(Cartoonist’s note: This is another summer rerun, a post from five years ago. It caught my eye, because I have, in the intervening time, tried to address some of the issues discussed below. First and foremost, I have ceased to think dogmatically about the “four-line” rule. It’s still a guideline, but if I need a fourth line, I use a fourth line. And I’ve tried to be more conscious of the legibility of the dialog in Arlo & Janis. I hope it all has helped.)
OK, so this comic strip from December of last year isn’t exactly “rare.” It’s Arlo and Janis sitting on the sofa, for cryin’ out loud. However, there is something out of the ordinary going on here. Can you tell what it is? That’s right! In the third panel, Arlo’s dialog runs to four lines. It is an unwritten rule here (where all rules are unwritten!) that dialog in a comic strip not run for more than three lines. You’d be surprised how easy this really is. Dialog tends to be terse and to the point, and much of what I write is dialog. I believe punchy dialog actually lends authenticity; remember that, would-be comic strip artists, and writers of all stripes.
I bring up dialog, because I periodically get emails from readers who complain (always nicely!) that they have a particularly difficult time reading the text in Arlo & Janis. I don’t doubt they have problems. Newspapers so reduce all comic strips these days that they’ve become almost impossible to read, particularly for the demographic that is keeping newspapers afloat. I do wonder, though, if A&J is particularly unintelligible. I look at other strips in the newspapers, and I don’t see many of them being any easier to read. I like to think it’s because Arlo & Janis is the one they want to read. Anyway, I have two points about this subject. 1) I am aware of the problem. I have gone to a thicker lettering pen, but I think this sometimes makes me squeeze the lettering, which probably is the worst thing I could do. I have experimented with computer fonts made from my own lettering. This is promising, but I haven’t been able to develop one yet that really pleases me. Perhaps I need to expand the three-line rule to four lines. In short, I am working on it. 2) I would like your observations and suggestions on this matter. It might help.