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How to draw a comic...

The Fontblog (German) just found a nice page detailing How to crate a comic (in English). Intriguing reading.

My Take on Comic Drawing

[Sometimes coloring just involves adding some grey shading and pattern effects]I don't claim to be even a tenth as good as Kazu over at Boltcity, but since I occasionally work on comics of my own (just for fun -- I haven't tried to sell any of them since high school), I thought I'd quickly (me? no way!) outline how I did things, because I took a slightly different approach in some ways:

I usually draw on A3 paper (12 x 17 inches). I'm not really particular to any kind of paper, but I kind of like thicker paper because it doesn't tear as easily. For line drawing and inking, smooth paper is very important, while if you like to work with graphite or coal you can smear, I recommend more coarse paper.

I have a simple drawing board made of plastic into which I can lock A3 paper to keep it from crinkling. It has an attached ruler that runs in tracks along its sides, and I usually use that ruler to mark off the page margins with a pencil. I don't have any particular measurements I'm aiming for, but the drawing board's clamps invite me to have about 2.5 cm (1 in) at the sides and top and about 3 cm at the bottom (the bottom margin should always be a little larger than the others).


I usually use one of those retractable pencils which you fill with separate leads for the pencil drawings (HB, i.e. garden-variety). That's not a requirement, I'm just too lazy to mess around with pencil sharpener shavings. I also have a thick (like, 3 mm) retractable graphite pencil (4B) that I use when I want to do soft greys and shading, and about a half-dozen of regular HB pencils just for doing thicker or thinner lines depending on how sharp they are. I do the pictures without the balloons, making sure to group the important parts so I can insert balloons later without covering anything important.


Once that is done, I use a regular pen with black ink in it to ink the pages. I used to use a nib with Indian ink, which gave a beautifully strong black, but was just too messy for me, and the ink just kept on drying on the nib while I was drawing. After a while I also got myself two other pens of different thickness (to more easily match my pencils) where one of them had a bevelled tip, making it ideal for drawing very thick and very thin lines depending on how you held it.

For a while I tried all sorts of black markers, but most of them eventually turned pale or yellowish after a few years, and they just ran out too fast, while black ink is cheap and easy to buy. For large areas of black I usually just draw the edges and borders, leaving something vaguely like a rectangle unpainted in the middle, which I can later glue black paper on or fill in using the computer.


I usually draw and ink all pages for the current story (or "issue") before I take them to the copy shop and photocopy them from A3 down to A4 (about 12 x 8 in), making them small enough to scan them. Scaling down drawings is a popular technique used to add detail to an image. You have enough room to comfortably draw your large version, and when they're scaled down, the small insecurities in your lines disappear, giving it a much more professional look. The difference between A4 and A3 is about 1 : 1.5, which is what's commonly used in the comics business, though e.g. Hal Foster did Prince Valiant in 1 : 2 or even larger, so pick whatever you like. Just like with painting, working at a larger size takes some getting used to. Especially be wary of how many panels you want per page. I typically try to average about six.

Scanning and Colouring

[A pencil drawing and its coloured variant]

Once I have the pages scaled down, I scan them. For a grayscale image, the minimal resolution is usually around 150dpi. The resulting anti-aliasing dots at the edges of the lines, the added blurriness usually hide any pixels and aliasing, but if you want to go straight black-and-white you'll really want to go higher. It also helps to adjust brightness and contrast (and, if your scanner lets you, the white-point) at this point to make the whites white and the blacks black and avoid having the paper texture in your drawings.

The scanned pages are then coloured in Photoshop. Back when I had a really ancient version without layers, I used the "darken" pen mode to only colour the white spaces between black lines, but these days I use Photoshop Elements for that, and "Multiply" mode or just plain transparent layers come in really handy to let you have the black lines on top and draw the colours below that on a layer of their own. This is also the point at which I fill large black areas etc., just as needed.

Writing the Balloons

Once each page is coloured, it is imported into a vector drawing program where I insert the balloons (using a typeface that looks like hand-lettering - but don't use Comic Sans or Brush Script!), caption boxes etc. I used to use ClarisDraw for this, which had the advantage of being just enough of a DTP application that I could actually do the entire book (including letters pages, editorial and cover logo) in this one app and then print it out. A handy app these days is Plasq's Comic Life, though it doesn't yet support multiple tips on one balloon.

[A comic page with and without balloons]

Before I had a scanner, I used to draw the balloons on paper and just glued them into the pictures. While it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work compared to just drawing the balloons into the picture, it helps when having to revise the text, and if you don't know what story the pictures were supposed to tell by the time you get to drawing the balloons, you know you need to re-do that panel or the entire sequence to better tell the story. And finally, when you do it this way, you can re-use the images without the balloons for other stuff, like, oh well... a website, maybe?

Update: Added three pictures to make this article less drab.

Reader Comments: (RSS Feed)
Aaron Ballman writes:
Hah! Comics? I'll show you comics! http://oldramblings.aaronballman.com/
Uli Kusterer replies:
Errr... should I admit that I already read pretty much all of those back when I first stumbled across your web site?
Aaron Ballman writes:
And you still go back to it? LoL, that's scary. ;-) Some day, I hope to get a tablet PC so I can start that comic series back up again. I just got tired of Gimp'ing it.
Kiwi writes:
It is well written. I have this problems with a drying nib,
kentaro_1400@hotmail.com writes:
i buy the letraset A4 paper thanks !
Uli Kusterer replies:
@Marcelo: I have no idea. But usually the packaging says what frame's for what.
Art student writes:
Thanks for the tip with the nib, i use to use one aswell and nearly ruined one of my pieces
janice writes:
so your good at drawling comics have eny tips for me
Or E-Mail Uli privately.

Created: 2006-02-06 @422 Last change: 2018-01-18 @849 | Home | Admin | Edit
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