Whether someone has been an avid comic book reader their whole life or an interest in graphic novels or comics came along later, many people are drawn to the punchy artwork, fast pace, and intricate storylines present in comic book. While some comic books are clearly aimed at a young audience, many comics are an ideal diversion for grown-ups, so it is no surprise that creative authors are interested in creating a comic book to tell their stories. But comic book creation is not the same as writing a novel or even a short story. So let’s look at what you need to know to bring your comic book story to life from inspiration to publication.
Don’t Think Like a Novelist
The mindset of an author who is penning a comic book is very different than that of a novelist. One key difference between these types of writers is that a novelist focuses on telling every aspect of a story by including candid details, giving precise explanations, and providing comprehensive background information for the reader to see the whole picture of a story, character, or plot line. But when creating a comic book, authors are focused on different ways to present the story, plot lines, and characters.
- Show Don’t Tell. The visual nature of comic books provides an avenue for authors to give readers plenty of detail not afforded to novelists. So preparing the plot and characterizations for a graphic novel or comic book must include how the artwork will move the storylines forward, develop the characters, and engage the reader in the story. In a very real way, the artwork is almost a character itself in a graphically-focused book like a comic. Comic book writers must plan to use artwork to show the plot’s intricacies instead of telling the reader how the events are unfolding.
- Dialogue over Captions. Much as a narrator explains story details to a reader, captions can inform a comic book reader of plot details or background information. But the primary way comics present content, plot, and explanations to the reader are through direct dialogue by characters in the story. Writing the story from the perspective of what the characters say (or think) is critical to creating a comic book, since the artwork will fill in some of the story details and characterization. Relying on captions to move the story forward is essentially simply telling the reader what they need to know rather than showing the plot or characterization through keen dialogue or impactful artwork.
Comic Book Creation: The First Draft
Crafting an initial draft of your story is just the beginning of creating a comic book. Different from novel writing, comic book creation requires an intentional process that will transform your concept into a visually appealing, organized story.
1. Write the Story
Turn your idea into a fleshed-out story with complete characterizations, developed plot lines, and story resolution. You might find that your concept has morphed into a storyline that is perfect for multiple books or that each character’s experience might warrant its own comic.
2. Create a Summary Framework
Once you are satisfied with the overall structure of the story, craft an outline or framework for the story by simplifying the plot into basic explanations and steps or stages. This summary framework will help you to visualize the story in chunks so you can lay out the graphics for the story.
3. Think Script Over Manuscript
Looking at the outline you have created, begin to develop concise, impactful dialogue that will move the plot forward and help the reader to understand each character and how the story is unfolding. In the same way that a movie script focuses on what characters say over what they are doing, shift your first draft into a dialogue-heavy script and away from a novelist’s manuscript.
Designing the Comic Book: Who is the Artist?
Before moving too far into comic book creation, writers should decide if they are the book’s author, the book’s artist, or both. Some talented writers may very well have the artistic chops to develop the art required for a beautifully illustrated comic book. But most writers are simply writers. Now is the time to determine who you want to work with if you are not doing your own illustrations or graphics. Connecting with talented artists on freelance websites is a great place to start. Remember that your illustrator will be bringing your characters and story to life, so making sure that they understand your vision and are capable of carrying it out is key to producing a comic book or comic book series you will be proud of for years to come.
Develop the Layout: Storyboarding
The next phase of comic book creation is to begin to lay out the story into a storyboard. To create a storyboard, you will block out each chunk of the story (chapter, section, or scene) into a panel that represents what will happen on that page. Each page may consist of one or more panels, but each panel will showcase one set of dialogue or action. Storyboards can be developed by hand or digitally and each should contain a basic rendering of what the graphics will display, the dialogue on that page, and any titles or captions that will be used.
Pairing Artwork with the Page in Comic Book Creation
The illustrator or artist will work closely with the writer to make sure that the story comes to life through their illustrations. But the work on the graphics is only part of what the artist will do.
- Artistic input is needed to determine where the word bubbles will be placed, how they will look, and what they will contribute, if anything, to the story. The bubbles themselves may be stylized to add to the feel of the story and their placement should be artfully considered so they support and do not detract from the comic book’s feel.
- Artists will develop the look of each character, working with the writer to capture emotions and expressions as well as how their movements are depicted.
- Artists may suggest ways to combine panels or extend single panels into multiple panels to best express the story through the illustrations.
- Writers will want to consider the artist’s expertise in graphic design when making decisions affecting how the book looks and flows, understanding that the artist’s rendition of the story reflects a partnership of experts who are both ultimately working toward creating a comic book.
Creating a Comic Book: Who Can Help?
Authors who are crafting a comic book don’t have to have all of the answers or the expertise themselves. Consider tapping into experts to save some time and end up with a great-looking comic book. Use free comic book templates so you don’t have to worry about creating a format from scratch. Computer-assisted design programs like Adobe Illustrator are often used with graphic books as well as open-source options like Inkscape and Affinity Designer. Consider working with one of these as you finalize your illustrations for your comic book.
Getting Your Comic Book Published
Once your comic book is complete, partner with a trusted printing company like Dazzle Printing to make your comic book publishing dreams a reality. Once your final digital draft is complete, self-publishing authors should also finish up the book development process with a few simple steps.
1 Secure an ISBN number so your comic book can easily be sold by retailers as well as identified by libraries. Make sure that the number and barcode are included on the cover.
2 Choose a title that sparks interest in your story and gives readers a hint at what the story is about. Consider whether your book might be the first in a series, since your book’s title may want to leave room for the possibility of future comics as well.
3 Decide on the best binding option for your book. Dazzle Printing makes choosing the optimal binding easy. By determining how you want your book to look, how long it is, and what type of paper and cover materials you want to use, you can choose the best binding for your project.
4 Choose the number of books you want to print and place your order.
5 Get the word out about your new book! When your book is being printed is a great time to begin generating interest around your upcoming comic book. Snag a social media handle to begin creating buzz about your book or characters, create an author’s website to provide more information about you or the book, and contact potential retailers about your upcoming book. Any excitement you can generate about your upcoming comic book will encourage potential readers to watch for your newly published comic book’s arrival.