Showing posts with label Make your own graphic novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Make your own graphic novel. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Step 7, Page Layout and Formatting.

When I started laying out the pages of my graphic novel a few years ago, I really had no plan in mind. That created problems for me later when I actually wanted to finish the book to prepare it for printing. Because a graphic novel is about the balance between story and images, your layout must be consistent throughout the story or it will confuse the reader and diminish your storytelling breaking the bond and balance of your creation. This was just one of many problems that I had to overcome to finish my book.

When I originally started my book, I just created panel after panel not clearly thinking about how it was going to layout in the end. I later had to go back and physically edit each page and move things around. It was poor planning on my part. Hopefully, I can steer you clear of this problem by planning it out in advance.

Sequential storytelling is just that, so be consistent. Ultimately, I had to go back and remake many pages of my story because I wasn't consistent with my layout. (see above) I had too many splash pages and not enough multiple panel pages to move the story along. You don’t want to have 4 panel pages through your entire story, and then suddenly throw in a 10 panel page, it wouldn't make sense.

When you start looking through your storyboards, you have to decide how many panels you will need per page in the design of your graphic novel. 

These are some of my rough thumbnail storyboards that broke into pages for my book. The first 4 panels is one page and so on.

Sometimes you need only one or two panels to convey an idea moving your story forward, and  sometimes you need 10 panels to tackle fast paced action. 

My solution was a Panel Configuration Key: “P.A.C.K.” for short. (See below). These layout ideas are not to scale. Anytime you need a simple numbered comic book panel reference guide this is a good place to start. I have listed below 1 through 10 panels as a quick reference. There are many other configurations, that you can create.


One panel that can either have a border or a full page bleed, either way this is considered a splash page. Two panels laid out horizontally or vertically.

Three panels laid out horizontally or vertically, your choice. Four panels very straight forward. Use your imagination to get creative.

Five panels with one horizontal on top or bottom. Six panels very straight forward.

Seven panels one horizontal on top or on the bottom. Eight panels very straight forward.

Nine panels, three small ones on top or bottom. Ten panels, don't use this one too much because it's a lot to look at when you have drawings in there. 

Before you start any drawing, figure out how many panels you will need per page translated from your story. If you write in comic book script format, then you already know that (example: page 1 has three panels, and page two has six etc...) but if you write in any other format, then you must go back to your story and sort it out. (See my example below)

Above is the opening scene to my graphic novel Prisoner of the Mind. The first paragraph describes the scene, and the second paragraph is what I translated to art, and how each section is broken into one panel and then into an actual page. So, above I color coded pink, green, and yellow to break up the story section I need for each panel. The paragraph (pink highlighter) in the middle that starts with "In the shadows next to him... is only a 1 panel splash page. " It was such an intense scene that I thought it should be a great splash page and that is why it says 1 panel next to it. Basically, I turned that one panel into a whole page. If you're confused, I'll try to clarify below.

Above story clip equals art below. 4 panels for this page.

Above story clip equals art below. One panel one page.

I always go back to my story and mark off where one page begins and ends, that way I can work my way through the story to the end. If you have a page limit then use splash pages sparingly if at all.

My general rule of thumb for the subject matter of a splash page is to either do an action panel or a very cool visual with a lot of detail. (see example above and below)

Once I know how much of my dialog I am going to use per page, then I can really begin the layout process. This is where the Panel Configuration Key really helps out. If a panel in my story is basically talking heads, (two people talking) then I know I don’t want a splash page because that is boring. In film, when there is nothing going on except for two people talking, the saying is, “don’t just say it; show it.” You can basically show two people talking without showing two people talking. (See examples below) 

In this panel, there are two people talking about a surveillance video that they are watching. So the point is, that I wanted to keep things interesting instead of just drawing two people talking I added a freeze shot of the video behind them.

Again, in this panel it's a two shot of people talking, but to keep things interesting, I am showing one of the characters setting down his keys, and not showing his face. This is the panel with dialog.

Same panel without dialog.

