A Slightly More Cost Efficient Way to Make Your Own Comics

So, you have dreams for making comics. Rolling in major dough after scores of people buy your comic books and realize what a brilliant artist/writer/visionary you are?

It all sounds so cool on paper!

And then you sit down... and start that comic you've had in your head for so many months...

Hmm... Wait, the perspective isn't right... erase that and start over...

Now their heads are too big! Erase those...

The pacing is all off!


...everything is shot to hell. You throw your comic against the wall and vow never to pick it up again... The process is too hard and laborious, right?


Believe it or not, there are other ways to draw your comic more efficiently! This tutorial demonstrates a technique that I have used to make several comics for Blue Zombie in a fraction of the time it used to take for me to make it back when I started. In fact, some of these techniques are used by industry professional comic book artists!

Okay, general disclaimer time:
Once again, this is not the end-all be-all way to make comics more efficiently. I highly recommend you find the way that works for you through experimentation with a variety of techniques. I write these tutorials with the hope that they will inspire others, not dictate how they go about creating their work.

Warning! This tutorial uses unconventional methods in order to make comics. In addition to the regular pencils, inks, and papers, this process requires the following:
  • A computer
  • A scanner
  • Image editing software (such as Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Painter, Deep Paint, or GIMP)
  • A color printer

  • The following are optional. The use of these materials will depend on how you want your final product to look or if you are using other software:
  • A photocopy machine
  • MS Powerpoint or another slideshow presentation software
  • 2-Ply bristol or cardstock printer paper
  • A light box

  • 1: Thumbnails

    Firstly, you need to decide on the overall size of your comic. If this is going to be a webcomic, then we are all set and you'll be taking the minimal steps listed below. However, if you plan on going the whole 9 yards and trying to get your comic published by a major company, then it will require some further steps. Not to worry, as I will do my best to cover that part as well.

    Before you can think BIG, you must first think small. That's right, small. I'm talking about thumbnails of your comic. And, no, do not toss them aside once you've made a few. Here's the deal:
    On a piece of paper on an area proportional to your full comic size, do a compositional thumbnail of your comic book page. Depending on the kind of person you are, it can be as loose and rough or as intricately detailed as you like. I will tell you, though, the more detailed it is, the better your chances :)

    In the American comic book industry, a standard comic book page for the artist to draw on (not to be confused with the size of the comics you find on store shelves) is 11" x 17". There is more to it than that, like page borders, but I won't get into the details there. That's something you can find on any submission guidelines page for a comic book company.

    To continue with this... 11" x 17" is a BIG page to work with. If you have to spend so much time drawing and erasing on something that big, it becomes very discouraging VERY quickly. So how do you get around it?

    Start small. That's what the thumbnails are for.

    When you thumbnail a page, it is much easier to establish the composition and spacing of the page than if you were drawing it full size. Also, the page will translate better if you start off small and increase the size rather than starting off large and decreasing it.

    For a standard comic book size page, I prefer to work at 50% size (i.e. 5.5" x 8.5", basically a standard letter size paper folded in half). However, some artists work even smaller! Like on a 2.75" x 4.25" area for an entire page! Either way, the size is up to you. Just remember to balance out the composition: not too many static panels, not too many dynamic panels, and leave room for those dialogue balloons!

    Finished Blue Zombie pages are usually on two standard 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper. So for my thumbnails, I take a standard 8.5 x 11 sheet of printer paper and fold it in half horizontally and vertically, so I have four equal size rectangles on my paper. These rectangles are each 5.5 x 4.25 inches, which means they are proportional to the original paper size. Then, while I'm looking at the scripts, I quickly pencil everything described on the page except the dialogue. Afterwards, I'll go in with a small mechanical pen (such as an 005 Micron) and ink those thumbnails!



    It sounds silly, but this is VERY important to our process.

    Here are some thumbnails of 4 pages worth (i.e. 2 comics worth) already inked:

    Given that Blue Zombie has a simple art style, these pages took less than an hour. Depending on how detailed and realistic you are with your art, you may spend longer on it. You might feel the need to incorporate light sources and shadows and whatnot. Or maybe even do a second set of thumbnails of the same page just to get some variation. Maybe up to 6 hours if your a neat freak. It's possible.

