I was just re-reading Preludes and Nocturnes, the first volume of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. In the story titled The Sound of Her Wings, the following conversation takes place:

Death and Dream

Death: You are utterly the stupidest, most self-centered, appallingest excuse for an anthropomorphic personification on this or any other plane!

Here's the part that interests me:

An infantile, adolescent, pathetic specimen!

What is the reason for "bolding" only certain parts of these words? Are we supposed to read them by placing stress on these parts, or is it something else?

The reason I ask is because I have never before seen only a part of work being highlighted, unless it was needed to point a mistake (oh, my dear essays).


2 Answers 2


Yeah, you've basically got it. They're syllabic stress indicators.

Comics are pretty text-light for how information-dense they need to be. So, tricks like this are used to highlight tonal shifts where they might not otherwise be immediately obvious.

There's even a TVTropes page about this. Especially when trying to convey emphasis, even in such a high quality print as the Sandman series, just italicizing words isn't going to cut it. When you're talking about a part of a word rather than the whole thing, this problem only gets worse. So partial bolding is used instead to indicate stress.

  • 1
    Neil Gaiman seems to be particularly fond of this - 1602 provides another example, where he uses bold inflation to show how people with different accents choose to emphasize their syllables.
    – Wilerson
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 13:25

What @Emrakul said, but also because Todd Klein did the lettering.

Letterers don't get much notice or respect, but Klein is something of a rockstar in his field.

I believe Will Eisner was the first important letterer (although he was also, obviously, an author and artist, and hugely significant if the award named for him is any indication.)

With Sandman, my understanding is that Gaiman was pushing the boundaries of the form, presumably following the lead of Alan Moore, and opening the way for later, post-modern comics. Klein has written about how the expanded requirements of Gaiman's groundbreaking work required a new approach to lettering.

You can even see in influence in recent subtitling of films, breaking out of the boring white lettering on the bottom. (There are several recent examples that escape me now, but John Wick 2 used such an approach.)

  • Yeah, but what made his lettering special? Is this his signature style? The Wiki page you linked doesn't say much. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 15:44
  • 1
    Sandman is what rocketed him to the heights, thanks to the sophistication and ground-breaking nature of comic: "Klein is most known for his work on Neil Gaiman's Sandman, where he developed very distinctive dialogue balloons and lettering for various characters, especially Dream and his siblings. Klein discussed the process by which he came up with these distinctive styles on his website: 'Each of them needed some sort of special lettering style, . . .to show that they are all equals in their iconic power.'"
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 15:50
  • This is a good list of letterers. Subjective, but has many of the greats: faans.com/10-great-letterers.html
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 15:56
  • And how does this relate to the meaning of bolding only parts of a word? Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 15:57
  • 1
    Regarding your last paragraph, they used an awesome technique in Splinter Cell: Conviction, where your objectives appear on the walls and all over the place, instead of just in a corner of a screen. Commented Mar 10, 2017 at 17:46

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