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How to Make a Comic

How Tauhid Bondia Draws Comics

I've had more than a couple of poeple ask me how I put my comics together and what tools I use. I don't exactly consider myself an authority on much of anything (Except pimpin' these hoes. I got that.) so you'll understand if I havene't been chomping at the bit to put together any kind of "How To". I just do what works for me and I'm always learning now tricks and stuff. Anyway I figure if I share my process with you, you will collectively shut the hell up and let me get back to my self deprication.

Lets start with the tools. There's good news and bad news here. The good:
  • you don't have to buy any special art pencils (those funky kind that have a weird metal cap where normal pencils, that normal people use, have an eraser).
  • You also do not have to travel long distances to get your meathooks on some of those nifty drafting pens that cause at least a dollare a piece with the microscopic felt tips that your spouse is just going to smash into sweet oblivion when she grabs it to jot down a phone number real quick.
  • Forget about ordering costly tag board through the mail from one of like 3 companies which have for so long kept a strangle hold on the testis of artists world wide. Seriously, it's like they make this crap from the calsified remains of unearthed Martians (unmarsed...?).

  • All this is very good news to you, I'm sure. However brace yourself for here comes the not so good news.
  • Instead of expensive pencils, pens and paper you will now be using a Wacom Digital Drawing Tablet (Intuos2. The Graphire is for pansies) and stylus pen.

    Look forward to spending at least 200+ bones on a new one. There are cheap ones on E-Bay and Wacom even offers refurbished tablets for a slight discount.
  • You'll be wanting to get yourself a copy of Photoshop. Not Photoshop Elements or Photoshop Essentials or Photoshop 2 Electric Boogaloo or any of the free versions of this software. While I'm sure you can accomplish a lot with these applications they are far more limited than I am comfortable with.
  • A good scanner is essential. It's how you get your pencils from the paper into your computer. Fortunately you can find a good one for under a hundred bucks these days.

  • You need a computer. I feel stupid mentioning this and feeling stupid makes me afraid which leads to anger and anger leads to the park slide. Fortunatley the whores is strong in this one.

    I have a point! And that point is if you want to do what I do, how I do it, you'll need these tools. Many artists achieve much more with much less but I think we all know that they don't pimp nearly as many hoes as I do.

    Moving on...


    When I first started making this tutorial I asked my readers to post any questions the had about my method in the forums. There were several very good questions (like three)and more than a couple seemed interested in how I come up with my character designs. Let me try and shed a little light on that here but first I want to say that if you are expecting me to tell you the super, secret, secret to character design that will enable you to leap deftly over your own creative hurdles, you are shit out of luck. The question is how do I Tauhid Bondia create my comic characters not how do you create your comic characters. If you don't have the tools in place and the patience to use them then no amount of tutorials on character creation wil help you. What's more, after reading this tutorial you will still have to set about the task of discovering how you, the reader, create your own characters. A process that can (and likely will be) entirely different from my own.

    The Bio/Profile

    This is easily the most important part of your character. The more integral the character to your story the more thought you need to put into this before you ever pick up a pencil. Let me repeat that last part: BEFORE YOU EVER PICK UP A PENCIL. If you cannot contain your eagerness long enough to actually think about what it is you are going to draw before you draw it then stop reading now. I can't help you.
    Why is it so important to plan your character out before you draw him? Well let me ask you this? Have you ever started drawing a comic only to end changing the character design for your main character/characters midway through the comic? Maybe you realized that his face was too angular or that it didn't make sense for him to have long flowing hair or he should be fatter than he originally was. Now you have to find a way to work the change into your story or you can pull a play from my book, go on hiatus and return with and all new all different version of your characters. Either way it's extremely detrimental to the work as a whole to have to do this. That's not to say that even if you do think your character out you will have everything right but you will be much closer than if you just grab a pencil and start drawing what you think looks cool.
    When you plan your character out ask yourself a few untraditional questions. These questions can help unlock aspects of your character that you had not considered but which will often have an effect on how you will design them. For example what does your character sound like? It may not seem like much of a concern when creating a comic character but let me ask you this? Can you take one look at Lowdown and imagine what he sounds like? What about E'los or Rakne? Their character designs where geared to have a certain sound which, to me, compliments their personalities. Lowdown has a very deep basey voice while Rakne's is highpitched, very fast and almost (but not quite) sing-songy. So go ahead and ask yourself those kinds of personal questions like the kind you might ask about a blind date.

