Almost one year ago now I finished reading “See What I Mean” (summary part 1, part 2), the book that got me started making comics. Now I’m reading the excellent “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures” and I’m learning much more about techniques and visual language. The first book I recommend if you are intrigued by the idea of making comics but always thought you couldn’t because you can’t draw, and also if you are intrigued by the idea of using comics at work (eg. see my comics explaining different use cases for my project RoboHydra). The second I recommend if you have some artistic background and/or after reading the first.

I thought it would be fun to document the way I’m making comics now, hence this post.

Idea

You start with an idea of what you want to tell, then divide it in pages. So far I’ve worked knowing the amount of pages beforehand, but I guess you could just fill pages until you’re done telling the story. The key here is that you have to think of pages because you need to know how they begin and end (eg. you don’t normally end a page in the middle of some action), and because the last page has to be full, you can’t finish halfway!

In this example, I wrote down the story and divided the scenes into the six pages I was going to use. This is also the time to design the characters, but I didn’t do it until after the thumbnails because I only discovered I could draw after I had finished them. What I did do was quick studies for the locations:

locations

Thumbnails

Once you have the story divided in pages, you need to design every page: decide the amount, shape and position of the panels, the action, the text, etc. This serves several different purposes:

  1. Confirms that you can tell the story the way you thought.
  2. Gives you a way to check the rhythm of the story and see if it works.
  3. Lets you play with the shape and size of the panels (in this case I went with a pretty conservative grid; the only exception is the title).
  4. Sets the more or less final text in each panel.
  5. Gives you a way to decide the art for each panel (composition, perspective, etc) before you spend a lot of time making the final art.

As this is the first time I worked with thumbnails, some things are not quite right: the text is sometimes quite different from the final version, some panels on the first page are quite different (I realised they didn’t work in the thumbnails and instead of reworking them I made the changes directly in the final version), and the art is completely different. This last bit is actually due to the fact that I originally planned to make this comic with stick figures, but after finishing the thumbnails I realised that I could draw better and decided to give it a go.

You can see all the thumbnails here:

squash1 squash2 squash3 squash4 squash5 squash6

Final comic

When you’re happy with the thumbnails, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the comic is, and the only step left is to make the final art. I use a Wacom Bamboo drawing tablet and I don’t have high standards for the final result (as you’ll see *grin*), but for people making “real” comics the process is a bit more involved, as they need to do pencils first, then ink.

You can see the final result of my comic here:

sc1 sc2 sc3 sc4 sc5 sc6

You can compare each page between the thumbnail and the final result, for fun, to see how much it has changed. However, remember that the difference between thumbnails and final comic should not be that big! The only reason why the thumbnails are stick figures and the final comic it better is that I realised too late that I could draw better than stick figures.

In any case, I hope you enjoyed this post. As I said, if you’re interested in making comics but thought you couldn’t do it, go read “See What I Mean”.