Making Comics

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NEW RESOURCES TAGGED IN GREEN - Last Updated May 3rd, 2013

This originally appeared as a blog entry but people seemed to like it, so I thought it should be cleaned up and made into a permanent fixture. Feel free to pass along suggested additions (and report broken links) to Nick.Tapalansky[at] or @NickTapalansky on Twitter.

Also please note: while much of what’s on here is specifically about writing comics, there’s great advice for comic artists in all of these links, too, not to mention plenty of stuff that applies to doing anything creative. No matter your artistic medium, be it painting, illustration, or writing, there’s something for everybody below if your interest is in being a professional storyteller. Remember that comics in particular is a collaborative medium – best to know how all sides work, not just your own. Read and learn, read and learn…

I thought about trying to add images to this post, something to make it seem less… Well, wordy. More fun. Exciting. But breaking into comics, or any creative career, ain’t about fun and excitement. It’s about work, and that includes lots of reading. If you’re serious about making stuff up for a living, no matter how you define “living,” take note: it tends to be work for most of us (Stephen King and Ray Bradbury excepted), regardless of how much you love it.

For me, breaking into comics was sort of like cobbling together a sledgehammer from a broken chunk of curb and a stick. What you’ll find below is a fine selection of precision tools. You’re lucky. And because I do have just a bit of ego, I’ll color some of the links with suggestions, notes about my own work style, and my experiences. Because it’s my site and I can and you can’t stop me nah nah.

A small disclaimer though before we get into the list: you can spend your whole life reading how other people do things in search of The Secret Way To Get Famous And Be Loved By Readers Everywhere. I know because I spent years looking for it myself. Wanna know what it is?

Write. Draw. Paint. Do what you’re going to do and get better in the process. You don’t need Permission.

That’s it. And reading, of course, but that goes without saying if you’re going to be any kind of storyteller. The number one way to get better at what you want to do is to do it. Make mistakes. Improve. It may not feel like it at the time, but when you look back you’ll be surprised at how much of your own growth you recognize (and groan at, looking at your old work).

So don’t mistake the links below as some kind of Great Secret Grail, and definitely don’t get too lost following link after link into an inescapable pit of perpetual “education” in the field. Learn by watching those you admire, learn by reading all the time, learn by asking questions. And when you’re done with the links below, turn off the wi-fi, unplug your phone, and lock up the PS3 controller until you have a solid, unshakable work routine. It’s the only way.

Learn by doing. You’re going to hear that a lot in the links below, so get used to it.

Now that we’re settled, let’s open up the toolbox and see what we find. I’m going to separate these links into a few categories and try to organize them as best I can. These are all going to be links to free online resources, though there are TONS of excellent books about both writing in general and, specifically, creating comics (be you writer or artist). You’ll hear about them in some of these links and I might chat about my favorites in a future post/update.

Comics 101

Want to learn the basics of writing and pitching a comic? Warren Ellis wrote a fantastic three-piece series for Comic Book Resources way back in 2000 that fits the bill. Covers all the basics, from basic tools to concept to pitch.


And if you’re looking to hear the honest, unvarnished truth about kicking in that door and going pro, Gail Simone posted an excellent blog to her Tumblr just last year with all the gory details. Make ready for a face full of truth before clicking.


Writing All The Things

Alright, you’ve read the posts above and STILL really want to make comics? Really? Okay, cool. But how do you turn our brilliant idea into a story? What about writing a script?

There’s no “industry standard” format for scripting, though there are commonly accepted rules and standards out there, and there’s certainly no “right way” to come up with your story, but the links below might help you find your own method to do both.

A great resource for professional examples of comic scripts from across the industry, including Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman, Matt Fraction and more.

Antony is the writer behind books like WASTELAND and THE COLDEST CITY over at Oni, not to mention working on video games like the DEAD SPACE series and ZOMBIE U. His process is almost identical to my own and, after years of trying to figure out how I work, is where I’ve set up camp. I like making notes and I like mapping where I’m going. Most times I veer into uncharted territory, but having one in the first place gives me confidence to go forward, even when I wind up some place completely different.

Jim is the writer of the rather awesome SKULLKICKERS. That he’s giving away his secrets for free is something you should be grateful for. His essay on writing comics appears in five parts, but each one links to the next, hence the single link here.

I can’t tell you how much easier using Scrivener has made my writing life. If you’re a Mac user I strongly recommend you consider checking out Antony’s guide and grabbing Scrivener for yourself.


Selling Your Goods

So you want to try selling your comic, huh? Well, it ain’t easy but it can be done. The key to a solid pitch is brevity: be quick, clear, and get out. Put as much info in as little space as possible – and that doesn’t mean using a tiny font. You have to distill your story into the most concise description possible. Doesn’t matter how much work you’ve put into it, remember that most editors probably haven’t heard of you if you’re just starting out and don’t have time to read a phonebook. You may not get to include your favorite sub-plot about the funny robot’s bottle cap collection, but that’s okay; if an editor likes what you’ve put together you’ll get to tell them alllll about it.

But enough from me.

Jim Zub (that guy again?!) has posted a series of articles about the pitch process. As with his series on writing, this one is divided into multiple parts – there’s a link to each subsequent article at the bottom of every entry.

