The Business of Comics

To me, the hardest thing about making comics is the business part. It seems that a lot of the time, creative minded people aren’t focused on business. I can say that from experience. When I started out, I envisioned all the bases I had to cover. Well, almost all of them. I thought about the creative process, but I didn’t think about the money behind it all, and the decisions you have to make in regards to profit. Now, before I get too far, let me make it clear that I am not a real businessman. I mostly don’t understand all of that. So this will sort of be a reflection of my experience so far, as well as the importance of thinking with both sides of your brain.

As I said, when I got started, I thought I had it all covered. But I soon learned that I would have to add one more hat to my collection: that of a business man. When you are creative, you have a tendency to dream about the stars, with little means of getting to them. This is not a bad thing, I think dreaming is important. But once you get off the ground, you really have to know what’s going on. You have to manage money, contracts, and you have to make some tough calls. That means deciding who you can and can’t work with (even if they’re friends). It can be tough sometimes. I know there have been times that I’ve had to refuse the help of some people close to me because it simply wouldn’t work out. These decisions are not personal, but they are made in the much more factually based part of the creative industry. I hate making decisions like this, as I am not a confrontational person. But part of making your own way means finding that ability to speak up for yourself.

no

I can’t help myself right now, I’m really back on a Planet of the Apes kick.

Anyway, it’s all pretty strange to me. Taking care of business also means kind of being a boss. And I don’t say that lightly, I’d hate to be anyone’s boss. Poor them. But when you are trying to run things, and you’re working with multiple people, you have to act like you’re in charge. I have to check in with people (but I’ve been pretty lucky with that, as they are good at staying on top of the work). And since I hire artists for longer stories, I have to manage funds, and find the right price for me. When I was a young lad (of 23) staring to make comics, it all seemed like magic, like everything would get done because I wanted it to! But really, it’s a balancing act. You’ve got to manage your own creativity, money, artists, a website, and find yourself ways to actually sell your book. I’m tired just thinking about it.

But, as I said before, it’s incredibly important to manage this side of things. And not only do I think so, but so does anyone I’ve ever read talk about making comics. There might come a day when I don’t have to worry about this, and some bigger force can just hire me to create, but until then, I’m crunching numbers!

When I printed my books for the first time, I had no conception of how much they would cost. Of course, I had worked in retail before, but it had never dawned on me that I would have to set a price in order to make profit. I think it’s because when I sold stuff in retail, it was never my stuff. So it seemed strange. And boy did I have a problem actually asking for money for something I made. Especially from people I know. However, I think this is a normal reaction for an artist or writer, or any creative person. We are somewhat conditioned to think that the things we peruse aren’t necessarily a career. Luckily, I am very supported. People want to buy my books. They want to read my stories. In fact, some people have bought everything I’ve put out, and man am I grateful for that. But, I think another aspect of the business thing is to over come that feeling of uncomfortably. That is not to say that I like asking people I know for money, but I have begun to put aside that feeling that I’m just some hobbyist. Besides, I still appreciate every dollar I get, and I let people know that.

Which, I suppose, is a good bridge to another business topic: customer service. I don’t like customer service. I have a hard time talking to people most of the time. But that all changes when I’m behind a table. And not like an act. No, I found out that I really like talking to people at cons. Good thing, too, because customer service is vital to the small press folk. And when I say customer service, in this situation I really just mean being approachable, looking interested. This may sound like common sense, but still, it seems like a sound business principle. Better interaction means more potential sales. And I don’t say that in a calculating way, but if you don’t look like you want to be there, people won’t even want to come up to your table. Then you’ll walk away with nothing!

donald As I read this, I come to the conclusion that I’m rambling a bit. But, like I said, I’m not a real savvy business person. I know the basics, but I will probably never feel comfortable in the position. I am first and foremost a creative person. So even as I gain business experience, it’ll always be far behind my need to create. I guess it comes down to learning by doing. Or by having someone who can help you with all the business stuff. Actually, there’s a good book about this called How to Self Publish Comics, Not Just Create Them by Josh Blaylock. I own a copy and I recommend that you give it a read or two. Lots of good pointers. See how I waited til the end to tell you about that, so you’d have to read all of these words? Ha! Oldest trick on the blog.

