Last blog post talked all about writing, so now it’s time to move on to art. And, let me tell you truthfully, this is the heavy lifting of the comics process. This is not to say that all parts are not hard, they are, but this one will take you the longest. Before I started drawing my own stuff, I did not understand this, but I do now, oh boy do I.
The first thing that you have to think about when you pick up a pencil (or a tablet pen) to draw is the layout. That’s a fancy word for panels. Which, in itself, is a fancy word for squares. However, I can not exaggerate how important this step is. When you read comics, you probably don’t think too much about layout, and that’s normal. But if you don’t give yourself the proper amount of space for each scene on a page, it’s not going to work. You have to look at the script you wrote (remember, we did that last time!) and decide which scenes need the most space. Which ones have more dialogue? More action? Just as you should consider these things while writing, you need to consider them while doing layouts. You don’t want everything to feel cramped, or far to spacious, because you didn’t do proper layout.
Once you’ve done that, you can start drawing the actual art inside the panels. And let me give you a little peek behind the curtain here: drawing comics may not be as glamorous as you thought. Before I started drawing these things, I didn’t realize just how much work went into a single page. Comics are unique because the artist is required to draw the same thing a plethora of times. Two panels of people punching each other means you have to draw those same people twice each. Now, I’m not complaining, I actually like this process. But I think once you start to grasp this concept is when you begin to figure out if comics are for you or not. While I’m certainly no Jack Kirby, I get a lot out of drawing. I find that the repetition of drawing gets more practice in a more concentrated amount of time, thus I have made improvements.
So, you know what a finished page might look like, here are the pencils:
These particular pencils were done by Lee Weeks. I would show an example of my own, like I did with the scripts, but to be honest my pencils are very messy! I clean up a lot in ink, which is really a privilege you only have when you are doing everything yourself. If you are drawing for someone else to ink, you have to be more considerate and make sure everything is clear. Also, as an added bonus, there is an inked version of this page that I’ll put up in part three. Consistency.
While the script is the beginning of the story, the skeleton, perhaps, the art is the muscle. This is what people will see. Because comics are a visual medium, you want to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on in each panel. Do you have to be the greatest artist that ever lived? Certainly not. You just have to clear. I think that’s probably the biggest rule when it comes to drawing comics. If you have any doubt about your ability, try and breath easy, I make comics all the time, and look at my stuff!
You’ll notice that in the above drawing, somethings are outside of the panel. That’s normal. It’s easier to draw a whole image, and have some of it cut off, than to try and guess how being cut off will effect the drawing. Getting the whole picture is just easier in general.
Another thing you have to consider when trying to draw comics is this: the background. Many people dive into comics ready to draw cool super heroes, which is part of the job, sure. But you are just as responsible for the background of every panel. While white backgrounds can work sometimes, more often than not your characters will be in cities or in the sky or something. When beginning to draw, I didn’t factor in how much the background would figure into things. Even though I’ve read comics for many years, the background was, well, the background. But, just because it’s the background doesn’t mean you can skimp out on the drawing. The background helps with immersion. It makes us feel like we are really in Gotham, or space, or what have you. That being said, don’t draw the stuff you hate last, because then you’ll just have hours of drawing stuff you don’t want to draw! That’s a fast way to kill your love for making comics.
In a similar vain, realize that you will be drawing A LOT of, well, stuff. You will have your characters, sure. And you will have your background, I did just say that, true. But you will also have to draw tables, bookshelves, milkshakes, trees, computers, TVs, furniture, and who knows what else. Honestly, that’s just stuff that I’ve had to draw in my webcomics. And when I started doing them, I didn’t think I’d have to, but everyday life is full of stuff that’s depicted in comics. Again, it’s immersion, it’s making a full and total image. If a character is in an office and there’s desk or phone or copy machine in said office, people aren’t going to buy it. That, I think, is what will make or make break comic book artists. If you can focus on drawing the everyday as much as you can the extraordinary, then you are gold. But trust me, it gets easier. I’ve even got to the point where I look forward to these objects, the ones I haven’t drawn before, anyway, because it’s just another challenge for me to meet.
Sure, it sounds a little tough. But if you keep drawing you’ll get the hang of it. And once you do that, you’ll be motivated to keep going. Like everything else, there’s always room for improvement, but you’ll at least get to a point where you think you can put your stuff out there.
But jeeze, that’s only step two! Next time we’ll move on to the unappreciated inkers of the comic book world.
Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics by Stan Lee (of course)
The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics by Freddie Williams II
Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel