OK, I’ve been teaching comic art at the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design for the last several years, and have seen students struggle with many of the same things when attempting to draw a comic art page.
I have a whole slideshow and several page document of guidelines for drawing comics, but I’ve tried to cull it down to my top ten rules for drawing comics, along with some clarifications.
Break them at your peril.
1. Don’t confuse the reader.
Clarity in all things is rule #1. Draw characters consistently and as distinct individuals. Every movement probably needs it’s own panel for clear storytelling. The reader doesn’t know everything you know, so explain everything visually.
2. Use variety in all things.
Composition, poses, camera angles, figure size, facial features, color, amount of detail, rendering techniques, etc. Vary the size of every head, and thus figure, in almost every panel, as much as possible.
Try to draw a close-up and an establishing shot on almost every page.
3. Learn perspective.
Understanding perspective is key to setting up scenes. You don’t necessarily need to find exact vanishing points or be a slave to rigid rules, but you must understand how it works. Sky can’t be shown below the horizon. Nothing is visible ON the horizon, everything is either below or above it. Unless you’re on a beach, a large body of water, or a desert, something is between you and the horizon!
4. Make your figures good actors.
Avoid stock poses, and try to avoid using the same poses repeatedly. Learn to draw those difficult head angles and facial expressions. Twist the torso for more dynamic poses, and base everything on diagonals rather than horizontals or verticals as much as possible. Use foreshortening as often as possible, having forms come forward and go back in space rather than side to side.
5. Learn the basics of good composition.
Design the page as a whole, rather than just a collection of individual panels. Place visual weight (large or dark shapes) primarily around the perimeter of the page rather than toward the middle. Use asymmetry much more than symmetry.
6. Crop out as much as possible.
Focus only on what’s really needed to tell the story. Heads and hands usually tell the story. Unless the body is doing something, you probably don’t need to show all of it.
7. Don’t crop figures unnecessarily, and don’t crop at joints.
Don’t crop off part of a hand or foot, etc. for no reason.
8. Draw backgrounds in every other panel, on average.
Don’t be lazy with them but don’t clutter up your panels with them. The closer the camera, the less the panel needs a background. Make backgrounds believable, to convince the reader your characters actually live there.
9. Get close to figures for emotion and action.
A kiss or punch has much more impact on the reader from one foot away than it does from twenty feet away.
10. Don’t overdo “tricks”.
Diagonal or unusual panel shapes, open panel borders, objects extending out of panels, inset panels, overlapping panels, silhouettes, tilted panels, etc. All can be a good change of pace, but lose their impact when overused and can be confusing.
Ready, set, draw!
About the author
Bob McLeod is best known for co-creating and illustrating The New Mutants for Marvel Comics. He began his career with Marvel’s Crazy magazine, penciling and inking movie and tv satires and the Teen Hulk strip. He has pencilled or inked all the major characters for Marvel and DC, including Spider-Man (most notably Kraven’s Last Hunt), The X-Men, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, GI Joe, Star Wars, The Hulk, Conan, and many more. Bob also wrote and illustrated a children’s alphabet book, Superhero ABC, published by HarperCollins, which received starred reviews. He edited Twomorrows’ Rough Stuff magazine and has taught art at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. Find out more about him at his website.
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