My spontaneous and 100% sincere HOW 2 MAKE COMIX tweet blew up this morning so in my eternal quest to talk too much and take things too far here’s a detailed breakdown of what I was talking about:
Got an idea for a comic? Write it down. One sentence, three sentences tops, no more than 100 words. Sure there will probably be lots more happening in your story but boiling it down to less than 100 words will help you stay on target to complete it.
Write down all the events that happen in the story, start-to-finish, one page of text max, whether you’re doing a 8 page mini or a gigunda graphic novel, it should fit on one page. Avoid flashbacks or fancy storytelling tricks - you have to learn to walk before you fly. You don’t need a fancy word processor or script writing program to write comics, a simple text editor or paper notebook will do just fine.
Here’s the really fun part. Take your outline and figure out how it’s going to break down into separate comic pages. One sentence description (or less!) per page. The last panel on every odd numbered page should make you want to read the next one - use those page turn reveals to your advantage in making scene changes or to strengthen humor and drama.
Take those page breaks and break them down into even smaller moment-to-moment events in an interesting and compelling way. This is where your particular personality and writing style are going to come into play. There’s no way to teach this, you just have to discover your voice for yourself.
Write down all the words your characters are saying in the panels, and sound effects too. Less is more - the pictures should be carrying the bulk of the storytelling.
Try and follow these rules:
1) Don’t have your dialogue describe what is already being shown in the panel.
2) Max of 3 balloons per panel, one sentence per balloon, max 20 words per sentence.
3) Add panels and/or pages if you can’t avoid breaking rules 1 & 2.
PANEL DESCRIPTIONS & SCRIPT FORMATTING
If you’re drawing the comic yourself this might be unnecessary, but if you’re working with an artist it’s a huge help to make sure your script is clear and give a simple written description of every panel. Avoid essays when describing panels, one sentence per panel is fine. My good buddy & frequent collaborator Fred Van Lente made several comic script template that people really like (including me) - download them here: http://www.fredvanlente.com/comix.html
Step away from your script for a bit, then come back and read it all the way through. Have a trusted friend read it & give you honest feedback. Then revise & cut until just the essentials to the story are there. Keep the story moving forward at all times. You don’t have to have relentless breakneck Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom storytelling (though it wouldn’t hurt), but you do want people to keep reading, so be efficient.
Start drawing. Roughs are the planning stages Indicate every important visual element on the page - panel borders, figures, backgrounds, words. It shouldn’t look fancy or detailed, just stick figures/blobs for the characters, horizon lines for backgrounds, etc. Don’t forget to draw in where the word balloons go - they are part of the page too! Keep it simple & loose so you can change it easily if its not working out. You can’t really teach this stuff, you just have to try it and learn from your mistakes. Disney artist Carson Van Osten’s “Comic Strip Artist’s Kit” is a fantastic primer on clear comic layout and storytelling that will start you off on the right foot.
Once you’ve done your layout start draw in the details of the figures & backgrounds directly over your roughs - make it clear and logical. You pencils are finished when anyone is able to look at it and tell what’s going on in the story, even without words.
(If you want to improve your drawing ability go get Preston Blair’s Animation and do ALL the exercises, it’s the best damn drawing book ever made. Look out here it is for FREE: http://animationresources.org/?p=2091 YOU’RE WELCOME.)
Write in the text - nothing fancy, black text in white balloons for the dialogue, block letters without balloons for sounds. If you’re doing this on the computer you can do it after the inking. For tutorials and fantastic free comic book fonts galore go visit Nate Piekos’ Blambot http://www.blambot.com/
INK & COLOR
Shorthand for making the art look finished & presentable - draw over your pencils in black ink, try to make it look better than the pencils. Don’t be afraid to fill in areas with all black - objects with dark shadows and thick outlines will appear closer, less shadows and thin outlines appear further away. Coloring is a whole discipline unto itself, lots of tutorials out there for that, go find them.
Congrats you just made a comic! Get some rest because damn, that was harder than it looked.
Post your comic to wherever you spend the most time on the internet. If you draw 8 or more pages print them on a photocopier and give them to people.
DO IT AGAIN
Because your next comic is going to be even MORE fun and look even BETTER!
If at any point you’re totally lost and don’t know where to start then you really need to read more comics. I recommend starting with anything by Jeff Smith (Bone), Raina Telegemeir (Smile) or Chris Giarrusso (G-Man). All three of them are contemporary masters of clear & compelling comics storytelling that doesn’t use any fancy tricks and their books are widely available, suitable for all audiences and great pieces entertainment. Then spread out and explore other comics that interest you. I *STRONGLY* recommend avoiding any “how-to” books until you’ve finished making at least one comic on your own. There are some terrific how-to books for cartooning out there - [Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, John Buscema’s How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way and the upcoming Make Comics Like the Pros by Fred Van Lente, Greg Pak & Colleen Coover] - but they’re best used to enhance your artistic growth, not dictate it.
Really the only way to learn how to make comics is to… make comics. Hop to it!