Ugh, these FRIGGING ROBOTS. I started going slightly insane drawing all the robot battles while making this comic. See if you can spot the exact moment my brain begins to crack … oh right, and that’s Daniel from Friends With Boys making a “cameo” in the last panel. And by “cameo” I mean “Faith was tired and didn’t want to do any new character designs so we’ll just stick a dude from her previous comic in here.”
Today I’m going to talk about two really simple, practical things that will make your printed comics look so much better, things I wish I’d been aware of when I first started making printed comics. These aren’t really things that are massively important (you can ignore all of these suggestions and still make very good comics), but they are small, helpful things that I think an awareness of gives your comics the sheen of professionalism. I hope you find these tips helpful!
1) When you thumbnail your comics, draw two pages side by side (a double page spread), not one page at a time.
Here’s the crazy thing: when you read a book, you actually have two pages open in front of you, not one. This isn’t the case for webcomics, and it took me forever for this to click into place. Once I got the hang of this, my comic pacing got a lot better, as I could see what the reader saw, the double pages open before me. I could withhold a panel at the end of a page and then reveal a surprise or horror when the reader turned the page, whereas before I would possibly just stick that revelation at the top of the right-hand page, lessening the impact. The reader would see the reveal before they even read the left hand page, spoiling the surprise. It’s so much better to make them turn the page to get surprised. It keeps ‘em reading the book, too! (Which is very sneaky. But isn’t that the goal of comics? To make ones that make the reader want to turn the page?)
Oh, and here’s a fun tip: Odd numbered pages always go on the right hand page, even numbered on the left (except page 1, which is all by its lonesome).
This method of thumbnailing also can help you with paneling, allowing you to create interesting repetitions where one page deliberately mirrors each other. Or not! Or you can do something completely different. That’s the fun thing about comics: there are literally a billion ways to make them.
2) Don’t bleed panels into the spine.
This is more of a preference than a rule, but it’s something that gives your comic pages a bit more white space, and thus allows the reader’s eye to relax and not be overwhelmed by your amazing art, which then allows your artwork to have more impact because the reader isn’t skimming it because there’s sooooo much of it. It’s the whole less is more thing.
When I first started making comics, I thought THE BEST COMICS had artwork jammed in all over the page, that was what made them THE BEST. So my early published comics look very cluttered (especially Zombies Calling), because there’s very little white space to relax the reader’s eye. It’s all artwork artwork artwork where ever you look.
I’d (mostly) figured this out by Friends With Boys, and with the exception of a couple of pages where I was trying something experimental (wish I hadn’t done that, actually), there are no bleeds into the spine. Thus the artwork is nicely laid out, and the reader doesn’t feel like he/she has to crack the spine in order to see all the drawings.
This is a preference I specifically have for book-like graphic novels, smaller books with many pages packed into them. Larger format trade books (especially hardcovers, or even floppy 22 page comics) that can be laid flat on a table and read that way don’t tend to look as cluttered when the art bleeds into the spine. Even then, I don’t really like it when you have two different pages of a comic bleeding into the spine so that they meet. They’re two different pages and the artwork isn’t related and isn’t supposed to be touching! It looks weird and I disapprove! … this is a very specific pet peeve. Even artists whose work I admire (like Paul Pope) who do bleeds into spines don’t do it for every single page. There’s still plenty of white space in their comics, so they don’t look so frantically overworked.
(… that is the best drawing of a cat I’ve ever done on that example page up there. BASK IN ITS GLORY.)
I was also going to write a bit about scanning & prepping lineart for print and what works best for me, but honestly, every publisher is so different and usually has such specific requirements, it’s a bit of a fool’s errand. So here’s some quick & dirty scanning suggestions:
1) Scan in grayscale, at least 600dpi, use Image > Adjustments > Threshold to turn your grays to black. Ta daa! A very nice black and white image, nice for printing, and (once you lower the dpi) nice for the web. Don’t do what I used to do, which was mess around with levels to try and get rid of pencil lines and make your inks look black. I guess this is redundant if you have a nice scanner that will scan things properly in black and white, but I am not so lucky.
Some people suggest scanning in colour and then just removing various colour channels to get rid of pencil lines, but it takes a really long time to scan things in colour with my scanner and I’m just not that patient.
2) An 11 by 17 inch scanner is so worth it.
Man, scanning large comic pages on an 8 by 11 inch scanner and then piecing the whole thing together in Photoshop is the WORST. This is the scanner I use, and it’s decent for scanning lineart. It’s lousy for colour and won’t scan black and white well, but if you just use the technique in point #1, you’ll get very decent lineart scanning out of it. When I come into a large chunk of cash, I will probably invest in a better scanner, but for the moment, this one does the job fine.
And thassit! Hopefully something in there was helpful for somebody. Oh, and if there’s any comics-related topics you guys are interested in me blogging about, drop a suggestion in the comments.