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How I Do Comics

How I Do Comics published on No Comments on How I Do Comics

odysseycoverpreview2We released the preview issue to Transhuman Resources today, and I got some questions about what I use to color comics. What a great time to share resources! Here’s a great list of links, plus my not-so-secret-process for comicking. I tried making a video about this once, but I rambled a lot in it and was very shy.

Unless it’s a special circumstance, it doesn’t matter what you use for coloring. While some pay-for programs help, like Lazy Nezumi or Paint Tool Sai, you can create fantastic, memorable comics using programs and tools that are absolutely free.

At the end of this entry, I’ll also list money-saving tips that any entrepreneur would appreciate, plus some things about marketing as well.

If you’re a comic artist and reading this entry, please feel free to share your materials and process in the comments! There are lots of people who would love to learn and get into the medium. Making books is a beautiful process, and everyone should try it at least once.

Gather Your Materials:

  • A script. Yes, you need a script. Don’t say “I’m going to write a script” and then wing it. It will end in disaster.
  • Drawing board with the proper bleed proportions drawn. I recommend the Canson Fanboy 10×14 bristol board.
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A scanner (refurbished or new is fine. try to save money on this)
  • A big white eraser (I don’t recommend pink)
  • Sumi brush, one medium sized and one as small as you can find
  • This brand of Japanese waterproof ink
  • A Pentech V5 pen

If You Have Limited Money, Use These Materials Instead:

  • Lots of copy paper
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A used scanner
  • A sharpie

Try to get the recommended materials, though, because they’re going to make the difference.

Download These Things:

Set Up This:

  • Instagram for your comics/your comic artist profile, if you don’t have one
  • Facebook page for what you’re doing
  • Twitter, if you don’t have one. Start making friends. Talk about comics and Detroit. Don’t just spam your stuff, let people get to know you.
  • Get to know the media/journalists. Be their friend. Talk to them. Do this via Twitter. Writers are there, bro. Don’t just spam them, that’s annoying.

Getting Started:

  1. Print a copy of your script. Do you notice points where characters enter buildings, turn corners, or ask suspenseful questions? These are called page-turners. Draw a line under the page-turner. This is the end of your page.
  2. Locate enough page-turners to segment your script into at least sixteen different points. A good comic book will consist of at least this much. Go for sixteen or thirty-two pages, but try to do the former if you’re just starting out. You don’t want to get overwhelmed.
  3. Take a regular piece of paper (not your bristol board) and draw four rectangles on them. These are page thumbnails. Sketch out what your comic pages would look like. Try to draw all of your comic pages to see how your story will flow. Here’s a post about drawing thumbnails, and here’s a page that shows how comic panels should look.
  4. When you’re happy with your thumbnails, draw the real page on your bristol boards. Draw lightly. Remember not to put too much action outside of the borders provided, and leave some space for your word bubbles!
  5. Ink your page, set the page aside to let the ink dry, and then erase the pencil marks. If you erase right away, your ink will smudge!

Scanning And Coloring:

  1. Scan that sucker! Ideal settings: scan the page as a PNG file with 1200dpi, greyscale mode. Technology updates all the freaking time, and we constantly demand our images update the same way. Images that don’t have a high enough dpi will become unusable over time. Save yourself some heartbreak and scan hi-res files early on, and store them in a hard drive for safekeeping. (Warning: don’t just let your files sit in a storage device for too long. Files can become corrupt when they get too old, so update your backups ever so often.)
  2. Get this comic template from KaBlam Printing. Pay attention to their tech specs and click around the site to see what they recommend for file preparation. Don’t do things along the bleed too much! Printers WILL get annoyed and yell at you for it. It’s happened to me before!
  3. Open the printing template in Photoshop, Gimp, or whatever editing program you’re using. Open the lineart you scanned, copy it, and fit it into the template. Make sure your lines fit within the border if you’re drawing proper panels!
  4. Don’t know how to color stuff in Photoshop? Here are some guides for that.
  5. Texture your page! Use the paper texture you’ve grabbed from other websites, paste it on top of your artwork, and play with different blending settings to see how it affects your work. You might find it makes your comic art look better.

Lettering And Piecing Together

I use Manga Studio, so I’m going to cover the steps I take:

  1. Always save your original colored pages separately from the ones you letter. You may need to fix typos and mistakes later, or scrap the old lettering for a reprint. There’s always something! Archive your old work and keep it in a safe place.
  2. Import image files after setting page dimensions. Check all pages to make sure they are bright enough. You want to set your story properties to either 20 pages or 24, if you have 16 pages of actual comic story. That’s enough room for a cover, a back cover, front matter, and some ads or extra content (if you want 24 pages).
  3. Letter your comics! See how to do this with Manga Studio.
  4. This is something people often overlook: check all pages to make sure your coloring choices match. Print a test PDF with CutePDF to see how the book flows when you read it. Does everything “fit”? If not, fix the images and text!
  5. Everything look good? “Print” your comic via CutePDF and you got yourself a finished comic!

