Fill in the Blank Comic Book - No Drawing Required!

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I've found that the most challenging part of creating a comic book, for most people, is the artwork. It requires a lot of skill and time, which prevents many from finishing or even starting their idea. To solve that, this project re-uses public domain comic books, giving an instant layout and artwork, allowing you to spend more time writing the story.

The application demonstrated here is an educational activity. Learners are expected to read the original text-only version of a story, and then fill in the blanks with their own personal take on it.

If you want to create an original story, you'll be limited to the panels available, but with some creativity, you can still end up with a nice little comic that is fun to make, and likely much faster than starting from scratch.

Supplies:

  • Computer, printer, printer paper
  • Internet access to: Digital Comic Museum or similar public domain comic archive
  • Image editing software (I used Photoshop, but more basic programs should work)
  • Word processing or desktop publishing software (I used InDesign, but Word or similar will also work)
  • Booklet stapler or 3 staples, 2 binder clips, 1 push pin, and corkboard (or thick layers of cardboard, etc. so the push pin can go all the way through without damaging the surface below)
  • Optional: paper trimmer

Step 1: Choose Your Comic(s)

Go to the Digital Comic Museum or other comic archive. Find a comic, or comics, and download the image for each page you want to include. (All of the comics shown in the photo are available online, along with many, many more. It's a great site, so consider supporting it.)

For the easiest printing and assembly, you want your final page count to be a multiple of 4 (including the front and back covers). If you come up short, find some puzzle pages or interesting advertisements to use as filler.

A few tips and warnings (more on the DCM website):

  1. Please do not use this technique to attempt to duplicate work that isn't in the public domain. There is plenty of material available that is legal to use without chipping away at the income of hard-working writers and artists.
  2. In the U.S., characters are held under trademark, not copyright. Just because you can use the comic doesn't mean you own the characters in the artwork, so do your homework before fantasizing about building your own comic empire this way.
  3. Keep in mind when using vintage comics that the standards of what was socially acceptable 50-100 years ago differ from what we believe now. There will be old-fashioned portrayals of women, unflattering stereotypes of foreign cultures, etc.

Step 2: Resize and Color-correct

Use a photo editing program to resize or do color corrections on each page image, if necessary. The scanned images I downloaded were resized from 72 ppi to 290 ppi, which gave a final print size of about 4.3" wide x 6.7" tall. Since there may be a slight difference in the size or straightness of each scanned image, this is a safe size to aim for to fit a half sheet of letter-sized paper. It can be enlarged a little more before printing, once you make sure all the pages will be the same size.

If you have Photoshop or similar, see if you can create an action or macro to quickly apply the same changes to the full batch of images. I'm including here a screenshot of the adjustment action I made for the color pages. The exact corrections you make will depend on your images and style preferences.

In addition to the color corrections, I selected the borders around each panel and filled them with white to brighten them up.

Step 3: Clean-up B/W Pages

I needed some filler pages so my total count was a multiple of 4, so I grabbed a few short B/W comics that I thought could be used as coloring pages. They were very yellow from age, so I desaturated each image 100% to turn the yellow in to gray, and adjusted the levels until I got the best contrast. Then, I whitened the borders, as before.

If you want to keep the vintage look, you can desaturate a different amount, or colorize with a different hue to get the look you want. (This goes for the color images, too.)

Step 4: Make It "Fill in the Blank"

To make this a "fill in the blank" comic, I went through each panel and removed the narration and dialogue. Just fill or free-hand paint a solid color over the boxes or bubbles. In a few panels, instead of a solid color bubble for the text, I wanted to match the background texture to add variety and authenticity. I used the clone stamp tool for this. It's a lot more work, but looks nice where the text is directly on the background of the scene rather than in a bubble. As you complete a page of panels, save it. Tip: In the file name, be sure to include the page number so sorting by alphabetical order will also put them in page order. For example: Comic_01, Comic_02, Comic_14, etc.

It's also a good idea to review the thumbnails of all the pages for uniformity. You want to make sure there aren't any images that stand out garishly from the others due to differences in saturation, contrast, etc., or places where you forgot to remove text. This is especially important if you're blending panels from multiple comics into one. Make sure everything will flow nicely for the reader.

At this point, if you want to fill in the blanks digitally, you can do that. Otherwise, leave them blank to write on later. To add text now, in your image editing or desktop publishing software, just add your own text over the image of each panel. Then, when you have a whole page done, select all the elements and save them as a single new image for each page. I recommend saving them as new images (versus overwriting your original cleaned-up versions) in case you want to re-use the same comic panels later with different text. You'll have a clean set of panels ready to use.

