Making Comics! The Best Strategies to Implement

Updated: Apr 26

One of my biggest passions in life is telling stories. It's what I focused on in college, and I formulated my love of storytelling into the form of comic making.

In my last years of college most of my final projects were short stories. I had a 5 page comic about a girl entering a new town and making a friend, and my thesis was called Love, Maruchan, which was a goofy story focused on the mascot of Maruchan brand ramen noodles. I had a lot of fun with making comics in college, and when I left I had started a new comic called "Jazz".

I'd like to think I have quite a bit of knowledge about comics. On my old website I posted a blog explaining my whole process of making comics. It was a long post going in a lot of detail about the whole comic making process start to finish.

So why not bring that to this website?

Introducing the new and improved "How to Make Comics Alla Style"!

Do you have a story idea? I know I have tons of them. But for my comic "Jazz", I follow a series of steps in creating each chapter. This process is one that I learned from college and by reading books about it. I think it's a very effective method to making a comic you're proud of. So let's go through it!

Step Zero: What format are you wanting to showcase your comic in?

The planning that goes into making a 4 panel comic for social media and a full color, chaptered comic are a little bit different. First off, what kind of story are you willing to tell, and how long will it be? When I first started my journey writing "Jazz", I had expected it to be a short story comic about a magical girl. After working on it for months and receiving lots of critique, it was clear that the story being told should be much longer than I had originally wanted. It was a good thing though, because I can really explore Jazz's world, and develop her character over a longer period of time!

Make a decision on how long your story is, and how much of it are you willing to tell. That will give you a good idea on the format of choice. I find that talking it out with friends always helps. I could spend hours talking with my comic friends about out story ideas.

1. The Outline & Script

Once you've figured out the basics, write your outline. Keep it simple, not super specific, just explain the story as if you were talking to someone. Include important details, but leave out unnecessary things. This can be hard; I suggest doing some research on basic plot structures. But don't expect the outline to be perfect the first time. Print it out and write notes, do all the heavy edits. This is a stage where nothing is safe. As in, don't be afraid to take out plot points, characters, and other details if they don't fit the narrative. Once you're at a good point, have someone else read it too. Make sure it makes as much sense to an outside reader as it does to you.

Now, since this is a comic, it's best to also write a script. Referencing the outline, go page by page, panel by panel explaining what happens, including dialogue, setting, and angles. This is the point where you can start to visualize what the comic will look like. It's good to do lots of research on comic pacing and timing for this step. I've had years of trial and error in college, but if you're self taught, I highly recommend Scott McCloud's books on making comics called “Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga, and Graphic Novels” and “Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art“. These were the books we read in college, and they go into detail on every aspect of comic making, and make the subject really easy to understand.

Since I'm generally an organized person, I like to make my script pages very clean and easy to read:

Some general rules I follow are: don't go over 6 panels on a page, as the page will get overcrowded. And to be really specific on camera angles and shots, making sure I zoom out and show an establishing shot on a big percentage of my pages. Again, this is when you can really start to imagine what the comic will look like.

2. Covers, Titles?

During the start of "Jazz: Interception", I created the cover first. Mostly because I was really excited with where the story was going. But that's a general practice for me. This is entirely up to you though. If you want to wait to create covers and other materials to put in the comic besides the pages after they're done, go for it. But I usually like to get it out of the way.

I suggest doing research on other comic covers for inspiration. I love manga covers a lot, and I like to put that inspiration into my comic covers. Here are some of my favorite comic covers:

I would love a huge poster of that "Cardcaptor Sakura" cover by the way.

3. Thumbnails! Laying out your pages.

This is either the fun part or the most dreaded part. It's taking what you wrote in your script and translating it into a visual form for the first time. I say it's the most fun part because you can really have fun experimenting with layout design here. This is a big opportunity for script changes too, since you're starting to see the comic here, some details can still be moved around.

Here's how I do my thumbnails: I like to take a big sketchbook and draw lots of small rectangles neatly, which will represent my pages, and I layout the panels. I include only the most simplest of drawings, using lots of stick figures here. I use a pencil to make my thumbnails, and outline then in pen so I can see them better.

Here's a quick photo of my thumbnails for "Jazz: Interception". You can see how simple they are, yet, they're easy to understand. Well, they are for me at least. But lots of stick figures and simple lines here, no high detail at all. I also number my pages, and take a bunch of notes on the sides, as you can see. The notes are for pointing out certain characters, notes about how the panel is supposed to look, things like that.

This is where your knowledge of comics comes into play. The Scott McCloud books I mentioned before go into detail about the different aspects of sequential art. One of his points that helps me a lot is his idea of time passing on the pages. We, as comic artists have the power to move time forward as quickly or as slowly as we want. This is explained more in detail in his books, which I highly recommend. If you're serious about becoming a comics artist, read those books!

4. Drawing out your pages in full size.

Here's what you'll need if you're creating your comic traditionally:

-Bristol board or comic/manga paper

-A ruler

-Pencils in varying hardness (3H is my favorite for sketching)

-a good inking pen

This is a basic list, and things I use to make my comics. I created this comic, "Jazz: High Kicks" completely traditionally, minus the cover. I even hand-drew the speech bubbles! While I loved the process of making this comic traditionally, I will be using a digital program to make Chapter 3.

