Are you a comic book fan? It could be superheroes, indie books, journal comics, or just about anything else, but something about cool art in a storytelling sequence revs your engine. I know, me too. Like me, you may have thought to yourself, “Gee, I think I could make a GREAT comic book! I can even draw a bit (or you know someone who CAN draw)!” Ever wonder what those spaces between the panels are called? You do know that the images themselves are called panels, right? Do you know how much space to leave as a margin or between your panels? No? You’re a smart cookie, so I figure I’ll help you to achieve the genius level you’re fated for. Let’s get started.
First off, industry standard is to start out with a bristol board pad at about 14×17 inches and trim it down to 11×17 inches. This is the standard comic page size (barring manga or some other custom dimension). As a general rule of thumb, your art should be roughly one and a half times the size you want it to be in the book when it comes out. The reduction should be clear and it also helps to reduce tiny errors and flaws in the art. Each image in your comic is called a panel, simple as that. Between these panels are gutters. These are the white spaces, provided you’re leaving white spaces in the traditional comics format. Each gutter on your original art should be roughly 0.25 inches wide. This is so that it reduces to an appropriate size. Besides the images themselves you have word balloons and caption boxes. These are the text narrative spaces of your comic. If you’re digitally lettering your comic, I’d recommend a font size between 12 and 14 on your original art. Whichever program you’re lettering in should have an option to adjust your leading, or space between lines of text. For comics, this should always EQUAL the font size. If you want to try your hand at hand-lettering your comic, you’ll need an Ames Lettering Guide and a T-square. These are used to create the lines so that your letters all line up and maintain correct proportion. Ames Lettering Guides usually come at about $2 a piece (and you’ll only need one), and a good, stainless steel T-square (you’ll thank me) comes in at about $12-$14. You want to make sure to get a T-square that’s at least 17-18 inches long. These also come in handy for making straight lines for your panel borders.
Okay. That’s the prep work covered, on to drawing the comic. I generally use a 0.5mm mechanical pencil, but you can use 0.7mm, a regular wooden pencil, or really anything to draw your comic with. One of my wisest teachers always told me, “you can make an award-winning comic with a dirty toenail.” Don’t let me tell you how to do everything, be creative! If you are pencilling your comic with the intention of inking it, I recommend you ink with a sable hair brush at a size between 1 and 4. Since you’ll be using a hair brush, you must make sure that the hair stays clean. You can purchase a brush cleaner to do this, but regular hair shampoo and conditioner work great as well. India ink is my ink of choice since it’s archival, super dark, flows nicely, and it’s fairly hardy. One tip for india ink, however: once you purchase your india ink, you may want to leave it sit on a tabletop or counter, where it won’t get bumped or spilled, and leave the lid off of it. This will allow some of the wateriness of the ink to evaporate. A slightly thicker ink than the slightly waterey consistency is generally best for comicking. This will avoid spills, runs, and the like. I’d recommend you let the evaporation occur as long as a half day to a couple days. To cover mistakes in inking, I recommend getting a nice tube of white gouache paint. Mark Schultz, a former professor at my school (and creator of Cadillacs and Dinosaurs) uses 300lb (aka super-thick) bristol and uses an eraser connected to a POWER DRILL to erase his inks COMPLETELY. It’s pretty mad, but it seems to work wonders for him, if you’d like to go that route.
As for technique, I can guide you to several books that have helped me immensely:
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
The 5 C’s Of Cinematography by Joeseph Maschelli
Making Faces: Drawing Expressions for Comics and Cartoons by 8fish
Creating Characters with Personality by Tom Bancroft
How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling by Shawn Martinbrough
Wizard Magazine: How To Draw (series) by Wizard Entertainment
And that’s just for starters. I’m sure you’ll pick up several more inspiring or influential books on your journey. There’s also a pdf/ jpg floating around the internet of comic art legend Wally Wood’s “25 Panels That ALWAYS Work.“ I’ve found this INCREDIBLY invaluable for those times when you’re stumped on how to spice up a panel where nothing exceptionally exciting is going on.
I’d also recommend simply observing some dynamics and techniques of your favorite artists with respect to why you like those parts of their art. If you can incorporate some of the same ideas into your own art without copying someone else, you’ll be better off for it.
In your process, you can paint comics, draw comics, use ink wash, computer color, use manual (cut-out sheet) or digital zip tones, use white as an additive process for creating negative space, or whatever you feel will give you the best, coolest-looking result. The possibilities are myriad, to be frank.
The best rules I have for my own comics are as follows:
1) Tell a clear and interesting story
2) Have fun with your work
3) make sure your work is as cool-looking and fun as you can make it.
Comics are a collaboration between art and the written word. The key word here is collaboration. If the writing is too verbose or cluttered, your readers will get bored and turned off. If the art is too self-indulgent or if it doesn’t corellate well with the story, your audience may lose interest or become confused. It’s a fine line to walk, but far from impossible. Have fun, take chances, be creative, and above all…tell a great story!