    The Story

    Give your character a back story. A detailed one. Include aspects that may never appear in your comic but that are important to who the character is. Lowdown never had a father so now he doesn't trust the compitence of other men and is a womanizer of legendary proportions. Stuff like that is important to your getting to know your own characters. If you don't know them then you are detatched from them and they become as much of a tool as the paper you are drawing on. They should be so much more. It's the reason S&W keeps coming back on me. Those characters are my friends. They are not done with me and I am not done with them yet.


    The Design

    Here is the part where I can help you the least. I'm not giong to tell you how to draw your character. I couldn't if I wanted to. But I can give you a few pointers that help me.
    First of all, you need to consider your character in three dimensions. Now days many cartoonists draw their comic characters from the three quarter perspective. This is fine as it it seems to get the job done on a very consistant basis even if it makes things very two dimensional. The problem here is that eventually, at some point, you will have to draw your character either from a profile, straight on, from behind, or from a birds eye view. This is where you see a lot of 3/4 character designs fall apart. What looked like a really cool hairstyle from 3/4 view suddenly becomes unrenderable straight on. That's why you need to create a character study once you make your design. Here is a quick study of Lowdown:

    Remember that for good measure you should also include a bird's eye view and worm's eye view. As for doing a full body study I find that is only necessary when I need to render certain complicated costume accessorties like robotic arms and such. Beyond that it's more important to have a good understanding of anatomy than to have a study on paper. Which brings us to our next topic Anatomy

    Anatomy is anatomy. you have to have an understanding of actual, realistic anatomy before you can even hope to distort it for purposes of style. Many young artists try to take the quantum leap to stylized art without first grasping these basics. And who can blaim them? That shit is boring! But you gotta have it. I can't stress that enough. So turn off your computer pick up your pencil and go out and draw some naked people.


    I can wait

    And be sure to bring back those nekid pictures...


    Ready? Ok.

    Now that you have your basics down lets take a look at how I stylize my characters. It all starts with the skeleton. The skeleton that I'm refering to is the artistic device used when you draw a quick stick figure to label the placement and proportion of your character before you flesh it out. Here is where style begins. I like for my characters to have large fists, long legs, exremely broad shoulders and tiny little waists. Almost all of this can be seen in the skeleton.

    As you develope your style you should notice that your skeleton will still more or less fit comfortable inside the proportions of a "normal" figure. Stray too far from that qualifier and you run the risk of over-stylizing. Overstylizing can be a good thing (Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes was like a foot tall with near nonexistant legs.) that but is only recommended for those who really know what they are doing.

    I'm sure that doesn't tell you much but again I can't really get to deep into character creation as it's different for every creator. Noiw let's move onto creating actual comic book pages.


    When I start a page it is very important that I put together a thumbnail first. Can I complete pencils on a page wihtout it? Sure. I can also eat soup with a fork. But I don't have to because somebody invented the spoon. And even though it's hard to get the chicken noodles to stay on the spoon as well as they do on the fork it's worth the extra effort because with the spoon you get the noodles and the broth. This just in: I am a fucking metaphor GOD. So yeah, do your damn thumbnails and you won't regret it. I do mine on 8.5 x 11 typing paper. No special grain or acidity count or pore count... (you couldn't even tell I made that last one up. Skills!) Just normal typing paper. The sketchs are EXTREMELY lose and in no way do I intend for this to be my final product. I'm not even trying to get lucky. It's more like warm a up. As many artists will confirm the second time you draw the same things it's almost always twice as good. Any artist worth his pore count anyway.


