Typing the Comics

I have never been a fan of “handwriting” typefaces for computers. For the most part, the quirks that make handwriting interesting don’t translate to a rigid set of letters and numbers. A person scribbling notes is not going to make every letter exactly the same every time, and block of text quickly slips into a typographical uncanny valley when you realize the same weird descender on the lower-case g is identical in every single word.

Even professional letterers are not 100% consistent, although they are consistent enough that one of the historically largest industries for hand lettering — comic books — has largely shifted to type-setting the speech bubbles that used to be so painstakingly written by human hands, and the computer stuff is admittedly often indistinguishable from the human stuff in this context. Of course, the fact that it’s basically indistinguishable is a testament to how freaking good the humans that used to do it were at their jobs. (And to be clear, there is still tremendous art and skill in lettering a comic book with a computer. The constraints of the medium are tricky!)

Well, there was a comic book company that not only eschewed hand lettering, they went so far as using a special typewriter with a custom-designed typeface to get the job done. I’d never heard of this and it’s fascinating. Alex Jay over at the Tenth Letter of the Alphabet blog has the full story, but here’s what the typewriter looked like.

A manual typewriter designed for setting text in comic books. It has an extra-long carriage for greater flexibility.