Writing a Comic for the First Time – Pt. 1

I’m a big fan of certain comic and manga artists, like Charles Burns and Junji Ito but I never thought I would end up making one.

File0018I’ve decided to write a comic because It’s a great story telling medium, It has quicker output than animation which allows me to produce more stories + get better at telling stories over time; and it’s still a visual way to tell them.

Coming from an animation background I’ve never written a comic before so I thought I’d detail my home-made process to encourage anyone else out there who wants to create and make interesting and diverse comics/graphic novels/manga. This process works for me but everyone is different so don’t be surprised if your process ends up different.

1. Detailing Ideas and Basic Concepts

My memory is completely shithouse so when I’m thinking of ideas and concepts for stories I’ve got to write them down right away, otherwise they slip into the fog that is my swiss cheese brain.

So to begin with I just write down ideas and visual ideas that I think of, into my journal(to keep it all together). I also write down questions I need to ask myself like “what is the protagonists motivation in this point?” or “what am I trying to say with this comic” or “why is this character even a human?”. Asking myself these questions by writing them down helps me to answer them by forcing me to think, and if I can’t answer them they’re on the paper so i can come back and work them out later.

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2. Sequence of Events

The sequence of events is the scaffold where the narrative starts to come together.
On a blank page I write paragraphs that describe what is happening and basic dialogue. I then separate the story beats and breaks with arrows. The SOE is kind of like a story mind-map.

So an example of would be..

       ‘Protagonist wakes up in sewer with no legs. Pushes character b off of her(startled) and talks to him. Character b explains his intentions and background(limited). Protagonist has flashback to falling into sewer.

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  Protagonist finds driftwood and shoves them into her leg holes, creating prosthetic shins. Crawls out sewer grate into bare concrete trench. City can be seen in distance.

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etc.’

I find the sequence of events to be particularly useful in establishing early problems and holes within your story which is indispensable.

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3. Script

The script is where you start fleshing out your dialogue and the concepts that the characters and their interactions will construct. I’ve found that using the same script format as screenplay scripts works best for me. So under your character names the text will be dialogue, then other lines will be descriptions of actions and what is going on in the scene. You can find a script format tutorials everywhere including here.

Writing and formatting your script in a word processor is a pain in the ass so I’ve found that using a screenwriting program like ‘Final Draft‘ to be much better. After a few hours of use the program becomes second nature and makes writing out a script easy and quick.

I tend to write several drafts of the script over several weeks. I’m new to writing for character so I find convincing and ‘natural’ dialogue particularly challenging. After I write my first draft and wait a few days, I’ll go back and view the work with fresh eyes. I often find much of what i had written previously to be… pretty shit, but that’s ok because you can use previous dialogue and work on it to make it better, more complex and more natural.

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4. First Visual Draft

The first visual draft is comprised of a series of small boxes representing pages, and stick figures in the boxes representing characters with primitive surroundings. The idea is that you can quickly sketch out what you visual want each panel to look like and not worry about the quality of your drawings.

This is only meant to be seen by you so don’t be ashamed by the quality of your drawing. As long as you can understand what is depicted then your drawing is good enough. It’s about getting the vision out of your head and onto paper to be worked on later.

I recommend numbering your ‘pages’ as it can get a bit confusing after a while.

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5. Second Visual Draft

If I was working by myself I would skip this step and go on to step 6. to save time, but my friend Oscar C is illustrating the final work so I’ve created a second visual draft to convey my ideas to him.

The second visual draft should be a representation of the final work. The comic zine I’m working on will be an A5 sized booklet so all pages in this draft are that size. I draw on both sides of each page so when I bind them it will look like the finished book, and you can flick through and see any weaknesses it might have.

The pages and drawing will take longer than the first draft because you the drawing need to make sense to someone else. In this stage you will also likely change pages and panels because you will realize other things work better. This is good, don’t be afraid to change from your first draft.

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When all the pages are complete you can bind them with a bull clip to keep it all together. You now have the entire comic in draft form!

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The next 3 parts(final panels, editing + digitization, self publishing) will be in the part 2 of this tutorial.

I just bought a book called ‘Making Comics’ by Scott McCloud. I can’t recommend it because I haven’t read it yet, but it stood out from all the other ‘how to make comics’ books I could find. Instead of teaching you how to imitate the style of other comics etc., it concentrates on how to construct a good story, effective panel layout, what to show and what not to show in those panels and stuff like that, which is exactly what I need. It also seems that master storyteller Neil Gaiman recommends it so it’s definitely worth a look. I’m hoping it will improve my comic writing abilities.

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– Hamish S.

2 comments

  1. Diego Ramirez

    “The society for the study of manga techniques” has a series of books that are actually quite clear and helpful. The cover design of the books is fairly crap but the content is good. I believe they have them at the RMIT library.

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