Let’s Make a Comic – What Tools do I Need?

So if we’re making a comic, then I’m going to share that process. Too many people when giving advice say generic things like ‘Keep going!’ or ‘You’ve just got to work at it every day!’ while these are enthusiastic sentiments, they are about as useful as a chocolate teapot if you’re wanting to give it a go. The skeptic in me might argue that they don’t share information as it would add another entry into a crowded market, and god forbid it may take some light off their projects!

I doubt very much that a newcomer who had been given great and detailed advice would forget to mention the person who had helped them so much, and ironically if people helped each other more, they might get a larger audience for their own work too!

As I am starting off, luck would have it that I am going it alone too, so with every fibre of my being, I want this process to be helpful to anyone who wants to walk the same path!

In my first post, I mentioned the reasons why I wanted to make a comic, and I think it’s useful to have this in mind before embarking on a project like this. From drawing up a few pages I already know this will be a long process to do it all on yourself. I’ve signed up to this fact as what it takes in time, it gives me back freedom and autonomy in return.

So that’s the “Why?” sorted, but before starting to make a comic it’s important to consider the what and how.

What?

I will be making a one-off book, I want it to be a complete story before I release it. This has several benefits for me as I can choose to divide it into a series of comics later down the line, but I can also have it as a self-contained story should people read it that way. There are of course negatives to this as by releasing a series of comics can allow you to see the reader’s response and respond accordingly. Another benefit is you can continue the narrative and have it as an ongoing series similar to how Marvel produces Spiderman, X – Men, etc.

Again you need to decide what you want from the comic. I want it to be my own voice in comic form; like a painting, I don’t want it to be done by consultation and rightly or wrongly I want it to reflect what I like in comics – the art style, the pacing, the narrative. This may reduce the audience for the work, but I’m happy with that as I want to make a comic more for it representing my work, rather than gaining popularity because it is what is “On trend”.

So ask yourself – What do you want out of your comic? What do you want to achieve by making a comic? What does success look like for you? By answering these questions you’ll keep going because you’ll understand your motivations before embarking on this project!

How?

This is the real nitty-gritty, and often the stumbling block of any project – how will I do it? For this section, I’ve put down the apps I am using. I’ve balanced cost, performance, and how accessible they are. Let’s be honest none of us like to waste money and these achieve the overall look I’m after while not compromising on features you’d expect in a comic.

Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP)

If you’re making a comic you’ll eventually get to the stage where you want to publish it whether that be physically, digitally, or ideally both. For me, there is no better option than Kindle Direct Publishing which is under Amazon’s umberella.

There are several benefits to using this service. Firstly there are no upfront costs so should no one buy your masterpiece there is no penalty to you, which for me, especially with it being the first step into comics is ideal.

I used the platform many years ago to put out a colouring book and I found it to be a straightforward process. Should you want physical stock you can also purchase them at a lower cost so that you can sell them at comic conventions, shops, etc. All work is also given an ISBN number which is a big deal as it is specific to your book (think like a fingerprint ID for a book) which means it can be found easily. More beneficial to all of that is that your work is made available across the international Amazon platform, meaning that anyone can pick it up – Amazon will deal with all the postage, shipping, and crucially any returns which for me as an artist makes it hassle-free. Amazon does take a cut of the profits, but for me, I’m happy with that as the benefits outweigh the negatives.

Although I have not tested it yet, Amazon also has a publishing tool specifically for graphic novels, under the KDP umbrella and because Amazon also owns Comixology it means that your work stands the best possible chance of being seen and crucially bought!

Links: 
Kindle Direct Publishing
KDP comic publishing tools

Procreate

I am lucky enough to have an iPad and Apple Pencil and although these are more expensive than other tablets I do find that the Apple Pencil is the closest I’ve come to replicating the feel of drawing on paper. I also have a screen protector which offers some resistance which might also help with that too (I know you can get ones that mimic the feel of paper, but I haven’t tested these)

Lots more people though do have an Apple iPhone and so Procreate is a great app that works on both the iPad and Phone. The app retails at £9.99 in the UK and while this is quite a bit more than average apps – this is far from average!

It offers a wealth of tools to the artist. You can take a photo of your rough sketch and import it which saves a lot of time, and then from that, you can ink it using a range of great brushes. All the brushes that I am using for the comic come pre-installed with the app, but should you want more there are tons free online a simple Google of ‘Free Procreate brushes’ will bring up dozens that you can install and use. I also like the feature that you can save colour pallets. I am colour blind and before using digital I would use Letraset markers crucially as these labeled the colours, it was one of the biggest barriers to starting digital art and Procreate lets you label and organise all your colours so that they are easy to find. Better yet you can import an image of the colour palettes from your favourite markers such as Copic and save all the colours into the app!

For those familiar with Photoshop you will, of course, understand the importance of layers, and Procreate makes great use of these. For making comics, a nice feature is being able to make your line work the reference image and then drop colours onto the other layer saving you hours of time! It really is the best app you could want for drawing digitally and it quickly became my go-to app. Prior to using this, I was never happy with my digital work, it looked rubbish in comparison with what I could draw with a traditional pen and paper. I’m happy to say that the learning curve is not steep and you can achieve a similar standard to your traditional work relatively quickly!

Links:

Procreate

Comic Life 3

Finally to compile the comic, add the dialogue, sound effects, text boxes I am using Comic Life. This is available on PC, Chromebooks, Mac, and iPad .

There are countless apps that claim to turn your work into a comic, but I’ve found them to be extremely limited and generally a waste of money as you cannot create anything close to the comics you find in stores. Comic Life 3 is completely different and well worth your money!

It comes with a range of templates that may help some get off the ground, but for me, it is the fact that it doesn’t limit you to just using these which is so useful. You can start with a completely blank project should you wish.

Almost every element is customisable. Frames, speech bubbles, lettering every element can be tweaked. One of the most useful aspects of Comic Life 3 is that all the traditional comic book fonts are installed on the app so you can get the dialogue up quite quickly. Should you not like the fonts on offer you can also import a chosen font into the app and use it.  It even has a scripting tool that allows you to write all your dialogue ahead of time  should you want to (although I still prefer to write it on paper!).

With filters, drop shadow, and shading options I also found the overall quality of each page to be close to those you would find in other comics published by larger companies. Once the comic is made and you’re all happy with it, you can also export is as separate image files, PDF and even ePUB format which means it is even easier to import it into Kindle Direct Publishing which I mentioned earlier.

Links:

Comic Life 3

When?

Hopefully, you’ll find this useful, and whether or not you choose the same apps as above or have your own favourites I definitely think it’s important to work out your whys, whats, and hows.  I thought I’d share the finished front cover of Chicken Grit with you which has utilised both Procreate and Comic Life 3, I’m busily completing pages so that I can fully answer the “when question” and will keep you posted on the progress!

 

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