I am a perfectionist by nature and when the quality of lettering drops, I struggle to stay interested. As with any art form there is degree of subjectivity to it, but there a number of rules that need to be followed. Here’s 3 ways to spot amateur comic book lettering.Continue reading
Mike Stock // Digital Editor & Letterer // Interview
Can you talk us through your process, and any tools you use?
I could, but then I’d have to kill you … nah, all the dialogue, balloons etc. are created in Illustrator. I created my own blank templates in the software that are the US and UK page sizes and have bleed, trim and live area guides. I have separate layers for artwork, balloons, text, and SFX.
This set-up means I can drop in the artwork and scale it down to the page size so I am always lettering over the same size canvas. This also means I can just drop in updated art files as amendments come in – often I’ll start lettering over pencils and then the inks and colours come gradually as they are signed off. I like to involve the SFX in the artwork as much possible so they are made in Illustrator but then imported into Photoshop where I can manipulate them and the original image to blend them in in whatever way suits the style. The style is different for each story; it is dependent on that of the writing and the artwork. Sometimes it is quite simple but occasionally there is a bit more work involved like in Swan Song, for instance.
In Swan Song there is an immediate pace change to, say, ‘Eponymous’ and ‘Day and Night’, which are both full of action and are often very dark. Instead we are set in a geriatric ward of a robot-run hospital so the pace is quite thoughtful and the colour palette is very clean. There are several characters straight from the off: three humans, one of whom speaks solely through video screen; two robots, both with their own personalities; and a sort of mainframe computer who calls the shots. After reading the script and looking at the art I set about creating a sort of style guide, which outlined the dialogue for each of these characters.
The humans have normal white balloons, which I tweak slightly for the video character, and I chose a dialogue font that I felt had lots of personality. For Sadie and Stevie I gave their balloons’ corners and a pattern to emphasise their robotic-ness and a casual sans serif font (like what this is written in now) that contrasts the font used for the human dialogue. I coloured the pattern in relation to the speaker to help distinguish the dialogue and personalise it further. For the computer I squared up the balloons further and took the kink/bend out of the tails, sort of removing as much personality as I could. In cases where I make a style guide like this I’ll include it on a new layer in the Illustrator file and keep it locked and hidden so it is always close to hand, should I need it.
Logos and titles will often follow the same process as SFX but usually involve a lot more sketchbook (random scrap paper) work, I usually find it much easier to adapt and rework a typeface by hand. Photoshop gives me a lot more flexibility to have the element interact with the artwork should I need it to. Quite often I will also be entrusted with the production of the finished comic, either in a print-ready PDF or a digital format. For compiling these files I use InDesign; it links all the artwork files which means the original art is amended or changed and then I can just refresh the InDesign file and hey presto.
What are you working on outside of VS – Tell us about it.
Jon Lock has just got Afterlife Inc. #3 successfully ‘Kickstarted’ so I can look forward to that over the coming year, lots more Dead Roots too as that’s released quarterly. Also in the works: The Six should have popped up on your radars during LSCC (2013); Destiny’s Fate #3 is well on its way and has been really good fun; The GeeBees is shaping up fantastically and is due out this spring; I’ve just finished one issue of The Pride and there already 6 more in the pipeline; and something really funky called Raygun Roads with Owen Michael Johnson.
What inspires you?
Creativity; it sounds like a cop-out but, creativity is contagious. If I’m having one of those days where I’m not feeling creative I go hunting for other people’s. I collect images that make me think, make me laugh, or feel sad, happy, confused; anything, basically, that makes me stop and look at it again. I don’t leave them on my computer or share them on Pinterest or something weird, I print them out and stick them in a big ol’ scrapbook; which I can flick through.
Where do you see yourself in five/ten years time?
Well I’m new to comics as far as I’m concerned but I look forward to burrowing further and further in. I’ve not really been lettering for that long either so I’ll keep learning for now. Maybe in 5 years time I can be living off of comics … I think I’d like that.