    Above is the thumbnail I used for page one of Lowdown. You'll notice that it is a far cry from the final piece. Once I have the thumbnails down I take a good look at them. I'm not looking for what I want to keep I'm looking at what's not quite right. I'm looking at page balance issues, where I'm going to put my word balloons, the contrast between black and white for inking and on like that. Then I look at the page with an eye toward approaching finality. This is a good time to really scrutinize the page layout. That is exactly how large each panel is going to be, where it is on the page and where it is in relation to other panels. It's farely obvious in this example where everything should go but sometimes it's not so obvious so I have some criteria that I go by. It depends a lot on what the story requires of the page and what tricks I want to try artistically, not to mention legability or the abilty for the reader to easily and quickly discern what is going on. Many comic artists completely sacrifice legablity for artistic freedom and that can ruin a page.
    I usually have some idea of that I want to happen layout-wise in the initial thumbnails (another reason that you MUST have thumbnails). Because Lowdown is a weekly comic each pages has to be self sustaining to a degree. For that reason the first panel is usually an establishing shot. It helps if it is in the top left hand corner rather than spanning the entire top of the page or down the entire left side of the page. This is of course not always possible or even desirable but it does help keep those weekly readers from feeling jerked all over the page when they have been here in 6 days. While like to do fun things with panels borders the most fun thing for me is to omit them altogether when I can. It's important to remember that whether I draw them in or not the panels are still there. They are just more intuitive.

    Obviously this takes a little more planning. The best way to handle this kind of layout is to know what you want the page to look like and draw each thing seperatly. In the above example The top two panels were draw on one sheet of paper the third on another and the last image of the time traveler on a third sheet. Then it was just a matter of scanning them all in seperately and stretching and shrinking them until they fit the way I needed. Any places where the drawings came up short or bled out to far were corrected in photoshop.


    Once I have the thumbnails laid out the way I want I make another draft this one on 11x17 cover stock. You can get it at any staples or office depot by the ream. This draft has much tighter pencils and implements what layout ideas I've come up with using the first draft as a spring board. Here is the second draft of page one:

    You can see that I've put more effort into fleshing out my sketches but even at this point I don't commit. I'm not married to the page yet but it's getting there. Seeing the characters fleshed out on the page really serves to starts the inspiration flowing. With every page, I find, it's often like I forget just what I'm capable of and I need a couple of drafts to remind me. Maybe that sounds arrogant or some other stupid untrue thing but that's what it's like. This time I decided to go with something a little more focused. I liked the idea of the minions but I wanted to take it a step further by reducing them to a single minion and having him look extremely tortured. I think it raises intersting questions about the nature of this master/pupil relationship but not questions that are so pressing that you get hung up in the story. So I scrapped that page and drew this up:

    Then all at once, for apparently no reason at all, I decided to go with this:

    Beginning to see why this takes me so long? Anyway, it's not as flashy as the two minios poised to attack but much more interesting, in my opinion. With the magic of digital editing I was able to salvage the first two panels of the page and insert the third panel without a lot of erasing, white-out or scotch tape. We call this magic Photoshop.


    I can be scanning from the time I first lay down thumbnails or I may not scan anything until I have my final pencils done. It depends entirely on what the page needs. For that reason there is no good place to stick my scanning info into this tutorial (so it's going here). Once I've got my pencils together (together does not imply finished) I scan them into my computer. My scanner is a couple years old but still works like a charm. I recommend a Hewlet Packard if you are on the fence. I scan my pencils in at about 100-150 dpi. I don't need them to be very high res because my pencils are usually loose enough that I won't ruin any details by expanding them in photoshop. Besides all the detail is usually added in the inking phase of things. A lot of people fool with the levels and black threshold (that is bringing out the lines an eliminating the smudges) while scanning but I prefer to do all that in photoshop.

    Make sure that you have a clean scanning surface. Over time your scanner will develope minor blemishes that you will recognize on your art each time you scan peice but you don't have to contribute to the problem. Glass cleaner and a dry paper towel work wonders. However, don't be trying to clean the thing after you've used it and it's still hot, unless you like streaks.