Printing Matters

Remember how I said to plan for either 20 or 24 comic pages? That’s because it’s also going to be a little costly to print. On average, for color without the printer inserting an ad into your work, it will cost you about $2.50 to print your comic. Most comics about that size (actually, mainstream comics with 32 pages at least) go for anything between $3.50-$4. In order to maintain some semblence of local competition, you’ll need to set your comic’s price at about the same rate.

It doesn’t make much in terms of profits for you. Welcome to publishing! You won’t get rich off of this, but you will get people who do think you have money, or just respect you a lot. In order to make a decent profit, you’ll need to sell a lot of copies of your work. Doing so on a monthly basis? That’s even harder.

For most people, this is where they stop. But if you’re serious about managing a comic business, read on.

Contacting The Media And Networking

I hope you utilized that social media I told you to set up accounts with! Oh.. you didn’t? You don’t want to? I hope you can advertise without them, then.

  1. Use your personal Facebook to start off. Facebook has made it harder for business pages to advertise products with their own followers. You’ll need to resort to sharing posts on your own FB page to get the most views and clicks for your comic project. Sucks, doesn’t it? Yeah. And buying ads won’t help that much. We’ve already tried that avenue.
  2. Send press releases to local comic blogs, entrepreneur news sites, and other websites you think might find your comic business interesting. Click here to learn how to assemble a press release. It is a business, after all, and you should be treating it as such if you’re going to sell multiple books. Talk about your process of creation and what impact your business aims to have on the community. Encourage others to get into publishing as well. No, they aren’t competition if they do the same thing as you. There’s no one in the world who reads just one author’s books.
  3. Print business cards. Attend networking parties aimed at designers and business owners. Talk about your comic business as if it’s legit–because, you know, it is.
  4. Don’t just spam others when you have a new comic, get involved with the community. Look into writing op-eds for the local paper sometimes. Speak up about community issues. You’re not just a comic creator, you’re an author and publisher. People want to know what you think about things, so get out there and voice your opinion!

Oh, yeah.. distribution!

Distribution Matters

I’m going to be honest: I avoid Diamond. I don’t like them and I don’t think they’re designed to provide indie artists with opportunities to get their foot in the door. They’re aimed at distributing work that’s published by the Big Three, and that’s it. They aren’t even interested in marketing their company on Tumblr. What good are they to me?

  1. If you want to distribute through Diamond, read this. Weep. Try to do it anyway. Good luck. Don’t forget to save up $2500 beforehand.
  2. If you want to distribute comics through a regular comic shop, look up ones that take indie comics. You might have to call around. Many will take your books on consignment. Some will buy a few copies to give it a chance. Do your best to make sure your book is beautiful enough to sell. Make that cover pop, utilize colors to capture attention. Think reds, neons, bright colors, and pleasing gradients. Make it unique, not just the regular T&A fare they serve on the book racks every week.
  3. How will you know your zany plan to sell comics is working? When you sell out! Check back at the comic stores–don’t call them a lot, go visit! See if your books are still there. Are they? Sold out? Congrats, you’re about to build a relationship with that retailer, because they’re starting to think they won’t lose money on you!
  4. Don’t always rely on retailers to sell your books. Set up a shop (like with these guys) and have your books available for customers to purchase if they visit your site. Sell out? Look to order more if you’ve got profits. What, you spent your profit money? Don’t do that! You’ll need to reinvest, silly!

Okay, Now Do It All Over Again

Over, and over, and over.. And over time, the word gets out, and people hear about you before you meet them, and then you get to team up with cool sites and write about what it’s like making comics, and people think your cool and then you feel cool, too.

And somewhere in all that mess, you might get some money out of it.

Saving Money

  1. Use Google Voice to set up a free business phone. Your calls can be forwarded to your real phone. Texts and voicemail can be saved as emails. It’s awesome and free!
  2. Using a local printing service means you don’t need to order a ton of comics to sell, before you sell them. Do so incrementally. Be slow to spend but quick to improvise.
  3. You’re a comic company, so you get to use creative means for business cards. Stickers, anyone?
  4. Always have a free comic in your shop. Many customers want to see how well you can draw and write before they spend money on you.

That’s all I’ve got! Share tips in the comments. Thanks for making it through this gigantic entry!


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