One of the problems cartoonists have is dealing with the reader’s reading experience. This question goes three ways: 1) how much and what kind of experience do readers have with reading comics; 2) what experience is the reader having when reading comics in the moment and 3) what medium is the reader using to read comic?
The fist question is tricky. Not everyone has my experience reading comics. I started reading comics when I was a child living in Europe when my dad was stationed in Germany with the USArmy. My first comics were Archie Comics and Asterix by Uderzo and the comics in Stars and Stripes. At the time, all of those comics used hand-lettered text balloons. When comics started appearing that used computer fonts, I thought they looked fake and a bit de-humanizing. After drawing comics for a while and trying both hand-lettering and fonts, I’ve decided I personally like hand-lettering better. The trouble is, my readers often do not. I think I have nice hand-writing and I sometimes get compliments on it, but more often than not, I get complaints. Some readers have gone as far as too say hand-lettering is lazy and unprofessional. This comes from the number of digital comics that use fonts. Comic fonts have been around for quite a long time and is now ubiquitous in the webcomic format. Many readers simply do not have the experience of reading nicely lettered comics.
The second question has to with the experience the reader is having at the time. The webcomics I read now all are hand-lettered except one (Drive by Dave Kellett). I love the look and feel of hand lettering and reading a hand-lettered comic is a pleasure. I know, however, this is a personal experience. I also like finding a interesting sentences in novels and diagramming them to suss out hidden meanings and implications. The same is possible with reading hand-lettered comics. But not everyone likes the ‘nerd’ approach to reading novels or comics. Most people just want to read the comic and not worry about the cartoonist using the font to do the gymnastics only voice does easily.
The third question is all about devices. Most comics I read are read on my computer. This is different than reading novels. Novels I read hard-bound. I get more out of it, but this is not the case with comics. I can see more detail digitally. I have learned so much about the craft of comics from reading Pogo digitally than in print because I can read at a higher DPI on the computer than paper can provide. The colors are also better on my computer and I don’t have to worry about the foibles of an off-set printer and miss-alignment (even if the results might still be interesting). What I do not do is read comics on my cell-phone. The whole concept is silly . . . in my mind, but this is the direction comics are going. Comixology and Taptastic and others are attempts at making comics more accessible to the mobile reader. I suspect my mobile readers are the ones who complain the most about my hand-lettered comics. Mobile devices are also everywhere and provide easy access to comics when people are on the train or bus commuting. I certainly hope no one is reading comics on their cell-phone while driving to work. The crud graphics on cell-phones make reading hand-lettering difficult. I suspect good solid font’s are what readers are looking for on their mobile devices, even if subtlety is lost.
To conclude, I’ve provided two versions of the same comic below. One is hand-lettered and the other is in a free font I picked up at Blam-bot. I know which one I prefer. Both of the two comics have been optimized for the mobile reader image-wise, I just wonder which comic people prefer to read text-wise. Let me know what you think.