How are comic books made?
This is one of the most common question I hear. The easiest way for me to describe the production of most comics is to liken it to an assembly line. Granted, there’s a lot more artistry involved in comic books than cars, but much like a car is manufactured by being put together from people building a chassis, an engine, seats, a body, then installing windows and doors, a comic is also the sum of its parts.
In most cases, each part of the process is performed by separate individual. This helps keep the flow of pages moving to meet printing deadlines.
But comics are such a creatively diverse medium, there are no absolute rules on how they have to be structured, so sometimes a single individual may complete multiple tasks on a comic issue. Especially if you’re just starting out and have no money to pay someone else, you may well end up doing all these steps yourself.
From idea to published work, here’s a breakdown of the roles in comic book creation
Once you know the characters you’re working with, job one is to come up with something for them to do. That’s the job of the creative force on the ‘assembly line’ — The Writer.
The core of the writer’s task is to come up with an interesting idea for the comic book. How each writer works varies from person to person.
- Some writers script out their stories right down to dialogue or even creating a page by page and panel by panel layout.
- Others script out a breakdown for each page and leave the layouts to the artist.
- Some writers may even just provide a general idea or theme to a story. This approach leaves a great deal of the actual storytelling to the artist who returns their pages to the writer who then scribes the dialogue.
Whatever the approach, it’s the writer’s job to move the characters from inaction to adventure!
The Pencil Artist
A comic book isn’t a comic book without pictures. Once a story is written, it’s up to the artist, or penciller, to visualize the tale and take the comic to its next step.
Once the artist/penciller has a script in place, it’s their job to draw the pages and panels in the way that they think best tells the story. In some ways it’s like being the director of a movie. The artist decides which shots and angles to picture the scenes and characters.
The number of panels on a page dictates the speed which the reader moves through the tale.
- Many small panels can have the effect of rapid paced edits.
- Larger, more detailed panels can leave a reader caught up in an important moment.
With this kind of control, the artist does more than draw pictures; he/she uses their drawing and storytelling style to put their stamp on a comic book.
Bob Mcleod has some good basic advice about the rules of drawing comics. Find out what to do and what not to do from an illustrator who has pencilled or inked most of the major characters for Marvel and DC, and is the co-creator of New Mutants.
Traditionally, artists worked with standard drawing tools using a pencil on 11″ X17″ drawing boards. This is a technique still used by many artists although there has been a significant shift to artists drawing everything digitally on a tablet.
When most people think of an artist on their favorite comics, they tend to think of the penciller. There are often two artists who work on every page. The second artist is known as an ‘inker’. The inker is one of the two line artists in producing comic books.
The inker outlines and interprets the pencilled drawings or layouts drawing by using a pen or brush with black ink. Inking was necessary in the traditional printing process as presses could not reproduce pencilled drawings.
The job of the inker is often misunderstood and being someone who simply traces over the already pencilled lines. A top-line inker, however, can have a great deal of impact on the final look of the art and is a true artist in their own right.
The Inker can improve upon loose or weak pencils, while a bad one can destroy even the greatest pencilled pages. An inker’s involvement on each page depends on how detailed the pencils are laid out. An inker may be left to add backgrounds, shading and the placement of black spaces and shadows on the page.
Like many pencillers today, inkers have begun to make a common practice of digital inking using software such a Photoshop, Inkscape, and Manga Studio.
Coloring comic books and comic strips used to be done using brushes and dyes which were used as tint guides to produce the printing plates. This process has almost been completely replaced done using digital media, with printing separations produced electronically in Photoshop or other digital software packages.
The letterer provides the text and sound effects in a comic book. There is more artistic creativity that goes into lettering than you might think. A letterer creates text balloons and sound effects to create what they sound like in the reader’s mind.
Almost all lettering has shifted to being created digitally.
Many programs are available to current day letterers, such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, and Adobe Indesign. Font making software, such as Fontographer, FontLab Studio, or FontForge are available for creating your own individual font or you can choose from the tens of thousands available for purchase and downloading online from companies like Comic Book Fonts and Blambot.
What’s your experience making comics been like so far?
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