by Ilene Strizver
Typeface designs are like people - they come in a wide variety of personalities. While some are stoic and serious, others are light-hearted and silly - even wacky! Although the term comic fonts implies designs intended for dialog in comic book art, in actuality it covers a wide gamut of typestyles, all of which embody an inviting, informal and humorous spirit.
Comic fonts are without a doubt one of the most fun and amusing groups of fonts. The stories of their beginnings are often just as entertaining. Sasa Petricic says of his design ITC Astro, “It started as a series of doodles while I was watching The Jetsons. The show’s impossibly simplistic vision of the twenty-first century cried out for a font that fit into that world. As I began to draw the design,” he says, “I decided that every part of Astro should be a cartoon character unto itself.”
The original inspiration for ITC Kristen, by George Ryan, came from a hastily-produced handwritten menu at a neighborhood restaurant. Ryan gradually moved away from the original letterforms and toward a design resembling a child’s scrawl. The result is the unique pair of typefaces with equally distinctive names, ITC Kristen Normal and ITC Kristen Not So Normal.
Fearlessly irreverent (who ever heard of putting serifs on capitals but not on the lowercase?), with lots of movement but no rhythm, WacWakOoops! is both eccentric and engaging. WacWakOoops! may be a whimsical typeface with a most wacky name, but Carol Kemp, its designer, took a serious route to this design. “I usually approach a typeface design as spontaneous hand lettering, but I always end up editing and reworking the shapes so that they function as a typeface,” she explains. “If I also bring a feeling of life and energy into the designs, I consider myself successful.
Neither ITC Zemke Hand nor ITC Weber Hand began as a typeface concept. Rather, each started as the actual handwriting of its creator: illustrator Deborah Zemke and artist/musician LisaBeth Weber, respectively. Each was then reworked and converted into a friendly, charming and inviting typestyle. Zemke, a freelance illustrator and children’s book author, now uses her “font namesake” for some of her letter-writing, but jokes that “it’s giving me a bit of an identity crisis.
The Exterminate family is not as scary-looking as it sounds. Designed by Richard Starkings and John Roshell, who have designed dozens of fonts for comic books, the four Exterminate styles are cleverly named Exterminate Ruthlessly, Exterminate Without Pity, Exterminate Mercilessly, and Exterminate All of Them - enough versions for all your bloodthirsty needs. Not all of Starkings and Roshell’s creations are this gruesome. Speeding Bullet and That’s All Folks are kinder and gentler and need little explanation.
Last but not least, there’s ITC Fontoon, based on illustrator and type designer Steve Zafarana’s own hand lettering, and Fontoonies, his eclectic, zany assortment of illustrations derived from doodles in his sketch books. There’s no rhyme or reason to this collection of drawings other than to be amusing. What better pairing of type and image than those from the same wacky imagination?
These fun and sometimes nutty fonts are by no means limited to use in comic books. For a fresh, unique and eye-catching look, try them for headlines, pull-quotes, posters, invitations, logos, and even for personal correspondence.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.