TSC.NS.9 :: Adventures in Comic Making: Lettering Pass Adjustments ::
Comic book lettering . Comic book editing . Comic book process
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Lettering Edits and Adjustments
I frequently hear writers I admire talk about reworking dialog and such when they do lettering edit passes (as final pages come in), but I’ve seen few actual examples of this in practice. So, when Dave Law and I were reviewing the final pages for Part Four of ThoughtScape 2319 (hopefully coming your way at the end of 2022) and ended up retooling things in this regard, it seemed worth sharing the process. Plus, there’s a bonus for you, of course… a peek into the future of ThoughtScape Comics’ flagship series and some gorgeous art from Dave.
In this post, we’ll be looking at Page Three of this chapter… wherein we find our hero, cyborg Odessa Query, atop/outside of a spaceship full of bad guys attempting to flee into deep space. To get Odessa off their ship and make good their escape, the bad guys have deployed a strange robot (whom you might recognize from this very newsletter) that Odessa is now confronting…
As noted elsewhere, I start scripts visually by mocking pages up in Comic Life. This mock page is ESPECIALLY hacky and uninspired, but also fun because you can see that I was at this point able to start using actual Dave drawings of Odessa in my mockups. And really, you don’t want these mock pages to be good: it’s just about pace and stuff and a "clunky sketch” is sort of the goal. This one most definitely fits that bill…
Once I have the full part mocked up in Comic Life, I translate that to an actual script page (in Google Docs).
Boy, do I love to repeat things in dialog. Yeesh. It makes sense in my head at the time (obviously, since I didn’t catch it in either the visual or written draft), and I can see what I was going for: Odessa’s mind is being taken over here by this ThoughtBot, and because we are dealing with short, six-page chapters in this story, I basically have one page to make this happen. Which, on the written page, meant Odessa getting repetitive and robotic in her thoughts. So, it’s justified, maybe, but this is definitely one of my writing ticks… I may even be repeating THIS, as I sort of recall typing it here in the Substack before… whatever the case, the point is, I am now always on the lookout for egregious repetition.
Dave came back in the thumbnail stage with this lovely, dynamic and angled take on my very simple script directions. Since Dave letters this story as well, we don’t sweat doing word balloon placement during this phase. Also, Dave is always willing to let me tweak as we go, so if we do run into any lettering issues it’s not a big deal, just another chance to collaborate more closely and make the comic better.
Such was the case with this page when we got to the final art and the lettering.
Here’s the first version of the letters on the (beautiful) final page of art.
Once I saw my words on top of Dave’s wonderful page here, I had a few thoughts:
As mentioned above, the thought conversation between Odessa and her robot assistant Deputy is overly repetitive, and in seeing it on the page it’s clear that this repetition is done in a way that doesn’t benefit the pace and is also clunky and confusing.
My words are covering up too much of Dave’s glorious and wondrous work. Of course if I fix the repetition and trim things down, these first two problems will sort of solve one another.
Stylistically, we need Odessa’s thoughts to look like standard thought bubbles to make it clear that she and deputy are communicating without words (this is the first time this kind of exchange has happened in our new-ish series, so we’re figuring this bit out as we go).
Here’s me and Dave chatting about all this in our messaging thread…
So, I took the unlettered finished art into Comic Life and did a mock rework/rewrite. By the way, if it’s not clear already, I love Comic Life and I don’t really understand how folks can write comics ONLY in script form. I admire it, but I’ve got to have the visual hints that actually building pages as hacky mock-up comics provides. Anyway, here’s the page in the Comic Life app with me working on changes…
And here’s the rework idea in full.
I got us down to a lot fewer balloons in a way that I was happy with, and I rearranged Odessa’s thought-takeover dialog in a way that felt effective but streamlined.
The most fun part of all this was leaning into the bit where Deputy turns his head to watch the rifle drift off in the second-to-the-last panel. This was not in the script at all. That’s all Dave. I was stoked to accentuate this bit of comic relief he had given us by moving Deputy’s “Um, what?!” to that panel.
So, next, I pass this mockup back to Dave and he implements the changes. We’re almost there, but I saw a couple bits I wanted to tweak just slightly to try and get the page to read as cleanly as possible. Again, I used Comic Life to add my notes/thoughts right on top of the page.
Dave makes the adjustments, and we end up with the final page…
Not that this is at all a numbers game, but from 15 balloons to 9 seems to indicate this page was a bit overwritten, hahahaha.
But seriously, it’s now a much cleaner read that gets the hell out of the way of Dave’s art, so, mission accomplished, I think.
Sort of side note: I was deep in lettering another ThoughtScape story when Dave and I were working on this, and my thinking on these changes was heavily assisted by the works I was studying for that: Jared K. Fletcher’s letters on New Frontier; Gibbons’ on Watchmen; Wooton’s on Deadly Class; always John Workman on anything at all.
Sort of side note #2: If you’re an amateur letterer like myself, you should wrestle up a copy of letterer Nate Piekos’ new The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering from Image Comics. Note that it’s on the more technical side of things (lots of Adobe Illustrator talk), but a ton of helpful info in there.
If you like this process stuff, I’d recommend picking up the THOUGHTSCAPE PROCESS PDF ZINE - BEHIND THE SCENES OF THOUGHTSCAPE COMICS #1.
Just $5, and there’s over 100 pages of behind the scenes material related to the creation of ThoughtScape Comics #1 in this thing, including script pages, test designs and images, art process, brand development and commentary. Alternatively, subscribe to the paid version of this newsletter below and you’ll have access below in this very post to the download link AND ALSO get a special sneak peek at the ThoughtScape Comics material that will be coming to the paid version of Nervous Sytem soon on a regular basis…
Thanks, and have a great weekend,