Three Secrets to Drawing Comics

If you’ve ever tried your hand at drawing comics but weren’t too pleased with the final product, it’s very possible that it’s not your artistic skills to blame, but the knowledge you had at your disposal when you went into the project. I tried months ago to make a comic, but no matter how many hours I spent drawing and finessing my image with my computer, the result was bargain bin at best. Then, when I finally did research into the craft, I found that there were three big mistakes I made, thus there are three “secrets” to drawing comics. By the way, these aren’t well kept secrets at all. I’m not a magician revealing how an act was done, rather I’m making a PSA that will hopefully save you time and energy when you take up the pencil.

3. Set Your Scanner to Black and White

It doesn’t matter if you’re making a purely black and white comic like vintage Peanuts or if you’re making a spectacularly colorful page like you would find in Batwoman or the current series of JLA–when you’re scanning your inks, make sure you do it in black and white. Believe me, this cuts your stress in half. Just about all scanners can be set to black and white if you go into the preferences. Why do this? If you’re like me, you might use several different pens or brushes to vary the thickness and texture of your lines. The problem is, pens rarely produce the same shade of black as each other, especially if you’re cheap like me and use your pens as long as possible. Black and white scanning doesn’t differentiate from an old pen to a new one. There’s one more big reason: since your ink isn’t uniformly black, oftentimes your lines will be surrounded by little white spots. Before I learned to reset the scanner, I used to try and color in every little dot, which was as exasperating as it was time consuming.

2. Use A Light Box

A light box is a device you set on your desk that projects light upwards. It allows you to place a clean sheet of paper over your drawing and then easily trace over it. The light box projects your own image to you. This allows you to be as messy as you want when your first laying down your pencils, and then when you go to ink it, you can trace only the lines you want. Similar to the previous tip, using a light box can save you hours and hours. Again, I learned this by experience. I used to apply my ink directly over my pencils, then go through and erase my lead lines with my computer, and that added a whole hour to the process.

1. DRAW BIG

This is so simple I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. No matter what you’re planning to draw–a logo, a page, a small advertisement–draw it big. It’s very simple to resize an image on your computer, or, if the paper is too big for your scanner, it’s not too difficult to resize images using a copy machine. The important thing when doing this is to choose a size that’s easily scaled down. Professional comic book artists do all of their work on 11 in. x 17 in. bristol paper then will resize it to 60%. To give you an idea of this, carbon copy is 8.5 in x 11 in. What are the benefits of drawing big? For one, resizing an image does wonders for your work. Small imperfections like crooked or jagged lines that come from having shaky hands are much less noticeable when sized down. This also allows you to use thicker pens when you’re working, since these lines will appear much thinner in the final process. You’ll find it much easier to include more details as well.

Examples.

I’ve included below two of my attempts at making comics. The first one is from several months ago. I’m really not proud of this one. I spent hours coloring it in, yet it’s still loaded with imperfections. Note how there’s white dots everywhere, not much background detail, and the girl’s face isn’t particularly well drawn at all. This is because I wasn’t aware of any of the things I listed here. I drew it on regular carbon copy, didn’t scan it in black and white, and didn’t use a light box. The ironic part is, this one took me much longer than the second image.

The second image I made just recently utilizing the three “secrets.” If you’ll notice, the lines are much more defined, the backgrounds are more detailed, and it comes closer to resembling an actual comic. It’s still not perfect, but at least with this image, I can own up to it and say the imperfections are mine rather than errors that can be easily avoided.

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Problems:

The main problem you’re going to face with these three secrets is monetary. Light boxes aren’t as pricey as you’d think. I bought mine for $40, although pros use much larger ones. The 11 in. x 17 in. bristol paper is more expensive than it needs to be. 24 pages cost me $13.00. If you make a lot of mistakes, this can add up. Scanners thankfully are pretty ubiquitous now. It’s common for scanners to be built into printers, and these often aren’t too bad. If you’re using the big bristol paper, you’ll have to go somewhere that has a copy machine. Two suggestions: FedEx or the library. There, you can resize your images for about 15 cents each. Buying your own copy machine would cost at least $1,000. You’re looking at a sizeable investment if you’re serious about making comics, but the time you save will make it worthwhile.

One Way of Getting Around Money Issues:

If you look at indie comics, you’ll notice a lot come in very different sizes. If you’re visuals aren’t incredible, then you really don’t need them to be the standard comic issue size. Right now, I’m in the process of making a simplistic comic about my dog. To save me a lot of money and time, I’m making it on regular carbon copy, then resizing it on my computer to 4 inches wide. The end product looks like something you’d see in the newspaper, which is exactly what I’m going for. I could make hundreds of pages of this comic for just a few bucks.

———I have written two books of fiction. One is titled The Madness of Art: Short Stories and the other is called A Rapturous Occasion. Both are available on Amazon in paperback and as ebooks.

If you found this article on the three secrets to drawing comics helpful, check out another guide by me on how to draw using the comic book method.

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