Step 5: Organize Your Finished Pages

If you have a moderately advanced desktop publishing program, it may come with a feature in the print settings that automatically organizes the pages for a booklet, adding blank pages when necessary (if you didn't follow the multiples of 4 guideline earlier).

(Supposedly, you can also do it automatically using any word processor or other program with the "Print to PDF" feature. Once in PDF form, you can use Adobe Acrobat or Reader to print it as a booklet. I haven't had much success in getting the booklet printing settings to put things in the right order for me, but you may want to test it for yourself. Instructions for printing a PDF booklet)

To organize the pages manually, you just need to "think" like a booklet (see the diagram). We'll be printing on a letter-sized sheet of paper, landscape orientation, with 2 images on each side of the sheet so it can be folded in half for the booklet. Each sheet of paper will be printed double-sided, flipping on the short side.

In your word processing program, set the page orientation to landscape and, set up 2 equal columns or just divide the page visually in some way so you can align 2 of your page images side by side. Then, start placing the pages in the manner described below:

The first sheet of paper will include the front and back covers on one side -- the back cover on the left and the front cover on the right. On the reverse of the first sheet, you'll have the 2nd page on the left and the next to last page on the right.

Each of the inside sheets will contain the next two pages sequentially from the front, and the next two pages sequentially from the back. The diagram probably explains it best, but if not, here's an example of how to organize the images for a 12-page comic book (including the covers):

First sheet of paper, front side: [BACK COVER, FRONT COVER]

First sheet of paper, reverse side: [PAGE 2, PAGE 11]

Second sheet of paper, front side: [PAGE 10, PAGE 3]

Second sheet of paper, reverse side: [PAGE 4, PAGE 9]

Third sheet of paper, front side: [PAGE 8, PAGE 5]

Third sheet of paper, reverse side: [PAGE 6, PAGE 7]

Once you have all the images in the right places, add page numbers or any other additions for the final print, and then send it to the printer.

Step 6: Check & Fold Your Booklet

After printing, align the pages and double-check the order is correct for use as a booklet.

Fold each sheet of paper in half and crease firmly.

Once all pages are creased, open them up and stack them together again in the correct order.

Step 7: Stack the Pages for Binding

If you have a booklet stapler, this step is easy -- just staple your booklet in 3 evenly-spaced places along the center fold. If you plan to make a lot of booklets/comics, consider investing in one of these.

If you only have a standard stapler, you can still get a decent booklet staple by using a push-pin and loose staples.

First, I recommend clipping the pages together to keep them from sliding around. Use some scrap paper folded thickly to create padding under the clips so they don't crease your comic pages.

Next, lay the booklet pages on corkboard, thick cardboard, or another surface you can easily puncture with the push-pin without damaging anything below it.

Step 8: Make Holes & Insert Staples

Break off 3 staples from the bar of staples used to refill your stapler.

Space each staple out where you want it along the fold of the booklet. (You can also see this in photo #2 of the previous step.) This is just to help choose the best spacing. I suggest doing the center staple first, to test the process, before doing the other two.

When you know where you want the staples, using the push-pin, poke a hole where each "leg" of the center staple would go into the booklet on the fold. Push completely through all the pages, keeping everything as straight and aligned as possible.

Once you have both holes created, pick up the center staple and insert it from the outside in toward the center of the booklet. Once it's pushed all the way through, press down the "legs" to close the staple.

Repeat this with the other two staples. Once all three staples are secure, re-crease the booklet (weight it down for a while, if necessary) so it lays flat when closed.

Step 9: Trim Pages (optional)

If your booklet has a lot of pages, you may notice that the edges are uneven -- the outer pages will look shorter, due to wrapping around the thickness of the other pages. I didn't do it this time, but for the most professional look, you can use a paper trimmer to trim the edges even. This gives a nice square look to the edge of your comic book.

Step 10: Enjoy Your Comic Book!

You should now have a completed comic book, ready to add your own story and share with others!

Last tip, if you're making this as an educational activity: As you can see in the second photo, I provided summaries of the characters to help the learner understand who was who when comparing the original story with the comic. You might want to do the same, or provide a copy of the original comic text to support the learner or instructor.

I hope you enjoyed this comic book instructable. If you did, please vote/share, and don't forget to show off any comics you make using this technique. Thanks for reading!

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