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January 28, 2015 7:11 PM   Subscribe

What are some tips that I could use to help me write out comics I'd like to draw?

For the part year, I've delved pretty heavily into independent/self published comics. It's a great underground scene with a great community. I'm an artist myself (my website link is in my profile) and I've been itching to create some original comics. I'm a fan of surreal art. But I've been having a lot of trouble starting.

I'm not happy with anything I've been writing. Stories or ideas. I feel like the dialogue I write is very unrealistic, I can't seem to come up with any interesting angles for some panels. I've been working on an idea for a mini comic but I haven't gotten a page done so far. Sometimes I'll get motivated to come up with a great idea but.. it goes nowhere. I've been trying to get inspired by reading how other cartoonists write, what their process is like. I'm not sure if taking a writing class might help. Or if I'm just lacking in inspiration. I have the energy to work on a project.

Are there any tips out there? Or useful websites? Maybe take classes?
posted by morning_television to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Read as many short comics as you can -- self-contained stories of 20 pages or fewer. Get a feel for how much content fits on a page, and how many pages you need to tell different kinds of stories or communicate various ideas.

Read short prose fiction, too! Comics and short fiction have a lot in common when it comes to the amount of story that will work well in a limited space.

Honestly, though, my advice is to just make a lot of comics and learn.

Hourly comics day is coming up this weekend -- February 1st. The idea is that you draw at least one panel every hour, usually a journal comic that documents your day. Try that. When you're done, make it into a little book, even if it's just one copy. Having a small comic that you've made is incredibly satisfying.

Remember that you're just getting started. Not everything you do has to be amazing. It can even be super bad! That's fine! The important thing is to get some pages out of you, and get past the point where you feel so intimidated.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:37 PM on January 28, 2015

As for whether a writing class would help -- I attended an intensive writing workshop over this past summer, which focused specifically on short prose fiction. I've found that what I learned has been IMMENSELY useful in my comics work as well.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2015

The Art Students League in NYC has had classes on drawing comics, you could check there.

Wet Canvas has some forums where you could get critique on your drawings. There are artists of all levels there, and lots of very helpful resources.

There are probably both drawing and writing classes available through MOOCs, if you look.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 7:39 PM on January 28, 2015

Start with autobiography, journalism or essay comics. It will force you to tell a concrete story and not wander off on tangents, trying to figure out what happens next. It will also help you to be less precious about dialogue, because you'll be basing everything on stuff people really said. Some of the best comics ever have been non-fiction.

You should also consider teaming up with a writer. A lot of comics creators started as pure-artists, illustrating somebody else's scripts, before they moved into writing their own scripts. If you're not inspired to create your own original stories, don't force it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:42 PM on January 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Try drawing the comics you want to write. The script doesn't always come first, especially for little things. I once did a single (large) page story that just started with a drawing of a sexy wizard dude descending a staircase; along the way to the bottom of the page it turned into a riff on the myth of Orpheus.

My first major attempt at comics was done with a friend. We both came up with the story together; we got down to an outline, then I drew rough page thumbnails with deliberately lame dialogue, he wrote much better dialogue, then I did the final art.

If you're a solo act you may not ever need a formal "script". They're a tool for a writer to communicate with an artist.

I am typing this on my phone and think I may be repeating myself. More later when I get home.
posted by egypturnash at 7:53 PM on January 28, 2015

Have you considered teaming up with a writer? You don't need to do it all.
posted by alms at 8:30 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might want to start with penciljack comic forum's list of tips

1 Storytelling and Page Building
Story telling 101
ImagineFX story telling- search for more in the workshop
Mase's sequential process
Symson: A Guide to Putting Together Your Sequential Portfolio
Camera angle definitions and examples
Basic camera angle terms and Amadarwin's script writing layout
Page Layouts and Pacing
Eddie Ching's Storytelling 101 thread

1.5 Writing
Steve Lieber - Writing for an artist/ PJ Discussion here
John Freeman: Writing Comics - a guide
Suite 101: Writing and Publishing (Site has many articles)
Peter David: How I Write a Story
John Ostrander: Plotting 101
Kurt Busiek: On Writing for Comics
Gail Simone: Artist tips for Writers

I was going to mention Scott McCloud's making comics but I don't know if it is any good.

Regarding cartoonists' processes; I think it's highly individualistic.

I'm skimming this interview with Brandon Graham about his process just now, which is good.