    Moving on. Now that we have our thumbnails, we move onto the second part of our journey:

    2: Scanning and color separation
    The next step is to enlarge the comic. If you have acess to photocopy machine, you can probably just enlarge it through there and be on your merry little way. However, if you have a scanner, the advantage belongs to you!

    I'm sure you've heard of non-photo blue pencils? These are used by comic book artists and animators to draw scenes that will later be inked and scanned in black and white. When scanning in black and white, the non-photo blue pencil marks won't be picked up by the scanner.

    Guess what? I hate non-photo blue pencil. I don't like the feel of the pencil against the paper. So I cheat.

    I scan in my thumbnails. Technically, resolution doesn't really matter at this point, but I prefer to do it at 300 DPI in gray scale. It is VERY important that I scan grayscale, as color doesn't suit what I'm about to do.

    After I finish any touching up with the comic (sometimes, hair or dirt can get on the scanner surface) I convert the comic to RGB color. Then, if I am in Photoshop or GIMP, I make two layers on top of the image (note that I don't recommend doing this in Paint Shop Pro version 7. I cannot speak for the more recent versions as I have not used them). The middle layer is completely paint bucket filled the entirely with white. The top layer is paint bucket filled entirely with cyan or magenta and the opacity is set to 25% (cyan is 100% blue and 100% green with no red, while magenta is 100% red and 100% blue with no green).


    25% cyan or magenta. Why did I choose these colors?

    Physics time!
    In terms of light, which is ADDITIVE, the colors we see are a mixture of red, green, and blue light. These are the same colors that your computer monitor uses to display everything on your screen.

    And then, in terms of PIGMENT, which is SUBTRACTIVE, we see colors that are a mixture of red, blue, and yellow which is what they teach you in art class.

    Finally, when it comes to printed media, the color process is different: it's actually a mixture of cyan, yellow, magenta, and black. These are the same colors that are in your printer ink.

    I use cyan or magenta (usually magenta, it's just a personal choice) as my colors to print my line art. I don't use the layer at 100% opacity, though, just to be sure that the lines don't become too intense.

    I don't recommend using yellow. It's a bit difficult to see.

    Back to the tutorial;

    So, the top layer right now is 25% magenta. Then, for the top layer only, I add a layer mask (yes, remember masks? Remember how masks can be our friends? See a trend developing here?) Also, I return to the layer that has my original scan on it and INVERT my colors for that layer.

    You're layer palette should look something like this (please note that I am using GIMP):

    Now, copy the INVERTED layer and you will need to paste it into the magenta layer's mask. Depending on your art program, there are different ways of doing this:

    In PhotoShop
  • Copy the inverted layer
  • Click on the magenta/cyan layer mask in the Layers tab
  • Click on the "Channels" tab. You should see the color channels PLUS a channel for the layer mask. DO NOT CONFUSE THIS WITH THE OVERALL IMAGE ALPHA CHANNEL!
  • Paste the inverted image into the layer mask channel

  • In Paint Shop Pro version 7
  • Invert the original scanned image
  • Make a new image with the exact same size. Make a white layer and a magenta/cyan layer
  • Select the magenta/cyan layer
  • In the upper menu, go to Masks->New->From Image
  • When the dialogue window comes up, use the drop down menu and select the inverted image then hit okay

  • In GIMP
  • Copy the inverted layer
  • Select the magenta/cyan layer mask in the layers tab
  • Paste it :)

  • You should now have something like this (note that I've intensified the colors a bit for to make the lines easier to see):

    Neato! Now, onto the next step.

    3: Dialogue
    Adding dialogue to your comic is crucial. Depending on your software, this can be very easy or a pain in the butt. Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro seem to have very good text editing options. However, I can't say that I personally feel the same for GIMP at the moment (subject to change soon with its next release). Plus, I am partial to spell checking capabilities (of which I do not know to be present in any of these art programs, but I could be wrong <:).

    So what do I do? Well, first I save my file(s) in .jpg or .png format. Then, I crack open Open Office and make a new slideshow presentation!

