Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Art of the Small --- Looking Back on 2010

By Chris Mangun

I work in Pharma Advertising... the fine print industry. One day, one of our best art directors Huy Hygen (who’s name is pronounced We Win and most enjoyable to say)… anyways, we got into a conversation about fonts and how hard it is to choose the right font to go with the right art. Whether recognized or not, Helvetica feels different from Eurostyle, some might say, more minimal or genteel than the latter. Out of the conversation came the notion that, “People spend more time per capita focused on words than images since they must read letters.” Typography opened my eyes to how every shaped letter is its own piece of art and that someone spent years working on this alphabet, maybe a whole 2 weeks on the letter G! Golly-gosh, someone even made a movie about it “Helvetica”… a splendid documentary on fonts if you’re interested.

I mention all this because a lot of my work on Feeding Ground is lettering each issue. Every month, my eye goes to the screen for hours, tweaking little letters, judging font size, considering spacing, etc. In those hours of work, I sometimes would stop and ask myself, how important is lettering? Do people really care if we use CC Gibbons or Spooky Art over Times Roman? And the answer was always the same, yes. When it comes to comics, choosing the right font is cornerstone to setting the right tone or feeling of a visual story.

This year, I learned why balloons have their own “Live” or “safety” area, which is the distance I want to keep the text from edge of the balloon. Being without special effects of TV or sound, I learn that changing a word’s color or outlining it to stretch it, or making it into sound effects can change the way someone feels or even hears a word. The biggest challenge I had in lettering, what made me really focus in on this little art, was working with accents on the translated flip-side of our issues. Español has accents over certain letters, reverse punctuation, and for whatever reason well styled comic fonts are lacking these accents. This means, I had to place individual “tildes” over dozens of ñ’s and accents over many other letters.

Lettering really is the art of the small… that background craft of creating finely fixed symbols, tiny canvases of meaning, well placed amongst bigger meaning. The best at this craft, allow readers to feel something without having to knowingly feel it.

What I know about lettering comics I learned through “DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering” and a lot working with Michael Lapinski who has built up a great awareness to the art of the small and coached me when I needed it. This year, like lettering, had so many small moments. Many were spent working on this fine comic, which taught me about collaboration with friends and looking closely at how beautifully complicated pockets of time can be summed up in a few well designed words.

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