Letters Of Note: How Lettering Improves ‘Wonder Woman’ And DC Rebirth
Lettering is an art form that doesn’t get enough recognition in comics, and when it’s done well you’ll often not notice it. However, Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka, Nicola Scott, Romulo Fajardo Jr, and Jodi Wynne incorporates the lettering in a few unique ways that add extra layers to the storytelling, and is emblematic of how a new approach to lettering is improving DC Comics on the whole.
The current storyline taking place in the even-numbered issues of Wonder Woman is a "Year One" retelling of Diana’s first visit to the United States of America. Held prisoner by a government that is scared of her, she doesn’t speak the language and is as curious about her newly earned superpowered gifts as anyone else.
The series had already established that when characters are speaking the language native to Themyscira, the word balloon featured an inner circle and a bolder font with a more “ancient” look to it, similar to how Thor and the Asgardians speak at Marvel.
Unable to understand each other, the government brought in Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva to translate, and that’s when things get really cool.
We can see that Minerva is speaking --- or attempting to speak --- Themysciran by the inner circle on the word balloon, but in a genius move, letterer Jodi Wynne makes certain words less bold, less black, and less structured. Without any other prompting from the comic, it’s established that while Minerva can speak Themysciran better than any other non-native speaker, she’s nowhere near fluent.
In the most recent issue, Steve Trevor, Etta Candy, and Barbara Ann take Diana to a mall to experience Western culture, and we learn that it’s not necessarily words that Minerva struggles with that appear this way, but words such as “exhaust” and “car” that likely don’t have a simple translation, and that Diana doesn’t have a frame of reference for.
Wynne and the creative team also use lettering and panel progression to showcase just how fast Wonder Woman is, as in the scene where a terrorist attempts to massacre a family. Diana races over and blocks the flurry of machine gun fire with her bracelets. To pull this off, the word “Mommy” is shouted as the terrorist opens fire, yet we don’t see it completed until two pages later, after Wonder Woman has already rushed in and saved the family.
Since the launch of DC Rebirth, one of the biggest changes has been the publisher's approach to lettering, with different titles allowed to find their own voice through the words on the page. The current Batman title has recruited the legendary John Workman to the team to give it an epic feel, while Blambot’s Nate Piekos’ word balloons without borders give Green Arrow its unique flavor.
Batgirl, lettered by Deron Bennett, uses a really cool device where non-English languages are written in a different color, with a brief indicator of what language it is the first time someone speaks it. New Super-Man, lettered by Dave Sharpe, does something similar, where everyone is assumed to be speaking Mandarin unless the words are written in blue, in which case they’re in English.
Lettering is often a hidden art, but when it’s done exceptionally well it can transform the entire presentation of a comic, and serve the story in innovative and interesting ways.
Now, how about we get the letterers a cover credit, DC?