The process for making comics involves very specific steps that, if done in order, dedication, and creativity, you can obtain a unique, interesting, and eye-catching product.
Comics have not lost their popularity. Even the new DC and Marvel productions have retained old readers and gained new fans to this artistic medium. Novelists and graphic artists have found a space to express themselves and tell fascinating and entertaining stories.
Many graphic designers, illustrators, novelists, or writers learn about the concepts and features of the comic to understand it and thus use it as a mass medium to spread their ideas or stories.
Whether it is a graphic novel, a comic book, or comic strips to be published on Instagram or Tumblr, the process of making comics is the same. If the project is large, it will require a work team with very specific tasks. Instead, the comic strips are usually the work of a single graphic designer.
Whatever the case, below are the steps of process for making comics.
Once upon a time… a great idea!
All things start with an idea. Comics are no exception. It starts by taking small notes of loose ideas and then they spin together to create a complete story. The idea does not need to have all the details. Sometimes ideas come up during the writing process. But to fill the spaces with details you must first have the basic structure of every story: a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The main character is created first. Begin by describing your physical characteristics and personality. Think about a history, a background, a life past. Then you can load it with more details such as their personal relationships, their age, their clothing, the environment in which they develop.
Then the secondary characters are created. The creation process is like that of the main character. The richer the characters are, the more interesting the story will be, and the more readers will identify with the protagonists.
In this stage, the genres of the comic are also defined, the physical laws that govern the new environment of the characters, the goals, and challenges of the protagonist, how the other characters influence the course of the story.
Write a script
One of the most common mistakes is to start drawing the comics before making the story. While you might want to grab a blank sheet of paper, or start with your favorite drawing app, and just dive in, doing so is likely to end up wasting a lot of time.
Taking time to write a script is essential. You do not need to be sophisticated, and you do not need an expensive app to do it. A simple text editor will do.
When it is time to write the script, there are four main points to keep in mind:
- Define the number of panels
- Establish the types of shots and angles on the panels
- Visualize how panels will look graphically
- Write the text for dialogues, subtitles, and onomatopoeia
A script is a tool to organize ideas and visualize them more easily. The following button provides a scriptwriting sample in PDF:
Set design and style
The graphic and linguistic style of the comic is defined. The tone of voice, the onomatopoeias, the color palette, and even the type of stroke and linear value of the illustration. Special attention should be paid to the visual language, images, and symbols that will be used in the illustrations and in the text (typographic use) to correctly express the ideas previously defined in the script.
Also, it is recommended using thumbnails, such as a sketch, which are like storyboards. They help solve any composition problem before spending time in the process of inking and coloring the pictures. At this point, the spaces for the text (dialogues and onomatopoeias) are also considered.
At this step, the magic begins … the funniest part! It is usually a slow process but the sketches and thumbnails in the previous stage prevent any waste of time.
The technique of drawing, digital or traditional, will also influence the time of the process. At this stage, all the details are taken care of, although it does not have to look perfect. The final touches will be given during the inking process.
If the drawing is freehand, it is recommended to respect the final format, that is, it should be drawn at the same scale in which it will be printed or presented. It is recommended the use of rulers or squares for the frame of panels, a mechanical pencil, or one with a good tip. For speech bubbles, there are molds to create geometric shapes that will serve to draw with precision.
If the process is digital, the draftsman or graphic artist can use tools available on the market. Adobe Illustrator is the quintessential vector drawing program and sets the trend in this market. Another option with a more reasonable cost is Affinity Designer, which provides its users with a friendly interface and very powerful and varied tools for this purpose. For those who do not have a big budget, Inkscape is totally free.
Inking and Coloring
During inking, the drawing is cleaned with defined strokes. Clarity and depth and added to the illustration. Then it is colored with the previously chosen color palette. A well-defined and proven color palette will ensure a more eye-catching finish, with sufficient contrast and well-marked accents. If the colors are not chosen well, it can spoil the reader’s experience.
In tradicional way, inking and coloring are considered two separate process for making comics. Inclusive, each one is made by different persons. But with technological advances and software development, both tasks are performed by the same person, even, the order may vary: first color and then ink.
