It’s weird how you can be around something for years, and yet still miss out on details you didn’t even know you were passing up until someone points them out. For instance, there’s a certain feature of lettering in comics that I never noticed, and yet is considered a fairly important formatting consideration.

The issue centers around the way the letter “I” is presented in comics, at least in the traditional method where word balloons, captions, etc. are written in all capital letters. Basically, the rule is that you only use the “crossbar I” when the letter is being used as a personal pronoun or abbreviation. What’s a crossbar I? It’s the style of capital I being used in this very blog, with the tiny perpendicular lines on the top and bottom. Any other time, you’re supposed to use the “stroke I”, which is the one without the crossbars that people might confuse for a lower case “L”… except that in an all caps situation you won’t see the lower case “l”.

It seems like such a minor thing, and I admit I was a bit skeptical until I started going back over all my professionally lettered comics and discovered it to be absolutely true. I expect the convention came about originally for ease of both writing and reading (probably mostly writing) when most lettering was done by hand, but I’m not entirely sure of the origins. What I can tell you is that something as seemingly inconsequential as the shape of your I’s  is considered one of those dividing indicators between “pro” and “amateur”. Fair? Maybe, maybe not, but if you’re going to start up a comic (web or otherwise), be aware of the convention. I wasn’t until just this week, which means if we ever get around to doing a big TPB of Zombie Ranch I’ll probably be going back and doing a fair share of re-lettering.

The crossbar I rule is considered so important that most of the computer fonts out there intended for comics use have both the crossbar and stroke I as part of their library, usually one as the ‘lowercase’ and one as the ‘capital’ (this is possible since the comics fonts don’t have a true lowercase). It turns out that’s exactly what was tripping us up, since as you might remember from my script blogs, I had all my dialog set up to automatically be capitalized. Not to mention the script itself is written in plain old Times New Roman. The font we use for the comic does have both kinds of I’s available, but until I started checking into things I never knew!

Learn from my example, any of ye who would be comics writers. And if you do acquire (or buy) a comic-specific font, take some time to check out all the features it has: for instance, one other thing I discovered in the process of all this is that our font has built-in “fireflies” I can add using Shift-[ and Shift=], which was a timely find for Uncle Chuck’s expression of “pfft” in this week’s comic.

If you’re interested in further examples of “comic book grammar”, Blambot has a nice, easy-to-read summary on their site: LINK. I’m certainly not advocating slavish devotion to what’s presented there, but it’s good to be aware of so that any choices you make in a different direction are a matter of style and not just ignorance. I was aware of a lot of it already, but I have to admit, the crossbar I bit? Well, it crossed me right up.

So anyhow, one bit regarding Comic-Con I failed to mention was that I picked up a copy of The New Dead, a zombie fiction anthology I’d been meaning to get my hands on. When I bought it the lady at the booth informed me Max Brooks (who penned one of the 19 stories, and who y’all might know better as the author of the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) was going to be signing copies of it if I wanted to come back in about 15 minutes. Of course, when I came back there was a line, and I had a panel I dearly wanted to get to, so I didn’t stay for the autograph, especially since I figured also I wasn’t really going to have a chance to talk to him. I chickened out on the idea of shoving a copy of Zombie Ranch at him… he probably gets dozens of people trying to pitch Zombie related stuff his way, so it seemed totally obnoxious to do that during a signing appearance. Sometimes I think I have entirely too much shame to succeed.

Regardless of which, I have my zombie book, and so far I’m greatly enjoying the first two stories in it. Depending how much further I get, I’ll likely make it next week’s blog topic. For now, I think it’s about time for bed. My I’s are crossing.