I get asked this question quite a bit. There are a number of people who already know how to draw and don’t need basic pointers on how to physically draw a comic. They want to know how to get the ideas that are in their heads out there for all of the web to see. This week’s Tutorial Tuesday is going to focus on that. I’m going to show you the quickest way of getting your digital comics put together from planning and ideas right up to uploading to the Internet. I’ll use my own personal webcomic – El Cuervo - as the sample for this tutorial.
The first thing you need to do is pick up a small sketchbook (if you don’t have one already) and basically jot down all of the ideas you have in your head. It can be pictures, characters, plot lines, dialogue, etc. Just get it all out there and attack that book with everything in your head. Once you’ve plopped it all out, you can quickly turn the page and start to coherently put your ideas together. Don’t worry if your initial outpouring is sloppy and all over the place. This is why you have a sketchbook/idea book for dumping any of the cool ideas and observations you’ve made.
Here’s a couple of sample pages from my idea book for El Cuervo.
You can see that I started out with a couple of simple character drawings and a whole pile of plotline ideas. I tend to work in point form and develop my story outlines that way. Once I have a solid set of scenes established, I’ll develop them further later on. I just happened to have this little movie playing in my head and I wanted to get as much of the visuals down in text form so I wouldn’t forget it later.
Now that you have a rough idea of your story and some of the characters within, it’s time to develop your main players further. Draw your character in different poses and actions, and create character sheets for each of your main heroes/villains that will spend a lot of time gracing the panels of your digital comics. By having these characters drawn out, you can refer back to them at any time so you don’t neglect any details or to remind you of how to draw certain features based on the particular poses.
Here’s a head charcater sheet I did for El Cuervo:
Draw your character until you get to the point of throwing up. That’s when you know you’ve reached a point when you can draw this character with your eyes closed. The repetition will ensure you always manage to draw your character as it was intended, every time.
Scripts and Storyboards
I hate to break it to you, but you need to have some sort of plan before you even entertain the idea of putting your drawings into digital panels. It’s like deciding to take a trip across the country without consulting a map. You could figure out how to get there, but eventually you’ll waste more time going the scenic route rather than the direct route. Since you’ve already written out a pile of rough ideas in your sketchbook, it is now time to sit with a word processor and add your details. I’m not going to go into specifics about writing scripts, but here’s some information on the process.
Get your thoughts developed and divided into panels and pages. Also, get an editor to review your dialogue & narrative. Nothing looks worse than a typo when you’ve published your new webcomic. It sticks out like a sore thumb!
Here’s how I’ve laid out the script for El Cuervo. Click for a larger image.
El Cuervo’s script is divided by page, then by specific panel. Within each panel is a description of the action, what the caption text is (if necessary) and the dialogue. I also place page specific notes when necessary. Your script doesn’t have to be that formal, but I prefer this format in order to keep my ideas intact, since I tend to forget a number of small details and nuances that I may feel are vital to how I’m going to draw the panel.
Once you’ve set up a script, you can start with your storyboards or thumbnails. The thumbnail portion of the webcomic development can be the most fun. Instead of drawing out the entire page and realize that the flow is incorrect, you can easily whip of a series of half to quarter page sized thumbnail sketches of your story and make your adjustments on the fly. Since the thumbs are pretty devoid of any real detail, you can easily change angles, sizes etc without having to redraw entire pages worth of content. This extra step in layout before the actual drawing can help you solve a lot of problems before you get started on your ‘good copy.’
Here’s a series of thumbnails I did for El Cuervo to show you what I mean:
When I originally started, the comic was going to be presented in the typical 6×9 vertical page style in a grid of 6 panels. I then realized that the comic was going to be presented on the web first, and translated to print after. This would pose a problem for web viewing, since I did not want the user to have to scroll excessively to view the majority of the content. I decided to keep the comic contained in solid panels with black borders and in a square format. The panel count would always be a grid of 6. This would give me the flexibility of producing the comic in vertical format for print (2 across/3 down) or horizontal format (3 across/2 down).
Had I not planned this out in the thumbnail stage, it would have been a bit more difficult to plan out my pages.
