Robot 6

Hassler defends Twilight lettering

How not to place a word balloon (thanks, Chris Sims!)

How not to place a word balloon (thanks, Chris Sims!)

Kurt Hassler pretty much invented the notion of selling comics to girls when he was the head buyer at Borders, so it’s not surprising that he has continued that trend as publishing director of Yen Press. And indeed, Yen’s graphic novel adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight sold 66,000 copies in its first week of release, which is a pretty good indication that Hassler knows what he is doing, regardless of what the rest of us may think. While most comics folk grudgingly admitted that the book itself wasn’t bad, the lettering got a lot of criticism online. So naturally, the subject came up when CBR’s Kiel Phegley interviewed Hassler earlier this week. Hassler parried the question, essentially saying that the critics didn’t understand what the artist was doing:

When you’re working in American comics, yes, it is standard to go out and assign a letterer to letter a book, but that is not what you generally see in Asian markets. It’s not what you see in Japan and in Korea. So for the original books that we work on, we ask the artists to do the book themselves. This was not a book that was lettered by a letterer…this was lettered by the artist.

And as far as the balloon work goes, a lot of what I heard was “Oh, these are just randomly placed.” That is absolutely not the case. When you’re talking about a professional letterer working in comics, the role of the letterer is to stay out of the way of the art. You would absolutely never see a case where the letterer is allowed to place a balloon over a character’s face. When the artist is doing the balloon work and she’s selecting where that lettering is, if she places a balloon over a character’s face, there’s a reason for it. I’ve seen one panel held up time and again as “How was this done?” Well, it was done because the artist had a very specific reason for putting it there. [Laughs]

Professional manga letterer Susie Lee begs to differ:

That’s like saying (for example, but not necessarily in this case), “She’s the artist and she planned on drawing the buildings to look like shredded wheat.” when maybe the reason is that she doesn’t draw them very well. Sometimes artists don’t know the best way to place copy. It could also be that she’s under deadline and doesn’t want to draw a face.

And then she links to Rich Johnston’s fix: Have Dave Sim do the lettering.



Saying “It’s okay, the ARTIST (an artist with no experience making comics by the way) did the poor lettering” is kind of admitting that they were too cheap to hire anyone else besides the artist, despite having a license to print money with that Twilight adaptation. “Maximize profits!”

“Well, it was done because the artist had a very specific reason for putting it there.”

So … what is that reason?

That reason is: Oh shit, it’s due tomorrow.

Winsor McCay was infamous for horrible lettering. Of course, that was over a hundred years ago and one would think we could have learned by now.

I Haven’t read the book, and i guess i never am going to either.
But in that particulary picture, it’s pretty obvious,
or at least for me, why the artist did place the lettering where he/she did.

If you look at the perspective of the picture, the lettering becomes the foreground,
the characters the middleground and the hallway the background.
Resulting in a 3D like experince, where the lettering is included,
instead of being at a corner, and being in normal 2D vs. The rest of the image.

Well, that’s atleast my opinion.
Sorry for my English, I’m from Denmark

bad lettering should be banished

June 10, 2010 at 10:52 am

The author’s art is good, although the Twilight manga would look much better if it was drawn with actual ink, paper and screen tone.

She might have a background in fine arts, but! fine arts and comic books are two different things!

It is a mistake to think that someone with a background in fine arts will make better comic books.

Comic books are a different beast altogether, and someone who only knows how to draw pretty pictures, and does not think about for example, guiding the reader’s gaze on the page by clever placement of word bubbles, will make comics with pretty pictures but boring to read.

Word bubbles placement, placement of panels is just as important as editing is in movies and can make or break a work. The best comic book / manga artists sometimes have an unremarkable or ugly art, but know intuitively how to to place word balloons, panels and how to make interesting layouts so that readers will feel more engaged when they read.

And the lettering is atrocious, but that is unfortunately common in North-American published comics books… Most NA publishers don’t care about whether it’s easy on the eyes or not, and don’t care about font choices… And most comics and manga are lettered in uppercase, which is harder to read and makes it look like all the characters are shouting…

There’s no reason to continue using all uppercase all the time because the conditions which created the use of uppercase disappeared (poor printing technology) so any publishers which wants to attract a wide audience should ditch uppercase, and leave uppercase to those publishers who want to cater only to hardcore comic book fans who want to hold on to traditions just because they’re traditions.

bad lettering should be banished

June 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

And since Hassler is justifying the horrible lettering by saying this is how it is done in Asia, I don’t know about other Asian countries, but in Japan, lettering is usually much more polished than in North America.

Fonts are well chosen. Also the issue of uppercase doesn’t present itself because uppercase doesn’t exist in Japanese, and Japanese characters can be easily read in a wide range of configurations, from left to right, right to left, vertically…

You don’t have lots of tiny bubbles with tiny characters crammed in which make your eyes bleed. Panels are usually bigger too, so overall manga are much easier on the eyes and easier to read.

This partly explains why American comic books are a hard sell in Japan, because to the average Japanese reader, they’re too tiring to read compared to the homegrown products, thus not entertaining to most readers.

I think the area where many American comic book artists could learn from Japanese comic books is not art, that’s subjective anyway, but paneling and placement of word bubbles to make for a smoother reading experience. Too many American comic books have very detailed art, but are not easy to read, word bubbles are all over the place, and you don0t know where to start reading on the page.

That’s THE difference between both countries’ comic books, not cosmetic differences like big eyes and stuff like that.

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