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Alison Bechdel: Cathexis, Fontographer, and the Proper "It's"

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Maud Newton puts the noble in Barnes & Noble in this terrific interview with Alison Bechdel. Here’s an intriguing pair of passages about Bechdel’s use of a digital font (made with Fontographer, as I recall from a recent event with the cartoonist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago) instead of hand-lettering for her graphic novels:
BNR: …Apart from all your second-guessing of your writing itself, I’ve noticed that you’re really hard on yourself for using a font based on your handwriting to letter your frames.

AB: I do feel guilty about it, like it’s somehow cheating to use a digital font, and to not actually hand-letter my work. But at the same time, I have these lengthy passages of quotations from [Donald] Winnicott or from Virginia Woolf that I have obsessively hand-lettered.

BNR: So interesting: the parts that aren’t your language.

AB: Yeah. In fact those things are treated as drawings in the book, even though they’re text. I frame them as a drawing and often overlay them with my digital narration. It’s almost like I’m giving those words more attention than my own words, but not really.

BNR: When I read about your font, I had the image of you sitting there trying to decide which —

AB: Actually, I basically did that. This guy had me write five or six versions of each letter, and then he kind of averaged them out.

BNR: Does it help with the niggly copyediting problems — its/it’s and whatnot — that pedants like me notice in a lot of graphic novels?

AB: Yeah, it enables me to make corrections of typos or to make last-minute editing changes in a way that would be just way too onerous to do by hand. You’d have to go in and manually erase and re-draw the “it’s” and take the apostrophe out and move the space. It would take you forever; it’s insane. So I feel like I’m able to write more carefully because I’m using a digital font. A lot of cartoonists, their stuff is filled with typos. It’s part of the charm, but I feel like my kind of writing I can’t do that. I can’t live with that.

Related dessert triptych: Khoi Vinh on 1) the discomfort and obsolescence of precise penmanship. 2) Josh Fruhlinger reprints the primary source of the Bechdel Test. 3) And last but not least! Alison Bechdel’s Em Dashes.

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2008 Webby Awards Official Honoree