How to Create a Comic Page

Without pulling your hair out

Is that even possible? I am still asking myself this question. Somedays it's a "YES! I got this!"...quickly followed by the reality that the great comic gods are ready to humble you at every turn.

Above the Clouds started because I wanted to learn how to create a comic.  I still have a long way to go, but I thought I'd pass on a little of what I've learned through trial and error so far. And if you're new to comics a good starting point is by picking up Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.

The key to saving your hair and time is prep work.

The Master Outline

As a new story teller, using a master outline has been a BIG help in keeping the story on track. It helps you keep track of the story beats that get you from point A to point B. For story structure, a good reference is Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald.

Many storytellers have written that if something goes wrong with your story the problem must be in your First Act, where the big problem or question you ask in the story is set up. With the amount of time it takes to create just one page, it is better to put in the extra effort at the beginning than finding out when it's too late.

That's why I'm starting with the backend of comic-creating before moving to the drawing part.

Chapter Outline

As the prep work evolved for ATC, I found that having a secondary outline for each chapter helps with your thumbnailing stage. Here is a snippet from chapter 3:

Like my thumbnails, it's kept rough (unless I am dealing with the dialogue portion).

There are many ways to go about creating a script for your comic. Some like to have full on scripts with scenes broken down by panels and pages. But for the story being told in ATC, something a little more flexible was needed.

Looking at the script, the image above visually shows how my brain likes to break down what needs to happen. 

I like to keep a flexible script. This allows me to quickly glance at what needs to be drawn. I can then make decisions that allow the artwork to flow in a natural way without having to have forced panel stops dictated by text. Sometimes, what works in text may sound like the best stopping point in your story, but in visually solving, you'll find a different solution.

In the example, each page is broken up with a cliffhanger (noted in the marked up text). It doesn't have to be heart pounding to be a cliffhanger, it just needs to ask the big question:

What happens next?

That question is KEY when laying out your page and keeping the flow going from one page to the next. The last panel needs to lead the viewer's eye to the next page.

And it's a big help when creating an overarching story that will be viewed one page at the time. 

In the 2nd part of this post,  I will talk about Above the Clouds thumbnails and how they get transformed into the final image!