Do you have a long form project in mind? Are you ready to pull the trigger and start the journey? Well, believe it or not, there are some really important things to know and do before you start. But don’t just take my word for it either, sometimes you need to work for 20 years in an uphill battle before you can get something important through your thick skull. I know, because that is how it was for me.
So, here is my simple list of things to consider before starting your comic project.
10 Things Before You Start Your Graphic Novel
1) Read books on the subject.
I recommend Understanding Comics and Making Comics by Scott McCloud first. I would also pick up How to Make Webcomics because putting it online is the best thing you can do these days especially if you are a no-name artist or writer. [Also, it wouldn’t hurt to check out my book all about Self-publishing comics called – Unnatural Talent: Creating, Printing and Selling Your Comic in the Digital Age.]
- Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
- Making Comics by Scott McCloud
- How to Make Webcomics
- Unnatural Talent by Jason Brubaker
2) Make a Model Sheet or Turnaround
Or even sculpt your characters in 3D or clay. The last thing you want to do is start redrawing characters half way through your magnum opus. Here is a modelsheet/turnaround example from one of my TV pitches.
3) Start with an idea that you really believe in and want to share with others.
This is important. It takes dedication to make a graphic novel so you really need to love and believe in what you are trying to say or do.
4) Write your story before you start drawing it.
This may sound like a no-brainer but I have a bad habit of doing this. It always ends in disaster. You don’t want to spend 10 years of your life on something that has no ending.
5) Develop a style that is doable and wont take you a gazillion years.
I learned that I didn’t need to ink my pages because I could boost the contrast on pencil lines in Photoshop. That trick alone saved me hours every page. My main character is simple (the cat) and easy for me to draw. If I were to draw a Mech robot graphic novel, it would take me forever.
6) Focus on your strengths.
Draw what you love to draw. Don’t make a story about the army if you suck at drawing tanks (unless it’s your mission to learn how to draw tanks while making a GN). But I’d suggest not using this medium to learn how to draw something. It will just look different from start to finish and you’ll constantly want to go back and fix old ugly tanks.
7) If you plan to draw realistic human characters, make sure you know anatomy.
If you plan on drawing lots of perspective then learn the rules of perspective. Take some classes or buy some books FIRST. Practice your anatomy and perspective for a good year or two before starting your book. Trust me, you will waste a lot of time if you don’t. Here are some of my favorite anatomy and perspective books that I learned from.
- Drawing the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm (anatomy)
- Figure Drawing for all it’s Worth by Andrew Loomis (anatomy)
- Figure Drawing: Design and Invention by Michael Hampton (anatomy)
- Constructive Anatomy by George B. Bridgman (anatomy)
- Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre (composition)
- Successful Drawing by Andrew Loomis (perspective) <–download links
8) Make rules for yourself
Make rules for yourself to follow throughout your book or it will look like a different book at the beginning and end because you got inspired along the way with some new technique. My rules are pretty simple.
- I only use the paint textures that I made.
- Only 4 panels per page unless it’s a sequence of frames where the camera doesn’t move.
- I draw everything on paper and scan it. No digital lines except for subtle changes.
- All my pages are planned out as double page spreads so I can control the mood and story better.
9) Work in RGB mode but print in CMYK mode.
Simply flatten your page and convert it when you’re finished but always save your master RGB file with layers if you need to change it. All printers print in CMYK. Everyone has their own opinion about this so study it up for yourself before you start. All I know is that this is the way I finally chose to do it and the colors in my printed book look perfect on paper. It also helped to have a good designer involved as well as a good printer.
10) Work in at least 300 dpi.
That’s what all the printers print at that I’ve talked to. Most Marvel and DC guys create their pages at 450 to 600 dpi but it all gets reduced in the end to go to print. If you want to print posters of your pages then you will want to make your file 600 dpi, though. Once again, figure out what you want out of your project before you just start making 50 pages.