I recently made my first comic. It was an awesome experience, but also just a little bit terrifying. I'm writing about it partly to share with other people who are about to start out on their own comic journeys and say you can totally do this! But also to reflect, and get ready to do it all over again.
As a kid, I'd written and drawn my own comics and stories. The most memorable was a book in the shape of a dog. The dog book wore clothes and had a change of clothes in a bag. Every page had panels that also fit the shape of a dog. Maryann and Jalapeno (obvious names for dogs) were the stars of the story. I don't think the story went anywhere or was about anything in particular. I was only ten so can probably be let off for not being very good at plot. I showed it to everyone.
As an adult the idea of writing a story and letting people read it, and drawing the pictures that accompanied it became both a dream and a source of intense dread. I spent a long time caught between really wanting to draw my own comic, and also being desperately afraid of letting other people actually see it. I took part in a few zines, and then a couple of hourly comic days, but I still felt like I didn't know what I was doing, and like a bit of a fraud.
So I applied to exhibit at Thought Bubble (my all time favorite con) and on the 25th March 2016 I found out that my buddy Shaun and I had got a table and I kind of better start making a comic.
I felt inexplicably confident and optimistic. Thought Bubble wasn't for seven months. I made a plan:
April: Write a story. Plan it out!
May-Aug: 4-5 pages a month.
Sept: Wrapping up month/extras.
October: Start of October: printing.
At the time I worked 4 days a week, with Saturdays put aside for art. I planned to draw 20 pages of comic and then have the cover and insides of cover extra. I also planned to do postcards, stickers, prints and business cards.
I set out drawing characters. This seemed like a good place to start. And it's something I love doing. I had a few things pretty set in my head from the start; the story was going to be about a couple of girlfriends.
One of them was half goblin because I absolutely had to draw a green pointy ears.
And the other?
I wasn't convinced. Around this time I had some kind of crisis of confidence! I was getting behind on my self imposed schedule. I'd had quite a lot of art work for other people on (which obviously came first) but it had sucked up all my time to work on my own project. Luckily, I have some bloody fabulous friends who I meet up with to draw and talk shop. I wasn't sure on the designs. I didn't have story. Everything was kind of half baked. One evening in 'Spoons everyone pitched in to help me out a bit, and I managed to get a much better idea of what the characters were like
, not just what they looked like. Knowing more about them actually helped me know what they would look like!
(Didn't go with pigtails!)
(Did go with this bag. Where can I buy it?)
This was all well and good. I was starting to feel like I knew my characters. I knew what they'd do in certain situations. I knew how they stood. What they liked. Where they lived. What they thought of each other. I didn't have a story though and it was late August and time seemed to have passed the quickest time has ever passed.
The best thing I did right then was email comicprintinguk.com and get a quote. This gave me a more realistic idea of how long I had and what I needed to get ready to send to the printer. And it gave me a bit of reassurance about how much it was going to cost. Which was not as much as I imagined!
I made a new schedule. I organised things in order of importance and when they could be done. Writing went at the top, followed by roughs/pencils, inking, and shading. Then covers. Extras and things like business cards, prints, stickers all went at the end as 'things that would be nice to have, but not a tragedy if they didn't exist'.
I remember I opened word and just sat down and thought that I have to write this now. And I wrote my script. I didn't stop until I wrote it all!
Actually, the script I wrote for myself and the way I set it out is probably one of the things that worked best for me on the first try. It helps that I was going to be drawing it, so if some things weren't exactly the clearest I could tell myself what I meant. I knew I was now aiming for slightly less pages than I'd first planned, as time was feeling tight, so I wrote the page numbers and tried to spread out the story. This approach worked really well for me because I had to really think about what would go on the page, how many panels there might be, if the speech would fit, and if the story flowed.
Next I moved onto checking my script actually worked as a comic. I made a mock up of the comic - basically the number of pages I was going to have including the cover, folded over to make a book. I drew really quick sketches on each of them to show the action, and drew speech bubbles and the text to get an idea if it would fit. The mock up was great for showing me where the pages would be next to each other, and made it easy to plan the beats and where reveals were best placed.
When I scanned this in though, thinking I had been clever and could use it to draw straight from, I found I had made a bit of a mess for myself. The pages of A4 were not the same aspect as the pages of the comic (US standard) so the images had to be chopped and stretched and moved around.
A thing I'd change for the future would be making sure to do my pencils properly, so it was less work to do the final drawing. I had to go through each page to make corrections and draw panels again. I would do all my pencils digitally too, so that if the sketch captured something perfectly I would be easily able to copy it to the final drawing layer. It was
super easy to make changes and work digitally on the comic overall though. I think I would have chucked it in if I'd had to correct all my mistakes on paper!