If you’re looking to get into comics, but don’t know how to deal with the business stuff, don’t worry too much. Yes, you should read up on it, and have some idea, but I think that’s part of the learning experience. Don’t ignore this aspect of comics forever and hope for the best. Just come up with a plan. See what works, learn from reading, and from your mistakes. And, most importantly, buy my comics.

Making Comics Part 5-Lettering

Well, we’ve finally made it to the end of the creative process. I would say the end period, but there’s an epilogue to all this (next blog post!) And what is the last leg of creating a comic? It’s lettering! It seems to me that a lot of people might ask what a letterer does. Some people think that the writer is the person who puts the words in the balloons. They think that’s what writing a comic means. But no. Any letters on the page, be they words or sound effects, are put there by the letterer. The letterer gets the script and decides the best types of fonts for dialogue and how to make a sound effect really fit the situation.

Much like the last couple of jobs in making comics, a letterer should be subtle, and is underappreciated. I’ll warn you right now, there’s not much glory in lettering. But that’s not what it’s about, so don’t sweat that. My first point, subtly, actually is important though. Like color, when you letter a comic, you don’t want to overpower the page. You want your word balloons to draw the eye, but not punch that eye in the face. This is more common with sound effects. When you make a sound effect, you have to walk this fine line of making, let’s say, an explosion, but not letting it override the art. It can be a bit hard at first, but with a little practice, and reading comics, you’ll see what I mean. Take this for example:

excalibathroom6

See that sound effect? It’s an explosion that reads like ba-throom, and it’s actually a bathroom blowing up! It’s huge, but look at that subtly.

As I said, the letterer is not as celebrated as the writer and artist, but without a good letterer, the story can derail pretty quickly. Imagine you are reading Conan the Barbarian. He’s a big, angry guy who cuts a lot of people into little parts, right? Well, what if he had a font that was in cursive? Or dotted every “I” with a heart? That would pull you out of the story. Here’s this big barbarian, and in cursive he sounds far too elegant, and with that heart over the “I”, it’s like he’s writing a note in middle school! See what I mean? It doesn’t quite read right.

So, what is the process of lettering? First of all, you have to read that script! Luckily, I letter my own script, so this is easy. You have to note tone, or if the writer has mentioned a certain type of font or color for words. If you letter your own stuff, you already know what you want, which is really nice. Then you take a look at the art and decide where everything should go. Before you lay down those letters and bubbles, you have to run through it in your head. Look at the space on the page and decide where everything would fit best. This is why it’s good practice to lettering if you are a writer. When writing before lettering, I didn’t consider anything but the story. Now I gauge how much space I’ll have per panel. It’s like writing and art. If you do it yourself, you know what your asking someone else to do. Your letterer is going to have a much easier time if you can visualize space ahead of time.

Once you’ve got it all laid out in your head, then you can actually start! To letter, I use Adobe Illustrator. As a quick side note, I always find it ironic that I never actually draw in Illustrator, I always use it for letters. Now, that being said, you can letter by hand, but I have no idea how to do that in any good capacity. It requires tools and techniques that I’ve never used. When lettering by hand, I pretty much just use my hand writing (albeit neater). If you want to letter by hand, I would read stuff by people like Todd Klein, who’s probably lettered the most. Ever. Anyway, you want to set up different layers, bubbles underneath text, that way your words will appear in front of your bubbles. Some people lay down words first, then add bubbles, however, I do the opposite. I don’t know if that is the wrong way to do this, but it’s just the process I got into.

You might not put any thought into this while reading comics, but someone has to design those bubbles. They are usually standard speech bubbles. But what about the jagged edged bubble of words coming over the radio, or the thought balloon? Sometimes people get pretty creative with balloons, take a look at this example:

lettering-todd-klein-sandman

That bubble really helps give the reader a feel for the character, doesn’t it?  (That’s by Todd Klein, by the way). Many of the bubbles I’ve made are the standard kind, so I haven’t done much exploring. But some letterers can really do a lot! It’s here that you really have to pay attention to the space in a panel, you don’t want your bubbles to make everything look too crowded. So put them in spots where they don’t get in the way!

Once you’ve decided what each bubble needs to look like, and where they go, you can add the text. This is the real fun part, because you can play around with fonts. I love playing around with new fonts. That’s probably not something people say a lot, but lettering has given me that appreciation. This is the stage where it’s really nice to letter your own work. First off all, you know the emphasis and how each character sounds. Plus, you can make any last minute changes to a script so much more easily. I can’t remember who said it, but I once heard that lettering is to the script what inking is to pencils, and I couldn’t agree more. Those words, and how they look, will give what you’ve written complete life.

Now, as I just said, you get to play with font. Not everyone is going to have a special font, but if you want to give someone say, a robotic tone, or a fancy tone, you can find fonts for that. So, while your reader isn’t actually hearing the character, their brain will process it like they are. There are a lot of good font sites out there, but websites like Blambot and Comicraft are specifically for comic books. Take your time here, play around with fonts, and see what works best. You’ll also have to fit the words into the balloon nicely. That means, not too much white space, but not too little. You want it to look very even. Unless your character has a small voice, then if you add more white space, it looks like they are meek.

Once you’ve chosen the right text, and it looks nice (that takes time, some of my bubbles even now are pretty rough looking), you get to add the tails. Those are what tie the word balloon to the speaker. You can make it a straight tail or a curved tail, using different pen tools. You should always make it clear to whom the tail is pointing, and, even though this sounds like common sense, make it point toward the mouth. The common rule of thumb is to extend the about halfway to the character’s mouth, from the word balloon. Then, you can join the bubble and tail together, and you have your lettering! Once you do that for every panel, you’re done! You’ve made a comic.

That’s right, you have made a comic from top to bottom, and that’s that! Except, my next blog with be an exciting epilogue to this whole process: publishing! So join me then.

Recommended Reading

Comic Book Lettering: the Comicraft Way by John Roshell and Richard Starkings (READ THIS!)

DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics by Mark Chiarello and Todd Klein

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers

Making Comics Part 3-Inking

Alright, disclaimer: from here on out, we’re dealing with the underappreciated aspects of comics. The rest of this blog series will focus on stuff that most people don’t know or think about. So, if you do/want to do these things, you are a real hero.

I think inking is the hardest thing to explain to someone outside of comics because, as illustrated in the famous scene from Chasing Amy many people look at inking as simply tracing a picture. But this is wrong. Yes, you are going over penciled lines, but there is so much more to the art.

If I’m not mistaken, inking is a unique process in comics. While other forms of media deal with ink, I think comics is the only place where it is a separate process unto itself. It basically came about because in the early days of comics, they knew these things were going to be reprinted, so they couldn’t just stick with pencil lines. Well, then they decided they wanted to speed the comic making process up, so they had another person come in and do inks while the artist drew another strip or book.

So, what is the actual job of an inker? As I said, the inker goes over the lines of pencil with ink. Sounds pretty simple right? But it’s much more complex than that. The inker is responsible for giving the pages depth. Without ink, a page can look very flat. Sure, it might still look very good, but the inks are what give that page dimension. It’s what really helps with immersion in the fact that inks can trick our eyes. Good inks can convince us that something is closer or further away, even though we are looking at something that is only two dimensional. They also help with textures. Most pencils do a guide for what textures are on objects in the panel, but the inks are where those textures come to life. Rocks int the background, clothing, houses, these things may all have textures that are represented visually, so that our brain can look at them and understand what they feel like, or what material they are made of, or even simply, but MOST importantly, just what they are. Like everything thus far, and everything to come, the inker’s job is CLARITY.

It is important for me to note that there are quite a lot of tools for inking. You can ink with a pen (there are many, many pens out there to choose from. When I do this, I use Micron). You can use a nib (which looks a bit like a fountain pen) or a brush, both with India ink. Or you can ink digitally. I have done all of these methods, and they are all swell. Just see what works best for you. For a way better look at this, look at The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson, because he knows what he is doing one million times more than me.

So, remember last time when I posted the pencils of a drawing? Let’s see what it looks like inked.

spideyinks

These inks were added by Bob McLeod. To me, the inks supply a little more emotion and help set the tone. Look at Punisher’s eyes in the fifth panel. The darkness around them is menacing and we know he means business. McLeod was pretty faithful to the original drawing, and that’s good. An inker’s job isn’t to stand out and be the loudest thing on the page. Like everything left in this series of blogs, you want inks to blend in so that they don’t over power the story telling. Of course people will notice them, because everything is in ink, but don’t let that ego try and make it so the inks are explosive. A bad ink job can ruin good art. However, a great ink job can save bad art. Realize that, when it comes to inking, it’s a powerful tool with the ability to make or break a comic.

Now, earlier I said that inking could trick the human mind, and often times it does. Next time you read a comic pay attention and see if you notice what I mean. The best example (I think) I can give you is line weight. Imagine if you had a man standing in front of a house. With similar line weights, those two things could be pretty close. However, if you give the man thicker line weight, and the house thinner, it might just look like the house if further away than the man. Or, perhaps the reverse is true of the above scenario. Maybe the house has thick lines, and the man thin. This will draw your eye to the house and make you ask “what is important about this house?” It’s all about perspective and perception. Both scenarios above creates an illusion of separation, even though those two things are on the same plane. You might have to read a lot of comics before you can train your eye to look at such things, but once you start to see it, you notice it everywhere. Inkers are working hard to direct your eyes. Background can just be backgrounds sometimes, so they don’t stick out. If an inker is doing their best, you will be aware of everything, but only really take note of what they want you to notice.

I also talked about texture earlier for a bit. I think the perfect example to demonstrate this is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. 

usagi

Have a look at this image. There’s a lot to see. We can tell that the trees and ground and shrubbery are all different, not to mention the clothes and the characters themselves. Sakai is a master of making comics, so he really knows what he’s doing. When you look at the ground, you can tell that they are standing on dirt. When you look at the trees, they are inked in such a way that evokes bark into your mind. And then the shrubs in the background are clearly bushes. He also uses inking to indicate shadow, as we see some spots on the trees are darker than others. But then, to make sure that the characters stands out from all this, he adds details, like the lines on Usagi’s shirt, or the, uh…jellyfish? on the woman’s gown. At first glance it all looks very natural and not at all flashy, but he could have very easily left out all these details and given us an extremely flat image.

As a side note to this, you should definitely read Usagi Yojimbo. It is one of the greats. And I took a lot of what I learned about inking from there. My earliest comics are devoid of much inking, but now I’m taking a course through Stan Sakai, and they look better (to me at least).

So keep practicing inking. It can be a little tough at first, but if you persist, you’ll get the hang of it. Study people like Sakai, Brian Bolland, or Klaus Janson and see how they use ink to make the page come to life. Black and white comics are extremely helpful for this, because ink is their primary tool for “color.” And, speaking of which, look for the next topic: color.

Suggested Reading

The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers

(There are not as many books on this subject, so study Usagi Yojimbo, Tintin, Klaus Janson’s work on Daredevil and Batman, and really anything you can get your hands on.)

 

Making Comics Part 2-Pencils

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:

spideyinks-2

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.

Suggested Reading

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

Making Comics Part 1-Writing

To many, I think the process of creating a comic is still something of uncertainty. That is, they don’t have much of an idea how they are made. A plethora of readers don’t know about the process a comic has to go through when being made, so I’ll explore this creation step by step. Today, we start where the comic begins: writing.

