Spriters Strategies: Text Trauma (Archive)

Sprites offer an unmatched luxury in comic creating in that it makes the artwork easier to make. Unfortunately, with the loss of graphical input to ruin, up-and-coming sprite comic creators must explore new areas in which to completely fuck up. Dialogue boxes are a prime example.

1. Ugly Dialogue Boxes/Bubbles

How can anyone even read your dialogue when they can’t even tolerate looking at what contains it? This includes a number of problems:

I. Obnoxious Styling

Ideally, word bubbles shouldn’t stand out, making the reading of dialogue a seamless activity. This means that too much fucking around with Photoshop styling can make them look tacky and distracting. This includes needless add-ons such as shadows, glows, and bevels. A subtle gradient for the bubble wouldn’t be too much—and a border around the bubble is a must—but a barrage of random layer styles just makes your word bubbles look like a pre-teen who just figured out how to use make-up.

II. Off-Centered Text

There should be an even amount of white space on each side of the text within the dialogue box/word bubble. Think of the boxes/bubbles as a game of operation: if the text touches the sides you fail. That means don’t just drag your text tool in MS Paint with a white background and call it a day. You can either get a better graphics software—such as GIMP, which is free; or Photoshop, which is better than GIMP, but costs an arm and two legs—or you can get out that marquee tool and drag that text into the center where it belongs. Also, put a border around that white box, please.

I have no way to explain these rules logically other than just saying “look at it”. White space means less clutter and less confusion for the reader, and balance makes the word bubbles look less jarring (and, thus, less noticeable).

III. No Tail

I know it may sound ridiculous, but true sprite comic creators have shown their ineptitude by forgetting to include any manner in which to tell which character the dialogue is supposed to come from. Even if you have just MS Paint, all you have to do is draw two black lines connected to your box, color it in white, and then erase the line between the tail triangle and the box. This should take maybe a minute or two.

2. Tacky Fonts

Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if every character had their own, individual font to express themselves in? And wouldn’t it be great if I made them totally bizzare, like Orbit B or Lucida Handwriting. No, and super fuck no. Let us analyze the logic of why this is wrong: What is the purpose for text? Communication. To show the reader what the character is supposed to be saying. Now, how the hell is the reader supposed to know what the character is saying when he can’t even read the fucking text? And the worst part is that fonts should be a salvation from readable text; remember the days when people had to fucking write this shit out themselves? Now that’s when people had an excuse to have unreadable dialogue.

Besides, as I said earlier, using multiple fonts and crazy fonts just distracts the reader and reminds them that they’re reading text, which is counterintuitive to creating entertainment. It’s not as if anyone has ever said that 8-Bit Theater or Penny Arcade are great because they use crazy fonts and change their fonts around all the time, so why would you believe that they would for your comic?

Also, although I personally am not too adamant about this, other people are: Try to avoid Comic Sans MS. It’s just overused, and doesn’t even truly look like a comic strip font, anyway. Try Blambot for free and acceptable font choices.

3. Spell Check

This needs no explanation. I don’t care how unimportant your comic is—and, honestly, if your comic is so insignificant, why do you care when people make fun of it?—I don’t want to have to translate your comic from the English of a first-grader to competent English when I am mocking your terrible comic.

also please use capitalization and punctuation this is something youre showing the world not your pothead friend.

4. Left to Right

In most English-speaking countries, dialogue is read from left to right, and then up to down, with height as a priority over horizontal position. Even if you’re making a manga-like comic, I would suggest sticking with left-to-right, unless your comic is truly aimed at Japanese people, and likely written in Japanese.

And for god’s sake, it’s horizontally then vertically, not vertically then horizontally, Chaos.


Capitalization is not necessary to depict shouting—that’s what exclamation marks were made for. If you find that they are not good enough, there’s always bolding.

6. Emoticons are Annoying :(

For God’s sake, you have graphics to show emotion, not to mention that the dialogue can usually depict that emotion by itself no problem. This is just cheap and insults the reader’s intelligence.

7. Wallbangers of Text

Brevity is the wit of the soul; walls of text are the wit of long-winded, fatheaded bores. The whole purpose of creating comics is to use pictures to aid in delivering the message/story. Big chunks of text usually show that the creator is not using the graphical part as much as he or she could.

Besides that, if there is a lot of text, that probably means it was not written very well. Common problems include:</p

I. Redundancy

Redundancy is bad. You shouldn’t be redundant. Once you’ve already said an idea, leave it like that, and do not repeat the idea again with different wording. I hate it when people do stupid shit like this.

II. Info Dump

Generally speaking, people don’t care about something unless it’s pertinent to the story or joke, and if the plot needs explaining in one large burst, then it probably wasn’t written well.

Actually, this isn’t a common problem for sprite comic creators since, well… they rarely have plots more complex than that of a five-year-old’s stories.

-JJW Mezun (February 21, 2011)


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