August 10, 2007

Text Triage Unit

I'm going to talk about text-related (not writing-related; that will come much later) problems first, because they're incredibly common, and also simple to fix.

There is one overriding rule when it comes to text, and it is this: if I can't read your text, I'm not going to read your comic.

So don't make your text too small for me to read it without squinting. Don't put too much text in a single balloon. Don't shrink the space between lines so you can cram more text into each balloon. Don't draw your balloons right up against the edge of the letters.

And for the love of god, don't do this.

Text should be big, clear, cut into small chunks for easy digestion, and have plenty of breathing space both between lines and around the edges. Like this. See how easy that is to read?

A Word About Fonts

Arial, Comic Sans, Times New Roman. DON'T USE THESE. In fact, don't use any font that came preinstalled on your computer. Why? Because they're ugly. They're also hard to read. They were never meant to be used in comics. They look amateurish. But mostly, they're just ugly.

There are a variety of free fonts specifically designed for use in comics, readily available from sites like Blambot. Pick a good one from their list-- NOT "Anime Ace", that one looks like crap too-- and use that instead.

A Word About Linespacing

If you letter your comics in MSPaint, then close your browser window right now and walk away. Your comic cannot be saved. It is DOA.

If you letter your comics in a proper image editor, though, you probably have the ability to tweak something called "linespacing."

This is how you do it in Adobe Photoshop (although the same technique applies for Illustrator):

Once you've got your text banged out, hit Ctrl + T to bring up the Character palette. The little icon with two A's on top of each other stands for linespacing.

Most of the time the (Auto) setting is good enough, but for maximum readability you may want to dick around with it. I prefer to err on the side of too much space between lines rather than too little, so I usually set linespacing to be a size bigger than my actual font size. In this case, my font is 18 point, so my spacing would be 24.

That looks better. But remember, not all fonts need to have their linespacing screwed around with. Use this technique sparingly, and use it for good, not evil. NEVER EVER use it to cram the lines closer together so you can pack more dialogue in.

That's all for today. Next up: balloons.


j.whitney said...

I think you're being a little ridiculous, lurgulary! Admittedly, I have a pretty beefy monitor set to 1280x1024 so Rob & Elliot's text wasn't too small to be distractingly so (though I understand people with considerably less well-endowed resolutions might).

However, the Sorcery 101 and Nodwick examples are fairly laughable. No one won't read Nodwick because the lines are slightly too close to each other, and no one won't read Sorcery 101 because the bubbles are a little small (Granted, I don't read either, so there may be several other reasons not to read them).

Your complaint about too many words in one bubble is more than warranted, as is your criticism of shitty fonts, but if you seriously were so put-off by Nodwick's lines being close together that you found it unreadable, you have some kind of crazy OCD and are far too nitpicky to be constructive or a good judge of comic quality.

Future Skeleton said...

uh well a problem is a problem, even if it's not enough to dismiss a comic over. Personally I find the discussion on what little details bug people to be tremendously helpful.

I wanted to comment on the panel used in the inline examples, though. I'm always seriously annoyed when a speech bubble overlaps a character's head, especially when they're in the foreground. It kind of pushes them into the background. Especially when there's all that unused space where the bubble could go.

That's a panel layout issue and has nothing to do with text, of course, but I couldn't help commenting on it! That's my pet peeve I guess.

Vineris said...

Just because people will continue to read something doesn't mean it's ideal or can't get any better. Crowded word balloons like in the Sorcery 101 example are a hallmark of the amateur, and if someone's sitting around wondering whether to give your comic a chance, they may be the third strike that takes your potential reader off your webpage. It's not uncommon for someone to make a snap judgement about your comic based on nothing but the overall impression of whatever page is on their monitor. If it looks crowded or amateurish or bland or confusing, you've lost your viewer.

Why shoot yourself in the foot if you don't have to? Don't crowd your text. Make an effort to do things well.

