Robot 6

Erik Larsen considers computer lettering for ‘Savage Dragon’

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Cover to Savage Dragon #184 with hand-lettering.

When you go to your local store (or digital provider) you’ll find that nearly all of the comics are lettered using a computer. That’s obvious, right? But there are a relative few creators who still prefer, and advocate, hand-lettering to digital methods, and one of those is Image Comics co-founder and Savage Dragon creator Erik Larsen.

With very few exceptions, every issue of his Savage Dragon series for the past 20 years has been hand-lettered by Chris Eliopoulos, Tom Orzechowski or Larsen himself. But recently on Twitter, Larsen began talking about a switch to digital lettering — and for those attuned to the craft, that’s something major. So we asked him for more information.

“In this case it was simply timing,” Larsen told ROBOT 6. “Tom Orzechowski was booked.”

While that might seem trivial, the central point Larsen had is that the time involved — inked pages are shipped to the letterer and then shipped back once lettering is complete — was adding a significant wrinkle to Savage Dragon‘s production schedule. With digital inking, you can send the files to the letterer in a matter of minutes (depending on your scanner and Internet bandwidth), with the production time for a letterer drastically reduced by the use of a computer.

But be that as it may, Larsen still thinks hand-lettering, when done by an expert, is superior to that of digital lettering. However, there’s another aspect as well.

“[Hand-lettering is] not as stiff and uniform as computer lettering,” he explained. “Plus it’s nice to have the lettering be part of the art.”

What he brings up is a unique part of comics production that’s overlooked by many, unless you’ve actually seen a page of original art. Up until the ’80s, most finished comics pages featured the lettering pasted onto the original art. With digital lettering, the original art pages are balloon-less. For some that’s a good thing, while others prefer to see the page closer in context to the printed edition.

When we asked Larsen specifically about his own ideal method for producing Savage Dragon, he said ultimately he’d like to take on every aspect — lettering and coloring included. Larsen experimented with digital lettering himself in some of the 2006 Savage Dragon issues. But as of now Eliopoulos is filling in for Orzechowski, with Issue 186 being a trial run at digital lettering.

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Comments

8 Comments

Well, that sucks. As a looooongtime Fin Addict, the hand-crafted lettering Eliopoulos, Orzechowski, and John Workman (don’t forget Workman!) has always been a vital component to the look and feel of Larsen’s work. I understand it’s a pain in the ass, but it’s a pain in the ass that adds to the ambiance of the book. I hope this is just temporary!

So in an industry where “nearly all of the comics are lettered using a computer,” one of the few hand-letterers out there (Tom Orzechowski) is “booked” and cannot letter one of the few comics being published (Savage Dragon) that still uses a hand-lettering? Interesting. Sounds like there needs to be some exclusive contracts put in place. Hand-lettering, like hand-inking and hand-coloring, is an artform that lends itself to the style and quality of a comic, so I hope it never gives way entirely to computers.

Mike, Orzechowski does computer lettering as well. All his lettering in Spawn is done by computer, for example.

Oh okay, thanks, now that makes sense. I wasn’t aware of that and I was only going by what I read here. Now I totally understand why Orzechowski was booked up.

As a longtime fan of traditional lettering, I’m hoping this is shift is temporary.

hand lettering is great and most of the european bds are hand lettered. it just adds another dimension.

Jake Earlewine

March 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm

“Up until the ’80s, most finished comics pages featured the lettering pasted onto the original art.”

Actually, lettering was done directly on the artboard by most companies, after the penciling but before the inking. I have the original art to prove it. Most “pasted on” lettering was corrections (editorial changes).

I much prefer hand lettering to computer. It has much more personality. Also, hand-drawn balloons add so much more inflection, excitement, mood, etc. than perfect circles and perfect ellipses drawn in Adobe Illustrator.

Computer lettering makes it possible for anyone to be a letterer, even if they have no design sense and should not be allowed within ten feet of artwork.

Brian Banniger

May 23, 2013 at 11:14 pm

“I much prefer hand lettering to computer. It has much more personality. Also, hand-drawn balloons add so much more inflection, excitement, mood, etc. than perfect circles and perfect ellipses drawn in Adobe Illustrator.

Computer lettering makes it possible for anyone to be a letterer, even if they have no design sense and should not be allowed within ten feet of artwork.”

It makes a lot of people THINK they are letterers. The results say otherwise. As a professional letterer of over 15 years, I can say I have never used a perfect circle or ellipse in Illustrator, nor has any letterer I’ve ever worked with. I can name more traditional letterers that used ellipse templates.

There’ve been plenty of books lettered first pass on overlays and transparencies, it was not reserved solely for editorial changes. It all depended on scheduling constraints more than anything.

I know this is the internet and all, but it’s generally not a good idea to make authoritative statements about something you have a passing knowledge of, while also insulting an entire arm of the comic book producing profession.

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