Things I learned from drawing comics

I’ve been drawing comics – or, at least, attempting to – since 2008. In that time, I’ve started 5 comics but only managed to finish one, which is Veitlen & Nymue.

To compare, I’ve finished 11 entire novels of at least 50,000 words in the same time period. It does take much longer to draw a comic than write a novel, but the fact that I’ve only ever finished one – and that it was less than ten pages – is not a particularly good sign.

Comic NameYearPage Count
WHITECAT (version 1)200851
N.E.O.N.20088
WHITECAT (version 2)2009-201038
The Colorless Ones2010-20116
The Gate at the End of the World201754
Veitlen & Nymue20187
The Land of Two Moons2018-2020125
All the comics I’ve ever worked on.

WHITECAT

The first version of WHITECAT was something I posted to Smackjeeves & Deviantart from March to September of 2008. I had no idea how to make speech bubbles or panel borders at first.

Chapter 1, page 1 of the first version of WHITECAT.

This image, for some reason, is 553×679 pixels. I have no idea why I chose that size for a comic page. I also drew the panels by hand – in Gimp, holding down the shift key meant you could draw a straight line between two points. And you know what I did for the speech bubbles? I used the ellipse tool, filled it in with black, then drew a slightly smaller ellipse on top of it and filled that in with white.

I did improve on this. By the beginning of chapter 2, I’d fixed the speech bubble problem. And by the middle of chapter 2, I’d started using rectangular boxes for panels so that everything was aligned. My art style didn’t change much, except I experimented with color on one page and grayscale shading for a little bit of chapter 2.

The last page of version 1 of WHITECAT was drawn in August 2008:

Chapter 4, page 3 of the first version of WHITECAT.

Apparently I also started drawing panels by hand, which is something I definitely don’t remember doing. And this entire page was in grayscale, but I don’t think it was gray initially – I think I might have done everything in color first before converting it to grayscale.

And then I stopped drawing pages. I probably lost interest in it – I had no actual plan for this story. I was just making things up as I went.

Then in June 2009, I decided I wanted to redo WHITECAT. My art had rapidly started improving in 2009 (and this would continue into 2010), though not due to any comics. This is something I hear people say a lot – just start drawing comics! You’ll improve no matter what due to being forced to draw all the time! That’s never been true for me, for some reason.

The point of this, I think, is that my pre-2009 and 2009-2010 artwork don’t look very similar.

Chapter 1 page 10 of version 2 of WHITECAT.

A couple pages after this one, I started shading in grayscale. I also discovered GIMP’s ink pen tool and completely fell in love with it. I’m pretty sure most of my artwork in the next year was inked with that ink pen tool.

I got to the beginning of chapter 2 before I stopped redrawing pages. I still didn’t have a plan for the story, and I guess I realized that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to continue. Plan your comics if you want them to last, people!

N.E.O.N.

I started drawing pages for this in June 2008, which means I was working on it at the same time as WHITECAT. Unlike WHITECAT, I’ve never posted a single page of this comic online. And it’s probably a good thing I didn’t – I had zero plot, only a handful characters. It wouldn’t have lasted very long.

The Colorless Ones

I only drew six pages for this, but I did script 8.5 entire chapters. I still have the 127-page word document. I never finished planning or writing it, but I don’t think I would have finished this comic even if I had. I stopped writing the story because I lost interest in it, and there’s no use in drawing a comic about something I don’t care about.

The Gate at the End of the World

There are two versions of this story, both of which were intended to be made into comics. I never finished scripting version 1, and only ever did one test page.

Test page for version 1 of The Gate at the End of the World. This character would eventually become Ren Fennel in The Land of Two Moons.

By 2016, I’d been looking into how to create a webcomic, and was using Clip Studio Paint as my primary art program. Clip Studio was originally developed for creating comics, so it has all sorts of neat features. Page templates! Word bubbles that you can associate text with! Easy panel borders!

But I didn’t like the story by the time I ended it, so the comic never happened.

I started writing the second version of The Gate at the End of the World in September 2016 and started drawing pages in late December 2016. I don’t remember when I started posting pages online, but I was uploading the comic to Smackjeeves & Tumblr (and, at one point, Tapas).

I never finished the script of the second version. I genuinely didn’t know where I was going with the story. When I started drawing comic pages, I thought I’d be fine since I wouldn’t catch up to what I was still writing – and I never did! I was chapters ahead of what I was drawing.

But that didn’t help at all. I have a hard time working on stories when I don’t know how they’re going to end. So I stopped drawing comic pages.

I did end up recycling a lot of The Gate at the End of the World version 2 into The Land of Two Moons, including all of the main characters. That’ll be another separate blog post.

Chapter 3, page 4 of version 2 of The Gate at the End of the World.

Veitlen & Nymue

What I learned from this comic is that I am capable of finishing comics if they’re short and I completely script out the story beforehand. That’s it! It’s that easy! And yet I still have trouble accepting it.

I also did reference sheets for each character and modeled Morgaine’s cabin. That made the drawing stages much easier.

The Land of Two Moons

This is the longest comic I’ve ever worked on, with a prologue and six full chapters. Before I started drawing the comic, I knew I wanted to experiment – with black & white, color, grayscale, and page layouts. The first version of the prologue had more than 2 panels per page – it actually looked like a traditional comic.

Page 1 of the old prologue.

I only drew 1 page of chapter 1 as a “normal” comic with 2+ panels, but it looked very different from what I did in the official version:

Page 1 of the initial version of chapter 1.

The Land of Two Moons went from black & white, to grayscale, to color, & then back to grayscale. It also went from two panels per page to 5-6 panels per page on average. I definitely got better at backgrounds by the end of it.

I stopped drawing The Land of Two Moons as a comic because I’d scripted out fifty chapters, and that would take close to ten years to draw. I didn’t – and still don’t want – to spend ten years on one single thing.

But you know what working on this comic taught me? That I don’t actually like drawing comics.

I genuinely don’t enjoy it! Scripting comics is just fine, but when it comes to drawing them? It’s something I don’t want to do. When it’s time to draw another comic page, my thoughts are “ugh, not again”.

This is, I think, the most important thing I’ve learned from drawing comics on-and-off for the past ten years. I don’t like drawing comics! I wouldn’t be feeling so much dread at the thought of it if I did!

I am genuinely glad that I figured this out in the past year and not later on. I feel like I’ve saved myself from so much stress, both mentally and physically. Maybe I’ll come back to comics in the future – particularly short comics – but for now? This is a medium I won’t be working with.

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