And there you have it. It was really fun to read through this again and, retrospectively, see where it has taken me; particularly the bit about what I was working on at the time. Jon Lock’s Afterlife Inc. rolled straight off of the success of #3 and into a MASSIVE collected edition called the ‘Book of Life’ which was also a huge Kickstarter success! The Six preview (available for download still) went down very well too. Destiny’s Fate led to an awesome anthology by it’s writer Devin L. Michaels called ‘Capitalism and Other Stories‘ which I lettered and did a lot of design work for. We finished all 6 issues of The Gee Bees which now exist in a hardback collected edition. I drew the cover art for that, a bit out of my normal comfort zone but I enjoyed it none-the-less. The Pride is going strong, we just released #4 of the main series and #2 of The Pride Adventures which are made up of shorter stories following the same team, filling out some of history of the Pride’s universe. And finally Raygun Roads was just nominated for ‘Best Comic’ at the British Comic Awards we lost out to Image’s The Wicked and the Divine but it was an honour to be recognised for what is a strong, and truly unique, comic book.
Mike Stock // Digital Editor & Letterer // Interview
Hello. Who are you?
I’m Mike Stock and I am the digital editor for VS Comics. I also do a lot of the lettering.
What else have you worked on?
I freelance as a graphic designer although the comic book stuff increasingly takes up more and more of my time. As a designer I’ve produced logos and art assets for comic creators like Jon Lock and the lovely people at Disconnected Press. I’ve also helped produce the finished books for several other creators and publications.
What other comic stuff have you done?
I’ve worked on Dead Roots (digital production, design, and letters), and Afterlife Inc. (design for volume 1, and letters and design for volume 2), I’ve lettered a few shorts for Starburst Magazine too.
What attracted you to comics?
Comics did. I had a transferable skill set from my education as a designer that Mike Garley spotted and starting me off lettering a few of his things. The UK comics ‘creator’ scene is a much more hospitable plane than the UK design equivalent. I don’t think I would have been able to live with the seemingly inevitable transition to ‘hipster’ either.
What attracted you to VS Comics?
I was aware of it early on as you can imagine, I saw the Eponymous story before VS was talked about and then when I sat down with Mike there was only going to be one outcome; the chance to work with James was icing on the cake. And when you bear in mind the other talent involved, I’m getting loads and loads of icing on my cake.
What do you think of the process of working in comics and how does it compare to other mediums you’ve worked in?
From a lettering point-of-view my favourite part has to be not being the one solely responsible for making something look good. As a designer I didn’t realise how much pressure that was putting on me until I started lettering. I much prefer the new feeling of ‘I better not make a mess of the awesome artwork’. And as an editor the sheer volume of talent you get to work with blows my mind.
How did you get involved with VS Comics?
I worked with Mike (in the same roles) on Dead Roots and, with that going so well, I’d like to think the decision to involve me in VS was easy for him.
More next time. Including some stuff on my processes, my inspiration, and a look into the future.
It’s a real pleasure to say that Raygun Roads, a comic that I worked on with Owen Johnson, Indio!, and Andy Bloor, has been shortlisted for ‘Best Comic’ at this years British Comic Awards. The winner is to be announced at Thought Bubble in Leeds later this month.
The ‘Best Comic’ nominees are:
- Dangeritis: A Fistful of Danger – Robert M Ball and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (Great Beast)
- In The Frame – Tom Humberstone (New Statesman)
- Raygun Roads – Owen Michael Johnson, Indio!, Mike Stock and Andy Bloor (Self published)
- Tall Tales & Outrageous Adventures #1: The Snow Queen & Other Stories – Isabel Greenberg (Great Beast)
- The Wicked + The Divine #1 – Kieron Gillen, Jaime McKelvie, Matt Wilson and Clayton Cowles (Image Comics)
We are amongst some hard competition though in so it will be tough but, frankly, just being nominated is Exciting enough. Also to be in that list as the only self-published title, I think, is an amazing effort when you consider the readership that something like ‘The Wicked + The Divine’ has through a publisher like Image.
As if all of that isn’t exciting enough the team of judges includes the likes of Jonathon Ross, Jessica Hynes (Spaced) and Danny John-Jules (Red Dwarf). Incredible.
The 3rd Annual British Comic Awards Ceremony will take place at 6pm on Saturday 15th November in the Royal Armouries Bury Theatre in Leeds as part of the Thought Bubble Festival.