As many of you already know, I’ve been working on a comic in the past few weeks. I’ve been doing this for a Coursera course: How to Make a Comic Book. It’s from the people that run the making comics website, and I’d recommend it to anybody who is interested in trying out comic making. Even if you can only draw stick figures or snails, you should give it a go if you’re even a little bit interested. I know a lot of my readers are writers, not artists, but comics are as much about the writing as the art. The making comics website has a lot of good resources as well, although I found it lacking in some areas. I particularly like their podcasts. And I almost never have the patience for listening to or watching things more than 15 minutes long.
Today I’ll detail the process I went through to create my comic. If you don’t care and just want to see the final product, skip down to “Inking.” 😉
The hardest part was coming up with a story idea that could fit into four pages. My recently found love of flash fiction was a great asset here. However, looking at the final product, I’m not sure how successful I was. I think I ended up leaving out some important bits. I knew them as the writer and I tried to imply them, but I think I could have benefited from spelling things out a bit more.
When I was trying to come up with an idea I thought fairy tales are nice and short and soon started thinking about how some folk tales explain why something is how it is. Then I thought, there should be a folk tale to explain why sometimes you feel a prick in your shoe but can’t find anything causing it. And I started imagining that it’s caused by a tiny elf in your shoe and was soon filling in all the details. I did brainstorm some other ideas, but for once I liked my first idea best so I ran with it.
I was scripting the comic in my head the first night after I had the idea and woke up with a pretty decent feel for how it would play out.
When scripting, especially since I had a limited length to work with, the first step was deciding what was absolutely essential to the story plus anything that wasn’t essential, but that I really wanted to keep if possible.
Then I thought about how those events might break up into pages to flow smoothly. I didn’t want to end the page in the middle of a scene if I could help it. Then I broke the events down into individual panels and tried to fit them into the page divisions. I tried to consolidate or expand rather than move events to a new page because I’d chosen those page divisions for a reason. At this point, I also started considering what size each panel would be because I knew that I wanted different sized panels.
Once that was pretty well figured out, I wrote it down. I described the panels with some detail and added dialogue and narration. I tried not to put too much dialogue or narration in any one panel because I knew it would take up a lot of room.
Since I had everything figured out in advance, I ended up with a pretty clean script. I’m sure a lot of people end up with messier scripts, especially if they work on longer comics.
The next step was thumbnails. This was an important step because I changed my panel layouts a few times at this point. If I’d gone straight to penciling I would have had to erase a lot of hard work to make that change.
At this point, I was trying to solidify the flow of the comic. I used a few techniques, such as text placement, character placement, the directions of the paths, and properly staggered panels to try to guide the reader so that they didn’t have to do too much work to figure out where to look next. I’m not sure how successful I was, but I do know that this is more important than people realize. I’ve stopped reading comics in the past because I kept reading the wrong thing first.
I also made some notes about choices I was making and things to fix in the final drawings. I didn’t refer to them too much when I was penciling, but writing them down helped me work out my thoughts.
My Thumbnails They’re a little hard to read, sorry. The camera picked it up better than the scanner did, I promise.
After much consideration, I decided to do my lettering a. freehand and b. in mixed case. The mixed case was an easy decision. Traditionally, comics are lettered in upper case for a lot of good reasons, but many of those reasons no longer apply and I decided that it wasn’t right for my comic.
Lettering freehand was a harder decision. These days, people usually do it digitally, and if they are lettering by hand they use a lettering guide (one reason for upper case was that it’s easier with a lettering guide). I definitely wanted to do it by hand, and I didn’t want to find a lettering guide, so I decided that I would give freehand a try. I have a hand lettering workbook, but I haven’t gotten far into it, so I just went with my regular handwriting. I think the results were decent, but if I were doing something that wasn’t just for fun like this was I would at the very least measure out guidelines (and for that matter measure out the panels). This was all for fun, though, so I just tried to write neatly.
Lettering was probably the most frustrating step. I wanted to make sure my text was readable once scanned, but small enough that I had room for my art. On reflection, I probably could have gotten away with half the size, but it turned out okay in the end.
(I don’t have pictures of this, sorry.)
I did the penciling at the same time as the lettering, and it was nearly as frustrating. I’m still slow at drawing and not very good, especially when working from the imagination. Even looking up reference photos, I found myself stretching my abilities to the limit. I tried to draw lightly, but sometimes it ended up dark, especially when I had to redo something a lot.
I did two panels a day, so I took longer than the week we were supposed to take. Hands drove me crazy the most often, closely followed by hair. I found that I was adding details that weren’t in the thumbnails to fill space, and occasionally taking out details so that the panels weren’t cluttered. After the first page I had a better idea how much I could fit into a panel without crowding it, especially when it came to text, and I changed the panel layouts of some of the other pages from the thumbnail versions.
(Again, no picture. Sorry.)
For the inking, I decided to use and old watercolor brush and some cheap ink I already had. For the finest lines (hair mostly) I used my fountain pen filled with the same ink and afterwards I erased the pencil marks with my art eraser.
Why a brush? Even though it’s harder to control than a marker or artist pen or something like that, I like the lines I make with it. Possibly if I did some shading I would choose something else, but I had chosen an outline style, so this worked pretty well.
I made a few mistakes at this step. The hardest part was small details with the brush. It did small details well, but only when I was careful about it. If I were doing something more professional I would correct the mistakes with white paint or something. And use better paper and a brush that holds more ink and waterproof ink that doesn’t lighten when erased. But this was just for fun, so I didn’t do any of those things. Still, I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.
I didn’t color my comic, but if I did I’d make it on watercolor paper with waterproof ink and color with watercolors. I don’t like doing things digitally if I can avoid it. With the regular printer paper I was using I could have colored with colored pencils, but I decided to leave it as is.
All in all, I’m very happy with how my comic turned out, and everybody in the course was very kind and supportive. I’m not sure that I’ll make many comics in the future. They’re pretty time consuming, and I have other projects. But I’m glad I tried it at least once.
What do you think? Have you ever created a comic? Would you?