ART LESSONS & TUTORIALS

The amazing art of drawing comics

by Maya Mandzikasvili, 30 Set 2018

Comics book culture is a huge industry which brings people together and makes others rich and famous. It shapes nowadays film production and the culture overall. Nobody can deny the fact that comic books or their characters become part of our lives in one or another way. However only a few do know how much effort and people involved in drawing comics. Here is a brief information about this process

You probably have seen at least once Bob Ross’s “Joy of painting”. Yes, he mentions every time, that “there are no mistakes but happy accidents, however”, look at his movements while drawing. They are very structured, even mechanistic, strict and balanced, he starts with the background, then goes to drawing bigger objects and finishes with the smallest details on his canvas. Not much chaos I would say, more balanced and just a bit of improvisation. You might be surprised, but even academic art used algorithms for scene layout together with colour and content composition. So, art is not just disordered splashes of paint over the canvas, or better, at least the final work is not. But what about robots, machines, computers? Are they able to repeat what human did, maybe with the more stunning result? 

In these days the superhero/antihero movies involving comic book characters is a mainstream. People admire watching boozy and heroic adventures of Genius, Billionaire, Playboy, Philanthropist Iron Man aka Tony Stark, vintage music space pirate and abductor of lady’s hearts Peter Quill or you might hear about him under his name Star-Lord and many many others. And all this industry with its action figures, posters, costumes would not happen if you one day some person think”hey, instead of writing a long novel with no pictures, I could draw lots of pictures and follow them with main character phrases”But who was that person? When the comic book started it’s journey and how the art of creating comic book story works? 

The origin of comic book comes from the satirical cartoons, which used to mock politicians over their corrupted and non-ethical behaviour, usually, such cartoons appeared in the local newspapers since the period 1800-1870-s. Later on, the process of the comic book development went through Platinum, Golden, Silver, Bronze, Copper and Modern ages, which represented different periods of comics’ evolution in time.

The comic books industry is still evolving, the most famous superheroes and villain had already died and raised, travelled to the other Universe, fought in World War I and II, been in space, married, sick and lost. It is hard to select the exact person which could be named the main person of the comic book culture. However, I can hardly imagine if nobody heard about Stan Lee, Alan Moore, Robert Kirkman, Neil Gaiman because those are the people who created Ironman, X-Men, V, John Constantine or Walking dead series. However, this time we shall not talk about history and people, which are with no doubt very important, but about process and work which lies in those people hands. 

From concept to the comic

The process of creating comics books (source madehow.com)

Creating comics is an accurate, exciting and sometimes tricky process which includes: primary idea generation and the story plot development, the basic sketch design; original drawing creation and, finally colouring and lettering as a calligraphic practice which gives form and expressions to the signs. And after all these steps you got what the comic book artists call – the comic book prototype or an “ashcan”. In ordinary life, an ashcan is called a metal bucket for disposing ashes from the fireplace or a stove. However, in a comic book world, this term has other meaning. In 1930 are comic book publishers seeking to protect their created titles of the comic books used to copyright them; they used to create a line of comic book publications on the potential title to establish particular trademarks and with no intention to sell them. After the title was copyrighted, the publication has been thrown to the ashcan.

There are many elements that make up a typical comic book page. The first page of a story with a large introductory illustration is called the splash page, letters drawn in outline with space for colour to be added are called open letters, copy which relates to a title is called a blurb, the name of the story, naturally is called the title, sometimes the title is outlined around the lettering with  jagged shape is called a splash balloon, usually on the top of the first comic book page you also may see the credits, like in the movie stating the author and the artist of the comic book, on the bottom of the first page you will see information on publishers, date of publishing and other technical stuff, which nobody reads, this part is called indicia. The caption is the copy in which someone is talking to the reader, but which is not inside dialogue balloons.

One of the many Marvel comics splash pages where you can find most of the elements of the comic book: title, credits, indicia and caption

The single illustration on a page is called a panel, the space between the panels is called the gutter, also on a comic book page you will find a sound effect which looks like a dialogue balloon with a letters like in this picture and the dialogue balloons -regular, as well as thought balloons – a copy which represents what a character thinking, the connecting arrows on the dialogue balloons showing who is speaking, are called pointers.

Typical comic book page with panel, gutter, dialog balloon, sound effects and pointers

The process of comic book publishing involves a group of people where each person has a special role such as penciler, inker, colourist, letterer and editor. After the comic book preparation is finished a printer produces a physical copy of a comic book and the distributor makes care that comics end up in your local comic book shop. 

