So I finally finished reading Motherlands from DC-Vertigo.
I know, it’s took me ages, the collected edition is probably nearly out but it has definitely been worth the wait. I picked up the last issue last week and sat down with all six issues for a read through. And I was enraptured from beginning to end.
The story is compelling, packed with outstanding characters, narrative twists and so much humour. This is a comic that will make you laugh out loud on several occasions. But for each LOL moment there is a scene which gets you in the gut or pulls at your heartstrings. It’s a surprisingly moving tale of a dysfunctional family hell bent on redemption through self-destruction.
However, the aspect of Motherlands I want to talk about here is not the brilliant scripting by Simon Spurrier or the energetic art or bold colour choices by Rachael Stott and Felipe Sobreiro; no, it’s Simon Bowland’s exceptional lettering.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn about the art of Lettering but thanks to numerous sources I’m beginning to appreciate the skills involved much more. This learning process is greatly enhanced when faced with such wonderful examples of the craft available in comics like Motherlands.
Page 1, issue 1 and straight away Bowland is using a very simple lettering technique to differentiate between people and machines: different coloured text. It may seem like an obvious thing to say, but making the text different colours helps the reader negotiate through the first page very easily. The blue text, belonging to the robotic teachers, are scene setters, informing the reader about the larger world that the story is set in while the standard black text forms the start of the human drama. Throughout this series the human drama and outlandish World building evolve side by side but never get in each other’s way. And this is illustrated on the very first page of the very first issue thanks to the lettering.
A few pages later and there is another instance of the lettering helping to illustrate aspects of the narrative. As two character’s leap from one String (dimension) to another they continue their abuse riddled conversation. The changing backgrounds drawn by Rachael Stott help to set each scene but it is the lettering that gives the reader the sense of pacing. Bowland chooses to use diagonal slashes in his speech balloons to literally slice through the conversation. It gives the impression that the speech has been cut off put also that it is picked up directly in the next balloon. The actual text shows that there is a bit missing as the sentences don’t make sense however the ‘slash’ effect on the balloons indicate that it is all part of the same speech, therefore the jumps from one panel to another are in quick succession.
Bowland often plays with the speech balloons to create emphasis for the text. One notable technique he adopts is to give the balloon a thick, red filled boarder. He uses this mostly to highlight emotional outbursts but occasionally these types of balloons are used to make part of the narrative stand out as being of particular importance.
One of my favourite, and subtler, effects Bowland uses on his balloons is to make the edge uneven, almost shaky. This often reflects the implied hurt feelings of certain characters and these are used during a character’s moment of weakness. As a rule, this creates a sense of empathy for a particular character which in turn forces the reader to question the following interactions between the cast. It casts a new light onto the situation.
Add to this changes in text size when characters are under particular types of stress, bold speech within balloons, split and linked speech balloons, captions, and sound effects; and you have a multitude of lettering techniques all of which assist the narrative in one way or another. In a number of comics, and I’ll hold my hand up and admit it, I barely notice the lettering unless it has a negative effect on my reading but in Motherlands Simon Bowland’s lettering standouts and adds so much to the reading experience it’s almost impossible not to notice his mark on the pages.
The rest of the creators do a good job as well.
You might still be able to pick up some of the individual issues but if not, the collection can’t be too far away.
Published by DC-Vertigo
Written by Simon Spurrier
Artist Rachael Stott
Colours by Felipe Sobreiro
Letters by Simon Bowland
Life long comic book reader, collector, and reviewer.