Some cartoonists say it’s a waste of time to letter a comic strip by hand. I disagree. Although it’s never been put to a test, I think I could beat anyone in a race to see who can letter faster — me with a pen, or an opponent on a computer. Plus, I think it’s a lot more satisfying to put pen to paper and make your own lettering than typing on a keyboard, and, if you ask me, there isn’t enough hand-drawn stuff in the world for people to look at, especially lately with computers. It was my editor, the late Jay Kennedy at King Features Syndicate, who once told me that hand-lettered words are more eye-friendly than those that are computer generated. It took me a while to understand what he meant by “eye-friendly”. He meant that readers — even if they don’t consciously know it — find that handmade stuff is easier on the eye, more “human”, and therefore nicer to look at. What better qualities than those for a comic strip to have?
I draw “Tina’s Groove” with an ink brush and black india ink. I letter the word balloons with a pen nib dipped in the same ink. Hand-lettering my comic strip gives me the option to play with the physical features of the letters and words, because, when you think of it, letters are images just like cartoon faces are images — they can be expressed, and “drawn”, in a way that adds life to a comic. Sometimes I draw dialogue in a way that conveys to the reader how it should be read. Everybody knows that words can take on different tones through the style they’re drawn in. If I were to hunt for fonts that do this as effectively as I’m capable of doing it myself, I would be wasting time. And let’s face it, tapping out letters on a keyboard is just not what you think of when you think of cartooning. What’s a cartoonist, then, if not someone who crafts these things by hand?
I’m not against using a computer. I use photoshop to color my “Tina’s Groove” Sunday comics (I should add that this is the way newspaper production requires it. You can’t do an ink wash for the comics page). But when it comes to the actual line drawing of a cartoon — and the lettering of its word balloons (and the word balloons themselves!) — I really believe a hand-made line is best. When done competently, nothing catches the eye like it. In every day life, nearly every image we see is computer-generated — isn’t it refreshing to see something that’s got a personal touch?
Hand-lettering is a skill. When done properly it adds character to a strip. I like to think that the comics page is one place, published daily in print, where a reader can go to see entirely individual hand-drawn art, with a personal touch. As I write this I can’t think of any other place, can you?