The Caption Box Mystery


I’ve always tended to center-align text in caption boxes in my own comics… but recently realised that most comics seem to left-align their text in boxes… for example, here’s Ben Katchor and something from the Fantastic Four (featuring Ben Grimm!)



(who also deal with the last line in different ways: Katchor centers the orphan “Alarms”, whilst the Marvel letterer cropped the box itself).


In the english translation of Manu Larcenet‘s Ordinary Victories however, the text is center-aligned.



… whilst samples from Daniel Clowes suggests that he follows the shape of the box/balloon.

So… are there are principled reasons for picking either choice within a rectangular caption box?

Some theories I’ve heard:

1. Left-alignment looks more like a journal or diary entry (via Gene Yang)

2. Left-alignment was technically easier to execute when hand-lettering (via Janice Chiang)

3. Eyeball tracking means readers process left-aligned text more quickly (via Jesse Hamm)

What do other comics creators and readers out there think? 🙂


  1. I find left aligned text much easier to read in general, especially if the left edges of centralised text are ragged. If the amount of text or length of words results in a relativeky even left edge, then it doesn’t matter if its centralised.

  2. I don’t think it’s any mystery. The artistic decisions should be based on what looks best, is innocuous and doesn’t call undue attention to itself. You’re not supposed to notice the lettering style and the lettering style should be a good match for the artwork. Informal styles like Ben Katchor’s are different from conventional superhero books and one size or rule does n ot apply to all occasions. The eye of a human is trained consciously and unconsciously over a long period of time to notice irregularities and certain things (for primitive survival of the species). Some of those things that are noticed by the viewernare awkward, off-balance blocks of type and assymetrical white spaces or balloon shapes. It’s best, in my opinion not to incorporate things into your work which are going to be distractions to perception. The art of comics involves using words and pictures (marks on paper) to facilitate the transformation of certain information into the mind of the reader. The information transferred should be the information the creator wants transferred and to the extent that other distractions, and unneccessary visual information is transferred because of a lack of skill or for other reasons, the work will be unneccessarily burdened and diminished by that. I’d certainly try to eliminate anything that calls undue attention to itself insofar as the lettering is concerned. Lettering should be easy to read. Confusion is the enemy of the cartoonist whether is visual information or verbal information. Words and pictures conjure up thoughts in the viewer’s mind. Make sure to use the right ones and nothing extra or unneccessary.

    1. Thanks for the thoughts, Richard! 🙂 I agree that it’s ultimately about clarity/readability – but i’m also trying to figure out if there’s an element of convention involved, and if so, what that convention is based on… (Janice Chiang for eg tells me she prefers central alignment, as have others, whilst many also prefer left-alignment)…

      But it may well be the case that so long as there’s no strange negative spaces, that both would work… 🙂

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