Michael Lapinski is an illustrator, animation director, story teller, and one third of the team behind FEEDING GROUND. A few years back, he was awesome enough to put up samples of the pitch package they used to successfully sell their book. The package shows off an important, and oft-forgotten tool of pitching a comic: make the package look like the final product. Show off a distinct style, sense of design, and the ability to entice a reader, be they an editor reading a pitch or a fan browsing the shelves, and you’ll likely find more success selling your book. This is the best template you could hope to have when beginning to design a book package, but remember to make it your own. This isn’t a mold, it’s a guide, and should be interpreted, pulled apart, and reassembled as best fits your project.

Honestly, there’s not too much out there that doesn’t say the same thing that Jim, Michael, and I do: keep it short, get an editor’s attention with a solid hook, artwork and design are key etc. Most importantly, stick to the posted submission guidelines on a publisher’s website. Show them that you went to kindergarten and can follow basic instructions. You’d be surprised how many pitches get tossed just because they don’t fit the posted format requirements. Stand out, by all means, but within the guidelines. If I can find other examples, I’ll add links later.


It’s Dangerous To Go Alone

Most publishers searching for creator-owned comics (Image, Dark Horse, Oni, etc.) tend not to accept submissions without artists already attached to projects. This is also true, to a lesser degree, of artists without concrete stories (though it is easier for them to find work-for-hire). And unless you have experience under your belt, Marvel and DC aren’t going to hire you yet, so even if your greatest dream is to write or draw superheroes for the Big Two, you’re gonna have to do something on your own to get their attention first. That means finding an artist (or if you’re an artist that needs a hand, a writer).

Very quickly before we get to some resources: etiquette and professionalism, people. Remember, as a first time comic creator an artist or writer has no reason to take a chance on working with you. What you’re asking them to do for you is a big deal. You want them to give up time and resources to help bring your dream to life. Depending on the creator, where they are in their career, and what they’re currently working on, you need to be prepared to pay them.

Some collaborators will take a paycheck for the pitch and accept a rights split if the book gets published (they get 50% of any profit, you get 50%) in place of a page rate. Some will do the pitch for free if they love it and you let them be your creative partner rather than a wrist-for-hire, because then it’s as much their baby as it is yours. Some will need a page rate for the whole book because they have families to feed. Always show a writer or artist (or letterer, or freelance editor) that you respect their time and skills by asking what their rate is for a pitch in your inquiry.

Be upfront about what you can afford when you’re speaking to a potential partner. And come prepared with a budget you’re prepared to lose if the book doesn’t get picked up. After your bruises heal you save up and try again with the next story.

But where to find someone to take that plunge with you?

A strong community of aspiring and working comic creators. Good place to find some support, critiques on your work, and a collaborator, whether an artist or a writer.

Similar to Penciljack, these forums are a great resource for new and seasoned comic creators, particularly if you’re looking for a partner in crime.

More of a free-for-all here, but still a good resource. Do a search for “comic pages,” “sequential art,” and so on. If you see someone(s) you want to reach out to, send ‘em a message. Unlikely to find many writing collaborators here (there are better sites for that, as dA is tailored to visual artists), but plenty of possibilities for seeking out artists.


Lifestyle, Storytelling, Revision, and Inspiration

So you’re sure you want to create comics, you know how to make them, and you’ve got an artist to help with your clear, concise pitch, but you’re having a rough day and need some inspiration, a point in the right direction as you revise your work, or even just a kick in the pants to get you back on track. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Awesome comic writer Gail Simone drops some knowledge about what to do once you’ve actually gotten your foot/arm/other expendable limb wedged in the industry door. Important reading for anyone who is, or plans to be, writing as a career and not just a hobby.

Sean Gordon Murphy (writer/illustrator of PUNK ROCK JESUS and illustrator on the beautiful JOE THE BARBARIAN and HELLBLAZER: CITY OF DEMONS, all of which are housed at Vertigo/DC) explains the importance of creating your own stories. You may want to work for “The Big Two,” but he makes some compelling arguments for artists and writers alike to consider (all of which I agree with) when pursuing a career in making comics. While he’s talking to artists mostly, encouraging them to write their own stories, much of what he says applies to writers too. A good read for anybody looking to create comics.

I don’t care if you love or hate Pixar movies (though if you hate them you can JUST DIE), these rules are the most concise and clear guides to coming up with, writing down, and releasing your story to the world I’ve ever seen. Every writer, no matter what medium, should read these.

Joe Hill is the writer of two fantastic novels (HEART-SHAPED BOX and HORNS), my favorite short story collection (20th CENTURY GHOSTS) and the amazing comic series LOCKE & KEY. So, yeah, he’s sort of a hero of mine. Here, he walks you through his revision process, which you may find to be way over the top or just right depending on your level of dedication and OCD. I happen to fall in line with this pretty well.

…the act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process.” ‘Nuff said. Good to read/watch when you’re feeling beaten down by your story.

I’ve experienced ALL of these. I’ll bet you have too. Good advice and good for a laugh, too.

This site is full of inspiration by way of filling your brain with all sorts of amazing, beautiful, and inspirational posts about the world: current events, science, history, the arts. I’m calling out the “writing” tag here because that segregates posts specifically about the act of writing, but I strongly recommend you favorite place the main page and check it often.


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