Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Comic Book Advice and stuff.

A few weeks ago a young person who was just starting out with drawing and developing their own comic ideas contacted me through my DeviantArt page to ask about how to turn their ideas and sketches into self-published comic books. Since that is a HUGE leap to make I ended up dishing out a LOT of advice about all levels of comic book development through a series of message board replies and emails.

I thought it might bear repeating so here’s most of what I wrote back, edited for readability & applying the language to all projects and not just this specific individual’s goals. It’s also just my opinion as a semi-succesful cartoonist and self-publisher and should not be taken as iron-clad facts. As always, your milage may vary.

I started self-publishing comics 6 years ago, in print, professionally distributed through Diamond Comics. (I had made mini-comics for about 10 years, and I tried to self-publish through Diamond back in 1998 but was rejected the book because it wasn’t up to their standards.) We were lucky because we had received a grant to pay for the printing AND our comic was profitable right away, most people risk and usually lose their own money self-publishing, and breaking even is considered a success by many. Diamond has since changed their sales minimum threshold and if released today, Action Philosophers would never had made it into stores. Right now and for the foreseeable future it seems like web comics are the best way to start out, with plans for print editions after building an audience online. If I was starting out right now, that’s what I would do.

You should get your hands on a scanner if you’re drawing your work by hand. Even for print comics it’s going to go into the computer at some point. It’s good that you can recognize your art is still rough - I would work on making it a little more polished first, there are lots of tutorials online about how to do that, here on [deviantart], on YouTube, all over really, just do a google search. “Comic book artwork tutorial”, “Comic art inking” etc. Practice, practice, practice, get your work as best as you can, aim to be as good as the comics currently being published or better. In the meantime post as much of your art to the web as possible - get feedback, make connections, make friends, support each other. Always be nice, but always be honest too.

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas from posting on the web - just make sure you indicate that you’re the creator when you post your artwork and you should be fine. [deviantart] does this automatically with everything you post, so it’s pretty safe here. People borrow and adapt other people’s ideas all the time, it comes with the territory, but if it’s outright plagiarism you can always point to your original work if/when you see someone ripping you off. I have been in this very situation myself - and it always worked out in my favor, the web is very democratic that way.

1 - Draw in pencil on BRISTOL BOARD PAPER. Strathmore Bristol is a good, relatively cheap brand that you can get most anywhere in pads of 20 sheets, even Staples sells it. It’s thick enough to handle lots of drawing and re-drawing. I also like Borden & Riley Paris Bleedproof Paper for Pens because it has a nice surface for inking and you get a lot of pages for not a lot of money, but it’s not as durable as Bristol.
2 - Trace over the pencil drawings with black markers (here are the ones I use): [link]. They’re called Alvin Penstix markers and you can get them in almost any art supply store. A lot of people use Sakura Microns but the felt tip is too fragile for me. You could also try using a #2 or #3 round brush and bottled ink if you’re feeling ambitious. Try to make the ink drawing look better than the pencil drawings.
3 - Let the ink dry, then erase the original pencil lines and smudges that are left. The ink won’t erase. I find kneaded erasers to be the best.
4 - Scan it in. Looks a lot better than just pencil drawings, right?
5 - Clean it up in the computer. Use photoshop or whatever photo/art program you have to make it look better by adjusting the contrast or getting rid of smudges and stuff. Look up tutorials for more in-depth instruction like “Scanning comic art”.

Don’t do it. Professionals can’t read your idea for legal reasons. Writers are developing new ideas and projects all the time, and if your idea is coincidentally similar to one of theirs it can put them in a morally awkward position. It may force them to abandon a project they are already working on, or worse they could read your idea, forget about it and then months or years later it will pop back into their subconscious and they will start working on it themselves, not realizing the idea originated with someone else. So for these reasons most will just ignore such requests, not read your ideas or just not reply at all. Only share your ideas privately, OFF-line, with close friends that you trust to give you honest feedback. If you produce a finished comic most professionals will be glad to take a look and give feedback if they have time and you ask nicely. FInished means finished - a full blown, ready to read comic, not sketches or a plot outlines or scripts.

If you have story and character ideas I encourage you to start creating comic stories IMMEDIATELY, and not work on character designs and back story too much. You will learn more by putting your ideas into a finished story than you ever will by planning and sketching.

Do NOT try to do an epic story right away - start simpler or smaller if you’ve never done a comic before - try writing and drawing a short story or scene with just 2 or 3 characters, maybe 4 pages long - 8 pages long at the absolute most. You will be able to see on your own if your ideas work or not, and in the process of creating the comic you will discover things about your characters, ideas and even yourself that you wouldn’t have otherwise. Plus when your done, you’ll have a finished comic that you can show people and get feedback on before you do more.

Whatever style or genre you choose to make your story is completely up to you - funny or dramatic, fantasy or reality - do whatever you feel like is best or what you’re most excited about, that’s the most fun part of being creative after all. If you have lots of ideas and can’t choose, just do the one you’re MOST excited about, save the rest for another time.

THe best, in fact the ONLY way to get better at making comics, is to MAKE COMICS. Then make more. And then some more. Etc. They might be terrible, they might be great, most likely they will be somewhere in-between, but regardless of how it turns out it’s a step in the right direction, and you’ll be able to see what your strengths are and what you need to improve on so you can make the NEXT comic even better.

But stop planning, start drawing. Right now. You have characters and plot ideas - draw comics of those ideas, post them on the web, then draw more. Start small then try bigger projects and stories as you get more confident. If you try and do a big story right from the start, you’ll never finish. You might not even get started. Don’t expect to make money or get famous making comics and stop doing it if it stops being fun.

Making comics is really fun and is a lot more rewarding than just having stacks and stacks of notes and ideas that no one ever sees.

Good luck!


Moe Murdock said...

Really great advice that pretty much sums up the beginning steps and the beginning "to do's". Really really great post!

Ryan Dunlavey said...

Thanks Moe!