This is the fourth in a series of analyses of exercises and activities from the Graphic Novel Intensive class at PNCA.
Number 1 is here.
Number 2 is here.
Number 3 is here.
Number 5 is here.
Number 6 is here.
Number 7 is here.
Ellen's exercise in lettering and word balloons: (In-class, day three)
To tell the truth, I think this section got somewhat short shrift, or at least less time than had been planned. The day started with Ellen giving an inking demonstration; it was all technical, brush types and ink types and hand position and all that, real art class stuff. It went on a lot longer than anyone expected.
For what was left of the morning session, we covered the theory and practice of word balloons and lettering. Ellen identified the characteristics of good lettering as allowing the reader to feel comfortable, blending with the artwork, and being laid out well and spelled correctly. She stressed that lettering and word balloons should add visual interest to the text, and said that most strips should utilize three "fonts," a standard, a special standard, and a display font. She provided the following handout and a copy of page 134 of Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.
After the class discussion, students completed two in-class exercises. First, we lettered as many templated panels as we could with a provided short dialogue: --What did you say? --Nothing.
We were given about ten minutes and encouraged to be as creative as possible. Here are my results:
After we walked around and viewed each other's efforts, we were assigned a more complex task. Ellen provided a "full script" and artwork for a four-panel strip, and we were give about fifteen minutes to letter it. Here's the script:
And here's my finished assignment:
The point of the exercise was to explore the relationship between lettering and balloons as graphical elements with the artwork itself, and to understand how the word balloons can add to both characterization and action. I have to say that this was one section of the course that felt a bit shallow. The relationship between image and text is perhaps the key dynamic of comics, and focusing so much on the lettering in word balloons seemed to be a bit reductive. Besides dialogue balloons and captions, text also appears in sound effects and in diegetic elements, and should be addressed more comprehensively to develop a real understanding of how it works. Catherine Khordoc's article "The Comic Book's Soundtrack," while ostensibly about sound effects, provides an excellent examination of all of the dimensions of lettering as context for its inquiry.
That said, the experimentation was instructive, and it was a challenge to try to convey different senses of the same language in ways that were both interesting and clearly understandable. This was one exercise in which the folks who had some familiarity with comics conventions seemed to have an advantage, even over those with greater graphic facility. For a lot of the students, the lettering was either troublesome from a design standpoint (just fitting in all in) or from a communicative angle (their choices were interesting and attractive but difficult to discern). Simple considerations such as maintaining left-right and top-bottom sequencing were frequently lost.
If the session didn't convey a broad enough understanding of how text works within a comic, it certainly taught the importance and technical difficulty of the often underrated contribution of dialog lettering.
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