Meredith Lewis said...

whitney, my resolution is 1900x1280, so I think my e-penis trumps yours. I may very well have have crazy standards for legibility, but like vineris said, that doesn't mean that comics with sub-optimal text wrangling can't or shouldn't improve themselves.

future skeleton, I just put the balloon there because Brad Noir's hair came out kind of stupid and I wanted to hide it. :) The issue is an interesting one, though, and I'm glad you brought it up. I think balloon placement preferences are somewhat culturally determined; I've noticed that most manga artists have no compunctions about totally obscuring a character with a balloon, whereas western artists tend to avoid overlap like the plague. I'm going to discuss it more in depth in the next post.

loftin said...

Not even a single example of poor hand-lettering? Such a shame.

Meredith Lewis said...

loftin, I looked at over a hundred and fifty different webcomics before I wrote this entry, and I didn't see a single one with bad hand lettering. If you have an example, I'd be happy to edit it into the main post.

Sulevis said...

I'd say there are so few examples of poor hand lettering because few people bother to hand-letter any more. Why bother with hand-lettering if you can use a computer font and spend 90% less time on it?


Thank you for starting this blog. I've been looking for constructive and direct advice on webcomic matters for a long time.

mpk said...

"you're too god damned noir" is a great line

loftin said...

Meredith and Sulevis: Fair enough on all counts.

Admittedly, most low-quality examples can be found primarily in the early strips of long-running comics, before the creators had gained experience. Or they could be considered flukes in otherwise decent lettering. You just have to know what to look for, I guess... (NSFW)

Oh and I do appreciate this blog. It seems like a more varied subject than the average comment/criticism blog, though like some I didn't see the reasoning behind all of your opinions. But few blogs seem to offer criticism while genuinely hoping to foster improvement. Or maybe I just need to read more blogs.

loftin said...

Meredith and Sulevis: Fair enough on all counts.

Admittedly, most low-quality examples can be found primarily in the early strips of long-running comics, before the creators had gained experience. Or they could be considered flukes in otherwise decent lettering. You just have to know what to look for, I guess... (NSFW)

Oh and I do appreciate this blog. It seems like a more varied subject than the average comment/criticism blog. Few blogs seem to offer criticism while genuinely hoping to foster improvement. Or maybe I just need to read more blogs. (Which will also be my excuse if I messed up with the tags.)

Desmond said...

Hi Meredith,

I saw your comment about not using Arial, Comic Sans or Times New Roman, which is a good point (ESPECIALLY comic sans) but I didn't actually use any of those in this strip, so I'm sort of wondering which font you're talking about.

If you're talking about the speech font it's actually Mead Bold, not comic sans. If you're talking about the font in panel two it's one I picked up called Poor Richard.

Anonymous said...


The poor richard font is similar to times new roman, it just has longer seriffs it seems (a seriff is a flare put on a letter, like the that little tail on the top of a capital A in a fancy font). The problem with seriffs in comics is that you HAVE to use a large point (at least 12) and it looks like crap on anything other than black text on white paper. It needs that contrast, or else you get what your comic had, which is difficulty in picking individual letters out of words. I think you would of been better served with a more organic font like the one you use in your speech bubbles, set to a larger point size on a lighter background.

I feel like im picking nits, though, it's just something I agree with meredith on, especially since I've taken a few graphic design classes and had lessons in kerning and text placement and such.

Shishio said...

For what it's worth, I just want to say thanks for doing this.

Meredith Lewis said...

Thanks for the examples, loftin.

Desmond, I appreciate the clarification. I picked on your comic mostly because of the serifed font in the second panel, but also because the font you chose for your balloons is small and very awkward to read. The pronounced left-hand slant also makes it look really disjointed when you throw in italics (BRILLIANT in the third panel). Anonymous has some good advice about what to do. If you really want to retain the serifed font in the second panel, I would pick one with more open letterforms (like a typewriter font) and make it substantially larger.

