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Picture of Making a Web Comic: Drawing the Comic
Good day, and welcome to the first of what I hope to be many tutorials I can help provide for those budding graphic artists and comic creators that want to learn how to make and share good-looking comics.

First off, I'd like to say that I wouldn't be the obscure but capable webcomic creator I am if it weren't for a whole slew of artists before me. My comic, HOSERS: The Comic Strip was inspired by my personal faves of the early greats of webcomicdom, primarily GOATS: The Comic Strip, GPF Comics, College Roomies From Hell!!!, and Nukees!. Thank you, Jon, Jeff, Maritza and Gav. As always I must tip my hat to you and your dedication to the art.

Second, anyone really interested in creating comics should pick up and read two or three of Scott McCloud's books: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, and Making Comics. All are available from Amazon.com or you local bookstore. McCloud is very astute and has great suggestions on putting together a comic. If you read only two, you can omit "Reinventing Comics" -- but really, you should read all three. Also for good practice on framing comic strip panels, try out Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work.

UPDATE: In addition to the books and sites above, you should also purchase and read the excellent How to Make Webcomics by Brad Guigar, Dave Kellett, Scott Kurz, and Kris Straub. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, this instructable will deal with the useful mechanics of webcomics production, in my opinion: how to sketch and ink your comic on paper. I plan a future instructable about how to make it into a nice-looking image for web - and possibly print - presentation. (Coming Soon!)

The process I use cribs parts from a dozen other webcomic processes, and of course doesn't apply to work drawn entirely on the computer, say using a tablet. I do that also, and will create a separate instructable for my fully-digital production methods if someone would like to see one.

So let's get started! For this tutorial, I am going to draw a comic strip. Well, don't act so surprised....
 
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Step 1: Drawing the Comic: Supplies

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Supplies
I use Strathmore paper when preparing my images. I have a sketchbook I use to plan all of my comics, and the final images are drawn on Bristol Smooth paper, 9"x12". The Bristol board really holds the ink well.

(Note: some artists just us printer paper, and if this works for you, that's fine. However I have comics drawn on printer paper and with sharpie markers that have noticeably not withstood the test of time over the past 8 years, while images made with the Strathmore paper and the pens noted below are still as clear as the day they were drawn.)

I have a full compliment of artist's pencils but most of my sketching is done with .5mm and .7mm mechanical pencils or a #2 yellow pencil. I erase the lines anyway. Many artists use non-repro blue pencils so they don't have to erase. I've tried this, too, but I don't buy non-repro blue pencils because they're expensive. There's really no "official" color known as "non-repro blue" to my knowledge. Any hard-lead light-blue colored pencil does the same job, for much less. Modern scanners and software are pretty good at ignoring the pale blue lineart regardless what instrument was used to draw them. You can also use light green or yellow.

My eraser of choice is a white plastic Staedtler eraser. It does a great job lifting the pencil from the paper without removing any ink at all. For detail erasing I use a Pentel ClicEraser, it also uses the white plastic type of eraser material. I know people who swear by kneaded erasers. Personally, I don't like them. Pink erasers are too rough on the paper and can cause the paper to fray, and then have trouble holding ink properly later on.

My pens of choice are a set of Koh-I-Noor Rapidograph technical pens. They're anywhere from a little pricey to exorbitant depending on where you buy them and if they're on sale... and the really fine-line pens need to be used often or drained out, otherwise the ink dries in them and turns them into expensive darts. Many webcomic artists prefer a nice set of disposable Pigma Micron pens or Staedtler Pigment Liner pens, which have archival-quality ink in them and so shouldn't fade even after many years. I started with these, and occasionally use them when I travel (I don't travel with the Rapidographs). For coloring by hand (which I'm not covering here) you have dozens of options. Colored pencils, watercolors, and markers seem to be the most popular choices, but this is really a personal decision. Try them all and pick what you like. I usually color digitally, which will be covered in an upcoming tutorial.

(Note: as I mentioned above, I've seen people use sharpie markers to do the artwork. I've done this myself. Sharpies however are not archival quality ink, and do not stand up to the ravages of age. I also find that even on high-quality paper, the lines they leave behind look sloppy. If you want your images to last a long time and look crisp, use a pen that contains archival ink. They're not much more expensive than sharpies, and they'll look better.)