Pacing, timing, balance is an important part of the storytelling process. If you go too fast then you lose details and your story will seem disjointed, if you go too slowly then it’s just boring and your audience will lose interest. Balance, balance, balance, the number of panels you use per page creates that sense of timing. (See examples below)

This is a page out of my new comic book Quantum Enigma due in print 2017. In this 2 panel page, I have a character running through a dark cave. I wanted to convey the darkness and tension built up in the scene so I only did 2 panels with a lot of dark space to tell the story.

This is a page out of my new comic book GRASSPEOPLE Out this year 2017. I chose 6 panels for this page to pace the story that is unfolding before it jumps into action.

Ok, I’ve read over my story, and blocked out which part of the dialog and scene I will need for a page. So, now I know that I need six panels for this particular page to tell my story and move things along in a balanced manner. But, which six panel configuration do I want, 5 squares and 1 horizontal panel or six vertical panels, or maybe 6 horizontal panels. 

Let your drawings help you decided. (Example if you are drawing a distant scene of a woman walking up a road and you see a lot of the horizon, you probably want a horizontal panel to use for that image). See your P.A.C.K. for options, then choose one. Remember the way that sequential art is read, helps to unleash your story. If you have one of your characters pointing a finger or using a gun, try to point at the next reading panel so the reader will automatically follow the story direction forward and not backwards and it will flow much better. (See example below)

This page is out of Prisoner of the Mind a graphic novel. Panel number 3 is pointing off the page which brings you down to the next 3 panels and so on.

Now that you have your story cut up and your storyboards ready to go, and you know how many panels you want for this page and which configuration you want those panels in, you have to play around and visually see how it works. (See examples below) 

Above are the rough storyboards for a six panel page layout of my graphic novel Prisoner of the Mind.

This is the 6 panel layout configuration that I chose for this page. I use the larger gutters for the whole book so there is consistency throughout. 

This is the final inked 6 panel layout page with dialog and sound effects.

I usually use photocopies of my work and actually cut out my storyboard panels and tape them in place to see how it will look. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but you can always move stuff around more easily this way. The last thing you want to do is cut out an original drawing and stick somewhere else, use photocopies if you can. (See example below)

Many of the black and white pages here are photocopies that I cut up and moved around to get the right page layout, then I traced them with a light box and redrew them to fit.

The P.A.C.K. is just reference when it comes to your panel layout. Through the history of comic books, there have been many changes to the panel, gutter make up. Below are some examples from different eras of comic books. This part is entirely up to you and the style of the book you are going for. My books are pretty straight forward. I basically do about a 1/4 to 1/8 inch gutter on all of my panels. It just makes things easy and quick for me. Will Eisner always pushed the boundaries of what a panel actually was to convey his stories, check out these examples for some very cool, creative options if you want to try something different than boxes on a page.

Above is actually a 3 panel page, but the last two panels overlay the first to make it also the background. Very cool stuff.

The above panels are just ingenious, because the also incorporate story elements like the bars on the cell.

Frank Bellamy had some very interesting panels in his stories.

Jack Kirby was one of the best at sequential art in the history of comics.

Gutter width and line thickness. 

Golden age comic books 1930’s to late 1940’s early 1950’s.

Used a narrow gutter and a finer panel line to help convey their stories. Check here to read free golden age comic books in the public domain. or

From early to mid-1950’s to 1970’s. These comics were fairly close to the same widths and line thickness as the Golden Age Books.

From 1970 to 1985. Some of these comics had narrower gutters compared to some of the older books.

From Mid 1980’s to present. Today’s comic book gutter width and line thickness vary greatly. I've seen many comics that use a super narrow gutter that looks almost like slivers of white, and then I've seen it go completely the other way. The bottom line is that you should try to create something that compliments your story. If an open panel does the trick, then go for it. If looks better with a large gutter and thick black lines then do it. The only advice I have is, be consistent with your panels so that the reader is not distracted by weird boxes.

