Comic book shortcuts

Cat S
4 min readNov 6, 2018


I picked up some shortcuts in creating my latest comic book. I had 30 pages to paint in about a month.

In producing my last short story comic book, Nod & Sleep (2017), I had 30 pages to paint in one month and three days.

2017 short story comic book | “Nod & Sleep” written & illustrated by Cat S. | CC-BY-NC-SA

My comic book creation process went through six stages: Writing, Thumbnails, Pencils, Painting, Preparing for print and Advance reading.

Stage 1: Writing

Daydreaming the course of the story

I would get stuck in bed for a few hours each morning last year due to vertigo. Having not much else to do, I ended up writing Henry Badger Interview short comic, while stuck in bed.

water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | CC-BY-NC-SA

I thought I’d replicate the process for Nod & Sleep. Since I had been spending too much time in front of the computer at my day job.

water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | CC-BY-NC-SA
water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | CC-BY-NC-SA

It was surprisingly effective — a little movie in my head, comfortably horizontal — it also helped me visualise the character designs. I just got stumped on one character, Sleep, but one weekend, I had this little kitty sleepover at my studio…

…who was quite keen to see the character fleshed out. So that helped me come up with a character design for Sleep.

water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | CC-BY-NC-SA

Stage 2: Thumbnails

Detailed thumbnails & hot beverage breaks

This was the most time-consuming stage for me — creating something out of nothing. I underestimated how long this would take.

coloured pencil sketch by Cat S. | “Nod & Sleep” comic book thumbnails | CC-BY-NC-SA

My thumbnails were detailed on purpose to automate the pencils stage. It was likely a mistake to have used pencils to produce tonal values. My drawing hand got overworked and came to a point where it didn’t want to hold the pencil anymore.

Taking several hot beverage breaks and using the mug as a warm compress helped!

Stage 3: Pencils

Proportional canvas dimensions for thumbnails & pencils

It was a straightforward process at this point to redraw thumbnails onto the final paper. The challenge was in trying to reproduce the same energy seen in the thumbnails, but in a clean fashion. Each line has to be precise to a paint stroke so that it doesn’t show through so much under transparent washes.

pencils sketch by Cat S. | “Nod & Sleep” comic book thumbnails & underdrawing | CC-BY-NC-SA

Working with fully-composed thumbnails that have proportional dimensions to the final canvas speeds up the pencils stage by 25%. Tracing would have likely speed things up some more.

Stage 4: Painting

Small canvas for less surface area

My favourite stage — this is when the atmosphere of the story is set. Working with real paint trained me to surrender some control over my work. Often, about 30–40% of the final output is directed by the physics of the medium. I no longer have the urge to redo pages. It’s quite liberating.

water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | “Nod & Sleep” comic book panels | CC-BY-NC-SA

Working with a canvas that is smaller than the actual print size output speeds up the painting process by another 25%. But painting fine lines became a little more challenging. Still need to get a better handle on mixing the right ratio of pigment and water for lettering. Dope sheets are useful.

water-soluble graphite sketch by Cat S. | “Nod & Sleep” comic book page | CC-BY-NC-SA

Stage 5: Preparing for print

Flat heavy object & buckled pages

The final pages were painted on loose leaf 300gsm. If the entire paper surface is not in contact with the glass, the raised areas will appear fuzzy on the scanned image.

Made the mistake of relying on hands to press down the page. Had to rescan a few times before I could start polishing up the pages in Photoshop.

Stage 6: Advance reading

Writing a summary based on early feedback

I invited a few friends to an advance reading of the completed short story comic book. I wanted to hear what the story made them think about. Their varied responses and questions were a great exercise in articulating things that’s just floating nebulously in my head. I usually don’t write a story with an intended specific message. This extra step helped me write up a short description of the book.

It certainly helped me produce this book trailer.



Cat S

Cat S. is an illustrator & writer of comic books. More info at