Your comic nearing completion. You've written the perfect script, your artwork is impeccable, and everything is coming together. So what do you do? Turn around, pull down your pants, and take a dump all over your hard work.
I read independent comics. A lot of them. I also read mainstream comics. Quite a few of those too. Sometimes the indies I read ALMOST pass for one of the mainstream comics, except for one dead giveaway: the lettering. Independent comics have notoriously bad lettering.
I get it. If you're a writer, you just spent a lot of money hiring an artist, or if you're an artist you just spent a lot of time drawing everything and want to rush to the finish. Professional lettering is probably the cheapest part of a comic you could pay for, but there's a lot of free comic fonts out there. “I'll just download one of them from Blambot and do it myself,” you think, “I just have to make sure the words don't cover any of the important art. How hard can it be? Besides, the artwork and story are far more important.”
Let me let you in on a little secret. Bad lettering can destroy your comic! Various studies (mainly done to study advertisement techniques) show that the human eye is always drawn to words before art. That means your word bubbles create the first impression of your comic. Before the art, before the story, that's what people are going to see. In the best case, bad lettering can look unappealing. In the worst case, it can cause confusion about what is happening.
So what are some of common blatant mistakes I see? The first is the shape of the balloons, which affects the padding and creates wasted space. Novice letterers tend to use awkward, elongated ovals. This causes multiple issues: inefficient use of space, and lack of uniform padding. Seriously, don't make long ovals...especially with a thick stroke. (The standard stroke is 0.75 not 1 people. If you don't know what I'm talking about, compare the lines around the balloons between bad example 1 and bad example 2.)
The next one is the tails of the balloons. The tail of your balloons need to point towards the mouth of the person speaking. That doesn't mean they need to be long enough to lead right up to it, but you should be able to draw an imaginary line between the end of the tail and the person's mouth. Conversely, the base of the tale, combined with the curve from the point, should give the impression of pointing toward the exact center of the balloon.
Both of these common mistakes affect aesthetics, but there are often larger problems. Often times poor planning and placement results in misreading of the comic. It can be unclear what order to read the balloons in, in which case your story is ruined.
Basically, all you indie people out there, please take the time to learn how to letter. There are so many tutorials available on the internet. Take the time to learn all the rules about lettering. If you can't do it or don't have the time, lettering is seriously the cheapest work-for-hire you'll find for your comic. You can get great letterers for around $7 a page. Stop taking a dump all over your work! I'm so tired of good work being destroyed by their own creators.