Lettering has turned into a disaster recently, and I know that means I have to take some time to practice. Worse, it probably means I have to tear up some of my letter forms and relearn some better habits. Practicing what you’re already doing wrong can be worse than not practicing at all. All my comics lettering resources came up dry in terms of inspiration, and I don’t even want to think about giving up and going to computer lettering. Maybe it is time to drag out the yellow book. Is it still on the high shelf right above the bedroom door? Of course it is.It’s is an old textbook from American Technical Publications, originally copyrighted in 1966, though this copy is the second edition of 1974. I have no idea exactly when we got the yellow book (though it’s been here for at least 20 years) or even who exactly it belongs to, though it’s ex-library from the place where my husband works, so it’s probably his, rescued from their book sale.
The yellow book is refreshing in the extreme. No computers here, and perilously little artistic propriety either. The chapter on lettering has a lot about straight lines, correct spacing and the design of title blocks, but when it comes to the actual design of the characters it gives you a couple dozen examples and some exercises and tells you to find your own way. I spent a very satisfying afternoon wasting a ton of scrap paper doing practice lettering with various pens. The best results were from the new stub pen, with gives up a crisp and characterful line, if a fairly large one:
Freehand lettering with no underdrawing or guide lines. Upper and lower case sample on 20 lb scrap paper, all caps sample on scrap Bristol.
It’s pretty clear I need to work on my capital As, particularly as they appear in the first position in a word, on my capital Rs, and attend to my perpetual problems with the capital M and the size of the letter c in both cases as it appears inside a word. My new lower case a is coming along nicely, but tends to open up at high speeds.
The sentence is from an exercise in the Yellow Book, but it could be tattooed over every cartoonist’s heart. And it could apply to the characters in our stories just as much as it does to the characters in the words we letter.