Place the text
One task that is often overlooked in the process of making comics is the placement of text. You may have a great story and fantastic illustrations. But if the text is not readable, nobody will read the comic.
It is important to take care of the size of the text, neither too large nor too small. You must correctly select the type of speech bubble to be used in the panels because each one has a function and connotation.
Colors can also affect the readability of text. Others change the color of the speech bubble to represent a connotation or to emphasize a state of mind; and the text is placed with another color. This combination should ensure sufficient contrast and not strain the readers’ eyes.
Often the orientation of the writing of onomatopoeias is tilted or twisted to accent a context. But writing on speech bubbles tends to be in a completely horizontal orientation for easy reading. If the reader is not comfortable with reading, the story will lose that reader… and others.
Publish the Comic
In general, the process for making comics ends with the placement of the text. But I wanted to include the publication of the comic as the last step. I think that after so much effort in the creation of the comic, and not publishing and distributing it, it does not make much sense. If the comic is of good quality, it should be shared.
Publishing a comic is not an easy task … but not impossible. Although the costs of printing, storing, and distributing a graphic novel or comic book are an issue that really requires planning and financing, there are other more viable alternatives.
During the digital age, much of the printed product is evolving into the digital: newspapers, magazines, books. Comics are no exception. Webcomics have come to supply that market of artists and graphic novelists who want to publish their works but do not want to get involved in the costs of production and printing of these works.
To advertise and market comics, artists and novelists turn to social media to spread their works and projects. They find in social media readers eager for new and interesting stories.
Who is on the team?
The creation of a comic involves several steps. Many of these steps are assigned to different persons. So it is easy to deduce that the cartoon is a work that is often done in a team. In other cases, a single graphic designer can lead a small project such as a comic strip for advertising.
But as a rule, they will be big projects that will require the support of several people who play different roles:
The producer would be the editor, the writer or the group of people who have collaborated in the general story. He’s the overall leader of the team. The person who makes sure everyone is working well together.
The writer is the person responsible for writing the story. They are skillful and responsible for the general structure of the story, the dialogue, the general rhythms of the story, and the framework of the story. They are great thinkers.
The director is the cartoonist (or artist) who brings the comic to life. This role is responsible for the visual narration, how people move from one cartoon to another, the general camera angles, setting the pace of the story through the panels, and how the reader even reads the story.
A good inker can influence the lighting better and more skilfully than the draughtsman. The draughtsman can put his ideas on paper or, in some cases, leave it entirely to the inking unit. Some cartoonists ink their own work. But it is vital that any ink on the page sets the mood with light and shadow, and most importantly, ensures that the artwork has depth and clarity.
A colorist is responsible for many of the major roles in comic book creation today. Along with the inker, they are largely responsible for the lighting. Color also involves depth, mood, tone, and emotion. Comics can easily be made in black and white, and the best artworks well without color. But once the colour is introduced, that is when a comic really becomes something different.
In comics, it is as important as any other job. The letters make reading possible. It also helps to draw attention and is an integral part of the story. The letterman must select the most appropriate typography, place the text inside the balloons and posters.
- Acevedo Fernández, Juan. Para hacer historietas. Instituto de Estudios Peruanos. 2019.
- Dabner, David. Diseño gráfico. Fundamentos y prácticas. BLUME. 2014. ISBN-10: 841725465X.
- Labarre, Nicolas. Understanding Genres in Comics (Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels). Editorial Palgrave Pivot. 2020. ISBN-10: 3030435539.
- Leborg, Christian. Gramática Visual. Editorial Gustavo Gili. 2013.
- Malamed, Connie. Visual Language for Designers: Principles for Creating Graphics That People Understand. Rockport Publishers. 2009.
- McCloud, Scott. Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels. Editorial William Morrow Paperbacks. 2006. ISBN-10: 0060780940.
- Poulin, Richard. Fundamentos del Diseño Gráfico. Promopress. 2016. ISBN-10: 8415967896.
- Stevenson, Joseph. How to Draw Manga (Includes Anime, Manga and Chibi) Part 2 Drawing Manga Figures. Editorial Golden Valley Press. 2020. ISBN-10: 1947215272.