mere wiggly lines. In the second panel, the tail was mistaken for an action line, and in the last panel you can barely see them.

The two captions that are on the page are equally as ill designed as the balloons. The borders also encompass some of the artwork, with recessed transparent white. This effect is useless because now there is just a mysterious rectangle lurking in the picture, with some text floating inside. Very distracting to the eye and disruptive to the visual narrative.

The choice of font is also worth mentioning for its total blandness. The fact that it is so small and cramped inside those giant bubbles hurts my eye and brain. None of it suits the narrative, and it is so obviously typed that I wonder if the lettering and bubbles were done in MS Paint.

All of this really boils down to wasted space on the page from using the balloons in an incredibly inefficient manner. Their improper placement in the page disrupts the story, and the tiny text inside the huge bubble is very hard to get around. Also, the very shape and design of the balloons is so bland and ill suited to the word shape, that it looks like the lettering had been done moments before the book was to be printed.

Of all these problems and examples of Epic Lettering Fail, one example that was not covered in your post involved balloons and captions that spread over two panels. This happens in two instances on the Twilight page, in the first two panels and the last two panels.

In addition, I don't think any attention was brought to Caption Boxes in your previous post at all, as it was mainly about Word Balloons. This page I would say is a very good example of very bad captions. Where the word balloons call far too much attention to themselves with their over spacing and tiny cramped text, the captions go out of their way to try and be wallflowers. They obtain the opposite effect by placing the white highlighted lettering over the transparent white background.

Immolation to all Sparkly Vampires

Stevie VanBronkhorst said...

Not to mention the terrible white stroke behind the letters on transparent balloon, which is a huge typographic no-no, and makes ann already spidery typeface even less legible.

It could have been avoided by having traditional opaque balloons in the first place.

Comic Tools said...

2 lists- listing TYPES of mistake, not individual errors- first list of all the error types, second list all the ones of those not found in the original entry. Mario and Claire have been closest, no winners.

Claire O'Brien said...

I guess we need more tuition Matt.

Comic Tools said...


Claire O'Brien said...

Tuition, more tutorials. Have I misspelt it?

Comic Tools said...

OHHHHHHHH, I see. Tuition is the fee for education. More tutorials would be...more tutorials. I don't think there's an "ition" word for it.

Stevie VanBronkhorst said...


Anonymous said...

Have we become a bunch of wankers, or were we always this way?

Anonymous said...

I recently became a wanker.

I like the Twilight movies so far. This comic looks awful for like 100 reasons. I'm not gonna bother.

Beau S. said...

Hello! I’m a newly aspiring amateur who has just discovered your blog and after looking over your earlier post here are my impressions:
First and foremost, the text is not arranged to fit the bubble shapes which leads to an over abundance of negative space.
In the bubble straddling the first two panels the text is uneven in the bubble itself, oh and the entire thing is slanted, text and all.
Almost all of the bubbles obscure the already sparse imagery to the point that some of the bubbles are made translucent to compensate.
The typeface/font itself is horrible and does NOT blend with the art.
Can I claim uneven line spacing in the last bubble since the awkwardly computer-typed ellipses create a disproportionate amount of negative space?
There is separate text balloon overlap between the first two panels as well as in the fourth panel.
The entire page illustrates a composition that didn’t plan for text that was later shoehorned into and overtop of the page helter skelter making the reader have to consciously skip back and forth between the text and images.
The tails while largely ineffective are pretty bad but ALMOST tolerable.
So what do we have here? From your earlier lesson I say:
Text not arranged to fit bubble shape
Text uneven in bubble
After-the-fact bubble placement
Text doesn’t flow with the imagery and pulls the reader out of the story
And new problems include:
Slanted bubble AND text
Bubbles obscuring framed objects made translucent to cope
Terrible choice and use of already tricky-to-use digital lettering
Big, boring, repetitive oval text balloons
Separate text balloons overlapping/colliding and spilling from panel to panel
Almost pointless tails that don’t really match the balloons themselves
There are probably more and some of them were mentioned in your earlier tutorial but I think that’s the bulk of it.
Anyway, thanks for the writing you do and I look forward to catching up on your old posts!

Claire O'Brien said...

Re tuition, I think we've discovered another difference in English/American language.

Anton Emdin said...

Yeah, here in Australia (where we speak 'proper' English, albeit with a drawl!) we use "tuition" as well.

Raluca Z said...

Here are the few I noticed that were not dealt with in the previous post.

+ transparent bubbles and how they can ruin everything on the page from the graphics to the actual text contained in them. In my opinion transparent bubbles are proof of bad placement/composition in a pannel. Mistakes that occur often are placing your transparent baloon over important graphical elements (and this page has plenty), and text becoming unreadable

+ tilted text in obviously titled or angled baloons. There is some usage for that but not it this case. Mistake: the tilted baloon not only is transparent and ovelaps two pannels but also is out of the page.

+ white outerglow applied to text in order to make it stand out on all sort of backgrounds. What this does to a black small sized serif font is simple - it eats the letters visually making the text harder to read, especially on those greyish transparent captions.

+ unusual tails for the baloons that can be easily passed as other graphical elements. I have seen several unconventional types of tails and baloons BUT when you saw that baloon design (edge and tail) you recognized it as a speech bubble and had no doubt who was speaking what.

Lulu said...

:'> Amateur comic-ing hobbyist here! I tried to spot some mistakes:

-Serif font, not all capitalized
-Strange tails that don't match their balloon
-Slanted text in balloon, leading to...
-Awkward positioning of balloon that blocks a major image in 2nd panel
-The ellipses ("...") are strange and distracting
-Inconsistency of balloon transparency
-Static circular shape for balloons (no variance in regards to their respective text - i.e. the "Ok" and the "I'm sorry" doesn't need that much space, right?)

Comic Tools said...

Contest closed! The prize will go to Beau, who is the ONLY person who cared to put their answers in the correct format, and who got them all right! New post with announcement coming shortly.

Claire O'Brien said...

Well done Beau!

Beau S. said...

All right for following instructions!
I did think of other aspects of this page that bother me, and since I can't leave well enough alone I went back and read your article again as well as a great article at http://blambot.com/grammar.shtml 
I really like your tutorials and am excited to see more (I find the best things to read are the things that inspire yet more reading).
Page layout seems like an almost arcane subject that most people learn through hard fought experience and plenty of trial and error. Definitely interesting stuff!

Anonymous said...

Hey Matt, how are you feeling?