Here’s a thing I felt like writing - hope it is useful to someone out there. :) I may add to it later.
I WANNA DRAW COMICS, BUT [INSERT OFT-REPEATED EXCUSE HERE]
Hey. Stop that. Stop making excuses. You wanna draw comics? Then draw comics.
“But Elaine,” you say, “that’s so harsh! Drawing comics is HARD! And getting started is REALLY hard!”
Well, yes. I freely admit that. But if you really, really, REALLY want to draw comics – if the urge is truly that strong - you won’t be able to stop yourself. If I may paraphrase Bryan Lee O’Malley: “If you have the slightest inkling of an idea and the slightest amount of drawing talent, you can draw a comic.”
With this in mind, here’s a few tips that might help you get past the initial hurdle of Getting Started:
1. CHARACTER DESIGN
This is what kills a lot of would-be comics. I’m not talking about bad character design. On the contrary. I’m talking about people who spend SO MUCH TIME on the character designs (and environment designs), they never actually get around to drawing the comic. DO NOT BE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE. Do not get so hung up on your designs. I’m not saying don’t spend any time on them at all, but there comes a time when you must say “Hey, you know what? This isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. I’ll go ahead and use it anyway.”
For each major character, one turn-around and one expression sheet should suffice. For minor characters, stick to one expression sheet.
And for background characters? Well, I’m pretty sure you can make those up on the fly, can’t you? :)
A thumbnail is a tiny sketched version of your final page. Like a film storyboard, basically. They help you figure out how each shot is configured and how everything is going to be laid out on your page. It’s much easier to see if a page “flows” well from a distance, in miniature. I will sometimes try several different versions of a thumbnail to see which one works best. Also keep in mind that things will change between the thumbnail and the final – and this is fine.
My thumbnails are usually half of one 8.5 x 11” sheet (or around A5, for those of you outside North America) - Here’s an example of one, which eventually became the first page of LSA.
So what makes a good page design? What makes good shot constructions? Well, it’s pretty subjective, but there are some rules of thumb you can follow. Storyboarding the Simpsons Way is an excellent crash course, and describes ways to avoid many errors that people often make when constructing shots (such as cutting off heads in the frame).
Watch lots of movies, because nothing else will teach you more about visual storytelling. A good exercise to try is to pick a sequence from your favourite movie and literally draw it as a storyboard, by pausing on each shot and copying it. Movies will also give you story ideas. Of course, you probably watch a lot of movies already, am I right? ;)
If you’re still having trouble, think outside the box. Literally. Not all your panels have to be boxes with ruler-straight borders. They can be shaped like anything you want. There are also instances where you can eschew panel borders altogether. Try everything!
If there’s one particular shot on a page that’s very clear in your mind, sketch that first and then build the rest of the page around it.
Thumbnails are important in that they allow you to jump right in and sketch out ideas without having to commit to anything on your “good” paper. Which brings me to…
3. “GOOD” PAPER
Also known as Blueline paper. Also known as comic book board. You might be hesitant to draw on this paper, because it’s really damn expensive. “What if I screw up?” you say. It’s true it can be difficult to correct penciling mistakes on comic board, especially if you have a bad habit of drawing too dark, as I do.
This is where a lightbox comes in.
I do not draw any of my finished pages directly on my “good” paper (and for what it’s worth, I also don’t use comic boards – I use the much cheaper and much higher quality Borden & Riley Bleedproof Paper For Pens. This doesn’t have the blue guidelines on it, but you can easily rule them off yourself) I draw roughs on cheap, mulchy 11 x 17 printer paper. And I MEAN roughs. The page is well nigh unintelligible by the time I’m finished. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, because I can easily trace the good lines on to a clean sheet of paper using my lightbox.
So go on – use printer paper. Allow yourself to screw up. No one’s going to see it in the end.
4. DRAWING IN ORDER
See this? This is Look Straight Ahead page 14.
Guess what? This was the very first page I finished, exactly three years ago.
If you have a lot of script to work from and your page divisions in said script are clearly defined (as they should be), you don’t have to draw anything in order. If you’re really excited about a particular scene and you want to draw it RIGHT NOW – then you probably SHOULD, while it’s fresh in your mind and you’re inspired! Then, once you’re done, you’ll be much more inspired to go back and draw the pages you’re putting off for whatever reason. (Or, if you don’t want to draw the actual page you’re really excited about, you can at least draw the thumbnail.)
I should add that this may not be possible if you’re drawing a webcomic that you update several times a week – but it is if you keep a large buffer of pages past the one you’ve just posted.
5. “BUT I DON’T HAVE ANY STORY IDEAS”
Tut tut, my friend. You do. Read some Lynda Barry and be amazed!
“But someone else has already had that idea,” you say. Well, yes. Probably. Nothing is truly original any more. The truth is, no one else has ever told that story the way YOU have. Figure out how to put a fresh take on it and make it your own, and go from there.
Dissect your favourite stories, and figure out WHY they’re your favourites. Is it the characters? The setting? I like character-driven stories that reveal something about the human condition. I also like stories that emphasize the importance of one’s family (or surrogate family, as the case may be). For you, it’s probably something completely different. If nothing else, you’ll have fun re-reading your favourite books or watching your favourite movies again.
Ideas can literally come from anywhere. Go for a long walk. Ride the bus around town. Sketch in the park. You might be surprised what emerges.
6. “I CAN’T DRAW [BLANK]”
Then there’s only one way to learn, isn’t there? Comics will improve your work much faster than anything else, just because there’s so much drawing involved. There are many resources available online to help you as well - Google Image Search all on its own is an absolute godsend.
I’ll close this post by listing off some of the reference books in my library:
Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (read this one first)
Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner
Graphic Storytelling & Visual Narrative by Will Eisner
Expressive Anatomy For Comics & Narrative by Will Eisner
Bridgman’s Complete Guide To Drawing From Life by George Bridgman
Perspective! For Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea
Figure Drawing For All It’s Worth by Andrew Loomis
Drawing the Head & Hands by Andrew Loomis
Fun With a Pencil by Andrew Loomis
The Art of Animal Drawing by Ken Hultgren
Writing For Comics & Graphic Novels by Peter David
Please feel free to reblog and add to this list as you see fit! :)
Now go forth and draw some comics!