Comic Insights Part 2: Choosing Fonts

Many designers and non-designers alike describe “Comic Sans” as the bane of their existence, but this font still has many practical uses. However, in my opinion, comics is not one of them.

Comic Sans is considered an overused and juvenile font, but those aren’t the only reasons I decided against it. At the start of my graphic novel project, I examined how Comic Sans looked for an area of text. Using the somewhat standard all-caps text for cartoons, Comic Sans was too blocky, distractingly perfect-looking, and took up a lot of space for a small amount of text. Using this common font as a reference and starting point, I compared other typefaces accessed through Adobe Fonts to it.

Because my graphic novel was planned to contain seven stories in seven different styles, I needed at least seven different fonts to match each style, with some extra fonts such as lettering for sound effects. After collecting many comic book and handwriting-based fonts, I created sample panels with a paragraph of dialogue at consistent sizes. Then I posted this comparison on Facebook to see my social group’s opinions on what was most legible and what did not look good.

panels showing different fonts

Nine different font choices I considered for my graphic novel.

I set the fonts in this example all to size 10 to show how some fonts appear very large while some appear tiny at the same size. Some of these fonts contained both capital and lowercase letters, while others intended for comics only contained capitals. As you can see, some fonts also included bold or italic options, which I used for the name of the typeface in each sample panel whenever applicable.

As I had expected and somewhat hoped, my peers found the three fonts in the top row the most legible and the three fonts in the bottom row the least. I needed input on both types in order to decide what looked best for paragraphs of dialogue and what might work well for sound effects, varied speech, or other special instances.

In addition to the cartoony fonts for the comics themselves, I needed others to fill out the rest of the book, like something distinguished for the titles and something subtly formal for the body text in my foreword and elsewhere. To test fonts out for the titles, I created a document where I copied the titles as they appeared in my book but set them in different typefaces to compare them to each other. Here is an example of my top three favorite fantasy fonts considered for the titles.

My top three choices for title fonts, featuring each of the words that would be set in the title font.

I used Berry Rotunda for my first draft, and though I liked it, certain elements of the font troubled me. Soon after, I discovered that one of my favorite fonts, Primitive, was usable for commercial work, so I downloaded it and replaced Berry Rotunda. The letters are bolder and more legible while still having the fantasy blackletter charm I enjoyed. Much later, however, I discovered the font Saber, which was too cool not to consider. I placed these three fonts on the same page to compare not only their aesthetics, but also their problems.

Can you spot any strange problems in these fonts? Any letters that are hard to read? I will explain my problem points.

Berry Rotunda is for the most part an attractive, easy-to-read blackletter font, except¬†for the letter “w,” which looks like a strange cross between an “n” and a “v.” My peer group also informed me that the capital “I” in “Ibong” made the Tagalog word very hard to decipher, as it was unfamiliar to them. These letters in Primitive did not have such troubles, but the capital “F” looked quite strange in “Foreword” and “Fay.” So did the capital “F” in Saber’s column, which somewhat resembles a “G.” Because of these issues, I created another sheet with manual edits to each of these problem letters:

The same title fonts as the previous image, but with corrections to problem letters.

Here, words that contained problem letters are shown in blue. For Berry Rotunda, I kerned two lowercase “v” letters together to look like a normal “w.” I also used a number “1” instead of a capital “I” for “Ibong.” These were easy fixes that I accomplished by choosing other readily available letters. For Primitive’s capital “F,” the process was more complicated. I converted a capital letter “P” (seen in the word “Prince”) to a vector to use its downstroke and top bar, then converted a capital “E” (not shown) to a vector to use its center bar, then combined them to look like an “F” and inserted that shape in a blank space left within the text. I used a similar but simpler method for Saber’s “F,” removing the curved swash that made it resemble a “G.”

In the end, I decided on Primitive for its mix of legibility, simple elegance, and somewhat rustic charm. Berry Rotunda was a bit too odd, and Saber was just too cool to the point of being distracting.

Choosing the right fonts to match the mood and subject of a book involves a lot of consideration, but going through the effort of comparing fonts and asking for feedback helps a designer figure out both what they like best, and what potential readers would like best.

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