Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

Where to begin
Colesla at 10:11AM, Dec. 5, 2006
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Many aspiring drunk dunkers (myself included) have a great desire to create something unique and entertaining. They have the ideas, the desire, the talant (myself not included), but don't know how to get started. I would love to get some tips from the veteran artists and storymakers here on how to begin a comic.

I guess a good place to start would be if I described my personal hangups and hopefully I could get some good suggestions.

I personally don't suffer from lack of ideas or lack of characters. I have a full cast ready to go and ready for me to figure out how to draw them and how to tell their stories. My problem is that I don't know where to start their stories or how to establish the mood or how to hint at upcoming events without saying things out right. How do those of you with experience plan out your stories and set your pacing and such?
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:43AM
ShadowsMyst at 10:18AM, Dec. 5, 2006
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Honestly, the first thing I'd suggest you do is write the story. Sit down in your word processor and put words down. Don't worry about the comic part to begin with, you need to get the story solid before you even think about character designs. They don't shoot a movie before they have a script, comics are the same way.

I'd also suggest you spend some time having people beta read and then work on polishing your story before turning it into a comic.

For the actual writing part, I've found that to be the hardest thing since I'm an artist, not a writer per se. Its something I've had to learn. Writing for a novel and writing for comics are two very different things.

I tend to break my story down into sections to make it easier to manage. I'll use my comic Shifters as an example since I'm re-writing it.

In order to get readers interested, you have to start at the very beginning. Your first three pages are very very important. This is your ‘hook’ that will encourage readers to move forward. If you can't hook a reader within 3-5 pages, they probably won't read the rest of the comic. Hooks are usually something like a tease. They usually have some kind of action, suspence, or mystery assosicated with them that makes the reader go “wtf is going on here?” so they will read further to figure out. In the new Shifters, I begin with a chase scene. You don't know who the characters are yet, but there is action going on that makes people ask the all important “who, what, when, where, and why”. In the old version, I made the classic ‘wake up in the morning’ cliche, and it was dull and boring. The type of hook should reflect the flavor of the story. If its an action story, it should be action oriented. A chase, a fight, etc. If its a mystery, it should pose a mystery or riddle, if its a horror, something nasty should happen that suggests such. And so forth.

After you get through the hook, you should move into the plot.

Now, webcomics have a bit of an odd pacing. Because they are presented as a single page at a time, each page has to be a bit of a cliffhanger so they want to come back and read the next one. You have to really keep text to a minimum and say as much as you can with as few words as possible, using the visual medium to makeup for what you can't fit in text on a page. Keeping it tight is hard. Depending on the size and scope of your story, you may want to take it in a couple of different ways.

You could go episodal. This is when you treat it like the episode of a TV show. Each ‘chapter’ or episode of the comic has a stand alone story. It has a build up, climax and denument that is independant and does not require the support of other episodes. ( if you don't know what these are, pay attention in creative writing class or look it up.)

Or you could take the graphic novel format, which is more like a novel in that each chapter supports the previous one and moves towards an ultimate resolution of the story. The story has more peeks and valleys, but it moves towards an ultimate climax.

Often times there is a sort of combination of the two, where there is a long term plot that is slowly unfolded through a series of ‘episodes’ that contain stand alone stories, but hints and elements that move through to create a larger, over all plot. This is the sort of story Shifters is. There are what I call 4 arcs, and then one uberarc, which, when finished, will be the end of the story. within each arc, there are about 10 chapters. so in total there will be about 40 chapters or so by the time I'm done the entire of the story. Although it may change a bit depending on how it translates to graphic novel. Comic form tends to be a lot more drawn out than the actual writing. One page of script might equal 6 pages of comic or more.

For me, I tend to write things out in novel form and then translate it to script. Its just easier for me to get my ideas down on paper. I also have other people read my work and tell me if its lame or missing bits, or hard to understand, or whatever. Then I can fix it before I debut it to the world.

I know other people write differently, or even on the fly, but I've done that before and I found that it gets too hard to do consistantly and one tends to go off into tangents that create nasty plotholes.

After you have that solid script, then you can begin working on character designs, and background designs and such. Spend some time learning how to draw your characters over and over and over again from different angles with different emotions. Don't be afraid to experiment at that point and try many different things to get the look just right.

Once you have your designs and your story, then start drawing the actual comic. I'd suggest doing at least 10 or so pages before you post anything, so if you want to redraw any of those pages you won't feel pressure or bad redoing them. You also build a buffer for when you start showing them. Since regular updates are very important to comic success.

_____________________________________________________
I have a webcomic making blog! Check it out.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:32PM
Darth Mongoose at 2:49PM, Dec. 5, 2006
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The simple rules I go by are:

-Don't start your comic on a whim.
It's really tempting to watch ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Spider-man’ and suddenly decide, ‘I’m making a superhero comic!' because chances are, without thinking and planning, it'll die after a few frantic pages when you get bored or played ‘Final Fantasy’ and decided you want to do a fantasy comic.
If you have interests in many things, you can often work multiple ideas into one comic. If you can't decide between super heroes and fantasy, why not have something like a medievil fantasy superhero comic?

-Don't start multiple comics at once.
Decide on ONE comic, and stick with it for at LEAST twenty pages, a chapter, a story arc, or something before you even consider starting a second. Otherwise your concentration will be split. Also, starting many comics is usually something that happens when you start comics on a whim.

-PLAN!
When I was younger, I started about three or four comics online, none of which ever got anywhere. The reason? I never planned what I wanted to happen beyond the first few pages, they were comics based on a single concept that I thought was cool, and had some characters, but no plotline planned out. If you want freedom, that's fine, but try to plan out at least what will happen in each storyarc, so you have a rough idea of where you're headed. This will also allow you to plant clues about later events and introduce mysteries to your comic.

