Author: Nate Piekos
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Year: 2021
Topic: Comic Lettering, Graphic Design, Comic Production
WHAT IS IT?
Nate Piekos is an accomplished artist, font creator and graphic designer who has spent decades practicing the art and science of comic book lettering. The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering is his single-volume masterclass on lettering, visual effects and graphic design.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Have you ever wondered what exactly a comic book letterer does? Or what it takes to get a job as a letterer and be successful at it? If so, this is a book you need to read. The Essential Guide To Comic Book Lettering is divided into ten chapters, each of which covers one aspect of the lettering trade. The book is designed beautifully, and is rich in examples and illustrations. Chapters are well-organized and to-the-point, and cover core lettering topics such as dialogue, balloons, captions, sound effects, titles and logos as well as skills such as how to set up your Illustrator desktop or how to do proofing, corrections and final files.
What makes The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering stand out is Piekos’s ability to effectively relate both technical and stylistic information. He intermixes detailed instructions on how to create balloons, text or effects with discussions of how to use those components in a manner that makes the story more readable and attractive. Some of these are simple, like “don’t cross balloon tails,” but others are far more esoteric, such as how to properly stagger stacked balloons, how to create custom balloons, and proper formatting of the capital letter “I” in comics. The exercises expand your skills slowly but steadily as you move along, always making sure that you have the tools and knowledge needed to move on to the next lesson.
It is obvious that Piekos has spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about what to put in this book, how to organize it, and how to illustrate concepts and techniques most effectively. The lessons build on one another, and the practical examples are explained and shown in a way that makes difficult tasks manageable and repeatable.
When I first got this book, I scanned through to the back and laughed at the thought that I'd be able to figure out how to produce effects like those shown in later chapters. But now, a few weeks later, it turns out I can. Nicely done, Mr. Piekos! Nicely done.
After reading and working through The Essential Guide to Comic Book Lettering, I dug out some pages I had lettered back in the day when I was making comics with a couple friends. I had never liked how those pages turned out, but I couldn’t put a finger on WHY exactly they seemed wrong. Looking at them now, though, I can immediately see problems with my joins, leading and white space. Worse, there is a stiffness and a cookie-cutter feel to digital lettering and balloons that Piekos addresses and shows how to avoid. I’m glad we have this book now, but man, would it have helped if I’d had it twenty years ago!
One of the most important things that Piekos returns to over and over is that being a professional letterer requires dedication and attention to detail. He covers everything from workspace organization to formatting pages for final delivery to the client, and in the process, gives prospective letterers a good idea of the workday, pay and challenges that a letterer faces.
Speaking of attention to detail, I love that the aside for "The 94% Line Width Cheat" is on page 94 of the book. This may be an indication of genius or madness, but I am absolutely certain it is not accidental, and shows just how much time Piekos spent obsessing over every aspect of this text!
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
Nate Piekos really has thought of pretty much everything. The only warning I would have for prospective readers is that The Essential Guide To Comic Book Lettering really can be a bit overwhelming. If you ever thought that lettering was easy, this book will undoubtedly disabuse you of that notion. Also, it assumes that you have Adobe Illustrator, and that you are familiar with how to use it. I am relatively competent with Illustrator, but it was still a lot. I read a chapter, worked through the exercises and practiced a bit, and only went on to the next one once I was comfortable that I’d gotten a handle on the material. It took me weeks to get through the entire text, and I definitely have not mastered everything in one pass. This is the sort of book you can go back through again and again and always learn something new.
Piekos notes that "if you want a career lettering comics professionally in the modern age, you will be doing it digitally." Because of this, the book focuses on digital tools and techniques centered around Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Traditional hand-lettering strategies and tools are occasionally discussed, but are not explored in depth.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
The Essential Guide To Comic Book Lettering is primarily aimed at those who are interested in taking up comic book lettering as an avocation or profession. If you are thinking about getting into lettering, or even if you are already working as a letterer, you should definitely read The Essential Guide To Comic Book Lettering. I suspect, in fact, that it is going to become a sacred text to you!
But, even if you aren't planning on taking up lettering yourself, the information contained here is interesting and valuable. Writers and artists can learn how to better prepare their scripts and pages, and fans can gain a new understanding and appreciation for what a letterer does. It's just a wonderful book.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
To take a trip back to lettering in the pre-computer era: The Comic Book Guide for the Artist - Writer - Letterer (1973) by Nicola Cuti with Charlton artists including Ditko and Staton.
If you are interested in Todd Klein's thoughts on the topic of lettering (and you should be, as he's won seventeen (17!) Eisners for "Best Letterer"): DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics by Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein
For a more expansive look at what is involved in comic production: Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nate Piekos is a veteran professional comic letterer who has worked for nearly every major comic publisher. Among his recent projects are a number of Black Hammer and Stranger Things series and Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion. Piekos has won numerous industry awards, including the Ringo for Best Letterer in 2020. He has been making comics and comic creation tools available on his blambot.com website for nearly two decades now, and his Blambot fonts are in use by everyone from multinational corporations to kids just learning the craft. You can find Piekos on Twitter @blambot.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
If you can, find a local bookstore, and buy there!
The image(s) used in this article are from a book, comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the book/comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
This book is ©2021 by Nate Piekos. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED