Inked linework is an iconic element of comics. Duh.
But have you thought about why? I guess because of the whole history of how the art form evolved; I’m not an expert on that. But it makes sense to me that Doré et al. etched rather than painted for book illustrations, and that Outcault et al. inked cartoons in a way that could be reproduced on plates. Pencil, pastel, and paint and other media just don’t play as nice with printing presses as clean linework does.
Casual consumers of comic books around the world often have no idea of the work involved in producing the entertainment they enjoy. Effort and workload aside, merely the size of the team required for an idea to manifest can boggle the mind. Dozens of people handle specialized roles from writer to penciller, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. Printers are needed to produce the physical copies and a distribution network is required for those comics to end up in your local comic shop.
Or maybe the comic in question is of a new breed — a webcomic — and most of the jobs are handled by one person.
This article is intended to be a quick reference for the most common methods of comic creation, both from the professional side of things as well as how those methods scale when applied to smaller projects.
When beginning any project there is always this moment of “oh man, what do I do first?” For the longest time I would start in the worst way possible by diving head-first into projects and working only on the parts that excited me the most. I consistently ignored the big picture in order to focus on the details. I learned a couple of things from trying to work this way for nearly a decade:
- I never finished a project working in this manner.
- I still do this and always risk failing to complete projects as a result.
- It wasn’t until I worked on defining the scope of my project that I understood what I needed to “hyper-focus” on.
Samuel Beckett hit the nail on the head when he said: “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading.” Indeed, it’s only after we’ve studied the work of masters that we are able to amass a foundation from which we can create our best material. However, if you’re new to the world of comics, you may find some of the “classic masterpieces,” such as Watchmen or Maus, a bit advanced as teaching aids or references. I know I’ll get some hate mail for excluding these classics from the list, but hear me out. Though they are definitely ranked among the more important comic books, it takes time to really appreciate exactly what it is that makes these comics so important that they’re studied even in ivy-league colleges. For this reason I think it’s probably a good idea for newer readers and writers to begin their journey by sampling the best of a diverse array of genres. The goal is, of course, to saturate yourself with quality content by deconstructing the the comics themselves and finding out what makes them “tick.”
I’m about to drop some zen thinking on you, so listen up. Ready?
What separates the mindset of a seasoned artist from an amateur?
The amateur has fewer questions.
BaBOOM! (drops the mic)
…OK so… maybe that bears explaining a bit further. Everyone starts off with more or less the same vacuum of knowledge when it comes to art and the rules that govern the visual world. Beginners tend to focus on the immediate questions (how do I draw Batman jumping off a roof? What does his costume look like?) whereas experienced artists see the task before them with greater nuance (what’s the most effective composition? Is Batman foreshortened correctly? Is the lighting accurate?). The experienced artist realizes the depth of complexity even the most basic image can present in a way the beginner does not.
Find the conflict.
Not every comic book story starts with conflict. Some creators look for places to start that are non-intuitive like the ending of a story. Check out your favorite comic. Open it to the first pages – what do you see? You will start to notice that almost all stories begin with conflict. Now sit down and take your own characters (or invent new ones) and imagine them in the same situation. What happens when you put these new characters in a similar conflict? What elements need to change to make sense?
Walt Stanchfield, a hero of mine, once described the act of drawing well by comparing it to driving a car- many small considerations and corrections need to take place in order for the composition to go in the direction you want. To pursue art requires great discipline and strength. Discipline and strength require regular maintenance- like the engine of a car- and occasionally while “driving” it’s good to take some time to fuel up. The best way to do that is by developing positive habits that encourage yourself to grow as an artist. read more»
Warm-up exercises are a critical component of the art process. In sports, professional athletes know that in order to achieve peak performance from their muscles it’s necessary to gradually work up to the demands that are placed on them. Art is no different, save in one respect. Muscle control is certainly a factor but the real benefit of warm-up drawing exercises is the way they engage your mind.
Confused? You may have heard of the famous Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. It theorizes that the two hemispheres of the brain control separate thoughts processes. In most people, the left brain is active much of the time, allowing you to verbally and logically navigate through the world around you. But the right brain is where visual and creative processes reside and it’s that part of the mind we are trying to engage when we draw. These warm-up exercises will help you to work up to thinking visually and should be used daily.
Everyone has to start somewhere, and if you’re interested in drawing this is it.
So you want to write a story?
It’s no exaggeration when I say that stories are the lifeblood of civilization. In a world full of uncertainty and insecurity, we turn to stories for understanding and guidance. Religions use creation myths to help society embrace its purpose and identity, while politicians exploit their personal narratives for political gain. In both instances these stories affect our understanding of history. In essence, stories facilitate learning, growth, and empathy. They transport us to worlds we’ll never see and allow us to speak to people who never existed. The greatest stories have toppled empires, and even the meekest have managed to touch hearts. Any story (even yours!) holds within it the power to affect a change in ways you’d never have thought possible. All you need to do is tell it.