Once you are happy with your selection, you can draw the final panel of your page layout. Use your storyboards as reference and layout your panels just like the P.A.C.K. One note to remember, that after you have the final drawings done, inked, and possibly colored you will have to leave some room for text for dialogue and monologue (more on this later). I used to be worried that I would never be able to fit in the dialog boxes after my drawings were done. 

Now that I have done many books, I really don’t worry so much about it now. I'm going to show you how I do it digitally and not hand drawn. It is much easier and efficient to do dialog in Photoshop after everything else is done. Just put it in the back of your mind and draw each panel as if it’s going to be a painting hanging in the Louvre.

One last thing about layout is a two-page spread. I try to get one into every comic I do, just because they look really cool. Here is one below that I did. Basically, it's just two pages put together, the trickiest part is alignment before printing, which I will cover later. The only thing to remember now is to just draw them together so they line up properly, or do one and split it.

My transformation from story, rough storyboards to finished final panel below just to wrap things up.

Above is my story paragraph cut up into 4 panels for a single page in the book.

Above is a basic thumbnail sketches I did on the subway translating the text of the story to images.

This is the final drawing of 4 panel page layout and beginning ink process.

Final ink and dialog of a 4 panel page.

Comic Book Page sizing.

I print most of my comics through P.O.D. (print on demand) printing, and each company has different measurements for their comic books. I will get into the printing aspect of this later, but you have to start somewhere. So here is my solution.

For example: 

Createspace (Amazon) suggest comic book printing is 7 x 10 inches.
LULU Printing suggest's comic book interior size at 6.75 x 10.5 inches.
Ka-Blam's template is 7 x 10.5 inches. (see below)

I know this all sounds very confusing, so which one is right for you? Well, all of them, there is no exact standard for P.O. D.. But, I always try to keep my process simple, and the easiest way to do that is to be flexible. 

On an 11 x 14 pad of paper I will draw a box 7 x 10 inches which is the outline of the comic page I am going to draw and within that box I will draw my layout panels with a ruler. The 7 x 10 format is the most flexible and easiest to deal with in terms of scanning and printing later on. All the info on paper, pencil and border pens that I use to layout my comic books is here. 

Once I have the outlines of the layout drawn, I draw my comic book scenes to complete the page. When I finish one page, I'll leave one blank page in the 11 x 14 pad in between pages and move on to the next page. The reason is, that once we get into inking, you don't want to have ink bleed through to your next page.

Check back soon for Part 8, Inking.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Step 1, the idea:

I have decided to re-post this series after many emails from the last one I did.

I started this site many years ago to document my experimental path to making a graphic novel. I have deviated on occasion from the real purpose here, but lately I've been getting back to the mechanics and art of visual storytelling.

This is a multi-part series on how to make a graphic novel based on my own experience. There is always more than one way to do things so keep in mind that if you've done it a different way and you’re reading this now, congratulations! Keep going in the direction you're going and we will both get there together. There is no wrong way of doing things, only a different way.

Sometimes I outgrow my tiny studio and overflow into the dining room.

The professional comic book industry does things a certain way which I will mostly adhere to. However, there are several things that I do differently to achieve the same or similar results. In the end, my book is as professional as anything on the market is today.

Prisoner of the Mind prototype. I have gone through over 100 revisions and counting. It takes a while to get it right. We'll get into more on that later.

The difference is, that I employ time-saving devices to streamline my process. Remember it is only you, not a company full of writers, pencilers, inkers, letterers, graphic designers, and editors. You can see that you will wear many hats in the graphic novel making process.

I like to see things visually, so wall placement is part of my process of elimination.

Throughout this series, I will give you many links and resources to help you. I suggest you read my entire post first, then go back and click on the links for more information. If you click on the links as you go, you might get lost on the way to the light at the end of the tunnel because the tunnel is long.

Ok let's get to work, so, you want to make a graphic novel or comic book. You are creative, artistic and a decent storyteller. That’s good, you’ll need all of your skills to pull it off. First of all, don’t think about anything format related yet, like the number of pages, size of the book or any of that. We will have plenty of time to get into the technical details later. The first and most important step is a good story idea.

