I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I’ve lettered a lot of comics. Some of them were nominated for awards. Some of them won awards. In other words, I’m claiming to be an expert.
If you’re new to lettering comics, or just want to see what my process is, I’m gonna lay it out for you, step by step. I’ll be lettering a page form the Origin of Goblin Hood, in which Fey Faerion shares a private moment with Robin Goodfellow, before things go crazy.
Script and art by me, Bobby Timony. I’ll be using Adobe Illustrator CS6, and working on a Mac computer, but the steps should be the same on Windows. The shortcut keys might be different, I’m not sure. Lets get started.
Step 1: Make a comics template.
In Illustrator, you can make a template for lettering comics that makes everything easier. Start by measuring the comics page that you’ll be working on, the bleed and where the safety is. My comics are drawn on Tabloid size paper (or files), which are 11X17.
1a. Open Illustrator and start a new file (Command N). Make sure the paper size is set to Tabloid, or 11 X 17 inches.
1b. When you have the file open, make sure you can see the rulers (Command R). Now click & drag from the rulers to create your guidelines.
1c. Draw an oval, using the Ellipse Tool (Command L) . Take your Direct Selection tool and click on the point to the top of your oval. You should see a thin blue bar with tiny blue points on it. Hold shift and drag the points a little closer to the edge of the circle. We don’t want perfect ovals here. They waste space and look weird. We want a bit of a squarish oval like this one. TIP: Make sure you go into Illustrator Preferences (Command K) and make sure the box labeled Scale Strokes and Effects is UNTICKED. That way, your line weight will remain consistent as you resize your word balloons.
1d. Leave your new oval off to the side and draw a text box under it. Using the Type Tool (Command T), click and drag a rectangle under your oval and type in some sample dialogue. Now format the dialogue as if it were your standard comics text. There are a ton of great comic fonts out there. Don’t settle for Comic Sans. Please. Blambot and Comicraft sell some excellent fonts, and they have some great free ones as well.
I’m using Comic Craft’s Astro City, set at 10 points, and centered.
1e. Save the file as a template, and pick a name. “Comics” will do fine.
Now you have a pre-formatted comic page template ready to go. When you want to letter a comic, Start a New from Template file, (Command, Shift N) and you’re ready for step two!
Step 2: Place your assets.
2a. Place the art. There’s no keyboard shortcut for this. Gotta go to the File dropdown menu and select Place…
Select the file your woking on. It’ll pop onto your template. Drag it into place and lock it (Command 2).
2b. Place your script. Go to your script file. Mine is a Word Doc. Select and copy (Command C) the text for whichever page you’re working on. Go to your pre-placed dialogue box and highlight your placeholder text. Now paste (Command V) your new text. It should all pop into the box and be all formatted correctly.
Step 3: Place your dialogue.
3a. Go through your dialogue and highlight the things that will be said. Copy (Command C) it and, using your text tool (Command T) draw a box above the character speaking. Paste (Command V) the dialogue above their head, or roughly where it should appear on the page.
3b. Go through the entire page placing the dialogue as needed. This is the part where I add bold text or italicized text as needed. TIP: Pay attention to the letter I. In comics, the I with the crossbars is only used when its I as in ME. All other times, its the straight line I, no crossbars. Your page should look something like this now.
Step 4: Sound FX
4a. Wherever the sound FX are gonna go, go ahead and type them in with the Type tool (Command T). A text box is usually not necessary here. Pick a fun and appropriate font.
4b. Stylize your effect. For the BONG here, I added a Flag Warp effect (Effects>Warp>Flag). Then I made an all black BONG and dropped a white fill, black stroked BONG on top of it, offset slightly so the Black BONG on the bottom provided a drop-shadow effect.
With Sound FX, there aren’t any hard and fast rules, only the following suggestions. Make sure its readable. Make sure it doesn’t block any important art. Make sure it evokes the sound its making visually.
Step 5: Word balloons!
5a. Select the pre-made word balloon off to the side and Cut it (Command X). That will copy it and delete it. now Paste it (Command V) onto the page. drag it over the dialogue and resize it so its covering the text. Do that for all the dialogue.
5b. Select each word ballon. click on one, then hold down the shift key while you click on the rest of the balloons. When they are all selected, we need to move them so they’re below the text. Do that with the Send Backwards (Command [ ) option. Thats Command+Bracket, by the way. You’ll have to hit that a number of times until all the balloons are behind the text. Resize the balloons as necessary.
5c. Tails! We need to draw tails on those word balloons. First select a balloon, then select the Pen Tool (Command P). We select the balloon first and then the Pen, so anything we draw with the pen will already be formatted like the balloon. Using the pen tool, draw the tail one point at a time. No dragging, just clicking where you want your tails. Each tail will be three points total, the second point bing the point of the tail. Make sure its pointed at the head of whoever is speaking.
5d. Let’s bend those tails a bit. Using the Convert Anchor Point Tool (Command Shift C), click on the end point of the tail you drew and drag it. You’ll see a blue line that shows you how the line will curve. When you release it, the line will be curved. click and drag the other point so that curves with the first line. (Never curve the pointy part. just the ends.) It should wind up looking like this.
5e. Now that your tails are all drawn and curved, we need to add them to the balloons. Select just the balloon and the tail, being careful not to also select the text. Go over to your Pathfinder menu and click the button to unite the shapes, shown here.
Do that for every balloon. You’ll notice that when you unite the shapes, they’ll leap back to the top of the page, covering the text.
5f. Select all the balloons again and hit Command [ several times until all the text is back on top of the word balloons.
Step 6: Quality control
Take a look at your page. Make sure everything fits, is well places and spelled correctly. Adjust as needed for clarity. For instance I noticed that the tail for the balloon on panel 3 was pointed in between the characters heads, making it confusing as to who is speaking. I readjusted it to make it obvious that Fey was the one speaking.
Step 7: Put it all together!
At this point, I’ll select all (Command A) and Copy it (Command C). Since we locked the art layer in the beginning, the only thing we selected and copied was the word balloons and sound FX.
I’ll now open the page in Photoshop and paste (Command V) the balloons right on top. When asked, I elect to paste as pixels. Drag your layer to the proper position and save the file, you’re done! Make sure you save the illustrator file separately, in case you need to go back and do some edits later!