Have you ever wanted to create a comic, but didn't really know where to start or what to do? Comics are a rich and fun art form that is finally getting the respect it deserves, combining illustrations with quick dialogue and stories. Although there is no "correct" way to write them, every new artist should take the following steps into account.
Method 1 of 3: Sketch an engaging story
Step 1. Think of a short, visual story to take from your mind to paper
Comics are great because they combine words with cinematic images and thus mix the best of novels and movies. Remember this feature when thinking about stories, as you want to have big, fun graphics and images, as well as a good amount of conversation and dialogue. Although there are no misconceptions, some measures to keep in mind are the following:
Keep visual stories:
a long passage in which a character is thinking or pondering might be difficult to express in a comic, but not impossible. Similarly, a one-room conversation story is probably more appropriate for a short story, as you won't have many pages of new images.
Rationalize the story:
it's great to have more characters, locations, and actions, but it adds significantly to the illustrator's work. The best comics tell their story quickly and efficiently, using dialogue and visuals to keep the action moving.
Have an artistic style:
really good comics have art that fits the writing tone flawlessly, like the grimy watercolors of "V for Vendetta" compared to Marvel's bright, cartoonish, action-packed "Civil War" comic. If you are an artist, it may be simple, but even writers should think about the kind of history and art they like. What kind of mood does it make you think of and how could you achieve the same with your story?
Step 2. Draft your story plot in paragraph form
To get started, write without worrying about the form, the content, or the way it will look on the page. Once you have a clear idea, make the pen flow. Put your characters or ideas in motion and see what happens. There will be no problem if you discard 90% of this part. Remember the advice of writer and animator Dan Harmon who says that the first draft is 98% terrible, but the next one is only 96% bad, and so on, until you get a great story. Find 2% of the amazing and base yourself on that.
- What characters are the most fun to write?
- What plot points did you find the most interesting to investigate?
- Is there any part that you thought was a good idea but that you just can't write? Consider omitting them.
- Talk to a few friends about the draft for advice on what they like and how you can move forward.
Step 3. Create solid, flawed, and exciting characters
Characters drive the plot in almost every great movie, comic book, and book. Almost all comics stem from some character wanting something but can't get it, from villains who want to control the world (and heroes who want to save it) to a young woman who wants to understand her complex political environment ("Persepolis"). The fun part of any comic, be it superheroes or normal people, is following a character's trials, tribulations, and personal flaws as he tries to accomplish his goals. The characteristics of a good character are as follows:
It is solid.
That is, you have both strengths and weaknesses, just like anyone else. This feature will make it easy to relate to him. People don't like Superman just because he saves the world, but because his clumsy alter ego, Clark Kent, reminds us of our own clumsy and nervous days.
You have both desires and fears.
Great characters want something they can't get, and this conflict shapes the story. It is not a mistake that Bruce Wayne, Batman, is terrified of bats, just as he is afraid of failing his city and his parents. These characteristics make him a lot easier to relate to than a weirdo in a cape.
He has a will.
When a character makes a decision, make sure that it is he who decides to do it and not the author who forces him because "the plot requires it." This is the fastest way to lose readers.
Step 4. To create an argument immediately, present a problem, make it impossible to solve, and then solve it with a surprise
If these steps seem very simple, it is because they are; but in reality they are the origin of all arguments. You have your characters and they have a problem (the Joker has escaped, the Avengers split up, Scott Pilgrim is left by his girlfriend). Then, they decide to fix the problem and they don't succeed (the Joker escapes, Captain America and Iron Man fight, Scott Pilgrim has to fight with 7 of his exes). In a final push of triumph, your characters win (Batman defeats the Joker, Captain America and Iron Man make amends, Scott Pilgrim gets the girl). These are the main points of your argument and you can play with them in any way you want. But if you know these three steps ahead of time you will save yourself a lot of headaches when writing.
- "Act 1: Make your hero climb a tree. Act 2: Throw rocks at him. Act 3: Make him climb down. Anonymous
- Make the lives of your characters hell, as this will make the reward more satisfying.
- You can always play around with the structure and it is a must do. Do not forget that (spoiler alert) Captain America is assassinated after peace is achieved in "Civil War." However, this moment is great because it defies the three-act structure even if it falls apart with a climactic and surprising second moment.
Step 5. When possible, convey information visually rather than using dialogue or exposition
For example, let's say you have a character who must turn in an essay or fail the class. You can have the character stand up and say to his mother, "I need to turn in this essay or I will fail." But for the reader this will be simple and will not give you satisfaction. Consider the following ways to tell this same argument visually:
- A page of illustrations in which the character frantically walks through the door, runs along a corridor in the direction of an office, and finds it "Closed."
- A sign on the wall that says "Submit Final Rehearsals Today!" that the character bumps into as soon as he leaves class.
- A shot of all the other students turning in their essays while your character is alone at his desk writing frantically or with his head in his hands.
Step 6. Use your drafts and paragraphs to create a timeline with the actions and characters in your story
Try to be quite methodical with this step, embedding each point of the plot and action until it reaches its essential moment. Think of each of them as a page in the comic, as you want the story to progress each time you turn the page.
- What is the main thing about each scene? What moment or line makes the dialogue propel each scene into the next?
- In any form of storytelling, each scene should end differently from how it started for the readers, the plot, and the characters. Otherwise, the comic will be spinning!
Step 7. Fill in the dialogue and work it out with your friends to make it realistic
In the end, once the story and characters are in place, it will be time to materialize the dialogue. The key is to make the characters sound as human as possible, but there is an easy way to do it: have one person read each other's dialogue. Invite a friend or two to your house and read the dialogues as a script. You will notice immediately when someone cannot understand the words well or it sounds unnatural.
