10 Things to Do When Getting Started with Comics

"I have an idea for a comic but where do I start?"

5 years ago I started down the road of seriously creating my first webcomic, Infinite Spiral. I had been putting off making Infinite Spiral since high school. At the time, that was over 10 year old procrastination! I would start then stop, because I had it in my head it wasn’t good enough. It had to be this epic, perfect narrative.

That’s not how learning to tell stories works … and the longer I waited, the closer it got to “you’ll never tell this story.”  I was introduced to comics through a class in graduate school, where I was studying serious game design. In that class, the reality hit. If I don’t start telling this story, I will never get it out there. I had to stop worrying about being “good enough.”  

I booted my comic, which I’ve been writing and drawing for 5 years now, knowing I would learn as I go. As a result my work in comics, both art and writing, has slowly and steadily improved bit by bit.  I kept a promise to myself about a world I created as a child.

So how do you get started?  Well ...

1) Don’t be afraid to just take the plunge. 

If you have a story and you think comics is the way to tell it, start writing itstart drawing it-find a way to get it out there. I’ve made over 100 pages so far with many more chapters to go.  I average something like 8 panels a page. That’s over 800 drawings in the course of 5 years with increasing complexity in characters and environments. This means tons of practice! If you are afraid to start because of your skill level, keep in mind, you can only get better.  

P.S. look at almost any long running webcomic's first page and most recent page. You'll see the evolution for most artists!

2) Choose a length and format that you can commit to and succeed. 

Think game design and early success.  For me, a deadline and readers are a great way to keep disciplined (barring my most recent hiatus due to some major life events) so I started a webcomic early. But, I took a class where I had to create a 28 page mini-book of shorter comics (2-8 pages).  

Short comics can build confidence, let you figure out a technique, and let you explore things you might not have a chance to once you commit to that long term theme, story, or topic for a webcomic or longer work. Not only that, but short works add up, and when formatted for print (I can share more on that if you like), suddenly you have something that you can sell too. And let’s face it, I love to make art, but it is validating to make money from your art (and it is hard work that costs time and resources).

If you are feeling gutsy, you can even submit a pitch for a short comic to an anthology, like the annual Square City Comics anthology I participate in.

3) Find someone you trust and respect to help you.

This mentor can guide you on techniques that will increase your comic’s professional touches early on—things like typography, composition, panel construction, bleeds and gutters. The little things that no matter what the drawing or story is like, can be well designed with the tools we have. And if you can trust them to critique the drawing and storytelling too, even better.

We all need mentoring and feedback (and if you are too self-critical, sometimes that is positive feedback so you don’t blow up things that are actually fabulous!). If you can, take a class, join a local meet up group for creators, find a safe online community where you can share, learn, and ask for resources.

4) Don’t be too hard on yourself. 

I think art often attracts a perfectionist. Desire for perfection in art is often inevitable, but there's a time and a place.  And that drive can keep works forever unfinished. Let some things go. I do that by trying to focus on one technical weakness at a time (i.e., hands, 3 point perspective, line weights) ! Lately it has been improving line quality for me. You can't be "perfect" (whatever that really means) in everything at once-or really ever. And if your were perfect all the time, wouldn't that be so boring ... (Bob Ross happy accidents anyone?) This goes with 1. It can be stifling and leave you with more blank pages than finished ones.

5) Don’t be afraid to do everything yourself.

This means writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering! It is hard to find a partner without compensation (as we know, good art and writing is hard work!) and you’ll, again, get better the more you do it anyway.

6) If you are doing a webcomic, build a buffer of 10 + pages.

I did not do this (well, my buffer wasn’t big enough) and then life happens … When people subscribe to RSS feeds and the like to read your comic, if you aren’t updating then you lose them. (Sorry readers, I know I’ve been bad lately.)

7) Read Scott McCloud’s Making Comics.

Not only is it a comic, but it is full of rich suggestions about technique, writing, and special ways to tell a story that exist because of the very nature of comics. If you haven’t had enough, many recommend Eisner’s books.

8) Go hang out with people who like comics.

Most are awesome and will keep you excited about what you are doing. Conventions, comic book stories, meet ups … lots of ways to find some people that keep you wanting to tell stories in boxes. If you are in the DC area, we'd love to have you at Square City Comics!

9) Know your tools.

Whether using digital or traditional mediums (and with traditional, there’s digitizing steps anymore), know how to work with them for the comics medium. Scott McCloud’s book can get you started there again, but really, get to know whatever tool you choose. The internet leaves us no excuses.

10) Read comics.

This seems like a gimme. I’ve been slow to add to my reading list, but it is worth it. You’ll soak up things about visual storytelling you’d never get otherwise. Dissect comics after you’ve read and enjoyed them. As you get a more critical eye, you can deconstruct how they are put together in a way so you don’t go crazy thinking about how you are out of your league (no, really, the brain glosses over other people’s little … for lack of a better word flaws because you did not put them on the page! You can turn that into a total morale boost, as well as learning tool).

If you buy them at your local comics shop or a convention, rather than on Amazon, you can boost your networking too!

11) Don’t treat these as rules. Everyone is different! 

In fact are you a comics creator? Add your own rules in the comments!

Now get out there and make comics!