Making a Comic book is an extremely layered process, one that I think eludes a lot of people who aren’t necessarily tethered to the industry either as a fan or a creative. Making just one colored comic book takes several weeks and goes through several chains of production. I’ll briefly take you through those:
A. Writing the Script: As with most creative media products, the first step is the scripting of the story. People tend to think writing a comic book script is the same as other types of scriptwriting but it’s arguably the most unique. A comic book script carefully outlines the key elements in each and every panel. It provides a guide for the artists to follow. So as opposed to writing a script for a film or tv show, the writer isn’t just worrying about the story, he/she has to also have an understanding on storyboarding and the art of telling a story with images. Writing a single 25-page issue typically takes about a week to two weeks.
B. Penciling the comic: Penciling the comic is the first stage of the artistic creation of the book. Following the guidelines set by the writer, the penciler first creates the most appropriate layout for the comic. This can be the most challenging and even time-consuming part of the their process because they have to decide on the best ways to translate the story within the most suitable panels for the shots while also keeping in mind how much dialogue space will be needed for each panel. After creating the perfect layout, the penciler then sketches out a first draft of the comic to run by the editor. It’s very rare that there are no minor tweaks or corrections the editor points out so the penciler often ends up repeating this process several times. After the sketch and layout has been approved, the penciler then begins to draw the detailed ‘pencil’ drawings and adds some detail and shading to the art. Once again, he/she will need to run it by the editor first and that can be a back and forth process as well. Once approved, the penciler will finally be done with his part of the process…but often has to start working on the next issue all over again. This process typically takes 3-4 weeks for our 25-page issues.
C. Inking the ‘Pencils’: This next step is often forgotten but very important to the next step of production. Inking a comic in a traditional sense involves adding more depth, shading and detail to the pencilers pencil art or sketches using a pen or a brush. Basically the job of an inker is to add ‘definition’ to the artwork. With the rise of digital comics (like ours) and digital comic production, more and more inking is done digitally. The purpose is still the same, I.e. detail and definition, but inking a comic digitally can prove challenging for inkers used to the traditional method. Doing it digitally should make it quicker in theory but artists often lack the kind of precise control and detailing they would use if they were doing it by hand. Doing it digitally does help make the transition between this stage of production and the next a little smoother. Inkers also have to send their work in for approval by the editors so they can approve them so this can be a back and forth process as well. Inking one of our issues typically takes about 3 weeks.
D. Coloring the comic: This is the part of the process that brings ‘life’ to the images. Contrary to what the name would imply, this stage doesn’t just involve coloring the inked artwork, it also involves adding graphics and other details that can only be done during this stage. Digital coloring is the undisputed industry standard today and rightfully so. Doing it digitally not only speeds up the process but allows for greater variety of graphics and colorful effects (like glows, translucent shadows, color filters etc).
Beginning with the flat colors and then adding more definition (and lighting) to the skin tones and backgrounds, the colorist has more on his plate than a lot of people realize. A colorist typically takes 3-4 weeks working on one of our issues.
E. Lettering the comic: This is the ‘invisible’ art of making a comic book. Remember that time you were reading a comic book and you found yourself getting absorbed into the book and seeing the images move, hearing them speak in your head and forgetting you were actually just looking at some pictures with a bunch of words around them? Well, that’s the letterer at work. The letterers job isn’t just to add dialogue and sound effects to the pages, it’s to bring the comic to life as well. The letterer has to be conscious of adding the dialogue bubbles in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the vital art (art that needs to be seen for the story to make sense) but also leading the eyes of the reader through the pages so that it flows and sucks them into the pages. When done right, readers shouldn’t even notice that there’s lettering on the page, done wrong and it becomes obvious to everyone. This process usually takes about 2 weeks.
F. Editing and final Compositing: As I’ve hinted throughout the article, the editor has his fingerprints on every stage of production. Nothing gets passed along without his/her approval and he/she’s also got to worry about deadlines and other things relating to the successful execution of the comic. After every page has been colored and lettered, he does a final look-through of everything to make sure it’s perfect. Once it’s all good, he composites every page and combines them together to form a book with the cover page, credits page and every additional page that makes up the comic. This part doesn’t take long but the editor is always busy because while he’s tidying up one book, he’s got to have his eye on the other stages of production that have already started for the next issue.
In Conclusion, I want to remind everyone that like with all other creative processes, the specific methods and timeframes used in this article aren’t the same for every comic and this is specific to the way we do things. Next time you see that beautiful comic online or in a comic book store, take a second to appreciate all the work that went into making that little book.