There is also no rule that says you can't write dialogue first! If you like writing theater or film scripts, you may feel more comfortable drafting scenes in dialogue form rather than timelines
Method 2 of 3: Make a preliminary sketch
Step 1. Use a rough sketch to test your ideas, your style, layout, and pacing without putting too much effort into the idea
A "preliminary sketch" is basically an outline of a complete comic, page by page. They don't have to be as detailed as the distribution of the larger comics. Rather, decide how many boxes or lines of dialogue go into each page, where you want the "special pages" (like full-page boxes), and ask yourself if the format of each page will be identical or will change depending on the mood. This is the part where you start to match the words to the pictures, so have a little fun.
- If you are not very artistic, you don't have to worry about hiring an artist just yet. Rather, focus only on the fundamentals. Even stick figures can communicate an idea and help you visualize the final comic.
- Even if it is “just” a sketch, you should still take it seriously, as it will be your plan for the final project. Therefore, consider it a sketch to paint and not a practice to throw away.
Step 2. Create multiple timelines:
one for what you will show the reader in the story, another for the actions that must happen, another for the orientation of the development of the characters, among others. You will have to clarify other timelines for each character, so that you know what has happened in their life so far, where they are going, etc. This will help you keep the pages and story on track, so you can see where the characters should be in each part of the comic.
Step 3. Divide a blank page into panels for your story
Keep pacing in mind, so that if your main character has just discovered the bones of a monster in his backyard, the reader may have a good image to look at and take their time observing.
Step 4. Use the timelines as a guide and fill in the panels with descriptions or sketches of the actions you want to display and the dialogues to be heard
Remember that in a comic the dialogue can be seen, so you will literally have to make it enter a box. Try not to pile up too much at once.
- That said, some comics let the speech bubbles continue in another box, which creates a slightly more relaxed and chaotic feeling.
- For long monologues or dialogue, consider connecting the speech bubbles between the boxes. A single character will be saying the same dialogue, but with a different background action.
Step 5. Have your script and graphics sheet side by side as you work
Many professionals use two sheets, one for dialogue and one for images. Remember that the key to comics is the balance between words and graphics, and this will be easier to see when they are side by side. You can make a mark on each legend and box as you work.
For example, the script might read the following: “[Page 1] Spider-Man sways through the streets and sees two police cars chasing a yellow sports car. Caption 1: Mmmmm today, like never before, is calm…. Caption 2: Oh no, I think I was quick to speak!”. On the other sheet, there will be an image of Spiderman hanging down the street and the two empty spaces for the legend
Step 6. Hire an artist or finish the work on your own once you are happy with the sketch
If you've been diligent in doing clean professional work, you may be able to turn the same sketch into a comic. Otherwise get to work on the final product and use the sketch as a guide. Sketching, inking, and coloring the comic is serious endeavor, but it's also a lot of fun.
- If you're hiring other artists, send them the script and ask for samples. This measurement will help you know if their visual style is right for you.
- Illustrating a comic is a topic that deserves its own tutorial as it is a challenging and interesting form of art.
Method 3 of 3: Spread your book to the whole world
Step 1. Consider starting a free comic on the Internet to generate interest and buzz
The age of the Internet gives you an infinite opportunity to advertise and publish your own work that you should not underestimate. Internet short comics have replaced physical comics in various respects as a way of arriving at the inevitable graphic novel, which normally consists of all the strips compiled into a single book. Even better, use the internet comic to expand on the stories or characters in the book, which will entice readers to buy "the real book."
- Entering social media every day, even for 20 minutes, will be essential to create a little traction on the Internet and get potential readers.
- If you can display a long list of followers on any platform, an editor is more likely to see your work and like it. Having a following will show them that there are already people who want to buy the book.
Step 2. Make a “hit list” of comic book and graphic novel publishers who have jobs similar to yours
Look for the authors and editors of your favorite comics, and lean towards those with a similar theme or tone to yours. On the other hand, be sure to branch out - this list can't be too big! Remember that while working for Marvel or DC would be spectacular, it is very difficult for the big boys to select rookies. Small, independent groups are a better bet.
- Get the contact information for each company, such as email, website, and address.
- If you want to publish a graphic novel be sure to check if the publisher has a specific division that deals with graphic art or if they treat all submitted works in the same way.
Step 3. Submit samples of your work to target publishers
Search the Internet to see if they accept "unsolicited submissions," which means you can send them the job without their request. Read all the rules and guides; then send them your best work. Not everyone will reply to you, but that is why the list should be as long as possible.
- Any cover letter or email should be short and professional. Your goal is for them to read your story and not bring you closer!
- Be sure to include artistic displays with the story.
Step 4. Think about publishing and advertising your comic on your own
This is an overwhelming option, but it is doable. Although printing in full color is expensive, you will always have the option of printing in black and white only. In addition, you can have creative control of the entire book, which will allow you to be sure that your vision will reach the page without filters.
To publish a comic on your own, simply create a PDF of the pages you have with the help of Amazon Self Publish or a similar website
Step 5. Understand from the beginning that the publishing world is not always easy or fair
There are many manuscripts that reach the editors' desk and are thrown away unread. This warning is not intended to discourage you (there are also many amazing comics that pass the test), but to prepare you for the hard work that awaits you. Having a comic that you love and are proud of will make the effort of getting it published that much more bearable.
Do not forget that even the most famous authors were rejected a hundred times before they achieved success. It might be painful now, but getting over it makes the difference between comics that get published and those that don't
- Don't forget that page 1 will be under the inside of the cover, so don't make a two-page illustration until page 2. Similarly, page 22 will face the inside of the back cover.
- Aim for your two-page illustrations to start on an even number of pages.