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Comics! How to Make Comics “Alla-Style”

Wanna know how I make my comics? Well, I’ll try to sum up what I learned through art school into this little post if you’re an aspiring comic artist out there.

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Me in 2016 at the zoo. Back in my college days!

For some backstory, I am an alum of CCAD, or Columbus College of Art and Design. I majored in Illustration, before there was a comics major available. I also minored in Creative Writing. My junior and senior year, I was starting to really figure out my style, and knew at that point that I wanted to make comics. I took quite a few comics classes while I was there and learned so much about the industry. I still have and use resources from school to this day. I also interned with a small comics business now known as Freestyle Komics, where my friends and I worked on comics with professionals, and learned some key things about the industry, and how to promote and market ourselves. It was a really fun experience, and we still occasionally work with the company on various events.

As for making comics, I’ll be going over the basics, showing you my processes, from writing the script all the way to the physical copy. I will also provide some handy resources for you to take a look at that really helped me along my comics journey. Most of the resources were recommended to me from my teachers at art school.

So let’s get started!

1: Write your script!

First, before everything, write a simple outline. It doesn’t have to be super specific, just a play by play of what happens. Depending on how long you want your comic to be, the outline can be one page, or 10 pages! If you want to do a chaptered comic, or a webcomic, you can do outlines for each chapter, our a general outline of the whole story. It depends on how you want to tell your story. 

Once you’re settled on your outline, and edited it a bit, time to write the script. Write down each page, explaining what happens on the page, then go panel by panel, explaining what happens in each panel, the shot that the panel is showing, and if there is any dialogue or narration. I never go past 6 panels on a page. 6 or more panels is a little too crowded for me, but it’s not a hard rule; if you want to have lots of panels, feel free. I like to type my script out on the computer instead of writing it out. It goes faster, and I can organize it easier. If i want to make edits, or show someone, I make sure that it is very organized and there is spaces between the lines just in case I or someone else wants to make notes. Here’s an excerpt from my script from chapter 3 of Jazz: 

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Here’s a rather dialogue-heavy page here. I’m really particular about how I write the script; I want it to be as clear as it possibly can.

Once I finish the script, I move on to…

2: Laying out your pages. Thumbnails!

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You can see how simple I make the thumbnails. Actual stick figures!

This is either the fun part, or the hardest part for me because it’s taking what I wrote in my script and interpreting it into a visual form. It’s a lot of figuring out, and I sometimes change a few things in the script to help support the layout of the thumbnails, or vice versa. I like to take a large piece of paper to layout my thumbnails; lately I use my 11X14 sketchbook to make my thumbnails. Thumbnails don’t have to be big; a small rectangle will do. I use a pencil to layout panels; keeping in mind how the panels will look in more dialogue-heavy pages, action pages, and other scenarios. This is where a lot of erasing and figuring out comes to play. A lot of these things are hard to understand sometimes, so I would recommend these two books by Scott McCloud called “Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels” and “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art“.

McCloud does a very good job explaining the different aspects of sequential art, character designs and expressions, and more. One of the most inspirational things I learned from his books is the idea of time passing on the pages. We, as comic artists, have the power to move time forward as quickly or as slowly as we want. With that, he goes over the different panel transitions, which are all thoroughly explained in detail. I highly recommend picking up these books and studying them if you’re serious about becoming a comics artist.

3: Drawing out your pages full size. Use rulers, or digital programs!

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My trusty Strathmore Bristol Board with the vellum surface, an 18″ ruler, non photo blue pencil, and graphite pencil. And of course Roxie the kitty.

If you’re doing your comic traditionally, a necessity will be a ruler. Lately I’ve been making my chapters of “Jazz” traditionally, and I use Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board to make my pages. I like to use the “Vellum” type of paper. It’s smooth with very little grip, which makes it good for inking too. The measurements I make my pages are 5.8″X8.9″, but you can make your comic any size. There are different standards for different comic types; single issue comics, graphic novels, manga. A quick google search can tell you the different sizing standards for the types of comics out there. Anyways, I lay out the panels based on how I drew my thumbnails. I had to buy quite a few bristol board for my latest comic; the chapter ended up being 41 pages!

If you would like to do your comic on the computer, I recommend using a program I used to use called Medibang Paint Pro. It has a feature where you can create panels right on your document, making it easy to make comics. Plus, it’s a free program for both PC and Mac! You can use whichever program you’re used to; I personally use Photoshop, and use the rectangle tool to make my panels. I’m the type to organize my layers in my photoshop documents, so I like to group all my panels together on one layer. You can also use Procreate if you like drawing with an iPad. I’m not too familiar with Procreate, but I know that it’s a very intuitive program with lots of new things coming out with it. I suggest you try it out if you have an iPad and Apple Pencil.

Anyways, I basically layout my pages and panels full size and get ready for…

4: Pencils!

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A typical workspace while I do pencils. Script on my iPad, Thumbnails next to my drawing.

The fun part, actually drawing the comic! This is where you can really be creative and use all your drawing skills to make something magical. Referencing my thumbnails, I sketch out the poses, characters and backgrounds, making sure I take photo reference for things like poses, hands, buildings, whatever I need to draw to make my panels look good. Sometimes you can catch me acting out a pose in trying to figure out at my desk; actually doing the pose you’re trying to draw helps out significantly for me. Or just get a friend to do it and take a photo!

I like to use non-photo blue pencils to sketch the very basic poses, and going back with details with a graphite pencil or a mechanical pencil. (btw remember when teachers in school would prohibit mechanical pencils? So weird! They’re so handy!) With graphite, I like to get more detailed and flesh out the blue sketches to prepare them for the next step. Depending how many pages you have to do, you can divide your work into intervals. For instance, with chapter 3 of Jazz, I have to work in 6 page intervals because I have so many pages to do. But you can work however way works for you. I have yet to create a webcomic or graphic novel, but working in intervals seems like the best method for longer comics. For me at least.