    Soon as I get the pencils scanned then it's time to move to the digital fun. I open Photoshop and pull up the file with my pencils. Then I open a template file which is basically a blank file which is the already set to the perfect size/resolution for the work I'll be doing. I work at 11x17 inches and 400 resolution. If you don't have abundant memory resources I recommend working at a lower res but you don't wanna go below 300 as it will begin to effect printing quality (if you don't ever plan to print then go as low as you are comfy with).
    I then drag the pencils into the template file and using the move tool I resize it (holding shift to maintain aspect ratio)until it fits snugly inside the template. Like I mentioned this takes considerable expanding but doesn't really effect my ability to work from those pencils.

    Next I will play with the levels to get rid of smudges and make the pencils so that they more closley resemble photoblue. Most professional oldschool comic artists use photoblue pencils to draw in the first place because they can ink on top of them and when they make a copy the pencils won't show. Obviously with layers in photoshop I don't have to worry about that but I like the photoblue because it's easier to see my inks on top of them. The levels tool can be found here.

    Grab that middle arrow (the grey one) and shove it to the let until all the smudges are gone, then pull down the channel menu and just play with the blue and green levels until you get the color you want.

    Here is what I end up with:


    Once the pencils are in place I will create another layer directly above that (cus Photoshop is good like that) and I will use this layer for digital inking. Before I begin I make sure to set my brushes, which really just consists of going to the upper right hand corner of the screen clicking on brushes and making sure that "Shape Dynamics" is selected. This allows the tablet and stylus to adjust line wieght based on the the amount of pressure I apply while drawing. Really a wonder of mondern science.

    I'm reminded of that stupid movie that everyone loves where the guys draw that comic and one of them is the inker while the other pencils and everybody calls the inker a "tracer". Yeah fuck that. To me this is where all the real art begins. Don't get me wrong I love my pencils. And the art definitely loses something when it comes time to ink those pencils but if done correctly it gains so much more. The pencils are all about expression and giving for to imaginations. Inking is all about solidifying that form with surgical, deliberate strokes.
    I begin inking in the first panel and work my way across, the way I would actually read the comic. If there is a main focal character in that panel I will begin inking their head working my way down and out until that character is inked. Then I move on to the next charcter and thenext panel and so on. I usually save background stuff for the end because I hate drawing background stuff.

    As I'm inking I make a practice of turning off the penicls layer occassionally to see what the page lookes like with inks alone.

    Another neat trick is opening an identical window in photoshop:

    The advantage here is that I can ink in the right window and look at the left window occassionally to be sure that I'm not going too far off course. The problem with digital inking is that you must often zoom waaaaaay in to get things just right but you lose the ability to see what you are doing in perspective to the entire peice. Doesn't sound like much of a problem until you work for an hour inking some character only to realize that you used a totally innappropriate line weight and now he doens't even look like he's part of the same drawing. Opening a new window is not a total solution though. For one it takes up more of your screen space which can be a pain and the lines you make in the drawing window don't appear in the other until they are complete and you let up on the stylus or mouse button, which isn't exactly real time. But despite that I have made good use of this tool since I first discovered it. You can open a new window buy going to Window>Document>New Window


    One of the most important aspects of an attractive inking job is variety in line wieght. What this refers to is simply the thickness of your lines. There are a couple different formulas floating around out there that determine when a line should be a certain width but you'll find that they vary widely and none of them are set in stone.


    In a black and white comic line wieght and other inking techniques are the only way to show lighitng. For example a thin line (or even one that tapers and vanishes)can show exactly where the light hits an object, while a very thick line can show where that object lies most in shadow.


    Another way to use line weight is to imply closeness or distance from an object. Here the very thick lines will imply closeness while the very thin lines will be very far away from the viewer. Also, You'll notice a technique I used to imply distance is to omit the detail in the right fist and only render its outline. This reflects that properties of the human eye that cause details to become more obsure the farther they are from the it.


    Finally line weight can be used to show density. This is usually most apparent in organic object. I run into it the most when drawing my charcters. In the example you can see that the lines become very thick in the outer most contours of the muscles and thinner on the outermost contours of the bones. This is because in dynamic figures the muscles are often flexed and in motion and the thickness of the lines best conveys this. The bones however are more static and the thin lines serve more as arrows leading the eye to the next muscle. The density of the muscles as opposed to that of the bones should both be treated with equal care. But this is not so much a formula as a guide for thin lines can also be put to very good use in muscles as well. For example: the muscles in the armpit as well as the space between the neck and collar bone are an intricate web and it does not do to imply denseness here but the whispiness that thin lines affford.