Somewhre on his tumblr, he mentions doing masterstudies of other cartoonist's panels. I need to start doing that.

Start with autobiography, journalism or essay comics.

This makes sense, and may be much easier than something gag-driven.

I'm not happy with anything I've been writing. Stories or ideas.

You may want to start brainstorming ideas by dumping a raw feed into a stack of indexcards or pocket mead notebook; dump them into a shoebox, and just get good at capturing side-ideas while you're currently working on a minicomic about a tour of some fish scientist's lab and work or something.

Are there any tips out there? Or useful websites? Maybe take classes?

Check to see if your town has a recurring cartoonist meetup or if your local art school gives a course in this.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:32 PM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

To learn gag writing or just realistic dialog, you might try taking existing comics or a stack of your draft pages with stick-figs, blot out the dialog, and insert your own. Or random lines from Hemingway. This will help separate learning writing from the technical challenge of image-making.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:46 PM on January 28, 2015

You mention an interest in surrealism. There is certainly en existing precedent for surrealist and/or non-narrative comics. I'm sure you've seen old Zap and Yellow Dog comics, as well as Art Spiegelman and Francois Mouly's Raw publications. And, for that matter, slife-of-life type comics, like several on your website.

My own comics exist in the same independent "scene" you speak of, and I don't think you could call many of them "stories." Even when they end up going on for more than a few pages, I just kind of go and see what happens.

Your work is great, by the way, and I think you're probably overthinking things. I've noticed a tendency that seems especially strong in people who draw comics to feel the need to do things other than what they naturally do. I do it too, but it looks to me like your work has its own interesting and productive direction.
posted by cmoj at 9:44 AM on January 29, 2015

You might want to check out Summer Pierre. She's in your neck of the woods and teaches classes I believe. On her blog she talks about her creative process too and maybe she'd offer some insight?
posted by biscuits at 10:24 AM on January 29, 2015

I found it helpful to read through the entire archive of Questionable Content and pay special attention to footnotes at the bottom, where he sometimes makes comments. For a long time, he often just wrote "Comic!" or something. It seems to me that for a long time, he was just relieved and proud to get SOMETHING published. Also, reading through the archive in one go (say, over a long weekend) will make you very aware of how very much the art changed and improved over time. That helped me just get started with whatever crappy place I was starting and have faith that if I keep working at it, it has hope of someday being decent.

I also later started a "sand box" project, which has been a valuable experience.
posted by Michele in California at 11:30 AM on January 29, 2015

One thing that helped me a lot: Take a short comic by a creator you love, that has the same kind of pace you want to get in your own work. For every page, write a one sentence description of what happens on it. Ponder how much happens on one page, apply to your own work.

You could even take those sentences and use them as a basis for your own short story of the same length. Obviously you'd want to change things around a lot, but really just kinda playing Mad Libs with that synopsis could give you something worth playing with.

Also: if you want to improve your dialogue, read/listen to a lot of well-crafted dialogue. My ex watches a LOT of sitcoms, and is thusly a lot better at writing snappy, arch dialogue than I am; this gave the comic he scripted a very different feel from the one I'm doing solo.
And if you want ideas for camera angles? Well to be honest sometimes the last thing you want is an exciting camera angle. But when you do want one, there's always "Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work" waiting to give you a bunch of quick formulas to spice up some otherwise-prosaic dialogue with cool visuals.

Mostly: just draw a character in some situation, doing something. Then draw another panel that follows from it. Repeat until done. If it's a bad story, even an incoherent one, that's fine - now you have something to fix, if you see something good lurking in there, or some mistakes to analyze and try not to repeat when you try again.
posted by egypturnash at 12:38 AM on January 30, 2015

(Hell, looking through your site, there are some images that definitely hint at a story. Like, why does that lady have an elephant in her room - is it about to change the record for her? What does the woman with the snake coiled in her legs have to say to the snake, or it to her? What happens when all those crate-diggers realize that lady found the obscure 1973 jazz album they're all questing for? Take one of those images, or others with a similar amount of story hiding in them, ask some questions like that, then write down whatever the hell you think one of the characters will say in that situation, or sketch what you think they'd do, then repeat with that new panel.)
posted by egypturnash at 12:45 AM on January 30, 2015

Also you should maybe check out this previous ask on the subject.
posted by egypturnash at 12:56 AM on January 30, 2015

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