Today, we are going to be looking at the process I go into when crafting a single comic cook page. It’s worth noting that I will be covering the process of tackling an entire story at a later date, so be sure to tune back in. I do all my work digitally so my process will reflect this. If you do traditional art and are considering trying to work digitally, then you can consider this as a bit of a “how to” on the subject. If you are a digital artist, I hope my process can help out your workflow, either improving upon it or streamlining it.
There are many pieces of software out there for digital art. But focusing on the comic side of things for a moment, I find there are three that are the best for creating digital comics. The first being Clip Studio Paint, perhaps more commonly known as Manga Studio. The second is Photoshop and the final one is Krita. Each one has their own pros and cons, use whichever one works best for you and your purposes. Once you have the software you wish to use, you are ready to move onto the first phase of the process.
The very first thing you do once you have created the document on the software is to draft thumbnails. Think of this like a rough draft, you are simply going page by page on the comic and creating it using basic shapes. At this point, your focus shouldn’t be on details or composition but on the layout of the page itself.
With the thumbnails sorted, it’s time for phase two.
Now you are going to enlarge the thumbnails to continue your work. If you plan to print this page, you must enlarge it to at least 300 dpi, any less and the image will not turn out correctly. With the enlarged thumbnail, you shall now proceed to clean up the panels. From here you will begin to define the exact size of the panels as well as place their borders. The rough sketches you did in the thumbnails will now have to be detailed. Don’t go too far, simply hint at what kind of backgrounds you plan to add. What you are focusing on is the camera angles, the poses of the characters and their expressions. Please remember, we are still in the early stages, so the facial expressions of the characters can be as simple as an emoticon styled smile.
A pro tip I have learned through my many years of experience for this stage is to use masks. Masks will make the panel a separate layer of sorts, so no brush strokes or slip ups will be able to leave the now defined panel boundaries. Here’s a great introduction to the use of masks.
Another tip I have is purely optional, but it will help if you are going for a realistic feel for your comic. I suggest either using photo reference for the subject you are drawing or using a 3D software to stage the panel before going into the production of it. You don’t have to do this for all of the panels, just the ones that are going to be complicated and could trip you up. This step is purely to make your life easier in phase three.
This, in my opinion at least, is the fun part of the process. You will begin the inking process, considering this is digital comic art, you need not be bothered with doing the pencils. The sketches will serve the purpose of what the pencilling stage normally entails.
You are now going to add details, making the page come to life with objects, backgrounds and emotional facial expressions. Take your time and let the art speak for itself, inking only what you need. There is a certain quality, almost zen like in nature, that makes this phase in the process so enthralling for me.
Once you have completed the inked art, the phases diverge depending on the kind of comic you are doing. Skip phase four if you are doing a color comic as phase five will be your next step.
This is the black pass step, and as a result will be the final phase for a black and white comic. If you are the type that likes to do the line art first, then you will begin by giving volume to said lines. I suggest using one of the larger brushes, one with very good pressure sensitivity.
Alternatively, if you have already outlined the placement of the shadows and black zones in the previous phase, you can use the ever-handy bucket tool. You need to be extra careful in this step as balancing black and white can be a very difficult operation. Too much black and you will accidentally hide details from the reader, rendering some of the things that you spent a painstaking amount of time drawing completely unrecognizable. Not enough black and the picture will lack proper depth and look absent and dry as a result.
This phase is called greyscale though some may know it as volume painting. The purpose of this stage is to use various shade of grey to simulate how light and shadow render shapes. This will be used as an outline to add color to the art. However, during this phase you are not actually adding art.
Don’t even bother thinking about your color scheme just yet, purely focus on the lighting so that when you do get to the color phase it will look realistic and thus please your reader.
I highly recommend saving it and keeping it nearby until you have this phase memorized so well you could do it in your sleep. Now onto the final step if you are doing a color comic, phase six.
In order to put the colors in, you are first going to hide the greyscale. You are going to apply your color FLAT, which means no shading. You are simply putting the colors directly on the art in order to get the volume and blend of the color correct. You really want to focus on a good color scheme, though what that is will be entirely dependent on the tone and feel of your individual comic. This will be far easier than if you will simply coloring while being mindful of the light, reflections, shadows etc. This will cause the process to go much quicker, leaving two options of how to proceed to finish it up.
One option is that you can add the greyscale back but on top of the color using the MULTIPLY feature. Please be aware that you may have to change the color associated with the greyscale, as sometimes it will reduce the vibrancy and saturation of the actual colors. I would suggest using some dark blue or a light to medium red. If you go too far in the dark red this will give the image a burnt look, which unless that is what you are going for, could present a problem.
The second option is to add the greyscale back in, but this time below the color using the OVERLAY feature. Depending on the software being used this feature may have a different name, but the use is exactly the same. You will have to experiment slowly and carefully with the blending modes of your respective software to get the color just right. You will know you have hit the current spot when the color start popping and look spectacular.
The coloring process can be tricky at times so be patient. Certain colors and materials require special rendering in order to get them to look right with the rest of the comic. Make sure you place these additional renderings on top of everything else, otherwise they might interfere with the work you have already accomplished.
You are now onto the final bits and you will have a completed comic book page. When you save this work and get it ready to export to wherever you plan on sending it, be mindful of the file type. I suggest a PNG file if you are sending it via the web. If you plan on printing it then I suggest the TIFF file.
Here are a few tips that can help you along the process or help you finish the comic up.
- I would suggest using Pinterest to set up a collection of comic book pages. You can find plenty on the website and this will give you great inspiration from which to draw upon as you are working on your own comic page. By subdividing boards into styles, such as a specific kind of panel or genre of comic, you can easily find the inspiration you need.
- As with all creative processes, it’s best to let the work rest for a bit and move on. When you finish a page, do another page and once some time has elapsed come back to the one you finished. You will, without a doubt, find problems to be fixed. But be mindful of how far you take this, as redoing a page entirely is quite time consuming and is usually not worth it. Applying minor fixes however will always result in an uptick in quality in the final product.
- And finally, if the comic book you are doing is longer than one page, make sure to set up the layouts and storyboards the way they will be printed. This means side by side, laid out exactly like a floppy comic. The purpose of this is for you to be able to balance them out so that one doesn’t seem to be overfilled compared to the others.
At the end the day it’s important to remember that this process should be fun. You are creating a comic book, one of the most powerful storytelling mediums that exist. Creating them is fun, as long as you learn not to worry and follow a good step by step process, such as mine, as a way to streamline the process. Each page you do will teach you something new, no matter how much experience you have. As they say, you never stop practicing and practice makes perfect. You are always reaching towards the stars in order to get better, so don’t worry if you are not satisfied with your first page. There will always another chance to make it better.
Written by my wonderful assistant Kyle Scher following my notes and table of contents.