As we all know, the comic strip has been around for a while.
We have chuckled over the funnies in the Sunday newspaper or giggled at their antics while browsing the web. But I don’t think many of us think about the work that goes into creating those panels each week.
It’s for this very reason why we’ll be looking at that process today. First, I’ve got some technical terms to familiarize ourselves with, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of creating one.
Oh! Did I mention I made a few comic strip examples to go along with today’s post? (Feel free to laugh at the cheese.)
What Goes Into a Comic Strip?
Our month-long discussion on comics is coming to a close today, and I wanted to start with the formal definition of what a comic is:
Comics: a medium that expresses narratives or other ideas through images, usually combined with text. It typically takes the form of a sequence of panels of images.
Aside from our definition, there are some other things that we need to know about when it comes to comics. The first thing being, the panel.
Panels are essential to your comic because they provide the framework for your narrative. They contain all those crucial bits of information, like the text and images, and can come in many different shapes and sizes.
In most comics, the panels look like frames – a rectangle or square made of lines. Sometimes, the frames are invisible and show up as white space around the content.
There are a couple of other things that you need to know about the panels, mainly what the space between them is called and the terms when the panels start cutting your characters in half. All of this is demonstrated in the comic below:
The next thing you need to know about isn’t necessarily about the dialogue, though that should be crisp, clear, and concise. It’s about the bubbles or balloons the speech goes in. The technical term is balloon, according to wcatyweb.
There are two main types of balloons that you’ll use: speech and thought bubbles. Speech balloons are things that your characters will say out loud, while thought balloons show your character’s inner dialogue.
Narrative Blocks and Other Shots
Sometimes your dialogue isn’t enough when it comes to telling your story, which makes narrative blocks an essential part of your comic strip. Narrative blocks are also sometimes called captions.
The other cool thing about comic strips is that they incorporate elements from the movie business. Movie scripts often describe where the camera should be located in the scene. In comic books, the camera is imaginary, but it is essential for directing where the reader’s eye should go.
Of course, various “shots” can be used to focus your reader’s attention, including close-ups, medium shots, and long shots. Comics also use splash pages, which often take up a full page and immerse the reader in the story’s drama.
Here’s how all of this works:
As we can see in my example above, we start with a middle shot before moving into a close-up. We then pan out for a longer view to finish the comic off. Additionally, I’ve added a narrative box to the last panel to tell the reader that time has elapsed since Fred got stuck in the tree.
Other Literary Devices Used in a Comic Strip
Comic strips use two other literary devices that we don’t always see in a novel or film. The first one you are more familiar with.
Onomatopoeia: words that imitate the natural sounds of a thing. It creates a sound effect that mimics the thing described, making the description more expressive and interesting.
In other words, comic strips like to use sound effects. And with this in mind, we do have a tendency to make fun of cliche sound effects, like “wham,” “shazam,” and “bam.” So be mindful of the genre you’re writing for and how you use those words.
You may not be as familiar with the second literary device that comic strips use. You’ve mostly seen them in cartoons.
Emanata: symbols that show what’s going on in a character’s head.
The most common emanata is the light bulb. Used universally as the signal for “I just got an idea!” There’s even a particular term for swearing in a word balloon:
Grawlix: a string of typographical symbols (such as %@$&*!) used in place of an obscenity, especially in comic strips.
Incidentally, gralixes are a type of emanata.
4 Types of Comic Strips
Comic strips are short, but they come with a few variations, so we have four types: one-panel, two-panel, three-panel, and four-panel. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, but the most common type you’ll find is the three-panel comic strip.
Why? Because it’s easy to set up because it follows our basic three-act story structure. The first panel answers the five W’s: who, what, when, where, and why. The second panel shows the conflict, and the final panel is the resolution of the story that usually contains the punchline (or moral of the tale).
You can adapt the three-act structure to fit a four-panel comic strip as well. However, you can’t do that for a one-panel or two-panel story. With those, you must rely on your reader to fill in the gaps while you set up the punchline. It’s why most tutorials suggest starting with a three-panel comic strip before diving into the other forms.
How to Write a Comic Strip
I’m not going to blab on about this because we’ve covered it pretty well already in previous posts. However, I wanted to go through the basics with you and leave you with some resources.
Start with an Idea
Write down your ideas for the characters, setting, expressions, and dialogue. Make sure each panel contains some action and that your ending has a fantastic punchline.
And if you need help finding inspiration, look for it in the world around you. Watch a movie, read the news, or do something that you hate. Comic strips are typically about humor or satirizing something mundane.
Draw Your Frames
Once you have your plot and ideas figured out, you need to draw some panels. Make sure each frame is about the same size and evenly spaced. You can even start to mark out where the speech bubbles will go with faint pencil marks.
You don’t have to do this on paper. You can skip the physical copy part and work with a digital program.
Add Your Characters
One of the hardest parts of creating a comic strip is drawing out your characters, so you may want to practice drawing your characters ahead of time, or use basic shapes to bring them to life.
You can also start adding in your speech bubbles and sound effects if you haven’t already. Just make sure you’re doing everything in pencil in case you make any mistakes.
Don’t Forget Your Speech and Lettering
After your characters are fleshed out, it’s time to add your speech bubbles. Make sure you double-check your spelling and grammar before moving to the inking stage.
Remember, the size of your lettering shows whether a character is shouting or whispering. For example, lettering in full capitals shows means your character is yelling.
Give Your Comic Strip Some Detail
Now go back to your characters and add any extra details, such as facial expression, movement lines, shadowing on the floor. And also draw in the background for each frame.
Outline Everything in Ink
Now, you can finally use a felt-tip pen to go over your pencil drawings and rub out any pencil lines. It’ll help make everything stand out more. You can even add some color if you’d like. You will have to do this whether you’re using a computer program or doing it by hand.
Comic Strip Writing Resources
As promised, I have some resources to help you write your own comic.
Comic Strip Making Software
First off, I want to talk about software. There a couple of options for you to use:
- Canva. You don’t need to be an artist for this to be useful. They have some pre-made templates that you can use, or you can try to make your own. It’s free to use.
- Pixton. A popular choice for artists because it lets you customize without having to build everything from scratch. It gives you the tools you need to create a comic, and no drawing skills are required to use it. It’s free to use.
- Photoshop. Photoshop will allow you to build the world and characters that you want. You do need some experience to operate the software, and you have to pay a subscription (US$20 per month) to use it.
Second, this is a writing website, so I can’t help you draw things. I’m good with words but not so much with drawing.
So you’ll want to go to the experts for some help. You can find them on job sites, like Upwork.
Lastly, I came across a YouTube channel that talks about the more technical aspects of comic strip and comic book creation that you may be interested in. You can check their video playlist out here.
I also found this video that goes through the different types of comic strips out there. He talked about how to end your comics. It’s a longer video but has a lot of useful information in it that I didn’t cover here.
As a whole, comics are a fun genre to dip our toes into. They offer a mixture of mediums to work in – film, prose, and art. And in the end, we’re left with an exciting mix that keeps reader’s engaged in the story unfolding on the page.
Comic strips have been around for a long time, and I believe that they’ll continue to flourish over the next few years. More writers will want to tap into other literary markets, like graphic novels and manga, opening up worldwide. And more comic strip artists will turn to the internet for a home for their art.
Do you use software to help write your comic strip or draw it out by hand? Which is better – hand-drawn comics or computer-generated?
Stay safe, everyone.
Until next time.