Tuesday, April 13, 2021

American Calligraphy: #16 The Funnies

Similarly, symbols for speech
issue from the mouth of a Mayan
warrior as early as 650 CE.   
"Speech scrolls" contain the words of angels and
prophets in 9th-13th century European miniatures. 

Cartooning, the art of combining words with pictures, seems to be universal. Although it has roots in the Old World, it also appears in the New World long before Columbus
(above).  Cartoons, like the other arts, a special window into the way Americans live and think. 

Cartooning--first intended to teach or amuse--was sharpened into a political weapon during the heated era of the American Revolution. Left, this 1775 cartoon, attributed to Ben Franklin, is considered the first American political cartoon. Today's editorial cartoons continue this tradition. 

The 1905 debut of "Little Nemo", by Winsor McCay, (1866-1934) was a milestone in the evolution of cartoons into creative art. His letters were not only interesting and beautiful, but they interacted with the characters, adding self-reference in thought-provoking ways. Right, the repeated words "ouch" jostle against each other to be heard. 

The huckster P T Bridgeport spouts
his exaggerations in letters that
sound like an old circus poster.  

Another virtuoso who played with letters, Walt Kelley (1913-1973) excelled at using letters to evoke a tone of voice.  

To be continued next week...
with three ways to write cartoon letters.  

2nd day/week? 

Throughout the 20th century, syndicated cartoonists wrote
in a  brisk alphabet of all-capitals. Captions and speech in cartoons can be hand-lettered three basic ways: [▢▢▢ draw diagrams] 

  • Thick and thin strokes of a flat pen held at a steep angle. 
  • An oval Speedball D pen with moderate contrast. 
  • A monoline of uniform weight. 

(less common: a thin brush) 

Above, a grab-bag pf monoline lettering from a typical daily newspaper page of the funnies shows a range of personal styles. I've collected many examples here https://hu.pinterest.com/shepherdscribe/amcallig-ii-funnies-calligraphy/

Cartoons take advantage of calligraphy's strengths. Each cartoonist's letters is unique, varying from heavier letters and italics for emphasis, larger sizes for shouting, smaller letters for whispers, a "grawlix" (the typographic term for cursing: ☠️@#$%&?!), and occasionally a whole different alphabet style for a foreign accent. Even the shape of a speech or thought bubble can add meaning. 

Toward the end of the 20th century, a few cartoonists who felt overworked or just tired of lettering began to save time by delegating the task to an assistant or to digital type. A legend cites this as the origins of Comic Sans type.    https://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fyti/typefaces/story-of-comic-sans 

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