Now, I’ll tell you right up front, I have the most experience as a writer, so this might be a little long, but I’ll try to keep myself in check. When people hear that I write comics, they often times don’t know what that means. Sometimes they think it means I fill in the word bubbles (that’s another job, we’ll get to eventually.) No, like all other writers, when writing a comic, you have to pull that kernel of an idea out of the ether and shape it into a story. So the first step to writing a comic is to find that idea and put it on paper.

However, writing a comic is different than writing prose. Physically, it’s most like writing a movie script. However, it’s a static image. When writing a comic, you have to write panel by panel. That is, you’ll describe what’s happening in every panel. Then you will add dialogue and sound effects. Some writers have long panel descriptions, others have very short ones, leaving a lot up to the artist. I think that this really depends on your own writing preferences, and if you know your artist. When I write for people I know, I tend to be more conversational, thus longer, when it comes to scripts.

Here’s an example of a script I wrote (a bit wordy, because I knew my writer, and was new to the comics writing scene). I break down the panels, then add dialogue or captions (words in boxes, commonly used as exposition or internal thought).

scriptex

Then here are those panels drawn out by an artist:

artex

Your job as a writer is to communicate with the artist in a way that they can draw your story correctly. When writing comics, you have to think much more visually than with other forms of writing. In your head you must see the panels and actions clearly enough to write them so your artist understands. Your script must be clear for everyone. Artists will have to draw it, and letterers will have to put the words on in the right order. It might sound a little complicated, but if you continue to write, and read comics, you will understand the visual element of writing. When writing a panel, you will start to think “Will there be room for this,” and “I can’t have too much in the shot, because there is a lot of dialogue.” You start thinking in the terms of comic book writing.

I have come to realize several things while working on comics. Firstly, and most importantly, comics is a collaborative effort. Yes, the story is important, but realize you are working with other people. You have to take their thoughts into consideration. While it is your story, it’s also just as much theirs. If you are working with an artist, listen to their suggestions. Because they are actually drawing, they might realize how something doesn’t work, or could work better. I find that artists often know better than I do. Write your script with everyone in mind. Think about how your scenes and dialogue will effect artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers. It can be easy to write simply for you, but you have to keep these other people in mind. Don’t create impossible sequences for other people to make. The most important advice in comics, and really anywhere, is keep that ego in check!

Now, I’ve been writing assuming you aren’t doing all of this yourself. If you are, it’s a bit different. Since I’ve taken up drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering myself, I’ve learned plenty. I know what it’s like to be all of those roles, and thus how to write for them. Now, if you are doing everything yourself, you will know what you can do. So writing tends to be a little more lax, because you already know what everything should look like, and how it will go. For example, my writing process is usually always hand written first, and then typed up and detail added. I write the hand written copy loose and fast so I can get the shape of the story (like an outline). But when I’m drawing my own stuff, I never type it up, because I know what I want already.

There are pros and cons to doing comics this way. You will have full control, but it will take longer, for example. But either way you do it, the important thing about writing is to KEEP writing. The more practice you get, the better you will become. It takes a little while to adapt to a sequential way of thinking, but if you keep at it, stories will pop into your head, and you’ll see them in panel form already! At least, that happens for me.

I should end by saying there is no ONE way to write a comic. There is no real industry standard. As long your team knows what’s going on, you are in the clear. There are tons of scripts on line for you to study, just Google them. That’s how I learned to write them. So it’s easy to dive in!

Here are some good books on comic book writing, too!

Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics by Alan Moore
The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics Dennis O’Neil
Words For Pictures the Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels by Brian Michael Benids
Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels by Peter David

And, for your added benefit, read any of Scott McCloud’s stuff. Especially Making Comics and Understanding Comics.

If you have any questions about writing, or want to talk about writing comics, leave a comment or e-mail me!