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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.