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Frantic as a cardiograph scratching out the lines, Day 22: Ultimate X-Men #66

Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is a story from Ultimate X-Men #66, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 2006. Enjoy!

Mind control is funny!

Robert Kirkman, Tom Raney, and Scott Hanna begin their tenure on Ultimate X-Men (aided by Gina Going-Raney on colors and Chris Eliopoulos on letters) with “Date Night,” a downtime issue where many X-people are wildly horny. This first page doesn’t give us a lot of indication of that, but it hints around at it. Scott and Professor Xavier get us up to speed on what’s been happening and why everyone needs a night off, and Xavier says he still has the urges of a regular dude. Kirkman also lets us know that Xavier practices his skills, which is always nice to see in a superhero book. It’s a solid informational page and gives us a bit of the personalities of Scott and Xavier.

Raney doesn’t have much to do with this script, but he does what he can. The panel of Xavier practicing is nice, and the stacking of the panels on the right side of the page is a handy way to pack Kirkman’s verbiage into a small amount of space. Unlike laying out the page in long horizontal panels, stacking them vertically actually helps make the reading quicker – there’s not enough room for the reader to languish, so we zip through the words fairly quickly. Raney’s dull background does nothing for the visual look of the book, but given that Kirkman wants to dump some information on us, perhaps that’s for the best. The weirdest choice on the page is Scott’s shirt, but that’s fashion for you. Raney puts Scott in a strange pose when Xavier tells him he’s going on a date – Scott seems to be reacting as if he’s being attacked by a bad guy – but if Scott had been standing up straight, maybe he wouldn’t have fit in the panel. It’s also interesting that Raney makes Scott look less powerful than the wheelchair-bound Xavier simply by showing him agog at the idea that his teacher might like a sex life – Scott immediately becomes slightly younger-looking and more naïve, where as in the panel before, he seemed more in control. This leads directly to the final panel on the page, where Scott helplessly admits Jean might be controlling his mind.

This was when Marvel allowed their letterers to use lower-case letters. The less said about that, the better!

Next: A comic everyone loves. You do too! And, as always, here are the archives, in case you’re interested.

19 Comments

I haven’t read new comics in a while. Has the lowercase lettering in Marvel comics stopped?

Yeah, pretty much. At least in the books I read. Good riddance, I say.

It still continues in the Ultimate books. Frankly, I PREFERRED The lower cast letters, because it allowed more flexibility with dialogue; we may be used to it, but for many people, all-caps dialogue means either shouting, being an internet troll, or both.

Why? What’s so bad about lower case letters? Makes everything a bit easier to read if you ask me…

Well, it’s just a matter of taste, I suppose. When they first came around, I didn’t mind them, but they increasingly got on my nerves. I just can’t explain it. I do think all-caps is easier to read, but again, that’s just a matter of taste.

Personally, that third layer of the stack bugs me. I hate it when artists divide one panel into multiple panels. In the second panel of that layer, Xavier’s reacting to what Scott said in the first. To me, that’s one overall idea. So why aren’t they together?

I want to stick up for lower-case letters too. There’s a reason that in every other area of writing they’ve been all the rage since their invention (in what, the Middle Ages): they’re a great technological advance. ALL CAPS is annoying. I really don’t see why comics is stuck on it.

Wait what is this a joke and i’m not getting it? How is the lettering different? It’s proper? Like every other comic book? Hasn’t it been that way for years?

When did Xavier become telekinetic??? You guys notice the letters, I notice the oversight on what the man’s powers are supposed to be…..lol

Actually the Professor was shown to have telekinesis during the Hellfire arc in the ultimate universe.

“It’s mostly business, but still a date.”

Poor Professor X.

” When did Xavier become telekinetic??? You guys notice the letters, I notice the oversight on what the man’s powers are supposed to be…..lol ”

Ultimate Xavier has telekinetic powers, albeit in a more limited fashion than Jean Grey.

Daly: Lower-case lettering didn’t really become a thing until the Ultimate line. I guess it’s still used there, but it was seeping into the regular Marvel books for a time, and now it seems like it’s not.

ok thanks Alfredo and Neil, I bowed out of UXM after the “Ultimate War” storyline….. looks like I made a right decision for my crazy fanboy senses…

My problem was with the way Marvel moved to mixed-case lettering. They did so by creating a regular, computerized font resembling typewritten lettering. And in the process, they lost out on some of the subtle (and gross) variations of traditional lettering, such as giving characters distinct fonts to suggest distinct speech patterns. (Instead, we’d get colored speech bubbles occasionally for “alien” characters.)

The result — contra Neil — was a far less flexible medium. Why do comics use caps lettering in a handwritten style? Because in a primarily visual medium, they’re bolder and capable of more visual variation than standardized mixed-case type. (When you start to throw in handwriting-style variation (yes, I know it’s almost all computerized now) into mixed-case type, the result gets messy and unreadable very quickly.) The demand for mixed-case lettering, as evidenced by posts here, is really a demand to apply the standards of a non-visual medium, printed prose, to the visual medium of comics.

Type up scripts; use traditional lettering in finished comics.

For those unconvinced, compare what Gaspar Saladino did in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth with Marvel’s regularized, prose-style font above. It’s far more variable, expressive, and visual? (Note also that Saladino actually used some mixed-case lettering to suggest subtle effects precisely by juxtaposing it to the standard Comics Caps style.)

The Joker’s wild lettering, the Mad Hatter’s slightly off-kilter capitals, and Maxie Zeus’s subtle sigmas-as-”e”s really can’t be done smoothly, clearly, or effectively in a standardized, prose-style mixed font. Mixed-case multiplies the visual signals sent to the reader by two. and we’re conditioned by printed, typewritten prose to expect regularity from it.

In printing, they were a technological advance because they introduced variability — Neil and Stephen are right about that. Caps lettering in comics, however, always broke the rules of printed prose by using bolding and italics in ways standard prose never could, and most internet writing doesn’t either. When Neil notes that caps lettering means shouting “on the Internet” — which is not and does not work like a comic-book page! — he inadvertantly reveals why caps lettering has been used in comics: it’s visually intense. That’s exactly why, in regularized typographical contexts, that intensity can be “read” as shouting.

Why? Because comics demand the kind of flexibility and boldness of, say, an illuminated manuscript. Good lettering takes advantage of the graphical possibilities of various fonts and styles. In contrast, standardized, regularized mixed-case fonts flatten the visuality of the page when applied as in the Ultimate X-Men examples above, and, if made more complex or variable, would likely undermine powerful lettering effects like the ones Saladino uses to such tremendous effect here and elsewhere.

Examples:

http://tinyurl.com/6padefy

http://tinyurl.com/7pdwhsq

They’re using lower case font in Daredevil at the moment. When people speak the font is all caps but Daredevil’s narration boxes are written with lower case.

It’s a bit strange but I like it.

The mixed-case is also a pain in the ass for letterers and typeface designers. Why? Tails hanging off of g, y, j, etc. Note how they have to make those letters very small and compact to have the lines be proportionate and all the in-balloon spacing between the lines to look right.

So basically, by using all-caps they are minding their p’s and q’s.

Lower-case works fine, imo, but I don’t really care either way.

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