Thank you, Shishio.

Desmond said...

Thanks for the clarifications, anonymous and Meredith. I don't like changing comics once they've been put up, but I'll definitely keep your points in mind for future strips!

Ozark said...

I tend to agree with you on the default font use thing (though I love Gorgeous Princess Creamy Beamy anyway), but a lot of the examples you pointed out were just fine.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a blog that will provide good advice.

Hope you start adding new stuff soon and update regularly!

Anonymous said...

Even some pros make big (or small as the case may be) mistakes when it comes to readability on the web. Tokyo Pop's online samples of their print comics are so bloody small they're worthless. I can't read a damn thing!

Anonymous said...

There are some good pointers here. You're right about people always trying to cram in too much text. It's a visual medium, cocksuckers! Why not write an illustrated novel, instead?

I don't really see the big problem with the fonts, though. It never really bothered me & frankly nitpicking over the fonts smacks of elitism. If it's readable what's the fucking problem? Not everybody can be Todd Klein, you know.

Fabricari said...

Just had to say, I'm lovin' this blog - there's a thing or two to be learned here. But damn it, Anime Ace ain't all that bad. (OK, I'm a tad bit biased: )

Well, maybe you're right - I'm handlettering all my stuff right now, anyway. You remember Jon's plea for hand lettering?

Most importantly, I would underscore that consistancy is key. Despite mistakes, changing convention halfway through; changing kearning, leading, and fonts are worse than the worse.

Garth said...

I'd also like to point out that Apostrophic Labs has a good free font family for comics dialogue lettering, called Komika. There are other good free options out there too. Just in the interest of variety, since Blambot is already so widely recommended.

Anonymous said...

One thing I'd like to add: If you're going to be nitpicky, you should pay attention to the spaces between letters, that is, the kerning. Ideally, a good font and good software should handle a lot of this, but sometimes you still need to make some tweaks. In the last example, goodbye.gif, check out how the u in 'you' and the second o in 'too' are floating off to the side, detached from their words. Look at the spacing between letters in 'noir' is all wonky.

How do you fix it? Well, it just so happens that below and to the left of the leading (line spacing) option is the kerning option. Select a pair of characters and tweak them as needed.

You've got eight words here, you might as well make them look good.

To people that say that they never noticed problems with type: well, duh, you're not a professional. You're not paid to notice this. But it has an impact. It makes things hard to read and contributes to a negative feeling about your comic.

If the proportions are bad or the perspective is off in your art, people might not point it out, but they'll have a vague feeling that something is wrong. Same with bad typography. That's not the impression you want to give people, especially if you're asking for donations or want to go pro or just want to, you know, MAKE A COMIC THAT PEOPLE ENJOY.

Garrett said...

I just hand-letter. I don't know how people can estimate how much space they're going to need for the speech bubble if they don't write the words directly on the page.
Since you'd like an example of bad hand-lettering, I'd like to point you to Sabrina Online. SURELY Eric knows to use a ruler(I use a t-square) to make light lines to guide the text, much like the lines on notebook paper. SURELY he's read that somewhere. He probably does, but he doesn't place the letters very even on those lines. Also, the text is a little small and unevenly-kerned sometimes.
Hmm, come to think of it, my hand-lettering could stand a little work. After reading your later entries about speech bubbles, I see a few spacing problems, which are harder to fix when it's done completely in ink.

Meggu said...

"They look amateurish."
I'd like to point out that very few web-comic artists would call themselves professionals. The few who do usually are living off the income they recieve from the comic. It stands to reason that the people that are making enough income to live off their comic must be doing somthing right.
The rest, well, as i said before very few would call themselves professionals. They know their amatures, that's what being a web-comic artist is about, making amature comics.

Anonymous said...

There is a way to linespace in Microsoft Word, Print screen, and then transfer the results to paint.

On Word you may change spacing by selecting text, right click, "Font" > "Character Spacing"