In order to begin drawing a comics strip or a graphic novel, it is best to begin with a formal definition to serve as guide. A comic is visual art form that often blends text with images in a sequence of panels to tell a story. The subject matter is often humorous, as in “Popeye”, though there are many that deal with serious themes, such as the acclaimed World War II biography “Maus”. It could be argued that ancient wall carvings were the first of its kind, but modern comics as we know it today only started to catch on in the 20th century, boosted in large part by newspaper strips and later on by the popular superheroes of Marvel and DC. It is a highly engaging way of storytelling that enjoys immense respect in many parts of the world including Japan and Europe.
Fuel the Dream
Many dream of creating their own comics but do not know where to begin. The good news is that anyone who is truly passionate about it can make this a reality. There is no need to be daunted by the skills required to draw. It is possible to begin with basic lines and shapes before moving on to more complex illustrations. Here are some tips for the budding comic artist:
1. Read as many comics as possible. There are thousands upon thousands of titles out there. The best ones are often accessible via public libraries while others can be bought cheaply online or borrowed from friends. There are also plenty of good webcomics that can be read on the Internet like “Penny Arcade”, “Bayou”, and the ultra-minimalist “xkcd”. Seek out different varieties and study their visual styles. Pay attention to how the story flows from one panel to the next. Explore works from other countries to get a wider perspective.
2. Study all available guidebooks. There are plenty of books that teach people how to draw comics step-by-step. These go into much more detail than any single article can do and they usually give plenty of examples. Do the suggested exercises and take the lessons to heart. One of the best books for this purpose is Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics”.
3. Prepare drawing materials. The essentials of comic illustration will not cost a lot of money. In fact, a lot of professionals started out by drawing on the back of their school notebooks with a ballpoint pen. Of course, it would be better to have a sketch pad dedicated to this project and several drawing pencils of varying lead hardness. Ink pens may be used to finalize the outlines. Color may be added through watercolor, color pencils, and other media. Advanced artists may scan the drawing and use Photoshop to add effects. Others have an entirely digital workflow that uses graphic pen tablets to draw onscreen.
4. Practice by copying illustrations. Select some of the most eye-catching panels and try to copy them. Do the simple ones first and progress naturally as confidence is gained. Try to change the facial expressions of the characters and imagine how they would look like in a different pose. Remember that it is equally important to learn how to draw objects and the background like buildings, trees, house interiors, and the like. These provide context to the story and may be vital to the plot.
5. Master the techniques. The comic world has its own language for visual storytelling. For instance, it uses text bubbles to indicate the things that characters say and think. Dialogues are preferably short so as not to drown out pages in text. Since western comics are read from left to right, the text bubble nearest the upper left-hand corner of a panel is presumed to have been said first. Be careful in placement to avoid confusion. To denote a whisper, write the text in a smaller size. To indicate a scary voice, use white text on a black bubble. Use sound and visual effects when necessary, like in fast-paced action scenes.
6. Try creating short stories or strips. After much practice, have a go at creating unique comics. These may be well-known characters in an original story or totally new protagonists existing in their own universe. The comics could be as short as a singular panel or as long as a few pages. It is best to start out conservatively and build up as time goes by.
Drawing a comics is a skill that can be mastered by anyone who is willing to work for it. Follow the tips mentioned above and you will be well on your way towards becoming a certified comic book artist.