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Wednesday, July 17, 2019 

The time when Marvel mandated lowercase lettering

Back in the early 2000s, around the time Marvel's quality was really collapsing, they mandated at one point that all their books must use lowercase lettering, which may have begun with Ultimate Spider-Man. The letterer Jim Campbell once spoke about this dismaying edict, and said:
I’ve always had an instinctive dislike of this alternative lettering style, pre-dating my own professional involvement with comic lettering by a number of years. In fact, I think the first time I saw it was in Ultimate Spider-Man, and my eyes just kind of bounced off it -- I found it near-impossible to read.

To me, it looked then and still looks now like everyone in the book is whispering. As such, it seems, to me, to suck all the drama out of the book. [...]
I too thought it was very weak, and made for a perfect jumping-off point back in the day from many titles that fell victim to it. During 2003, almost every title they published had lowercase lettering in the balloons, with very few exceptions. They moved away from it after a year and a half, but the damage was done, and they may still use the lowercase format in at least a few books today, like the Muslim Ms. Marvel series.

And who was mainly accountable for the mandate? I'm sure Joe Quesada played a part, but here it was Bill Jemas, as the following writer at Multiversity Comics noted:
...At the tail end of 2002, Bill Jemas mandated all Marvel books would be in sentence case because he thought all capital lettering looked “childish.” The mandate was mostly lifted two years later, though the Ultimate imprint is still using lower case.
This post was written about 5 years ago as the original Ultimate line was soon to be cancelled, though I'm sure if Marvel's reviving it, they could use lowercase again, and it'll still look unimpressive. It's pretty telling a man as irresponsible as Jemas was back in the day would think all capital lettering was juvenile and little else. By that logic, he was only insulting all the past pros who made use of it, and were far more talented than a lot of the pretentious writers they brought in, like J. Michael Straczynski, Brian Bendis and even Kevin Smith, who took 2 years to fully complete the Black Cat miniseries he was writing, and which turned out to be an embarrassment. In addition, the mandates they used were no improvement.

Lowercase lettering may not be the worst thing Marvel under Quesada/Jemas ever turned out, but it sure didn't help them from an artistic perspective.

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Surprised they didn't try lowercase lettering during either the 80s or the 90s, would've been a better fit then considering all the experimentation going on during those decades.

Some of the European books use lower case lettering a lot. Tintin used lower case, so does Joann Sfar on his books; Asterix uses all caps. Some comic strips have used lower case as well.

I always associate that upper and lower case style with Chris Eliopolis. I hated it.

Some of the old classic comic strips also used lower case, like Crocket Johnson's Barnaby, or Nicole Hollander's Sylvia. It gave each a distinctive look. Too bad they are sticking with the lettering fonts rather than hand lettering in the corporate comics; it gives it a uniformity and lack of expressiveness that gets monotonous after a while.

The important thing is for the lettering to look like it is an organic part of the art on the page.

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