Wednesday, April 21, 2021

American Calligraphy #17: The Funnies, part 2

Throughout the 20th century, mainstream cartoonists wrote in a brisk alphabet of all-capitals. 

They could chose from three kinds of pen strokes:  

  1. Shown in red: Contrasting thick and thin strokes of a flat pen held at a steep angle. 
  2. Shown in black: An oval Speedball D pen with moderate contrast between thick and thin. 
  3. Shown in blue: A monoline of uniform weight. 

(A few cartoonists did their lettering with a tiny brush.)  

A grab-bag of lettering styles from a typical 
daily newspaper page of funnies,
mainly in monolines here.  

Cartoons benefit from hand-lettering's expressive strengths. Each cartoonist's lettering establishes a personal voice, which can be varied with heavy letters and italics for emphasis, large sizes for shouting, small letters for whispers, a 'grawlix' (!@#$%&*?) for cursing, and occasionally a whole different letter 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 tire of lettering began to save time by delegating the task to an assistant or using digital type. Some historians believe that this is the origin of the now-overused Comic Sans type style. 


  1. This is fascinating. It never occurred to me that comics were examples of calligraphy. I'm loving this series so much, learning about American lettering. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  2. I just had to find you and thank you for your book Calligraphy Alphabets Made Easy from 35 years ago! It’s so joyful and playful and encourages inventiveness- a wonderful counterpoint to the oh-so-stuffy books in calligraphy that proliferate. I’m enjoying trying it all. It’s helping to add even more enjoyment to my days. Thank you for the considerable work it must’ve taken to assemble that collection of styles!!❤️