    Here are the inks for page one a little further along


    We start to notice a lot of what's called feathering, now. Feathering is the use of a series of small parallel lines to imply what cannot be implied by a single solid line. It's a technique used to imply everything from shading to shape and texture. I use it alot to "fake" lines which should be there but are too subtle to simply draw in. a good example is the the lines that form the shape of the human nose. Left to simple contours the human nose is a handful of lines that make up a very generic shape. But with a few carefully places strokes feathering can convey a much defined and unique nose. The places where the patches of feathering intersect is called crosshatching and is the single fastest way to ruin and inking job. Trust me. Use it sparingly.

    The best feathering is done very quickly. I've seen artists do some amazing feathering with both a brush and a pen. I like to use the stylus and tablet. It takes practice to be able to do good feathering because, as I mentioned, the best feathering is done quickly. when you first try it your lines will be a mess of intersecting chicken scratch. With practice you will be able to lay down a patch of near perfectly tapered and parallel feathering with your eyes closed. Just be patient.

    Here are the finished inks.


    Once you have your inkes together it's time to start putting words in the mouth of your charaters. If you've ever read a comic then you know what a word balloon is. It basically an ellipse that contains dialogue and has a "stem" that points to character that speaks that dialogue. Word Balloons come in many different shapes and sizes but the popularly accept version is the ellipse (it's what I use). The ellispe, though attractive, can sometimes be a handful to manage. If you don't lay your dialogue correctly it can get very unwieldy.

    Dialogue Layout

    Here is an example show the right and wrong ways to lay your dialogue.

  • In example "B" there is little to no regard for compactness. It's important to keep your dialogue very compact in a neat little package that can be trotted around the page and easily dropped off in the best possible place without covering too much of your beautiful art. If you have a section of text that is going to be too large for then split it up and make two balloons.

  • In example "C" The compactness is there but it too "boxy". You must remeber that you will beusing an ellipse and this example would be fitting a square peg into a round hole leaving too much room on the sides of the text and not enough room on the top and bottom.

  • In example "C" we can see that the text, once again, very compact, is now to long horizontally. I see this mistake alot from young comic artists. You really want your text to be at least 3/5 as tall as it is wide. Other wise you end up with these oblong word balloons that don't leave much room for other word balloons and don't fit anywhere very comfortably.

  • Example "A" is exactly how you want your dialogue to look. You'll notice that the word "A" has it's own line at the top of the text. This may seem gratuitious but it really depends on how long the next word is. I've found that if it's longer thane 3 or 4 letters then you need to go ahead and bump it down to the next line. This is all subject to change though. If your 3rd word is some 12 letter monster then obviously you're better off leaving the second word up on the first line along side "A". Ultimatley you have to use your judgment. I don't mind have a one letter word alone on the top line because it contributes to the circluar compactness you should be going for.


    Now that you have your text layout done it's time to draw some balloons around them
  • The First thing you do is select your Ellipse tool

  • Then, using that, you draw and nice circle around our dialogue.

  • Now you select your brush tool and adust the size of it to reflect how thick you want your balloon outline to be. Then just hit enter. Photoshop will automatically trace (stroke) the path for you.

  • Now select your Pen tool

  • Use it to create a path that looks like the one below. Basically just two lines at an agle so that they point to the character that speaks the dialouge (preferably in the general direction of his/her mouth. Seriously. Point it at thier elbow and it looks like a talking elbow).

  • Now stroke this path using the same method you did to stroke the balloon (select brush and hit enter)

  • Finally just get in there with your erase tool and get rid of the extra lines. VIOLA!!

  • Here is the finished inks with word balloons.

    I'm going to stop here because the coloring tutorial will probably be twice as long as this entire thing and I'm not ready to put it together yet. But Just for the sake of comparing here is the finished page.

    When I do you decide to put the coloring tutorial together you can be sure that I'll pick up right where I left off. I hope this has been a help to you and feel free to email me if you have any other questions.

    Tubesteak out.