A Man of Letters
Al and I met in college. We both liked comics, he liked to draw, and I liked to write. It wasn’t long before this confluence of interests manifested itself as our first comic endeavor, The Raven. But things were a lot different back then. While he was always talented, Al lacked the skill and refinement he would later acquire through art school and years of practice. I lacked the good sense to be embarrassed by names like “Dominic Stearn”. And most significant of all, aside from the writing of the script, the entire process was done on paper, without the aid of computers.
Today, Al does his initial drawings with pencil and paper, and then scans those drawings into his computer. The rest is done electronically. He darkens some lines to produce an effect similar to inking, then ads color and lettering. That’s more or less how most professional comics are made these days (though most of them still go through an inking stage before being scanned). But back in college, Al did the pencils, then the inking, and because that was so time consuming, I did the lettering. That might sound like a reasonable arrangement, if you don’t know that I have the handwriting of a drunken toddler.
I was reminded of those low-tech days by this article, which explains how to use an Ames lettering guide. I used one of these to draw guidelines for my lettering on The Raven. It’s a clever little gadget, but it only allowed me to line things up neatly. It didn’t make my letters look any less like the scribblings of a nearsighted madman.
Manual lettering is a slow and tedious process, and I am a lazy and weak-willed man. We finished one issue of The Raven, but the second one, I’m ashamed to say, stalled out in the lettering stage. I really do feel bad about that. Al had all of the pencils done, and he had already improved over the first issue. He put a lot of time and effort into that project, and I let it languish.
I’ve offered to help with the lettering on The Specialists, but Al assures me that it is such a fast process now that I couldn’t really save him any time. It’s possible that he’s just telling me this because he doesn’t want me holding things up, and I wouldn’t blame him.
Anyway, I just wanted to share this trip down memory lane, and give you a glimpse into the comic creation process as it used to be. Some people prefer hand-lettering over digital, but I for one do not miss it.