Overview of the Comic Creation Process

Comic Overlord Comic Overlord
August 6th, 2022

Overview of the Comic Creation Process

Comic book fans around the globe are often unaware of the hard work that goes into creating comic books. It doesn't matter how hard it is or how many people are needed to make an idea come true. Many people are skilled in various roles, including penciler, inker, colorist, letterer, and editor. To produce physical copies, printers are required, and a distribution network for comics that end up at your local comic shop.

Perhaps the comic is a webcomic, and one person does all the jobs.

This article will provide a quick overview of the most popular methods for creating comics professionally and when used in smaller projects.

Stan Lee from the early days; this guy created a lot of comics.

The Process

From conception to completion, comics go through many stages. This sequence will help you to understand the essential components of comic creation. I'll then go into detail about a few.

Stage 1: Conceptualization/Ideation

  • This is the beginning of the project. You need a great idea to create a great comic.
  • Although anyone can create the central idea of a comic, it is usually developed from a writer's or editor's storyline.

Stage 2: Development of the plot

  • The writer expands the basic idea into a story outline that can be used.
  • Each story element is arranged with care for character development and pacing.
  • This is the planning stage that will determine how the story unfolds.

Stage 3: Script

  • The script is written by the writer using the plot outline as a guide.
  • Two common methods of writing a comic are the Marvel Method (plot-style) and the full script (sometimes called "DC style"). In a moment, I'll explain the differences between them.
  • This is the primary way for the writer to determine the story. Everything that follows is based on the script.
  • Sometimes, a writer might forgo the stage entirely and communicate verbal plot points to an artist who creates visual storytelling through thumbnails.

Stage 4: Art Production

  • Multiple artists create the comic from the script.
  • First, penciling takes place. Next comes inking and then coloring.
  • Sometimes, these steps can be done digitally in whole or in part.
  • Many factors can affect the size of an art team for a comic. Sometimes, one creator can handle all aspects of art.
  • The editor oversees all aspects of this process and facilitates contributions.

Stage 4a: Pencils

  • The penciler is often considered the primary contributor artist. They determine the appearance of the comic. This person is responsible for the foundation drawing on which all subsequent art will be built.
  • The writer will give the sketching instructions.
  • Once the thumbnails have been approved, the penciler will draw the entire comic in pencil.
  • Some pencilers do not bother with the thumbnailing stage and instead work directly on the page to create their panels.
  • Digital comic production allows artists to pencil in a program such as Photoshop.

Stage 4b: Inks

  • The penciller provides rough pencils to the inker. They are used as guides for the final line of the comic.
  • An inker does more than "trace" pencils. They also decide which lines will be needed to create the final image.
  • Inkers can use subtle techniques to affect light and shadow in a piece of art.
  • Some artists prefer to draw in ink and forgo penciling.

Stage 4c: Colors

  • The comic's final line is passed to the colorist, who usually uses a computer to color the black-and-white images.
  • This stage requires that the colors do not compete with the liner. They should complement or enhance the line art.
  • This step is unnecessary for comics intended to be in black and white.

Stage 5: Letters

  • Once the comic art has been completed, a letterer inserts dialogue boxes/bombs into the comic panels and places all the text.
  • Proper placement of dialog balloons is essential from the thumbnail stage. They should not compete with the composition or cover any art.
  • Although letterers work on computers, some letters are written by hand.

Stage 6: Editorial

  • While the comic creator is active, the editor of the comic gives it a final check-over to resolve any content issues before publication.
  • Webcomics and digital comics may not be edited or intended for publication in print. You may need to combine or skip some of the steps below.

Stage 7: Printing

  • If the comic is to be sold as a physical product, it must first be submitted to a printer. Based on sales estimates, a limited number of copies will be printed.
  • This can take several weeks, depending on how large the order is.
  • Many printers will take small orders. You can finance self-published comics through personal investment or crowdfunding through platforms like Kickstarter.
  • Photocopying your comic can be done at any business that offers printing services if your budget is very tight. FedEx is an example of such a company.

Stage 8: Marketing

  • Marketing a comic is an ongoing task in parallel with its production.
  • Marketing can take many forms, including press releases that are sent to media outlets, ads (both print- and online), advance copies being sent to media outlets, and coverage at conventions.
  • Marketing is different for solo creators. Social media can be used to find potential readers for your comic. You will attract more interest if you are active on the internet.

Stage 9: Distribution

  • After the first order of your comic has been printed, it must be sent in some manner to the public buyers.
  • Diamond Comics is the distributor. They have a network that allows them to ship comics to local stores throughout the United States. The downside is that you will need to sell through quickly.
  • Alternative distribution methods include conventions and direct sales online through services such as Comixology.
  • Distribution is determined by the scope and budget of the comic for DIYers.

These are the basics of comic creation, but things are changing. There are many differences in the composition and process of creative teams between webcomics and traditional comics. In just a few minutes, I will explain the process. 

Complete Script Versus Script (Marvel Style)

There are two primary schools of thought about how a writer prepares his script to be used by the penciler in creating a comic. The "full script style" is the traditional way people view TV or movie scripts. They provide detailed descriptions of all the actions, including breakdowns of each panel's actions. This style of script-writing is very detailed and leaves no room for ambiguity.

Marvel-style scripting, also known as plot script style, is slightly different. This method was developed by Stan Lee and his collaborators in the 1960s to allow one writer to manage multiple comics simultaneously. The script only covers the essential beats of plot and action and leaves much of the interpretation to the penciler. After completing the art, the writer will determine the text and dialog for the final page.

It is easy to see the pros and cons of each type of scripting. A complete script is best for those collaborating with artists or fearing that your vision might not be communicated clearly with a plot-style script. It's usually the best option. A plot script is a good choice if you have multiple projects to manage or need to trust your artist to make the right storytelling decisions. It doesn't matter what style you choose, as long as it communicates your vision clearly throughout all stages of development.

Team Makeup

Let's suppose you don't want to create a significant print comic. What next?

Most of the steps involved with creating a webcomic, or anything creator-driven, are the same as those involved in making a printed comic for a major publisher. The only difference is the smaller size of the team. This will mean that you will need to fill many specialized roles using fewer people.

The writer/artist duo is a common alternative to the traditional method. The basic structure is the same, except that the artist does both the inking and penciling and sometimes may even be responsible for coloring the comic. A letterer and a colorist are usually involved in the team if a primary artist doesn't color. If the comic is destined for print, an editor is generally involved, with printing/marketing/distribution handled similarly to mainstream print comics. The editor of a comic intended for the internet is likely to act as the sole author. They either submit the comic to a third party (like Comixology, Thrillbent) or host the comic on a privately-managed website.

Some creators work alone -- handling the script, art, and distribution/promotion by themselves. While they may get advice from trusted friends, most creators work alone to create their comics. Although this method of working is more difficult than others, it allows for the most creative freedom. This method is worth a shot if you can handle all the work yourself and can be disciplined.

The Bottom Line

The primary sequence will remain the same regardless of how you approach your project. Start with an initial concept. Next, create a plot outline and a script. Based on the script, create the comic art using pencil, inking, and then adding color (if the comic is in color). Add captions and dialog to the final artwork to maintain the visual flow. You may be able to skip certain steps depending on how large your team is. You might trust your artist to create panels without much supervision as a writer. In this case, the artist may skip the thumbnail stage to begin penciling the page.

Final word: Choose the method that best suits you and your team to produce your comic.

Some good resources:

Good Colleges to go to for Comic Art, These are good places School of Visual Arts at University of Texas at Austin, and also Savannah College of Art and Design

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