I don't use white-out or white liners to fix mistakes, because I can do that on the computer. When I work with all of my artist pencils, erasers fix mistakes. When I use charcoal, kneaded erasers are actually useful here. When I use colored pencils... well, try not to make mistakes. I haven't found anything good for that yet.

Step 2: Drawing the Comic: Sketch and Layout

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Sketch and Layout
The first step is to review the script for the comic, and start sketching the layout. Some comics are simple 4-panel presentations that never vary, and for those all you're planning is the location of images and words within each panel. This is sometimes called "storyboarding."
For more complex comics, you will actually be planning the size, shape, and positioning of the panels themselves as well as the layout of images within the panels. Some useful info on panel layout can be found at Peter Venables' 22 Little Panels site, which contains information about Wally Wood's 22 panels that always work. I just found this myself recently, so I have yet to start implementing all of these ideas in my comics.

Another thing I do at this point is to sketch at least one good sketch of my "regular" characters who will appear in the strip. In this storyline their appearances change a little each time so I want to make sure I'm staying consistent. Also it helps to practice. I will also work out detailed sketches for the incidental characters who will appear in more than one strip, and who may at some point re-appear in the future.

Step 3: Drawing the Comic: Panel Layout

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Panel Layout
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When I'm done with the sketches I take an 18" Wescott metal ruler with a cork backing, and measure out the panels for the comic onto my Bristol board with light pencil lines. Always pencil, in case you mess up. You can't really see it, but I had to erase 6 lines from this page before getting the layout right. In the next step I actually change the panel layout on-the-fly. This is why pencils are your friends. Some comic creators will draw their frames in ink immediately, but I can't constrain myself at this step. I change things too often.

Since I try to keep comics drawn on paper confined to a single page, I usually leave 1/2 inch margins around the panels. However because I needed more room for this particular layout, the margins are 1/8" top and bottom, and 1/4" on the sides. This actually will make it slightly harder for me to draw the comic, but I really need the space. I could split these up onto two pages, but I feel like I'm wasting too much paper doing that.

I use 1/8" gutters -- the space/gap between panels.

Step 4: Drawing the Comic: Dialogue

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Dialogue
So this is where I do things a little backwards from most comic artists. Because my comics tend to be a little heavy on dialog, I like to plan the placement of text first so that I am not forced later to cover any of the artwork with word balloons. I generally will hand-letter my comics, but sometimes if my handwriting is particularly bad I'll replace it with a lettering font. More on that in Part 2.

(Sorry for the image quality....)

In panel two, you can see I've sketched in some artwork. I wanted to make sure the text placement I chose would not obscure anything important, so I had to jump ahead a little to....

Step 5: Drawing the Comic: Pencil Sketch

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Pencil Sketch
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... pencil sketching. The key is, same with lettering, to keep the pencil lines as light as possible. You don't want to create "dents" in the paper, since this makes it harder to correct lines that are wrong. Even if you can erase the line, the dent is left behind and the pen may get stuck in it. Also if you opt to color your images with artists' pencils, charcoal, or colored pencil, these media will skip over the dents leaving behind "ghost" lines of your original sketch. These can be dealt with but it's a real pain in the rear!

Sketching for me goes in waves. I'll re-create as close as I can the light sketches from my spiral-bound sketchbook to ensure the layout is correct. I'll go back with the same pencil and draw slightly darker lines to define the final lines, which will become the guides for inking the image. That's the next step.

Step 6: Drawing the Comic: Inking (I AM NOT A TRACER)

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Inking (I AM NOT A TRACER)
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I'm an INKER!

I take out my metal ruler and break out the Rapidographs. Unfortunately, I haven't used them in a while so I have to take them apart, soak the tips, clean them out, and refill the ink wells. If you choose to get this kind of refillable technical pen, remember to use them often - at least weekly - or clean the ink out of the nibs before you store them. The ink can congeal inside the tips and the pin that controls the ink flow can break. this is a problem especially with the really fine liners.

Once I've reassembled my pens and gotten them working, I take my widest pen and use the ruler to draw the frame containers. This is where the cork backing on the ruler is important. Because it lifts the edge of the ruler off the paper, the ink will not soak under the edge of the ruler via capillary action and ruin your lines. This is important - do not run ink pens of ANY kind along the edge of a ruler that sits flush on the paper. The ink will soak under the ruler, and you will probably get smudged lines when you move the ruler away form the paper. It can be fixed, but better not to have to deal with it.

