Plan Your Comic

Now that you've gotten started, you need to figure out where you're going. Don't stop doodling, we'll figure it out as we go.

Choose Your Size and Format

I'm going to guide you through publishing a 6" x 9", 32 page perfect bound (paperback) comic book with black-and-white pages and a color cover. We'll base our pricing and scheduling advice with a print shop I know very well, Gorham Printing in Centralia, WA.

I really like Gorham Printing. They're U.S. based, independently owned and very supportive of the local comics scene. 32 pages is their minimum project size. 6" x 9" is a standard digest size for book printing (you know, regular word books) that makes a comfortable comic-book size with similar proportions to your 8.5 x 11 paper or 9"" x 12" Bristol Board. Black and white is much cheaper than color printing, but color covers are pretty much standard. All together, it makes for a perfect starting point for new comic artists.

Q. "Wait! Can I print with someone other than Gorham Printing? Can I do more than 32 pages? Can I do fewer? Can I do color? A different size?"

A. Yes! This is your project, you can do it however you like! The factors above are just the defaults for our guide. If you're ready to fly solo, DO IT! All I want is for you to print your comic!

Q. Hey, aren't comics normally 6.625"x10.25?

A. Yup, that's the industry standard. The original artwork is drawn on 11"x17" bristol, which, thankfully, has become much cheeper than is used to be. I'll confess I have an anti-establishment bias. There's nothing wrong with industry sizing and no strong reason to deviate from it. There's also no strong reason to stick with it. There aren't a lot of limitations anymore. Draw the size and shape you are most comfortable with.

Choose Your Medium

There is no such thing as a best medium. Traditional art is not better than digital, digital is not better than traditional. All that matters is finding the right tool for the right artist.

You should produce your comics in the medium you are most comfortable with. When you're comfortable, you'll have more fun and you'll see it through to the end. Different tools do have different final looks so there is a benefit to experimenting with craft, but don't force yourself to use a tool you don't enjoy. The Sicaga gang has artists who do amazing work with everything from Adobe Illustrator to Sharpie Markers. The one thing all the best artists have in common is that they love using their tool.

Stick with what you know best and your work will look the best!

Write The Script

There aren't a lot of ways to do this wrong. At minimum, you need an outline of what happens on each page so you know where you're going. You could go as far as to write every word of dialogue and narration or you could scribble down shorthand notes to remind you what to draw when.

The book will have 32 actual pages in it, but you'll need a page or two for introductions and whatnot. Plan on 30 pages of actual art.

Scripting an Illustration-Focused Comic

If you're more of an illustrator than a writer, you'll want to keep the script simple. There's no need to stress yourself out, this is just a planning guide. Write yourself a note for each of the 30 pages so you have a sense of what you're going to draw on each page. If you can get that foundation down, you'll have a good, solid plan to keep you on task. Once you've got your guide down, you can either continue fleshing it out or call it good and move on to the art.

Scripting a Writing-Focused Comic

If you tend to be a loquacious writer, you'll want to use this opportunity to trim your script down. Comic writing is more like poetry than prose, because the structure and pacing is much more essential than the flow of a verbose manuscript. Start by pouring your ideas down. Get all your thoughts out on the paper, then go back and start structuring. Divide the story into 30 pages, then into panels. You will almost definitely run into scenarios where you have too many words so be ready to cut stuff out! Be subtle, focus on the important points, remember you're going to have visuals to tell half the story!

Design The Artwork

Remember how hard it was to get started? You're going to have to face that again when you begin your first official page. It's okay, you've beat it once, you can beat it again. Let's warm up.

Doodle your characters as much as you can. Learn how they emote, both with their faces and their bodies. Scribble out some of the complicated scenes and interactions. If you face the hard parts now while you're just scribbling, you'll have a better plan when you get to them in production.

Plot out some scenery. Keep it simple. Beautiful backgrounds are very nice but not as essential as you'd think. The reader is going to spend most of the book focused on the words and the characters. For the majority of your panels, a nice simple background is all you need. Get your tricks down. Figure out how to draw your trees, your city skylines, your dystopian detritus and euphoric gardens. A map or two doesn't hurt for continuity.

Finally, draw big! No matter what quality your art is, it'll look better if you draw it big and scale it down for print. 8.5" x 11" is passable. 9" x 12" is pretty good. If you can push yourself to 11" x 14", you will not regret it!

Plan your Lettering

Comics are inherently a juxtaposition of pictures and words. We've put a lot of thought into how the pictures will look but placing the words nicely is every bit as important.

The very best place to begin learning about lettering is the Comic Book Grammar and Tradition guide on Blambot Fonts. Go check it out, I'll be here when you get back.

Blambot gives you a great idea on how to design your lettering, so let's look at the actual logistics. In the comics industry, lettering is handled by a member of the team, but in an indie comics you'll likely be doing everything yourself! Play to your strengths.

Lettering Basics

There's a lot of ifs when it comes to lettering. Even following Blambot's grammar guide, every artist has their own nuance and style for words and bubbles. The most common mistake for new artists is to draw yourself too little room to write! Take a look at your favorite comics, you'll find dialogue-heavy panels will be nearly 50% words! Practice squeezing art and words in a box together by hand to get a feel for how it all works.

Hand Lettering

If you have immaculate handwriting and perfect spelling, this is the route for you. Draw your speech bubbles straight on the paper and letter your comic with actual ink. This is a much better route for folks with more comic experience but even if you plan on lettering digitally, there's no harm in drawing your bubbles in light pencil to plan ahead.

Photoshop Lettering

Digital lettering is great for most of us. It allows us to establish a constant, readable design for our text and makes fixing typos down the road much easier. Remember to draw your panels with lots of room for your text. It might not hurt to lightly pencil in your text and bubbles to plan ahead. Create a shape layer in Photoshop with a white background and add a black border with either the layer effects or the shape layer options. If you're confused, don't worry, there's a walkthrough in Part 4.

InDesign Lettering

This method is for the fancy, professional typographers. The shape tools in InDesign work very much like PhotoShop but the type tools are far more robust, allowing for leading, kerning, ligatures, all the best typeface toys. I haven't written a walkthrough for InDesign lettering but chances are if you're doing your lettering here, you're a hardcore designer who knows what you're doing. Rock it.

Q. Hey, what about Manga Studio?

A. I've never used Manga Studio. >_< A lot of my friends swear by it but I don't know anything about it myself. I strongly support alternative methods, there's no right way to make art! I'll have to work with my friends to see if I can get some Manga Studio guides included here.


Never forget that this is the goal. Lettering can be fancy or plain, it can be wild or calm, it can be energetic or withdrawn. Lettering can be woven into the illustration with typographic brilliance or it can be simple words to tell the story. Regardless of it's artistry, in the end the lettering simply must be readable.

Looks like you know what you're going to draw. Time to start drawing it!

Next Step: Draw The Pages home

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