A guide to penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering comic book pages.
By J.T. Blevins
As any comics creator will tell you, there are an infinite number of methods for creating comics. I have been drawing comics for about 14 years at the time of this writing, and I have picked up many techniques, some of which are not included here. This is only my way of putting together a complete comic page. I highly recommend experimenting with different styles and techniques to build on your style, even if youíve used a certain style for years on end. I have experimented in all stages of comic book development, including writing, penciling, inking, coloring, and lettering. I also market my own comics on the internet, but that is a whole different ballgame.
Part 1: Getting Your Ideas Ready to Rock!
The first thing we need to do is to come up with some ideas. These usually donít grow on trees, so weíre going to experiment to get the old brain juices going. I like to jot down ideas as they come to mind in a notebook. I almost always keep it with me in case something comes to mind, wherever I am. A pocket-sized notebook is good to keep with you so when you have an epiphany about the greatest story ever to be told in two panels, you wonít just shrug your shoulders and forget about it later. One method of creatively exploring ideas is called clustering. Also known as mapping or webbing, this is an exercise common in writing almost any kind of fiction or non-fiction literature. When clustering, you start with a broad, very basic idea, branching out to new ideas as they come to mind. The most common way to cluster is to start with a word or phrase, circle it, and draw a line to the next word or phrase, branching out in numerous directions, and expanding on each idea. Youíll find this very useful in exploring pieces of your story you may not have otherwise thought of.
Brainstorming is another method of searching for ideas. This involves creating a list of words or ideas associated with a topic, and then weed out anything that isnít needed.
One other method of preparing your ideas worthy of mention is called outlining. This can be useful if youíre using a word processing program to organize your ideas. It works like clustering, only you use a hierarchy of ideas in a list format instead of a visually branching format.
I personally use clustering much more than I use brainstorming or outlining, mostly because itís much more visual than either of the other methods. You can visualize the point where each idea branches out, but is a very organized method. At this stage, organization is not an issue, but in the end, it can make the creative process much, much easier.
Part 2: Plotting the Plot
After you have something to write about, and have expanded on your ideas, it is time to pick out the most important ideas and put them in the order that best suits the story. This will be your plot. Plotting is very important because you are organizing your thoughts in advance, and you know, loosely, what path your story will follow.
I donít believe I have ever completely stuck to the original plot that I came up with before writing a comic. Remember, this doesnít have to be your final draft of your story, weíre still talking in very basic terms. Here would be an example of part of a comic book plot:
I like to write out the action page by page, after I have a decent plot. Once you start actually writing the pages, you may find the story to be more exciting put in a different order, and thatís fine. I have even had inked pages in my hands, and totally changed the order of the entire story, and that worked. However, you may find that these methods donít work for you. Find what method does work, and stick with it.
Part 3: Drawing up the Blueprints
So far, we pretty much know what is going to happen throughout the story, and now it is time for the fun part: drawing! This step is the most important part of making a comic. Visualizing the comic scenes and putting your visions to paper can be especially difficult, because visual storytelling can be done an infinite number of ways, and itís up to you to tell the best story you can through your art. The layout of the art determines the pace of the story. Pacing is how much action and how much exposition takes place during the story. It is up to you as a storyteller to set the mood of the panels, and decide what happens and how.
When Iím setting up a scene, I usually draw several sketches on a page, and draw a rectangle around each one, with the shape of the panel based on the flow of the action in each drawing. I then number the panels that I like. During this stage, I then go in to write out much of the dialogue in the panels, so that when it comes lettering time, the words will flow a lot smoother because I already have a rough idea of how the story will go. Now, we have the story flow, and we just have to finalize it. I suggest drawing several very small thumbnails of the entire pageís panels without worrying about putting the drawings inside them. You can stretch the panels to add dramatic effect (donít forget the old rule that narrow vertical panels instill a sense of urgency, and narrow wide panels tend to lapse time), but donít overuse narrow panels or your pages may looked too cramped.
Once you have your sketches and your panel layouts, itís time to move on.
Part 4: The Rough Draft and the Finished Pencils
Penciling the comic book page can be a long and tedious process. That is why I use a light box for my illustrations. Parts of this step may not apply to everyone. Using a light box has its advantages and disadvantages. One major advantage to using a light box is the fact that keeping proportions and panel composition in check is a lot easier with a light box.
My rough drafts are drawn on a plain 8.5x11 piece of paper, divided down the middle so you can fit 2 pages on the front of one piece of paper. I then go to the local Kinkoís and blow each one up on a photocopier to 200% on an 11x17 page. This may sound like a lot of work to go through, but the time and effort it saves in my opinion is well worth it. I have found that skipping a rough draft and going straight to the 11x17 page takes me roughly 6-8 hours. Doing a rough draft takes roughly 1-2 hours, and the final draft takes 3-4, so you actually save time!
The only drawback I have found to using a light box is that your style can sometimes suffer, because you are essentially tracing over your own artwork that was originally drawn at a much smaller size. When you blow up the artwork this much, a face drawn at Ĺ inch tall becomes 1 inch tall. Exposing that much detail sometimes makes things look quite different from what you started with. My solution to this is to turn off your light box every few minutes. This gives your eyes a rest from the bright light, and it gives you a chance to evaluate each panel to make sure everything looks right.