In some places I won't draw the lines completely to the corner of a frame, and I'll freehand in curved corners where word balloons will actually be flush with the border of the frame. I just like the way it looks.

I'll also often ink in the word balloons at this point. Sometimes I'll wait until I'm done lettering to do that, but today I'm going to be confident in my lettering, and ink the word balloons now.

When I'm done drawing the frames and word balloons, I'll go in and do the lettering.

Step 7: Drawing the Comic: Lettering (and Word Ballooning)

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Lettering (and Word Ballooning)
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There's an art form to lettering and word-ballooning, and whole theories dedicated to them. I am not a very good letterer, so I can't explain any of these theories to you. I just do it. If you want more info on lettering, do a Google search or read up in Making comics. It's all there.

I letter the comic with the thickest pen I can get away with. I try my best to make sure my letters are even, straight, and distinct (D and O can be told apart, I and T, etcetera).

When the lettering is done, if I have not already done so, I'll use my ruler and thickest pen to draw in any word balloons. I use the ruler for straight sections of balloon lines, and freehand the curved lines.

If I know I am going to use a digital font to letter the comics, I may skip this step. however I personally consider it cheating, and much prefer the look of hand-lettering even if it's a little bit bad.

NOTE: It is NOT cheating if someone ELSE does digital lettering. I only hold myself to that rule, anyone else is free to do as they wish, and I do not criticize or judge against them.

I normally pick a section of the paper to write in my name, my co-author's name, the name of the studio, and the date of the comic. I didn't do that here because I don't have enough room on this page, and I don't know what date I expect to publish this comic right now. I'll add these details in the second part of this tutorial, when I do the digital image manipulation to prepare the comic for publication.

Step 8: Drawing the Comic: The Artwork

Picture of Drawing the Comic: The Artwork
The next step is to use the various thickness pens I have to complete the inking. I'll usually draw items in the foreground first and with thicker lines than items further in the background. I use the thickest pen I can get away with to draw any particular detail. For close-up images I can use thick pens for outlines and thinner lines for detail work. Items or scenes which are more distant, or less-intricate have to be done with thinner pens. I'll generally use 3 pen thicknesses in a single page, no more or it becomes too much work.

(But I will at least try to use every pen to keep the ink flowing and the tips clean, even if it means doing some doodling in my sketchbook.)

Step 9: Drawing the Comic: Erasing and Final Touches

Picture of Drawing the Comic: Erasing and Final Touches
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When all that inking is done, I'll let the paper sit for an hour. Or, several days. Yes, I'm paranoid, but I've had a bad experience with this in the past, being too impatient. Because next, I use the large plastic eraser to remove all the pencil lines. If the ink isn't dry, you will create shredder-bait. Also, it messes up the eraser.

When the pencil is all erased, I get a first look at my final inked image. I examine the artwork closely, and go back in with the pens to clean up any lines I missed, close up any areas that need to be closed, and add in any additional detail work I feel the image needs.

At this point, many artists will do a lot more work by hand, especially coloring the artwork in. I've used colored pencils and various artist's pencils in the past to do special work like this, but lately I do most of my coloring and touch-up on the computer.

Thank you, and stay tuned for an upcoming tutorial, which will be dedicated to explaining a process for scanning the image and editing the image in the Linux operating system using free, open-source software -- perfect for the webcomic creator on a budget.
darkcade2 years ago
Thanks for this information mate, has really helped me with my web comic project.
I think I will be looking at getting some rapidograph pens. Very thorough instructable. Great Job.
manadhon5 years ago
though it is good to buy recycled sketch paper, it really is not the best.Normal, un recycled sketch paper is much better in terms of pencil drawing that is,not so much pen.this comment may have been pointless but it's a heads up for artists that use sketch pencils.
J@50n5 years ago
 at amazon a set like you'rs, i found costs about $100.00.

do normal pens work? i want to try this out without hurting my wallet, any ideas??
technosapien (author)  J@50n5 years ago
Depends what you want to try.  If you just want to try drawing, go to an art supply store and get a set of disposable pens, like pigma microns or staedtler pigment liners.  They're much less expensive at $3 or $4 a pen individually, and a little cheaper per if you buy a set (usually they come in sets of 4 or 6 different widths).  These are really convenient too as there's no cleaning or refilling, and you can't really damage them unless you just press too hard when you draw.