Digital Programs

Back in the day, I created a couple comics based on the old Minecraft Let's Plays created by Rooster Teeth. They actually got a lot of traction on Tumblr, and that side blog got up to 1,100 followers. (The most followers I had on anything btw.) I created those comics with a program called Medibang Paint Pro, which is a free art program which is great for making comics, especially laying out panels and creating speech bubbles. I used it for a while, and really liked it for creating my cutesy, chibi style that I used for those Minecraft comics. I recommend trying out that program, simply because it's free!

Another program is Clip Studio Paint, which I am using to make "Jazz: Interception". This is a great program that I've been using for a couple months now. It has a very user friendly and intuitive interface that's easy to pick up if you're familiar with Photoshop and other art programs like it. It has a great comic tool for making panels, and tons of brushes to play around with! I recommend it if you have some cash to spend. I took advantage of a Black Friday sale when I purchased it, but they run sales frequently, so be sure to look out for that.

Choose a size

Back to drawing your comic out in full size. It's best to pick out a size that works for you. A size I went with for "Jazz" is 5.8" x 8.9". It's a standard size for comics, and what I used in college. Choose a size that works for you. If you want to make a comic for Webtoon or Tapas, there is sizing for that in Clip Studio Paint. I haven't played around with that feature yet, but I suggest checking it out!

Time to Draw! This is the time to layout your panels in real size and start drawing! This is where you can really get creative and use all your drawing skills to make something magical. Referring to my thumbnails, I sketch out the poses, characters, backgrounds and interactions. If I need to take reference, I try my best to act out poses myself, grab a friend to pose for me, or use Google. Actually doing the pose myself helps me significantly, especially hand poses. I like to go in first lightly and quickly, sketching out the basics of everything, and go in with more detail. This usually takes many layers and lots of erasing, but once you get the hang of it, you can crank out your sketch pages pretty quickly!

Because I have so many pages of this chapter to do, I made a spreadsheet to help me keep track of my progress. The photo here shows my progress. I love color coordinating, so I'm using that here.

Green is "complete", yellow is "in progress", and red is "not finished". Right now I am focusing on getting the pencils done, and I plan on doing the lettering all at the end. (This isn't the full spreadsheet btw)

Obviously, if you're doing something like a 5 page comic, you won't need to do this, but this is a pretty good method of staying organized.

5. Inking and finer details

Inking a page is my favorite step. I love inking because you can really start to see the page come together. Below are my work-in-progress inks for a "Jazz: Interception".

Inking is pretty self explanatory, just ink however way works for you! If you are doing this traditionally, you can use ink pens, brush pens, and dip pens. It's always fun to experiment with new techniques. In Clip Studio Paint, I love using the "Real G-Pen" for my inks. I plan on putting more black spaces in my pages, and I will be doing the backgrounds in a grey tone. I also will be playing around with the screen-tone features too. I'm excited to show you the finished product!

Screen-tone, black spaces, and more goes into the "finer details" part of this step. If you have an idea, go for it! Like I said, I'll be playing around with this chapter a lot in terms of the finer details. I hope to show you the fruits of my labor soon!

6. Lettering! Make it make sense

Probably the most important part of your comic, the dialogue! I always do this part on the computer. I don't like to handwrite the text by hand; to me it looks sloppy with my handwriting. But lots of comics look fantastic with handwritten text and bubbles! I suggest trying out different ways to letter your comic. I could do a whole blog about lettering, so maybe we can save that for later.

I like to create my speech bubbles with the shape tools in the program I'm using, and type the text out there too. This is where a lot of layout and placement comes into play. I've gotten better at this, but I would make the mistake of having my drawings take up most of the panel, and not leave enough room for my speech bubbles. This is where you can refer back to your thumbnails.

Also, the placement of your bubbles can help with the flow of your comic. The McCloud books can help with that, but basically it's important to lead the eye around the page in a way you want your viewer to read it.

7. Time to put everything together!

Once all the pages are finished, along with any extras included in the comic like page breaks, and the cover, time to use a program like InDesign to put the book together! This is really fun too because you can see your comic all together and read it as one piece. If you're comic is exclusively online, you can get creative and layout your pages to have an interesting flow as you scroll down the PDF. I'm printing my comic, so I'm keeping in mind that my readers are flipping through the pages.

Here are the specs I'm using for "Jazz: Interception":

-A5 size

-Resolution: 350 DPI

-Full Bleed

-CMYK color code for printing

-black and white with grey tones

-full color cover

I printed "Jazz: High Kicks" with a company called Comix Wellspring, and I was very pleased with how they turned out, so I highly recommend them if you want to get your comic printed. I was able to get 25 copies of my comic for $3.50 a page. With a proof, and shipping and handling, it ended up being close to around $120, which is pretty good.

If you are sticking to an online only comic, then you obviously won't have to worry about printing costs!

8. Hold your comic in your hands! You made a thing!

Wow, you did it! You made a comic! Hold it, read it, show it to people. It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off in the end, right? It always feels good to have a finished product in my hands, and it feels even better when people say they like it. So I hope you take your finished comic, and feel a sense of pride while looking at it.

That's all the knowledge I have to share today. I hope it helps in some way, and that you feel even more inspired to go out there and share your comic ideas with the world. I know it can be daunting to have this grand idea in your head, but actually putting it on paper can be the hardest thing ever. You have to let those ideas out, even if it's a couple of scribbles on paper, or a few words on a word document. As comic artists, we have the power to tell stories, enchant our readers, and inspire others.

So let's all make some good work!

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