-Design your characters with drawing them A LOT in mind.
You are going to be drawing each main character in your comic MANY TIMES. It's not unusual for the same character to crop up 3-6 times in a single page Therefore it makes sense to not go overboard with detail on your characters. It's tempting to design characters with 12 bracelets on each wrist, two complex necklaces, a patterned bandanna, three layered shirts and an intricately embroidered coat, but you'll draw them three times and get sick of drawing them because it takes too long. A character who only appears once or twice can be detailed, but be careful with main characters and/or objects, pretty much anything that will appear a lot should be SIMPLE and DISTINCTIVE. If your characters all look the same, it's tough on your readers. Giving each main character one or two obvious characteristics will really help people out.

-Pick your medium and style carefully.
How you'll be doing the art in your comic is IMPORTANT! Many people will judge your comic on its appearence before they judge it on the story or dialogue. Even if you're not all that great an artist, make sure you're:
1. Working in with materials or programs you know your way around, feel comfortable with and have got used to using. If you're a pencil artist and decide ‘I’m gonna do my comic in CG!', make sure you take the time to learn how to use CG a bit and have a decent image program rather than making the first page of your comic the first thing you've ever CG'ed.
2. Obviously the same goes for style. If you've never drawn manga before, don't suddenly decide to draw a manga comic, it's a lot harder than you might think to make it look decent. If I wanted to draw a comic in a more ‘American’ superhero style, I'd need to get used to drawing that way first and do lots of sketches before I made the actual strips.

-Give your readers a hand.
Whatever the medium and style, and how good or bad you are at drawing, making your comic tidy and legible is important. If I can't tell where the cell borders are, I can't read your speech bubbles and I can't tell who's talking, it doesn't matter if you write like Bendis and draw like Kishimoto, it'll put me off your comic. Make sure your pages are 750pixels wide or less, so we don't have to sideways scroll to read them (unless it's a comic that is less than a screen tall and is meant to scroll sideways. If you have two scrollbars, your comic is TOO BIG!), make sure that you either have legible handwriting or a font that's easy to read for dialogue, and make sure that you have nice clean panel divisions to make it easy. Remember, everything that makes it easier for the reader to read will attract more people.
If you absolutely MUST draw your comic right to left, not that I encourage this if you're not writing in Japanese, at least make it obvious that your comic reads right to left, don't assume people will know, and don't make them guess!

-And finally…
Don't give up! Enjoy your comic, don't worry if you're not an overnight sensation, because I'm pretty sure nobody here was. As they say in Japan, ganbatte! (which kind of translates as ‘do your best!’)
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:08PM
Colesla at 6:05AM, Dec. 6, 2006
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All good advice. Another question I forgot to ask is what art supplies do you recommend. I'm talking pens and pencils. So far I've been using the cheapest and most basic. I draw with a normal pencil I trace my drawing with ink from a Bic G-2 and I color in with cheap colored pencils. What I come up with looks fine in my hand but when I scan it somehow it turns into something a 4 year old did.
I still want to stay somewhat cheap but I do realize that I'm gonna have to make an upgrade. What advice do you have for me in the cheap to slightly more than cheap price range?
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:43AM
ShadowsMyst at 9:58AM, Dec. 6, 2006
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posts: 218
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I use a mechanical pencil with .07 blue lead to do my line art and then ink it with the use of about three sizes of Pigma Micron drafting pens. The mechanical pencil and the lead aren't expensive, the microns vary depending on where you get them, but they range about 3-4$ a pen. I only use the 0.005, 0.01, and 0.03 for the most part. I have a 0.05 for really thick lines, but I don't use it often.

The problem is that if you want something to look pro you generally have to use pro tools eventually. I wouldn't suggest using colored pencils, especially cheap ones for color because they scan like crap. It would actually be better to do black and white lineart until such time as you can color it with professional pencils, markers or color on the computer. Although I've found as a general rule that colored pencils nearly always scan crappy without serious touchup in photoshop.

_____________________________________________________
I have a webcomic making blog! Check it out.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:32PM
Darth Mongoose at 12:51PM, Dec. 6, 2006
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joined: 1-7-2006
Pencil crayons can be hard to get good results with. For best results, make sure they're high quality pencil crayons, being used with decent quality paper and you have had practice with using them. I used to use pencil crayons a lot, but not so much now. In fact, the first chapter page of my comic was probably the last major piece I did with that medium before I moved onto markers and CG and stuff. From experience, I've found that good pencil crayons have relatively soft ‘leads’ that aren't gritty and don't snap easily, but lay down smooth colour that doesn't look too patchy. I can't really nameany brands for you because I live in England, and so unless you live in England, it could be problematic to aquire my exact materials. In general though, you get what you pay for with pencil crayons.

For pencils, I use a 0.5mm hb mechanical pencil. Never needs sharpening, gives consistant lines and good for nice, sharp, clean detail. You can get these pretty cheap, I recommend the clicky ones over the twisty ones, and refillable models are preferable because they're more durable and work out cheaper in the long run. I ink with artist's fineliner pens. I use a 0.2mm if the detail is really fine, mostly I use a 0.5mm, and for the bits where I want to get nice, chunky lines I use a 0.8mm. Favourite brand is ‘Edding’. Making sure you have a nice soft rubber is also important if you're doing it my way using normal pencils rather than non-photo blue ones. A good rubber I find, is a rubber which bounces when dropped, and has a soft, rubbery texture, rather than a smooth, plasticky one. Colourful novelty rubbers may look nice, but plain, cheap rubbers will almost always out-perform them when used.

Oh, and having a drawing board can really help. It makes getting my lines perpendicular and keeping my page still and flat much easier.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:08PM

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