Enjoy!
technosapien (author)  technosapien5 years ago
And $100 sounds about right for that particular set of Rapidographs, even at a retail art store.  Shop around or get coupons from the Sunday newspaper.
wyldethang6 years ago
if you take the nibs and get a jewelry "cleaner" i get mine resale for about 2 bucks they basically vibrate, put the nib in it with water or cleaning solution let it soak and vibrate alternately sometimes you can rescue them, it takes patience though.
nomuse6 years ago
Try out an Ames Lettering Guide. The decent art supplies stores usually have them. It's a little piece of plastic, costs about five bucks. All it does is help you put in the guidelines for lettering -- but it does so very well.
Gladtobemom7 years ago
I do a lot of ink and wash work with fountain pens and rapidograph pens. Get yourself a sonic jewelry cleaner and some ammonia. I've soaked nibs for as long as 35 minutes if they're totally jammed (picked up a set at a flea market for $1). Just don't try to force them. Rinse very very well and dry very very well. I vastly prefer Platinum Carbon Black and a Manga nib on an Ackerman Pump pen these days--but I still pull out the rapidograph pens for the really super fine lines.
technosapien (author)  Gladtobemom6 years ago
Cool, will have to try this. Thanks for the comment!
Another trick to avoid the 'ink trap' is putting masking tape over the edge of the ruler.
If you like this, check out my forum topic with some of my doodles/cartoons, scanned and imported, then vectorised & coloured using inkscape. Hope you like them. http://www.instructables.com/community/Cartoons/
Thanks
Very nice! My next instructable will have more detailed info on scanning, cleaning and coloring images using a bitmap image program, but soon as I learn more about vectoring artwork I'll do an instructable on that. With both XaraLX and Inkscape it doesn't seem too difficult.
Thanks! I'm glad you like them. Yes, please do. Vectorising drawings is very good way to increase the quality and is very easy once you know the process. Do you use XaraLX/Inkscape? I use inscape but i am unfamiliar with XaraLX. How fo they compare?
Jefe757 years ago
I just had to say that I appreciate the "Chasing Amy" reference (I'm not a TRACER). I enjoyed the tutorial, very well done.
craig37 years ago
When your drawing and the ink is still wet, do you find sometimes its gets smudged by your pinkie? It happens all the time to me cos my left hand rubs over the fresh ink when im writing
technosapien (author)  craig37 years ago
It would if I drew left to right. Knowing that the ink will smudge, I draw from right to left across the page so I never have to move my hand across a wet ink line. I sometimes have to rotate the pad to get around wet spots if I miss something. The one exception is lettering. I'll letter frames bottom to top, right to left but I write text in the normal direction so I letter slowly and in chunks so that the ink dries before my hand crosses over. Generally I smudge the pencil a lot worse than ink.
Your guide has helped me immensely as I pursue my dream of creating my own manga! I understand not having enough time in a day, but I am still eagerly awaiting your scanning guide! Best of luck.
Uru Wolf7 years ago
I have created a fairly easy to use online comic script. I would be happy to share it. It is basically an instant comic site. There is a plain black and white layout that can be customised with a little html knloedge. What do you think?
technosapien (author)  Uru Wolf7 years ago
If you mean a script to build the website for a web comic, it sounds neat. There are any number of scripts like this from the simple to the insane, popular ones are KeenLite, or the very successful ComicPress theme for WordPress. I hadn't thought about a tutorial after the second part to address setting up a website, but I suppose I could address those concepts as well. Thanks!
Not a problem. The one I made was aimed at managing the content rather then creating the site. The image info (title, caption, filename, ect.) are stored in a file. The main page reads this and decided on the image to show.

I have a basic sample set up here: http://col-test.100webcustomers.com/comic.php

That has no layout it is just the base program.
greeze7 years ago
Thanks for this. I just joined Instructables so I could favorite this. Looking forward to the scanning and coloring.
technosapien (author)  greeze7 years ago
Well thanks, I'm honored! I am looking forward to the scanning and coloring too, I wonder when the author will get aro.... Oh, right. Say, has anyone figured out how to fit 26 hours in a day? :)
awesome comics :D
PocketSized7 years ago
Great Instructable. I've always wanted to make a comic. Even a very basic one just to help improve my poor drawing skills. Maybe later I'll sit down and start designing characters. Cheers