Strip Panel Naked: Invisible Lettering in ‘I Hate Fairyland’
Lettering is a criminally underrated part of comics. When you see good writing, you tend to notice, and when you see good art, it gets talked about. The best you can say about good lettering is that it’s invisible. When done well, no one should even realize it’s happening. There’s been some stunning lettering in every issue of Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland, by Nate Piekos of Blambot, and it deserves to be noticed.
At first, when you see the lettering, you’ll notice the large bold letters that pop-up in the speech balloons, and the colourful Fairyland-swear words that almost jump out of the page as characters speak them. When reading, it’s something you see immediately, so that does sit at odds to the original point of good lettering being noticeable, but that’s only because it’s "different." Once you’ve spent an issue inside the world of Fairyland, this all becomes part of the tapestry of it, and Piekos’ lettering blends into the background --- and I mean that in the best way possible.
The latest issue, I Hate Fairyland #10, opens with a sequence where Gert --- the girl trapped in Fairyland --- has to make a decision that will leave a lasting impact on the land, and we get this page:
There are a couple of really great lettering decisions, and some of that is aided by Young’s art, and his knowledge of where to leave space for Piekos to work his magic. The first comes in that first panel, where the balloon is placed directly above Larry, which causes both a nice eyeline and a beat, beat, beat set-up. We see Gert’s ridiculous reaction, then her words, then Larry’s response. It’s visual comedy done in a single panel, thanks to framing and balloon placement.
And that continues down the page. In panel 2, there’s the troll-thing’s response of “Seriously?” But it creates a small beat in the spacing, as the “seriously” comes half-way down the page. That small gap is enough, and well spaced enough, to create another comedic beat. You can see the work on the page, too, as that’s the longest balloon tail, and Piekos could have brought it much closer, or to the right, even way closer to top of the panel border; but by keeping it there it hits just the right amount of time.
On the second page, you’ve got another great example of simple, effective lettering. Once again, it’s a combination between Piekos and Young. So the beat pattern stays consistent throughout the page, with the first thing being the speech balloon, then the troll, then speech balloon, then Larry.
Piekos could have moved the balloon far right, bottom right even, but a lot of the comedy comes from that interplay between text and reaction --- acting is reacting, after all. So Piekos builds that pattern in, we see dialogue, then a reaction, then dialogue, then a reaction. There’s really not much to it, but that underlies the thinking going into it.
Placing speech balloons is more than just finding some empty room in a page and sticking it in there, but there’s got to be some thought and application into how the balloons fall into the layout and reading pattern of the page. And the best that a letterer has to look forward to after they’ve nailed this?
That no-one even notices.