Johannes Gutenberg... and Comic Book Faces


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John Savard's picture
Joined: 23 Nov 2009 - 8:42pm
Johannes Gutenberg... and Comic Book Faces

As is well known, at least among the participants of this forum, if not the public at large, in printing such works as his famed 42-line Bible, Johannes Gutenberg employed a font which contained one alternate version of nearly every letter. This was done so that the books he printed would look like handwritten manuscripts, not betraying their mechanically printed nature through every copy of the same letter being identical.
While this was no doubt a very reasonable thing to do at a time when the handwritten manuscript was the very definition of a book, and thus the measure of quality for a book, it still strikes modern readers as strange. The mechanical perfection of today's books seems to be one of the things that makes them beautiful and easy to read.
And yet, there's one realm where precisely this level of conservatism persists to the present day. Fonts used for lettering comic books, comic strips, and webcomics strive to simulate hand lettering as closely as possible, often by providing alternate forms of each character (usually by being all-caps fonts, and letting the alternates be selected with the shift key).
Thus, at Comicraft, we have Chatterbox, which appears to me to be closely patterned after the lettering of Sam Rosen, as an example of how comic fonts follow lettering. This page,
shows his lettering, that of Artie Simek, and that of a few other Marvel letterers.
Of course, there were many unsuccessful attempts to use typographical techniques for comic lettering.
Thus, this blog page contains an old Charlton comic in which the word balloons were done using a fixed-pitch comic font for the Varityper.
And EC Comics used a Leroy lettering tool (commonly used by draftsmen for neat lettering) for word balloons on its comics, and the results were also unattractive:
(of course, the story was a classic for the ages, but that is another matter).
On the other hand, plain old Univers
worked out just fine for Dave Berg's "The Lighter Side Of..." feature in MAD magazine.
As for Comic Sans, the webcomic http://The Challenges of Zona started out using that face; while it's a great comic, the face is not that good for comics, as you can see.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am

FWIW, I think Gutenberg used variants also to help along justification.


Kevin Pease's picture
Joined: 19 Oct 2003 - 5:03pm

The only webcomic that pulls off Comic Sans is Order of the Stick, because it is a match for its art style of primitive round-ended strokes, chosen in all self-awareness (and, of course, because it seldom tries to extend the font's utility beyond the five-pixel x-height it was made for).

As for Zona, a comic made of 3D models with no hint of anything like an actual ink line anywhere has no reason to limit itself to typefaces that mimic inked lettering, even good ones. I think digital artists who want their work to be like movies would do well to consider the way MAD separated words from pictures, obliterating any suggestion that the words were part of the pictures.