But at first, comes the story which gives directions to the comic book artists. The comic book artist and the scriptwriter discuss a plot of a future book, gathering ideas, placing them on board or on sticky notes, decide on the main character’s name, appearance, location, dialogues and the main title. As most of the comic books have the exact number of pages the author and the artist have to decide how to divide the story to make it look interesting and readable when the comic book will be released. Usually, there is some sort of standards on how many action scenes should be on the page, how the dialogue phrases should be arranged into word balloons. Although sometimes improvisation comes on the stage and there are not much rules of scriptwriting applies, anyway it is not a movie. However, the final comic book usually looks just like a screenplay.

Process from (going from right to left) penciler to inker and to colorist. (source: www.frombeyondcomics.com)

After the script is done, the penciler makes sketches of the character figures and action scenes, arrange the sound effects and dialogue balloons, in other words, giving the script a form. For sketching any kind of paper comes in handy, but usually, a note paper is used. Such sketches are called thumbnails. Such thumbnails make easier to understand the main concepts of the future comics and visualize the script. After thumbnails are approved, the penciler illustrates the full comic. Some pencilers skip the thumbnailing stage and work out their panel compositions directly on the page. 

After penciler’s job is done the inker goes over the pencilers work in ink, giving picture depth, dimension and dynamics, which is crucial for comic book production. 

One of the famous comic book creators who used to work along Marvel legend Stan Lee, Jack Kirby is one of the most known pencilers. Others pencilers deserved to be mentioned are  Will Eisner and Jim Lee. Famous inkers include Tom Palmer, Al Gordon and Mike Esposito. Usually the pencilers and the inkers collaborate in creating one or another project, there are lot successful examples of such partnership, like Frank Miller/Klaus Janson (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns), Jim Lee/Scott Williams (All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder) and Jack Kirby/Joe Simon (Captain America). 

* Read also: an irreverent family

The colouring comes after all sketches are made and all the pencils are used. Before computer era artists used pencils, paint and markers. Nowadays most of the colourizing process is digitalized which extremely fastens the process and makes it more simple. The colouring is handed off by the colourist, who usually uses Photoshop or any other visual art software to colour black and white images, enhancing and complimenting the pencil picture. 

After the comic art is complete a letterer inserts dialogue balloons into the panels of the comic and places all of the text. Letterers generally work on a computer although some letter by hand.

“Comic books or its characters become part of our lives in one or another way”

Putting original on the flow 

There is great variety of the comic book publishing companies, starting with small office or only one person producing one and only comic book franchise once in a month or a year and huge corporations, producing not only hundreds of different comic books titles, action figures, but also movies, TV-series, cartoons and making billions of money on geeks. Such comics giants like DC and Marvel shape nowadays geek culture having an unspoken clash between each other for the attention of readers and viewers. 

While active throughout the comic-creation process, before publishing stage editor proofreads a comic book copy the last minute in order to fix or resolve any remaining content issues. 

If the comic is being sold as a physical product, it is submitted to a printer where a certain number of copies are printed depending on estimated sales. This process can take several weeks depending on the size of the order. Numerous printers take small orders. Self-published comics usually financed through personal investment. 

7 sins of marketing (source: marketoonist.com)

Marketing a comic is an ongoing process that happens during the production process. Marketing takes many forms: press releases sent to media outlets, advertisements (both print and web), sending advance copies to the media, and coverage on the convention circuit. 

Once the initial order of comic is printed, it needs to be delivered to the buying public. It usually is done through huge comic distributing companies, or in alternative ways in case if we are talking about small comic book publishers, like sales during conventions like Comic-Con in San Diego or direct online sales. 

Conclusion 

Comic book culture is a huge industry which brings people together and makes others rich and famous. It shapes nowadays film production and the culture overall. To some people those who read a magazine with images and words above them might be considered a grown-up child, however, to others, it is a part of life and source of their talent investment. People are different so their opinions. However, nobody can deny the fact that comic books or its characters become part of our lives in one or another way. Nowadays there is such thing as webcomics which do not involve the publishers or printers and there are only a few artists and authors involved, might be that that’s what awaits us in the future. However such gigantic comic book corporations as Marvel or DC still are the leaders in the geek market. 

Creating comics is an accurate, exciting and sometimes tricky process comic books or its characters become part of our lives in one or another way

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