|I bought my Ames guide at the local art supply shop. They're nice, but not essential if all you're doing is having fun with your comics.|
I haven't lettered in over a year, and even then I wasn't particularly good at it, so some of the things that bother me are mistakes that I make myself. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, and this is just my opinion. Hopefully other people with more experience can step in and straighten me out.
My biggest pet peeve with some of the lettering in a few of the Jenny stories is when it gets larger or smaller for no reason other then to make the dialogue fit. Also, the balloons are often placed in such a way that you can't tell which order they go in, and sometimes who is saying the dialogue. Both the writer and artist (and if there's a third person involved, letterer) should always think of the amount of space and positions the lettering will take before getting too far in. Writers should be open enough to an artist's input to allow dialogue to be pared down or taken out altogether if it's too lengthy and/or unnecessary, increase or decrease panel sizes, split single panels into multiple panels and shift dialogue around, or anything else that will make a pleasing layout that isn't crowded or confusing.
The following is good advice for the artists from Dave Sim's Notes from the President, and is reprinted in his Cerebus Guide to Self Publishing, which is almost indispensible if you're considering advancing in creating your own comics.
"One of the most common mistakes I see in the samples that are sent to me, or which artists show me at signings and conventions involves layout and lettering. Put very simply, nothing looks more amateurish than lettering which butts up against the border of a word balloon or a caption. Usually this is a result of putting the word balloons in after the pencilling stage and the lettering after the word balloons. The lettering can't 'breathe' that way and the result is story-telling that is very hard on the eyes. It is for this reason that I recommend that everything be put on the page at the outset; you have to do very light pencil roughs of the drawings, you have to letter the dialogue and caption approximately the size that they are going to be in the finished work and you have to put in the balloons and the caption boxes making sure to leave space between the lettering and the balloons or caption boxes. The more space the better. It you rough in all of the elements at the same time, you can adjust the 'balance' with a minimum of fuss and muss. If you tight pencil a figure, labouring over it for an hour or two and then try to fit the balloons and lettering around it, it's going to look too crowded. It you do a quick stick figure and then rough in the dialogue and put a nice balloon with breathing room for the lettering and the whole thing doesn't 'fit', you can trim back on the dialogue, or change the position of the figure without having to erase a few hours work to do so. It's words and pictures together, folks. The words have to look as if they were meant to be there all along or they are going to look like a sloppy after-thought."
Crack out copies of your favourite comics and examine the lettering. Don't just look at the real fancy stuff (like Sim's, Eisner's or Kelly's), but find good old-fashioned stantardized lettering. Walk before you run. Some Claremont-era X-Men comics will do. How much space is between lines of lettering (it's been awhile, but I think it's usually about one-half the height of the letters. Speaking of which, don't measure by size, measure by proportion)? How much space from the letters to the edge of the word balloon? How many letters make it across before they start a new sentence? How much space is there between letters (I find that they're usually much closer then we think, and yet, even though there's barely any space between letters, or words, they still read well)? How much space between the edge of the word balloon and the edge of the panel?
Don't just settle on one sample of lettering. Develop a critical eye. Ask yourself what kind of lettering will suit your story. Play around. Fill pages and pages with lettering. You don't have to devote your life to it, but get a good grip on what you're doing and what looks pleasing.
Keep in mind that different companies from different eras sometimes place restrictions on their letterers. According to this very interesting discussion on the current state of lettering, Nu-Marvel has a lowercase policy in effect.
For goodness' sake, please test out your lettering before committing. Draw up a very rough sample page, shrink it down to the size that you want via photocopier or scanner (or, if you plan on putting it on the site, to the size that it will appear on the screen) and see if it's legible. If not, try again. If you are studying other letterers, enlarge their page to the size you're working at and study it from that point of view. Again, keep in mind just how small your own work may become, though in most cases good lettering will be readable even if its shrunk down quite a bit.
My nickname among my friends is the Puritan, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that I dislike computer lettering. I'm not saying that everyone should hand letter, but I do feel that even ugly (but legible)hand lettering is less intrusive. Obviously you should do what you feel is in your best interest. If your lettering is not legible and you don't have the time or inclination to improve it, fine. Even the ugliest computer lettering is better then being unreadable. But all of the above applies to any kind of lettering you choose to do.
Lettering is an unsung art, which is why so many choose to hack it. With few exceptions, the purpose of good lettering is to go unnoticed and fit in with the art. Bad lettering sticks out, and diminishes the entire comic.