Drawing Digital Comics
There are a number of ways you can draw your pages. Some people prefer to do their pencils by hand, then scan them into the computer, touch up the linework and color and complete them in that manner. Others prefer to do all of their work on the computer from start to finish. It all depends on your comfort level and what works in the most efficient manner for you. I draw El Cuervo starting with pencil thumbnails which are then scanned in and I draw overtop of the rough thumbnails in Adobe Photoshop. Since the comic itself is only in black and white, I tend to pencil and ink my work at the same time. This saves me quite a bit more time, since I’ve cut out the penciling and coloring stages.
I tighten up the thumbnails quite a bit, and at times I change them completely if they don’t work.
Once you’ve completed the page (depending on the level of detail, color, etc) you’ll end up with something like this:
Save your file as a JPEG or PNG and label it by page number (or date or however your filing system is going to work) and you’re done the first phase of the webcomic.
Enter the Web
Now that you’ve developed your comic ideas and you’ve established a routine, it’s time to get this comic out there for the world to see. The first thing you’re going to need is a home on the web. You could use free hosting, but it is generally laden with ads, slow in response and limiting for the amount of traffic allowed. If you’re going to do this right, (and save yourself the headache of moving once you decide to do it right) you should save up some money and get your own hosting. This space on the web is yours, and provided you’re not harboring mp3s/software/pornography, you can do as you please with it.
El Cuervo uses HostGator as the hosting company of choice (as does idrawdigital.) For a mere 90-100 dollars a year, you can have a decent amount of space, bandwidth and loads of other options you can learn about at HostGator’s site.
Secondly, if you’re buying the space, you should buy a domain name as well. These are also quite affordable and can run you as low as a few dollars, depending on the suffix (.com .net .org) I personally use NameCheap for my domain name purchases. Their customer support is great and they offer great deals as well as bargain prices. You can have your own vanity name on the web, but remember it is permanent for as long as you’ve paid for the name, so choose wisely. I’d suggest creating a list of at least 5-10 names and then check their availability. Most domain resellers have a search function to check if your site name is available.
Now you have a domain and webspace and your comics. You need a website. There are a number of methods to getting one.
• Do it yourself – if you have a background with websites, you pretty much have an idea of what to do
• Use a template provided on the net or from the hosting provider
• Get someone to do it for you (paid/favor/etc)
El Cuervo was created by myself, using WordPress. I liked the content management aspect of WordPress and its ease of installation and theme tweaking made the process a lot easier. Seeing as I already have a design background, it was quite easy to do. If you are new and want to get your hands dirty with web design or a WordPress blog styled setup, there are countless tutorials on the net to help you out.
Once you’ve set up your website and uploaded your comic for the world to see, there is one last thing you need to do. Get noticed.
Promoting your Webcomic
The comic is up, you’re furiously updating and everything is going smoothly. But there’s only 2 people viewing your site on a regular basis. You, and your mom.
That’s not good enough. You need to get people to see your work. The easiest way of doing it is going out there and showing it to every person you know, joining forums and getting to know people and gauging interest in your style of webcomic. Once you’ve established a relationship with people, then hit them over the head with your amazing work. Word of mouth is often one of the best methods of getting noticed. You tell one person, and they tell one person and so on and so forth. If you frequent blogs that are related to your topic and sites that have a community centered around webcomics, eventually you’ll start a small following.
This takes time – you wont have a flood of viewers every day, so expect to have a disappointing turnout for a little while. I can’t exactly force you to go out there and mingle amongst all the webcomic crowd, but there are a number of networking opportunities that will give you loads of traffic if you’re persistent and approachable. Attend comic conventions, meet other people who draw webcomics and get information from them on how they got started – this is the time where you should be soaking up as much knowledge about the scene as you possibly can.
It’s like starting school all over again. You have to learn things, make new friends and be the best you can. You’ve probably done it before in life, so it shouldn’t be THAT hard,.
There’s the tutorial for the day – I hope you learned something valuable from all this. If you’ve been sitting on the fence trying to decide on whether or not you should take the plunge and make your own webcomic, I say do it. You have nothing to lose!