 Some of my early character sketches for Prisoner of the Mind

If you have a good imagination, you probably already have several ideas bouncing around in your head. Before you proceed, you need to figure out which one is the strongest. I will approach this in two parts.
  1. You have too many ideas and don’t know which one to develop.
  2. You have no idea what to write.
I have a solution to both problems, let’s tackle number one first.

You have too many ideas. Let’s say you have five different ideas. Take all of the ones you have and compare them to what’s been done already.

Some of my best ideas come from my sketch book. If I really need some inspiration I go back through my sketchbook and pluck out one character then develop it further until I have something interesting.

Example; If you have a story about an average character that develops some type of superpower, check out what’s gone before. Chances are you’re not reinventing the wheel here. Spiderman, Daredevil, Hulk You will most likely find it hard to beat those stories without copying them in some way. 

If it’s already been done, cross it off your list. Unless, it really, really, really stands out in some unique way that perceptive comic readers will say hmm. Ok, now after you are down to say three final ideas figure out which one makes the most sense and which is the strongest. Here is what I do to figure this out.

Creating the best idea: Come up with a working title for only three ideas and then write one or two sentences to describe what the story is about.

These are mine:
  1. Prisoner of the mind is a neo-noir thriller set in the near future of New York, the Unforgiving City. An agent accidentally uncovers a seventy-year-old secret, which opens a door that cannot be closed.

  1. Vault of Heaven: The vault of heaven opens once every millennium. A burning star falls to the earth and new life is born.

  1. Ghost Circus: Do you believe in magic, the Cyclops, werewolves, or the supernatural? If you came face to face with your disbelief, would you die of fear? Throughout history, the ringmaster has taken his circus of freaks to one lucky town somewhere in the world. Children watch and believe when they are young and when they grow up it’s not too late to believe, is it too late for you?

Here is some additional info on writing a story synopsis:

Now that you have three ideas, think about what your main character will look like. Start sketching. Many times, you’ll make two or three sketches right off the bat, and know that this story isn’t your strongest. Great! Save that one for later. Focus on the one that rises to the top of your list. It is all about process of elimination. Once you have it down to one story, then you need to write.

Here is a stack of P.O.M. scripts that I have collected for each revision over the years. Eventually, they will probably be recycled.

In my case, I chose Prisoner of the Mind because I already wrote the first treatment many, many years ago and I always wanted to draw a spy noir thriller so I had a jumping off point. Second, there are too many crappy stories about aliens and ghosts floating around out there anyway. You can only choose one because you are going to be working on it for a long time. Keep the other stories in a file somewhere and when you finish your first one, revisit the others down the road. Write them in a word document, don’t write them directly into your blog. Why, because the web is notoriously unstable and you would hate to lose everything because a server went down somewhere and wasn't backed up. I also print out all of my stories just in case that happens.

Back to problem number two. You have no idea what to write your story about. OK, start by breaking it down.

The Ancients was a story about discovering an old civilization that I started to develop in the 90's.

Is it a story about superheroes, on the other hand, non-superheroes? Is it set in the past, present or future? What era do you want to re-imagine? WWII, Neanderthal, a distant alien planet orbiting a double star? Remember, it’s all about the process of elimination.

Once you have an era or an idea, expand on it. With my stories, I like to include historical facts that are somewhat re-imagined for today. Think Forest Gump or Captain America, both stories had some historical foundation that really grounded the viewer/reader in facts, and then twisted them into fiction.

I am personally a huge fan of Science Fiction, so all of my stories tend to have a bit of that in them. If you’re still hurting for ideas try reading these, and play a little game called.


Be creative, what if this didn’t happen, or what if someone else got there first, or what if history got it wrong?
From this list, you should be able to generate some cool ideas.

Still don’t have any solid ideas? Try this: Writing techniques using the snowflake method: 

Once you have one idea write it down and keep going until you have three. Go back to step one above. You want to start with three ideas then pluck out the strongest to develop your story.

Click here for Part 2 ... Write it down.