Creating Comics part 1 – Story, Thumbnails, and Paper

So let’s say you’ve got a great idea for a comic. Or maybe you’re really ambitious and are finally going to put together that 150-page graphic novel. Assuming you know how to draw (and how to pull yourself away from the television and internet long enough to actually do the work) you might need some practical direction.

This isn’t a tutorial that will show you how to successfully market your book and have it become the next Watchmen or Batman. When I figure that one out I’ll let you know. What I’m focusing on here are the steps you can take to physically produce a comic and get it printed. So, this is primarily for people who are about to produce their first book. I’ve talked to people at conventions before who ask questions about creating their own books, so I figured a tutorial on the basics couldn’t hurt. Years ago when I made my first book I dove in head first without researching the process. I finished the book, but I learned the hard way.

HAVE A GOOD STORY

I know, that sounds pretty obvious. If you’re not comfortable writing it alone, find someone you trust to collaborate with. Again, this is a tutorial about producing the book and not writing necessarily, but you’ve got to have something worth drawing. So refine, hash it out, mull it over, or whatever… just make it your goal to not inflict more banality on the public.

THUMBNAILS

A thumbnail is a small sketch of a page, with very little detail, where you focus on the general elements in each panel and how the story is going to move through that page. You can use copy paper, or whatever you have handy. Note cards, post-its…it doesn’t matter just as long as you can keep them organized. I lay out 9 pages at a time on an 8.5 X 11 piece of copy paper and make notes where necessary. Here’s an example:

I have found that it’s easier to work out the story visually before sitting down to do the final page. Doing thumbnails of the pages helps work out the pacing and tentative layout before you commit yourself to the final product. You don’t want to go through working out a page only to find after 5 hours that that’s really not going to convey the story as well as you thought.

The thumbnail stage is a place to work out pacing and sequential story-telling issues. And don’t feel locked into the thumbnails if you sit down to do the finished page and in a flash of inspiration see a better way to do it. Often times I’ll see a way to economize on the number of panels, or sometimes see that I need to add more time and adjust the pacing and add a panel or two. But the thumbnails give me a place to start.

MATERIALS – PAPER

You’ve got your story. You’ve got your thumbnails. Now it’s time to draw some comic pages. Comics are typically done on 11 X 17 bristol board. There are different types, some have a smooth finish, some a rough finish (what you might hear referred to as “tooth”) some are thicker and others thinner. If you’re not sure how much tooth you like, go to an art store and buy some smooth paper and some rough. Play with it and see what fits your style and what feels right.

Recently it seems some companies have realized that people want to make comics, and have been catering to that demographic. Here are some options:

Canson Fanboy Comic and Manga Papers
12441-1030-2ww-m

These come 24 sheets to a pad. They’re a little toothy. I typically like a smoother page, but over the last year have begun to use this more and more. Some pros use this as well. I inked an issue of Doctor Who on this paper. I’ve noticed that when Rick Ketcham inks The Dresden Files he’s been using this too. I think it takes a croquill pretty well. It also has the drawable area pre-ruled in non-photo blue ink. This is because although the paper is 11 X 17, the drawing area is a little less than that. So if you’re new to making comics, it would be good to have that drawable area measured off for you.

You can find it at a hobby store (Michael’s, Hobby Lobby etc.) but you’ll pay $22 for a pad. Order it online and you’ll pay $11. (I typically buy mine online.)

Blue Line Pro Artist Boards
premierepro

Blue Line Pro has a wide selection artist papers. They’re pre-ruled with the drawing areas, some of them with the text areas too, in non-photo blue ink. They have smooth finishes, rough finishes, and different thicknessess. Blue Line is a good source for customized boards with a studio logo on them for example. When Tsunami Studios wanted to get custom boards we went with them and were very happy with the result.

There are other places to get paper, too. Eon is a company that comes to mind, but I’ve never used their products, so I can’t comment on them any more than to say…they sell paper.

Well, there’s about 900 words dedicated to the very initial stages. So go thumbnail your story and order some paper. In part 2 I’ll be going into a little more detail about the process of making a finished page.

If there’s anything I missed, feel free to ask about it in the comments. Or let me know any specific things you’re curious about.

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