    Open Office is basically a free alternative to Microsoft Office. It can make text document and powerpoint presentations AND save in .doc and .ppt format. Google it if you want to give it a try. Or, if you have a copy of MS Powerpoint, you should be all set.

    I make the presentation standard 8.5 X 11 inches. Set your margins to something like .25 inches on the left, right, and top, and .5 inches on the bottom. Then, I set my magenta comic pages as the background images for the slides. If you have multiple pages for one comic, you'll have to use multiple slides. Blue Zombie usually has two slides worth.

    Now, with black colored text and using the fonts I downloaded from Blambot, I add my dialogue and any sound effects using the textbox insert tool. I also tend to have spell check turned on just to make sure I don't make too many mistakes (prior to this method, I have apparently mispelled SEVERAL words in the earlier Blue Zombie comics... As Gadigan has pointed out to me).

    I also use the rectangle tool to draw my panel borders (I am so lazy :P ).

    So it looks something like this (click on image to enlarge):

    All done? Great! All our dialogue is there, so are our nice, even panel borders! It looks so... semi-professional! Now PRINT!

    That's right, I said PRINT! That's why I said you needed a color printer! Just because I prefer stiffer paper, I usually tend to print mine on card stock paper (which you can get at Office Max or Staples). If you know of an art store nearby, you can actually send 2-ply bristol paper through your printer.

    Attention if you are drawing for sizes larger than standard printing size: at this point, you'll want to print at a smaller size that is proportional to your final page size and have them enlarged via photocopying, preferably color photocopies. Or, if you have a light box, photocopy as black and white and simply use the light box to redraw the pages.

    After you finish printing, break out your ink pens, cuz we're about to go to town on this here comic!

    4: Inking
    (Forgive me for not providing images of the inks alone... I forgot to scan them before using markers on the comic)

    Now, each person has his or her own method of inking, so I won't be rattling on about that. Pretty much, if you need to do some further refining, use a pencil to add the detail. Then, ink your comic as you see fit (be sure to know how the type of paper you are using will handle the ink you use). I personally make it so that, right after printing, I can go right ahead and start inking right on the paper.

    Oh yeah! You'll need to draw your dialogue balloons in at this point! Can't just have floating blobs of text within the panels, right?

    Afterwards, if you wish, scan it one more time in black and white or photocopy it so that you can FINALLY get rid of the magenta/cyan lines underneath the ink.

    5: Value
    Some might call it a day here. However, I prefer to go the extra mile: Blue Zombie needs to have value added to the line art. Some prefer to do this on the computer. However, I've found that shading using the computer really drains me and makes me want to work on the comic less (hence why there are very few color comics). So I break out my markers and start shading things in.

    Back in the day, when I was richer, I could afford those Prisma Color markers. Now, I'm a broke college student who needs to use his money for food. So what kind of markers do I use? SHARPIES! That's right, if you are even semi-skilled at Sharpies, you too can add value to your comic for using this less-expensive alternative!

    Usually, different color Sharpies can give you a different value. I tend to use lime green for my midtone and regular green for my dark-but-not-quite-black values.

    BEWARE! REFRAIN FROM USING YELLOW AND BLUE SHARPIES! Yellow Sharpies are made differently from the other colors and will smear almost all printer and pen ink! Blue sharpies tend to shed small blue flakes onto the surface of your paper! I've had to deal with both of these atrocities and it is not fun!

    With that aside, I scan my results in gray scale.

    And, as you all know, this comic wouldn't be complete if it wasn't blue! So, I adjust the color balance a bit and voila!

    After do some tweaking and clean up, I merge the two halves, this is the result:

    I hope this tutorial was helpful. I realize that this "efficient" process is entirely computer heavy and some of you may prefer to do it all by hand. That's cool. I just wanted to show you guys that there was another way to do it :) I encourage you all to keep reading other people's tutorials as well and even some of the books that have been published (both DC and Marvel have put out books on how to draw comics. I've poked through them myself and taken some notes).

    Alas, as much as I would love to take credit for this process, this was simply a mixture of things I've learned while attending SCAD. My professors are industry professionals when it comes to comics and they've shown me a variety of different techniques for drawing comics.

    Hopefully, I'll be showing you guys some more techniques in the near future.

    Toodles for now!