After I’m satisfied with my drawings, I move on to…

5: Inking!

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A page from Chapter 2 of “Jazz”. I thought that this page had a good ink job.

Probably my favorite step because it’s when the picture starts coming together. Inking is pretty self explanatory. However way you like to ink a piece works for you. For instance, I generally like to ink with Micron pens and Higgins ink if I’m working traditionally. I usually strictly follow my pencils when I ink, but sometimes I add in a couple more details with a smaller sized pen if needed. With my style, my inks tend to be thin, clean, and with simple blacks around the page. I like to use black spaces strategically if I can; I try to make the whole page aesthetically pleasing as a black and white piece, even if I plan to color my comic. I also like to add hatching to certain parts of my ink drawings, especially under the neck, as details on clothes, or shadowy areas. Depending on your style, you can ink however way you like, it’s all subjective!

6: Wanna use some color?

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This is the method I was talking about. I only did a little experiment here.

Color is always fun with comics. My comic Jazz doesn’t have color, but I have done colored comics in the past, mostly combining traditional and digital methods. Depending on how you would like your comic to look, you could do the whole thing digitally, using different digital painting techniques to really make your comic stand out. If you wanna mix it up a little bit, you could ink your comic traditionally, scan your drawing onto the computer, and color it digitally (which I did for my senior thesis), or you could do the entire thing traditionally.

A method I have been experimenting with is using gouache paint to paint over my pencils, using colored pencils to add value and depth, then using inks on top. This method I might do on my next big comic, which may turn into a graphic novel. You could also use other traditional coloring methods that you like as well. Things like Copic markers, colored pencils, watercolors, or whatever else! It’s all up to you, and how you want your comic to look.

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Fully digital colored comic I made back in… 2016 I think? I enjoyed the simple colors I used, and at the time was using Illustrator to make my dialogue bubbles.

7: Lettering/Post Production

Probably the most important part of your comic, the dialogue! I always do this part on the computer. I don’t like to draw and write out the dialogue by hand; to me it looks sloppy with my handwriting, but for some styles of comics it definitely works. I scan my pages into Photoshop, and I create the dialogue bubbles in Photoshop using the ellipse tool and the pen tool. I used to use a program called Illustrator for this, but it caused an extra step because I had to import the Illustrator file into Photoshop, and it ate up space in my files. So now I just do everything in one program. This is where a lot of layout and placement comes into play. I still make the mistake of having my drawings take up most of the panel, and not leaving room for my dialogue bubbles. Things would get hidden, but I’m trying to get better about that. That’s where the thumbnail stage is important. Along with the layout of the characters, make sure to leave space for your dialogue bubbles. With the bubbles, I don’t like them completely round, or too flat. I make sure that the words and the bubble have nice spacing; the words aren’t too squished, or too spacey. This part can get a little difficult, so have a second eye look at your comic to make sure they look good, and also that they flow right! Those two books by Scott McCloud I mentioned earlier talk about the flow of panels in great detail. Again, I highly recommend those books for artist seriously considering going into comics.

8: Format your comic, and where to print it

Once you have all your pages finished, all the finishing touches are done, and you’re ready to form your book. I like to use a program called InDesign to make a PDF of my comic, placing my pages in the program in order. With InDesign, it can be a little hard to figure out how it works, I could make a whole blog post explaining how I use InDesign, but there’s lots of Youtube videos out there, so feel free to do some research. This is also where I add in some extra things to the book, like blurbs about the chapter, some drawing of characters to break up the pages, things like that. For chapter 3 of Jazz, I am adding in more page breaks than usual since the chapter is so long.

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Cover for “Jazz: Interception” the next chapter!

Along with the actual pages of your comic, remember the cover of your comic too! I suggest researching some of your favorite cover artists for inspiration for creating your cover. For Jazz, I am heavily inspired by the manga I used to read as a teenager, so my covers are influenced by that. If you’re into superhero comics, independent comics, graphic novels, there’s inspiration everywhere! Go to your local comic book shop and peruse the aisles for gems.

If you’re only gonna be having your comic be online, you can get creative and layout your panels to have an interesting flow as you scroll down the PDF. I print most of my comics, so I layout my pages to make it make sense for someone flipping through like a book.

Here are the specs I use for printing my comic:

Size: 5.8X8.9

Resolution: 300 or up to 600 DPI

Full Bleed

CMYK for printing

I printed Jazz chapter 2 with Comix Wellspring, and I was very pleased with how they turned out, so I highly recommend them if you want to get your comic printed. I used to use Createspace, but they had recently changed their program, so I had to look elsewhere, and I’m glad I found Comix Wellspring. I was able to get 25 copies of my comic for $3.50 a page. With a proof, and shipping and handling, it ended up being close to $120, which is pretty good.

9: Hold it in your hands, you made a comic!

Wow, you did it! You made a comic! Hold it, read it, show it to people. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off in the end, right? It always feels good to have a finished product in my hands, and it feels even better when people say they like it. So I hope you take your finished comic, and feel a sense of pride.

That’s about all the knowledge I have to share with you all. I hope it helps in some way, and that you feel even more inspired to go out there and share your comic ideas with the world. I know it can be daunting to have this grand idea in your head, but actually putting it on paper can be the hardest thing ever. You have to just let those ideas out, even if its a couple of scribbles on a paper, or a few words on a word document. As comic artists, we have the power to tell stories, enchant our readers, and inspire others. 

So let’s all make some good work! 

See you in the next blog post! Next up: Alla’s September Sightings. 

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