(On the second page above you can see the template helpfully provided by comicprintinguk.com - the blue and black areas on the edges that mark the unsafe areas and the bleeds)
Once I got into the drawing, it seemed to go pretty quickly. I did work on it most evenings and on Saturdays, but I was still going to roller derby training twice a week, and taking days off. I kept tweeting/instagram-ing little bits of work as I went, and this really helped keep my spirits up as my friends were awesome and encouraging! I think that I'd managed to draw out all my pages, including the speech bubbles and text, by the end of September.
At the start of October I had a week off work and I'm sure around that time I started shading on the pages. I'd set myself a new deadline of getting it to the printers around mid-October, so that it would be back with me the week before I went to Thought Bubble. To help plan what I was doing and motivate myself I drew a chart with each page listed with check boxes next to the aspects (eg. lines, text, shading, finished). This helped me so much. I love putting a tick in a box, so I felt really driven to keep going.
It was really satisfying watching it all coming together. I decided to do all the lines first. I figured if I didn't have time to shade the pages then it would be okay to print it as it was. Luckily I ended up a little ahead of my deadlines and has plenty of time for shading.
Once I finished the lines and lettering I got Lee (my partner) to read my story! I was SO NERVOUS. He banned me from the room because I kept jiggling around behind him. He gave me some good feedback on some speech bubble placements/how it read. It was just small things thankfully!
Lee isn't really into comics, so his eyes were pretty useful when it came to thinking about if it was easy to understand who was speaking, which panel you read next, and what was happening - as he isn't fluent in comic book visual ques. I thought about getting more people to read it, but at this stage if people had suggested changes I wouldn't have had time to do them, so I didn't put myself though it!
My shading was super cheating, I just duplicated the lines layer and used flood fill, then used a new layer to add shadows and highlights. I'd be ashamed, but it worked ok and saved me loads of time.
Then I worked on the front and back cover, and the notes on the inside page. I had a strong idea already about how I wanted the cover to look, so I just went for it and it worked out pretty well. I only did one rejected version first where the colours were too bright.
It was weird having everything finished. I had ended up with a week spare before the deadline I'd set for printing. I kept faffing with things in the comic, and going back and altering artwork or neatening lines. In the end I decided to just get it sent off so I didn't sit there tweaking my own drawings forever.
Once it was gone I got to work on some stickers - as I really wanted to have stickers, and they had the longest lead time. Then I made my business cards, I was having those printed locally and I used images from my comic and stickers on them. I even squeezed in drawing a print using some of a page from my comic and altering it to be a stand alone image. I had those printed locally the day before I set off for Thought Bubble!
My comic arrived back a whole week before the con.
Taking it out the box, and holding my own comic work for the first time was seriously the BEST FEELING EVER. It's been my goal for so long, it hardly felt real. I kept having to open the box and just look at them over and over!
I'm not deluded about my work. I see lots of room for improvement. But I can't help still feeling proud that I did it. I guess I should feel proud really?
I really did enjoy making my comic. I had never drawn so many backgrounds before. I had never drawn the same characters so many times. It's given me so much confidence in my work and my own ability to see a project through to the end.
Next time around I plan to do the same things in terms or schedule and script. But I know that I would do more initial work on penciling the pages. I'd also aim to make all round better artwork! I tried some things that just didn't feel very me. For example, I used a googly eye kind of simplified face that I sometimes draw for fun in my sketchbook/on notes to friends, as I thought that I can draw like this quicker, and that it would be simpler to keep all the characters consistent with simpler features. I ended up drawing in a more time intensive way anyway, and then wished I hadn't chosen to go with that kind of style. But this is a pretty minor thing overall. Lightfeets feels like a great start for me to continue from.
I haven't decided yet if I'll go for full colour next, but I do think I'd use less grey if I had to stick to greyscale. I'd also probably go for the UK comic size, but that's just a personal preference thing.
The final thing I'd hope to do next time would be making a longer story! My page count ended up being 16 including covers and I'd love to make a more substantial feeling book.
That's kind of it. My tips if you're dithering over starting your own self published work? JUST MAKE IT! I learnt so much. It improved my drawing. It improved my motivation to make work. It improved my life (for real).
Taking my book to a convention was so exciting. Being behind the table instead of being a visitor to the con was amazing. Make it, make it, make it.
Even if you're not 100% happy with what you make (and who ever is? Not me!) you really won't regret the experience gained.
Thank you for reading this mega blog. Hopefully it's helpful to someone. Even if it just tells you what not to do! If anyone has tips, questions, or experiences to share I'd love to read them in the comments. I'll be updating with progress on my next project soon!
If you want to read Lightfeets, then visit my Etsy for your own copy: athevs