ASK DOCTOR DOROTHY PASTENSE FULLSTOP:

Why, in your cartoons with speech balloons, are the speech balloons written in upper case lettering but the letter 'i' is in lower case - for example, the word 'brilliant' becomes 'BRiLLiANT'?

Actually, this is quite a good question, but perhaps in not the way you expect.

First, the honest answer: It's a stylistic choice and the cartoonist think it looks nice. However, over the weeks he has been using it he has started to notice that the lower-case (small letter) i (I) works better visually inside words and not at the beginning of words, and also the first person subject pronoun I works better as upper-case as well.

Now the other answer, and one that - unless you are a keen comics fan or work in the industry - you might not have realised.

In British and American comics, it is traditional to hand-letter the speech balloons (the word bubbles you see in a comic strip which have a tail attached and which points towards the intended speaker's mouth), although in some cases there is a trend to use set fonts from the computer or to even create a font that resembles hand-lettered text. (The reprinted and cleaned-up English text versions of Asterix the Gaul is an excellent example of this.) In my cartoons I have done the same - created my own unique hand-written font to then use in my cartoons.

However, there is a rule in the children's comic industry in that there are certain words that cannot be used in comic strips, and not because these words were taboo, bad language, or even promoting company names.

At the height of their popularity, particularly in the UK back in the fifties, sixties and early seventies, a lot of children's comics were printed on cheap paper known as newsprint (so-named because that was what it was for - newspapers). Because often the printing process was also on the cheap too, it wasn't uncommon to sometimes get an over-printed comic where perhaps too much ink has flowed and smudges (little black marks caused as a result of the ink not being completely dry) or 'bleeds' (when ink flows into a very small space and so joining these two parts together) in the pictures would occur. And even in the speech balloons.

The story goes is that a particular comic strip published in the United States back in the forties (although I cannot confirm this) featured a character called Clint. Unfortunately the hand-written letters in upper-case - 'L' and 'I' had seen ink bleed between the two at the base, joining the two letters to make one - and a very offensive one at that. It is probably around the same time that any characters called 'Flick', or even its use as a verb - would not be allowed for the same reason. This has unintentionally given problems to some well-known stars such as Clint Eastwood, and I would imagine that any publisher featuring the star in one of its publications would have avoided any hand-written text and carefully chosen a font that would stand the best chances of avoiding unintentional offence after a bad print run.

Now while the cartoonist was preparing the speech bubbles, he used the hand-lettered font and experimented with typing those two words in upper-case and - to his horror - found they almost joined up! So from that point on, he has decided to use the small 'i' to avoid any possible and accidental offence.

Back in 2010 - and well aware of this rule - UK comics writer Mark Millar created such a magazine provocatively called FLiCK, to try and break into a comics market intended for the 18-30 age group. Despite having some of the best artists and writers contributing, this folded after three years.

A slightly different problem as regards letters not coming out as intended surrounded the initialism for Special Effects (written as SFX).  In January 2009, the popular Science-fiction magazine of the same name featured the TV show DOLLHOUSE and one of its stars, Eliza Dushku, was featured on the cover. Unfortunately (or deliberately?) her head partially obscured the letter 'F' in the magazine's letterhead, and as a result, you could easily be tricked into thinking that it says 'SEX'. A similar situation has gained some notoriety of late, particularly among some religious groups, who claim that the word 'SEX' is clearly visible (although very briefly) in the sky in Walt Disney's The Lion King while the animators claimed it was 'SFX', saying that it was, in fact, an innocent "signature" created by the effects animation team.

All media on this website is © Roger Hartopp/Tertium publishing group 2019, except where noted that they are copyright of a contributor.

Please do not copy without permission. If you do decide to use one of my cartoons for demonstration purposes, or create a link directly to one of my cartoons held on this site, then do please credit where you got it from. Me. Those are the rules, I'm afraid...