What is a comic book? In short, it’s a story told by a series of pictures, typically in a matter of 20-24 pages. But that’s not the whole story is it? No, a comic book takes a lot of work, from a lot of people, and if you love comic books then you should know what it takes to make one. You may have even asked yourself, “How are comic books made?” So let’s break it down by the creators involved, and what they contribute to making a comic book: writers, artists, letterers, inkers, and colorists.
Comic Book Writers
If you read comics, odds are you have a favorite writer. That creator who when you here they’ve got a new book coming out, you put it on your pull list, or check the release schedule constantly as the date approaches. But what does it take to have their story published?
Establishing the story
Well, the process isn’t all that different to other forms of creative writing. A writer has an idea, takes notes on their idea, and develops a story. They need to decide whether or not the story will be an ongoing story, or if they just want to write an enclosed mini-series, or graphic novel.
Next they’ll need to start writing the script. This process is not dissimilar to writing a screenplay for a movie, or a stage play for the theatre. They’ll need to decide on blocking for each panel, the dialogue, descriptions of character movements and other such story plans. Typically, they’ll include their ideas for the amount of panels they’d like to appear on a page as well. But what about getting the book picked up, and published?
This part of the process might look different depending on the publisher, or the type of book. If it’s creator owned (image comics, dark horse, etc.…) the writer will have to get a creative team together, get some sample pages ready to go, and submit the idea as a pitch document to a publisher. Some publishers, like DC or Marvel will only accept pitches from writers that they’ve requested work from.
Either way, this is where an editor comes in. They will either approve the pitch, and move the script forward, or tell the writer to try again, or in some cases they may just deny the pitch completely.
Comic Book Artists.
Just as you may have love for a writer, you most likely have a favorite artist as well. They bare the same responsibility for making a book great that a writer has. An artist is the next step in the process, and for some they are the most important part of making a comic book.
The artist receives the script and reads it. They take the story into account and sketch out rough thumbnail ideas for the story, including movement, space for the word bubbles, and page layout. They send these roughs out to the editor who approves each page individually, or notes down changes that will need to be made in order to tell the story more clearly.
Once the artist receives approval from the editor they start to draw the full pages. They sketch out a rough idea of where everything goes on a 11”x17” bristol board (if they do it in a physical medium), before completing complete pencil sketches. They send these to the editor who shares these with the writer. They decide then if the script will need to change, or if any of the pages will need to be redrawn.
Comic Book Inker
The inker has a very under estimated job. They are often creators who are attempting to make their way up to a full time artist role in the industry. Their job isn’t just tracing the penciled sketches done by the artist. They decide on line widths, and add textures to separate the foreground from the background. The inkers add shadows and create effects such as spatter or washes. They work with different pens and brushes to create a black and white page, while preserving the dynamic nature of the art.
Comic Book Letterer
Another part of comic book creation that often goes overlooked. The letterer’s job is one that can be forgotten quite easily, but is one of the most important parts of the process. A letterer first develops the fonts that will be used throughout the comic book. Including sound effects, and sometimes even changing fonts between different characters. They then go through the inked pages and add the script to the pages. Sometimes they shrink the font sizes to fit all of the dialogue into the word bubbles that have been provided for them. Most letterers design completely new fonts for each book that they get hired for.
The finished pages are sent over to the colorist. This includes the front and back cover. The colorist first photocopies the pages, and scans them onto a computer. Next they color the pages by hand to create a guide of sorts that will inform their decisions in the next part of their jobs. They then transition to the digital file, where they can blend the colors more cleanly. They use the physical guide that they created, and work from the background to the foreground. The colors are stored by the computer to ensure that the colors will be consistent throughout all issues of the book.
Comic Book Printing
Once the editors, writers, and artists have all signed off on the completed pages they send the book off to the printer. The pages are arranged in order to ensure that they tell the story correctly, and a proof is printed to make sure the quality is upheld. After this final check, the printers make the amount of issues that have been ordered by the publisher. Then it’s out to the shops through a distribution company. At the shops, the books are put onto shelves, and purchased by eager fans, but you already knew that part.
This is the typical process for creating a comic book. There are other ways that people publish comic books. Sometimes a writer is also the artist, inker, and colorist. Sometimes a writer will self-publish a book, after they hire an artist, inker, letterer, and colorist. And sometimes a creative team publishes their stories as a web comic. No matter the story gets out, what is most important is that people are telling their stories, and we love them for it.