Friday, September 21, 2012

HELLO! HELLO! I heart hand-lettering

Ever since I saw this book, years back, I really wanted to hand-letter one of my books completely from end to end.

The Magic Rabbit by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick Press, 2007)

First things first, THE MAGIC RABBIT is a beautiful book really. Nice and tight, but loose, pen and ink work with black and white watercolor, with little bits of perfectly placed yellow. (I have also always wanted to do a black and white picture book. A whole other thing...)  But to stay with the point of this discussion... The Magic Rabbit is hand-lettered, brilliantly, in a serif style from start to finish by the artist and author Annette LeBlanc Cate. To me, it is a very tight style of lettering, in a way that an accomplished cartoonist or comic book artist might letter a page or strip of comics. The lettering is so tight that it looks like it could be a stylized font made to look like hand-lettering. As incredible and impressive as this is, I'm not sure I have the patience to approach the lettering of one of my books like this. I don't really shoot for perfection in anything. Well... truthfully, my version of perfection is more like perfectly imperfect. Which, I guess, is also... perfection. Um, I digress.

I love hand-lettering. I love good hand-lettering in other people's books and I love good hand-lettering when I pull it off in my own books. I'm pretty sure that letters are my favorite thing to draw. I find it cathartic and I find it fun. In college I had a design professor (typography) that made us draw several styles of typefaces over, and over, and over. Complete alphabets of upper and lower cases of Helvetica, Bodoni, Garamond, and Clarendon (something like that). Looking back, that was neither cathartic nor fun. It was pretty torturous and seemed downright sadistic then and now, but in the end, I think it did me good. I think it made me like to draw letters. As backwards as that may seem. Um, I think I may have sorta digressed again. A bit.

As I developed the idea of hello! hello!, I knew I wanted it to be pretty sparse in text. Not completely wordless, but short on words, to hit home this idea of a breakdown of communication between parent and child--because of our modern, technological distractions. Most of the written/spoken word would be the just the one word, "hello." On top of that, there would be some sound effects in there (the beeping, meeping of cell phone, game device, etc). Beyond this, there's not much text. So... a not-much-text book would be a great place for me to do that whole hand-letter-the-whole-thing thing. And so, with the encouragement of my wonderful editor, Kevin Lewis, I did.

In hello! hello! there are essentially two worlds. A black and white, stark vacant world that is indoors where a family lives, being consumed by their techno devices (cell phone, laptop, tv, vid game...). And a lush, colorful, lively, natural world found, rediscovered, and remembered outdoors.

In the black and white, techno-driven world there lives two styles of type. One is based on this:

My alarm clock.

And in hello! hello!, I lettered it like this:


Wherever there is a sound that comes from a device (e.g. BEEP! BEEP!) , or a sound that a person might make with a device (the clacking of keys on a laptop computer), I used this alarm clock, LED (is that what that's called?) style of lettering.

The second style of lettering is used for dialog between the characters. (e.g. "Hi, Mom," or "Hi, Dad.") For this, I took direct inspiration from another nearby techno device. My janky old flip cell phone. (I only recently swapped this out for a slightly less janky, text savvy, but still not "smart" phone.) The letters on my old phone look like this:

With apologies to Woody Guthrie.

And in hello! hello!, I lettered it like this:


I wanted both of these "techno" lettering styles to look widely recognizable as such, but not so new and clean and crisp that it was not quick and easy to distinguish as such. (Jaggedy lettering of my cell phone vs. crisp clean lettering of, say, an iPhone... new tech is cleaner, of course, but would not read as digital/tech) So these two styles of lettering are both pixelated or broken or bitmapped or whatever to get this job done quickly, at first glance, and without question.

The third and final style of lettering is much more free. Much, much more organic. When we get outside, we are kind of shaken up and woken up. Nature is out there, and so is imagination. So, goodbye digi-type. For the outside world, I pulled out brushes and bamboo pens and things to make letters that weren't going to look at all calculated or tight or rigid. Based on, if anything, just free, fun, flowy handwriting.

And for the most part, outside there, the only thing that's being said is, (you guessed it) "hello."

So I just drew and drew and drew and drew and drew "hello" and "HELLO" and "Hello" and "hELLO" with a bottle of ink and a brush and a stick. Stacks of wet, inky paper piled up around me like this:

Once I was more or less satisfied, I used these piles of drawings to make up the lettering for the second section of the book. The outside world. And it looks like this:

click image to zoom

Now, unlike Ms. LeBlanc Cate's book, there are a few places in hello! hello! where the lettering is not done by hand. Where the lettering has been typeset on a computer. Ultimately, I thought (as I'm sure did my wonderful art director, Joann Hill) that there were some places where a mechanical "hand" was nice to have to give a flourish and contrast to the overall design of the book. This non-hand-lettered lettering is found on the jacket flaps and cover (title and author lettering), and wherever the Disney-Hyperion logo is used (but, hey! The Disney logo script is based on good ol' Walt's handwriting!), and on the copyright and dedication spread.

Ultimately, I do think that the front part of the book (the techno-world) could've been typeset digitally and it would've worked fine and made perfect sense, in fact, to do that. But I wanted to have my fun. And so I hand-lettered it all.

And with this, I will now say...

hello! hello! is available everywhere on October 23.

p.s. I also hand-lettered all the text for this here book trailer. The madness continues!!!

My previous blog posts about hello! hello!:

Origin story (the idea behind the idea of hello! hello!)
How I drew hello! hello! (I used a sharpened piece of bamboo)
The official hello! hello! book trailer with music by Philip C. Stead!

hello! hello!

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